‘It’s Just A Great Day To Be A Regular Family’

A participant in the Surfers Healing event rejoices in the accomplishment of standing up and riding a wave during Wednesday’s event. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Surfers Healing returned to Ocean City this week, providing a day-long surfing camp and a lifetime of memories for kids with special needs and their families.

Surfers Healing is a national organization featuring teams of surfers traveling to coastal communities all over the country to provide a day of surfing for kids with autism and other special needs. While the event is all about surfers riding waves in tandem with young kids with special needs, it is really a day for the kids and their families to just enjoy the beach with other families facing the same challenges.

The event was held on Wednesday on the beach at 37th Street in front of the Castle in the Sand Hotel. Dozens of surfers helped hundreds of kids with special needs enjoy the ocean and the exhilaration riding a wave the calming influence of the sea. About 220 families signed up for the Surfers Healing event on Wednesday, an event that sold out in about five minutes.

The Surfers Healing crew tours beach communities up and down the coast throughout the summer. For example, the traveling camp will head to Virginia Beach this weekend and will be in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. next week. For one day, however, the tour returned to Ocean City on Wednesday for the seventh year in row.

Wednesday was a picture-perfect day on the beach at 37th Street with hundreds of young kids with special needs riding in tandem with their surfer coaches. The ocean provided perfect fun-size knee-high waves and a large pod of dolphins swam by to check out the event. One parent who has been involved in the event since the beginning said he believed the dolphins show up every year, perhaps because they sense something special is going on.

A volunteers with Surfers Healing got creative with showing this young girl the joy of surfing.

A volunteers with Surfers Healing got creative with showing this young girl the joy of surfing.

Another parent, local Andrea Baker, whose son Bobby participated in Surfers Healing on Wednesday, also volunteers to help coordinate Ocean City’s event with organizers Dale and Kelly Loeser of the Quiet Storm Surf Shop. Baker has been involved since the beginning and marveled at how the event has grown in seven years.

“It’s gotten so big,” she said. “They open the online registration and it fills up in about five minutes. There are 220 kids participating this year.”

Baker said the event provides an opportunity for families sharing the same issues and challenges to just put away their cares for a day and enjoy the beach and ocean.

“Everybody you talk to says it’s just a great day at the beach and everybody is upbeat and having fun,” she said. “It’s just a great day to be a regular family because everybody out here is facing the same challenges.”

Baker also had high praise for the surfers who ride the waves with the kids, some of whom can stand up and surf and others who ride the waves like a body-board.

“The surfers are amazing,” she said. “They are just wonderful. They’re calm and just patient with the kids.”

Chris Williams traveled from Silver Spring, Md. to participate in the annual event with his son T.J. and his other child Trevor. T.J. had finished his heat and was proudly displaying his trophy on the beach while Trevor was out surfing in tandem with one of the surfer. Williams said T.J. looks forward to coming back for Surfers Healing each year.

“He just loves the water,” he said. “He was out there for a while and he’d go back if he gets the chance. It’s just a really cool beach day.”

A Surfers Healing volunteer holds on tight to one of the happy participants in the event Wednesday. Photo by Chris Parypa

A Surfers Healing volunteer holds on tight to one of the happy participants in the event Wednesday. Photo by Chris Parypa

Dale Loeser was busy running back and forth on the beach, helping the next wave of kids head out with their surfers. He said some of the kids are reluctant participants at first, but really come around when they hit the water and get their first crack at surfing.

“It’s a great day,” he said. “You can see a big change in them. Sometimes they don’t want to get in, but once they do, the ocean has this calming effect on them. When they come out, you can see they have this big sense of accomplishment.”

While the families and the kids with special needs really enjoy the day, the traveling band of surfers who serve as teachers at the camps take away their own reward.

“The surfers really enjoy it,” said Loeser. “It is very rewarding to help a child and do something you love at the same time. I honestly don’t know who gets more out of this, the kids or the surfers.”

