County OKs new master plan for Elms Beach Park
Playground and parking lot to be replaced
A new plan for the future of St. Mary’s County’s busiest waterfront park was approved last week, but improvements to Elms Beach Park are still years away.
The plan, approved by the county commissioners last week, would change the location of the playground there and build a new one in a shaded area. A new paved parking lot would be built in a different location than the current dirt parking lot. A restroom facility would be built to replace the portable toilets used there now. Running water would be brought to the park, and paths would be made handicapped accessible.
Design and engineering of the new amenities are included in the upcoming fiscal 2019 budget for $200,000. Construction for $1 million is programmed in fiscal 2021, but more money would be needed to fulfill the full plan, which totals $2.5 million.
Elms Beach “is the county’s most heavily used waterfront park and is sometimes closed to additional visitors when overcrowding occurs on summer weekends and holidays,” Arthur Shepherd, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation and Parks, wrote to the commissioners in a memo.
Elms Beach has 500 feet of beachfront on the Chesapeake Bay, used for sunbathing, wading and swimming, and fishing. There is a picnic area and pavilion as well as a a floating pier on a large tidal pond.
A consultant’s report on the park said, “Visitors population is diverse and ranges from individuals who come to the park to fish to multi-generational families who come to picnic and play. Approximately 110-120 cars can be accommodated on site during busy weekends with parking extending along portions of the access road. Additional parking, public restrooms and enhanced trails and picnic areas would greatly benefit users of this park.”
The new paved parking lot should provide for better access and control and should be safer, Shepherd told the commissioners. Recently there were several events happening at once at Elms Beach and in the dirt parking lot “there were children [running] into the cars, people backing up,” he said, making for a potentially unsafe situation.
The consultant, A. Morton Thomas and Associates, also noted the dual conditions of the waterfront at Elms Beach. “There are manmade offshore stone breakwaters located directly adjacent to the park property. The breakwaters capture seaweed, trash and debris from the Chesapeake Bay and they collect along the beaches to the southeast. The debris deposited on the beach in this area makes it less desirable for visitors to use. The beach located to the northwest of the breakwaters, however, is very desirable and heavily used,” the consultant wrote.
The preliminary cost estimate to build the new features at Elms Beach is $2.5 million. “Upon approval of the master plan, the design and engineering could move forward in FY2019 as programmed; however, an estimated additional $2,055,000 in funding would need to be identified in order for the project construction to move forward,” Shepherd wrote in a memo. That excludes any federal funding that may be available.
Elms Beach Park is 80 acres, part of 476 acres of state land leased to St. Mary’s County government, which runs to 2029. Another 544 acres is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for hunting and conservation. The state bought the 1,020acre Elms property in 1975 as a potential site for a power plant.
STAFF PHOTO BY JASON BABCOCK A new master plan for Elms Beach Park on the Chesapeake Bay was approved last week by the St. Mary’s County commissioners.