County OKs new master plan for Elms Beach Park

Play­ground and park­ing lot to be re­placed

The Enterprise - - Front Page - Twit­ter: @Ja­sonEn­tNews By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­

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.

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