Surfers Healing now serves around 4,500 kids and their families each year at coastal communities all over the country, but it began with a single child. Israel and Danielle Paskowitz founded Surfers Healing for their son Isaiah, who has autism. When Isaiah struggled with frequent meltdowns and sensory overload, riding the waves with his father calmed him like nothing else could.

The Paskowitz family began inviting other families with similar challenges and the idea caught on. Surfers Healing is now a nationwide, grassroots non-profit organization, and while it serves thousands, it thinks only in terms of ones. One child, one family, one day at the beach.

Island Lovers Seek Solution With DNR To Prevent Closing; Recreational Restrictions Likely

Recreational boaters over the summer have been routinely enjoying days on Dog and Bitch Island, which is home to a flag erected in late June. Photo courtesy of Keepers of the Flag Facebook page

OCEAN CITY — A sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay that has become a popular recreational boating site will remain so for the remainder of this summer, but it will likely be closed to the public in the future for nesting migratory birds.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the coastal bays last winter, the resulting 40,000 cubic yards of sand and dredge spoil were used to restore some of the islands in the coastal bays that had not been seen since the 1930s, including the famed Dog and Bitch Island. Approximately 18,000 cubic yards of sand were specifically pumped onto Dog and Bitch Island, essentially accomplishing the dual goals of finding a home for the dredged material and re-creating the historic small island once essential for migratory bird habitat.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to creating a quiet reserve for threatened or endangered migratory birds, such as terns and skimmers. From the beginning, recreational boaters were drawn to the sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay and hundreds of boat operators drop anchor and wade ashore creating a weekend retreat for their families and friends.

The weekend recreational boating hub was solidified in late June when Captain Glen Smith of Selbyville waded ashore with a flag pole, an American flag and bags of concrete, and with a help of some new friends raised Old Glory in a spontaneous act of patriotism. In the weeks since, the island’s popularity has grown, but its days as a weekend recreational boating destination are numbered.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which partnered with the Army Corps on the dredging and island creation project, has watched the island’s popularity grow at arm’s length for much of the summer because it is currently not being used for nesting birds. However, when the birds return in the spring, the DNR, under whose purview the island lies, will likely impose time-of-year closures and utilize the enforcement resources at its disposal including potential citations and fines.

Already, a growing grassroots group of recreational boaters operating under the “Keepers of the Flag” Facebook page, which has more than 850 followers, and the www.americanflagisland.org website are petitioning the DNR to continue to allow public access to the popular boating destination. The group maintains the project was funded by taxpayer dollars and should be available to the taxpaying public. While sympathetic to the need of the threatened and endangered birds, the group believes the economic and recreational benefit enjoyed by hundreds outweighs the ecological significance.

“It’s good for Ocean City,” said group spokesman Chuck Idol this week. “We all appreciate the importance of preserving and protecting those birds, but this is a success story. All of the recreational boaters agree they do not want to go under the Route 50 bridge. This is a fabulous asset for the Ocean City community and it should be enjoyed by the public.”

Idol said the group believes there is a solution available and is willing to sit down at the table with the DNR and other organizations to find a compromise.

“The push-back is coming from the non-profit organizations and the DNR, which claim the island should be used for breeding endangered and threatened birds,” he said. “We just feel like there could be an alternative. In places like New York and New Jersey, they are doing creative things with barges to create man-made areas for nesting and breeding birds.”

Rather than nurturing an “us versus them” mentality, the group is hoping for an amicable solution.

“We’re trying to put a positive spin on this,” he said. “It’s a very positive thing that happened from a dredging experience and we just would like to see it remain open for public access. We’re not trying to be adversarial and create this ‘us versus them’ situation. We just think there might be some compromise or solution.”

Official documents appear to send conflicting messages to the parties involved. For example, Maryland law clearly states the creation of Dog and Bitch Island and similar islands in the coastal bays are the state’s natural resources under the purview of the DNR.

