WEST OCEAN CITY — After months of regulatory red tape followed by hard work and moving dirt, the old town of Ocean City dump turned pristine kayak launch along Ayres Creek officially opened this week with a little help from state and local dignitaries and the lieutenant governor’s family.
On Tuesday, the Ayers Creek Kayak Launch officially opened with a ribbon-cutting and a kayak tour on a nearly 40-acre pristine site off Lewis Rd. that was once a dump for the town of Ocean City and later a police shooting range. The reclamation project, the brainchild of naturalist Spencer Rowe, was successfully completed through a partnership with the town of Ocean City, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other state agencies and individuals.
The 37-acre site is owned by Ocean City and was used as a municipal dump from 1954 to 1980. From 1980 to 1989, the area was used as a police shooting range by local law enforcement agencies. The idea to convert the old, polluted site to a public park and kayak launch area was hatched by Rowe, who spends much of his time in the coastal bays watershed recording measurements and taking water samples and had the vision to see a much better future for the now-pristine area.
The MCBP pitched the idea to the city, which had long since exhausted its use of the property, and a series of approvals and grant applications were set in motion to make it reality. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) conducted remediation on the old dump site and cleared it for an ecologically-friendly park and kayak launch in 2007 and a combined effort by local and state agencies and volunteers spent the next few years making it a reality.
The result is a gated parking area off Lewis Rd. about a mile from Route 611 with impervious parking surface and a network of trails leading to the soft-shore kayak launch at the edge of the creek. The new park provides a link to several large parcels in permanent conservation easement along the creek and throughout the Newport, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague bay watersheds.
The Ayers Creek Kayak Launch is also now part of the Assateague Water Trail, an interpretive water-based trail designed to educate residents and visitors about the rich natural heritage of the coastal bays watersheds. The new site is important because it provides the only public water access in upper Ayers Creek and connects the area with established paddling areas.
Ocean City Councilwoman Margaret Pillas praised the project for converting a formerly polluted wasteland to an important link in the area’s ecosystem.
“This is a fabulous recycling project, really the ultimate recycling project,” she said. “This tract of land, which was once a dump, is now a beautiful park.”
MCBP Executive Director Dave Wilson praised the efforts of the partners and the countless hours put in by volunteers and members of the Ocean City Public Works Department for their contributions while off the clock.
“It was more difficult than we thought it would be at times, but we got it done thanks to the collaborative efforts of all involved,” he said.
DNR Deputy Director Joe Gill agreed the collaborative efforts of the public-private entities involved resulted in a special place along Ayres Creek.
“There is something about a stream that flows to a creek that flows into a river and finally into the ocean that is timeless,” he said. “Generations have stood by this creek and stared into the water. It’s been going on forever and, hopefully, will continue forever thanks to efforts like this.”