Public boat ramps scarce on Patuxent

Launch at Cape St. Mary’s Marina in Sandgates needs work

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008

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Staff photos by REID SILVERMAN
James Bruce and Michael Nelson of Sandgates go crabbing along Cat Creek near Cape St. Mary’s Marina at the end of Holly Lane in Sandgates. Pictured in the background is an old boat house that Gregory Burkhardt would like to rebuild as part of the redevelopment of the marina.

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A blue heron snaps up a small fish out of the water as it continues its hunt for food along the shoreline of Cat Creek in Sandgates.

There are fewer public launch sites for boats on the Patuxent River than on the Potomac River side of St. Mary’s County. There are public ramps with access to the Patuxent at Forrest Landing, Clarke’s Landing and at Cape St. Mary’s Marina in the Sandgates area of Mechanicsville.

There’s a problem at the boat ramp at Cape St. Mary’s, though. Back down the boat ramp too far and the trailer is going to bottom out into a submerged hole. ‘‘It’s a relatively minor issue,” said Phil Rollins, director of recreation and parks, but an ongoing problem.

In 1988, county government obtained a grant to dredge out the channel at Cat Creek and that’s when it entered into a 25-year lease with Cape St. Mary’s Marina for public use of the boat ramp. The lease was revised in 1994 and ends in 2019. The agreement was that the marina owner would maintain the boat ramp, Rollins said. ‘‘I think the agreement could have been tighter,” he said. There have been several different owners since 1985.

‘‘It’s not in good condition – it’s fair at best,” Rollins said of the ramp.

When boat operators align onto the trailer the outboard motor tends to blow the muck and mud away at the bottom of the ramp, leaving a big drop at the end of the ramp.

‘‘It’s amazing,” Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D) said. ‘‘It’s not being maintained.”

The property is zoned commercial marine, but Mattingly said the uses there look more industrial. Heavy machinery sits on the water’s edge. On the other side of the creek, there is an old, decaying boathouse, next to a large floating barge.

The county has been in discussions to get the ramp repaired with the marina’s owner, Gregory Burkhardt. ‘‘He’s cooperative,” Rollins said.

Theresa Dent, consultant for Burkhardt, said a major site plan has been submitted to upgrade the entire marina, including replacing the boat ramp, but the permits and approvals at the water’s edge take a long time. The existing restaurant building would be removed and another tavern structure would be put up where boat maintenance is now performed.

As for the boat ramp agreement, ‘‘That easement is being rewritten as we speak,” she said. ‘‘All of the liability has been falling on Mr. Burkhardt. That’s how the easement is being rewritten. He is working with the county.”

Elsewhere, county government looked into purchasing an acre off North Patuxent Beach Road to be used as a public boat launch, but negotiations fell through. That piece of property is also owned by Burkhardt. The structure there is a waterfront bar.

The county is still seeking another location for a public boat ramp. ‘‘We’re certainly open if someone were to approach us,” Rollins said. ‘‘We still would to acquire a site for boat access somewhere in the central county.”