“All islands created, made or formed within the confines of Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight and Chincoteague Bays by the dumping or depositing of excavated material from dredging or other artificial means employed by either the state of Maryland or the United States, or by either or both, or by any department or agency thereof during the construction or maintenance of the Ocean City Inlet and the channel in said bays as well was all accretion to such islands past or future are hereby declared to be natural resources of the state of Maryland,” the law reads.

On the other hand, the Army Corps of Engineers’ public notice about the dredging project and the creation of the islands suggests there could be a public benefit.

“The decision whether to accomplish the work proposed in the public notice will be based on an evaluation of the proposed work on the public interest,” the notice reads. “All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered. Among those are economics, recreation and the needs and welfare of the people. Any person who has an interest that may be affected by the placement of this dredged material may request a public hearing.”

However, the DNR is clear in its intent to preserve the island for threatened or endangered bird habitat.

“These islands are already part of the Sinepuxent Bay Wildlife Management Area,” said the DNR’s Jonathan McKnight this week. “It’s not some new world where one can plant a flag and claim it. This island was built specifically for nesting habitat for endangered or threatened migratory birds.”

McKnight said there are times of the year when the migratory birds are not using the island, but they don’t coincide with the recreational boating season in the resort. Essentially, there appears to be no solution under which the birds and boaters can peacefully coexist.

“Sadly, the uses are incompatible,” he said. “There is a reason why these birds no longer nest where Ocean City is today. They can’t adapt to human interaction and they can’t adapt to predators. That’s why they are endangered in the first place. These little islands are taking the place of the barrier islands like Ocean City that are developed and no longer suited for nesting habitat for threatened or endangered birds.”

McKnight said the DNR and its law enforcement arm NRP would allow the status quo for the remainder of the summer season, but closures are imminent in the future.

“Probably not this year unless the party there starts to get out of hand,” he said. “As long as people aren’t damaging the island, we won’t close it this year and the Natural Resources Police will continue to patrol and monitor it. Next year, however, there will be a time-of-year closure when the birds are breeding. Unfortunately, the breeding time coincides in large part with the recreational boating season in Ocean City.”

George Hurley’s Life, Contributions Recalled Fondly

George Hurley

OCEAN CITY — The resort community lost a gem this week with the passing of George Hurley, who not only recorded generations of Ocean City history, but created it and lived it.

Hurley passed away at his home on Sunday at the age of 80. He was born and raised in Ocean City, attended the old Ocean City High School in the same building where he would later serve as a councilman and council president and was a member of the school’s state championship basketball team. Hurley left his fingerprints all over Ocean City, from his time on the City Council when he helped shepherd the resort through a major growth spurt while retaining its old school charm to his major role in the fledgling beach replenishment project.

Hurley was a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, a teacher at Stephen Decatur High School and the owner and operator of the Hurley Construction Company for many years. He was also a member of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, the Ocean City Lions Club and the Atlantic Methodist Church and was also a Little League coach and a member of the Boy Scouts.

Despite wearing those many hats, Hurley might likely be remembered as Ocean City’s de facto historian. He and his wife Suzanne were instrumental in moving the old Life Saving Station on Caroline Street to the end of the Boardwalk where it stands now as a museum and Ocean City’s scaled down version of the Smithsonian. Hurley and his wife Suzanne co-authored several books including “A Pictorial History of Ocean City,” and whenever a question arose about the history of this old building or that storm, area residents knew Hurley would have the answers.

Hurley will likely be remembered for his influential stint on the City Council and later the Worcester County Commissioners. His daughter Daphne said this week his time on the council marked an era of great change in Ocean City.

“Ocean City really did open on Memorial Day and close on Labor Day,” she said. “When my dad was serving on the council in the 1980s, they really were the formative years for Ocean City and a lot was changing. The council at that time was pretty tumultuous, but he was always on an even keel and voice of reason. He was a steadying influence on that council.”

Daphne Hurley recalled her father’s passion for reading, travel and history, especially anything and everything to do with Ocean City.

“He was truly an historian,” she said. “It all began with ‘Ocean City-a Pictorial History.’ That was their first book and it really grew from there. He knew everything there was to know about the history of Ocean City.”

Not only did he figuratively lead the effort to save the Lifesaving Museum, he also physically moved the old building down the beach to its current location at the foot of the Boardwalk.

“With his construction background, he physically moved the Life Saving Museum down the beach to where it is on the end of the Boardwalk,” said Daphne Hurley. “It was just an ill-used, abandoned structure on Caroline Street but they recognized its value and that it had a lot of life left in it, so a group of concerned citizens moved it down to the end of the Boardwalk and it became the museum.”

The museum quickly became a clearinghouse for Ocean City history and local residents shared their pictures, artifacts and other pieces of resort history that found a home in the new museum.

“Everyone wanted George and Suzanne to have their stuff,” she said. “They brought them their shared keepsakes and memories and the museum started to take on a life of its own. His knowledge of Ocean City was so vast. That’s what comes from staying in one place for so long. Mom and Dad didn’t just record the history, they lived it. They really gave me the love of reading and traveling that I have today.”

Like Hurley, former Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell was born and raised in Ocean City and the pair knew each other as young children before later becoming the leaders of the resort.

“I knew George since the beginning when he was just a little boy,” he said. “We became fast friends and we had a lot of fun together. Later, he served on the council and became council president and County Commission president and he always had Ocean City’s best interest at heart and always got the job done. They don’t make them like George anymore.”

Powell agreed Hurley was a calming influence on a volatile council at the time.

“He would listen, offer his feelings and treat every issue with a lot of common sense,” he said. “He certainly was an asset in everything he was involved in, and it was a lot from the council to the County Commissioners to the various boards and organizations to the fire department. He was truly an asset and he will be sorely missed.”

Local attorney Joe Moore, also born and raised in the area, recalled some of his earliest cases in the resort with Hurley in the president’s chair.

“In my earlier years when I was handling conditional uses and zoning cases in front of the council, I always remember he was an absolute gentleman,” he said. “I was probably bungling presentations and making cases and he was always unfailingly courteous.”

Like Hurley, Moore is another de facto historian of Berlin, Ocean City and Worcester County and the two shared several mutual interests. A few years back, Moore published “Murder on the Eastern Shore” about the infamous Orphan Jones murder case in Worcester, and it was the already published Hurley who helped him through the process.

“As time went by, we realized we shared a mutual love for history and books,” he said. “George was tremendously supportive when my book came out and one of the most successful signings was at the Lifesaving Museum. Just recently, he brought me a John Steinbeck book that I probably read in college. I started it but haven’t picked it back up and I never had the chance to tell him I hadn’t finished it.”

Moore said Hurley’s expertise in the construction field helped the attorney with several real estate cases.

“George helped me more than I can say in matters involving rehabbing or restoring properties,” he said. “He was meticulous in his construction work.”

Moore said Hurley applied his vast knowledge of Ocean City in his work on the council during a dynamic time in the resort.

“He was always very aware of the history of Ocean City, and honestly, he was a big part of that history,” he said. “The time he served on the council was a very formative time for Ocean City. That was when High Rise Row was taking shape and Ocean City was expanding north.”

The Town of Ocean City is flying its flags at half-mast this week and will continue to do so until sunset on Friday. Mayor Rick Meehan spoke fondly of Hurley during this week’s council meeting.

“I had the privilege and the honor of serving with George Hurley when I was first elected to the council,” he said. “George was a great supporter of Ocean City. I learned a lot from George Hurley. When I was first elected to the council, the town was a lot smaller then it is today. It was beginning to develop and expand its boundaries and population.”

Meehan said Hurley was in tune with his constituents and advocated on their behalf while serving on the council.

“At the time I was elected, George lived in the downtown area and he personally knew the name of every person that lived south of 15th Street and he brought up the names of those individuals many times during the meetings when we talked about certain areas of the town,” said Meehan. “He represented them very well.”

Meehan said Hurley was instrumental in fostering the relationships and partnerships that ultimately led to beach replenishment.

“He also help build consensus among the new arrivals to our community as the north end of town was being developed,” he said. “He served as council president during a very important year as we developed and played a major role, along with Mayor Fish Powell and the council to be able to secure and enter into the beach replenishment project, which is probably one of the most important projects that we have entered into in the last 30 years and that project will most likely continue as long as Ocean City is here.”

Meehan also recognized the Hurleys’ roles as the town’s historians.

“He and his wife Suzanne have written a few books about Ocean City and many of us have seen those over time, and probably purchased those to give to family members and other people that also love Ocean City,” he said. “George did a great job serving on the police commission, and he was a strong proponent of the Ocean City airport. He understood the importance of the airport. He also played a major role in establishing the Life Saving Museum where it is today. George was a great family man and a dear friend, and I hold him in very high regards as I know all of the citizens of Ocean City do.”

Another former Ocean City mayor, now Senator Jim Mathias, also fondly recalled the former council president this week.

“George Hurley was a great friend to say the least,” he said. “He was a true inspiration for me as a started out in public service. George was steady, open-minded, fair and objective and he got things done. When I got called to public service, I wanted to be like George.”

Mathias said he hoped the next generation of leadership for Ocean City would emulate Hurley’s legacy.

“When young people are called to public service, I hope they can find inspiration in George,” he said. “I know I did. My hope is that God continues to bless Ocean City with leaders like George.”

Like so many others this week, Mathias recalled Hurley’s reverence for history and his place in it.

“When you look at his service in the Korean War, and his service as a teacher and his leadership in Ocean City and Worcester County where he was instrumental in things like beach replenishment, the Convention Center, Atlantic General Hospital and on and on, his history, Ocean City history and our country’s history are all embodied in one person,” he said.

Mathias fondly recalled weekly dinners at the Captain’s Table in the old Santa Maria where the town’s leadership could often be found including Powell, Hurley and others. He also related an amusing story of Hurley the pilot flying a small entourage from Ocean City to Baltimore for an Oriole game several decades ago.

“George and Fish and someone else I don’t recall now were going to an Oriole game and George was going to fly them and they invited me,” he said. “The four of us get out to the Ocean City Airport and there is this little plane that looks like a sports car with wings. We had to push it out of the hangar and I’m thinking how are the four of us going to fly to Baltimore in this. Then, the battery wouldn’t start, so he brings a car over and jumpstarts it with jumper cables and off we go. We get to Baltimore and go to the game, and when we get back to the airport and it’s now dark, the plane’s battery held the charge, but half the lights didn’t work. I was praying the whole way, but we made it home safely.”

A funeral service will be held on Friday, Aug. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Burbage Funeral Home in Berlin. Rev. Dr. Olin Shockley will officiate. Friends may call one hour prior to the service. Interment will be private for the family. In lieu of flowers, a donation in his memory may be made to the Ocean City Life Saving Museum, P.O. Box 603, Ocean City, Md. 21843.

Letters of condolence may be sent via: www.burbagefuneralhome.com

Two Million-Dollar Fish Win White Marlin Open’s Top Prizes; Tuna Division Settled On Final Day

This day five white marlin -- a 79 pounder -- was worth $1 million to the crew of the “Lights Out” of Ocean Reef, Fla. Photo by Hooked On OC

OCEAN CITY — A Virginia Beach woman’s 94-pound white marlin held on for first place and $1.18 million in the 42nd White Marlin Open, but a qualifying white weighed on the tournament’s last day stole a little of her thunder.

After two days of no qualifying white marlin weighed at the scale at host Harbour Island, angler Cheryl McLeskey on the “Backlash” rolled in Wednesday evening with a big white marlin to weigh. The big crowd, which had been waiting for two days to see a potential million dollar billfish run up the scale, gasped when the scale master and crew pulled the huge white marlin from the “Backlash” cockpit.

It clearly had the length and girth to be a qualifier, but it was uncertain just how historic the big white might be. The scale fluttered up and down briefly before settling in at an even 94 pounds. With the 94-pounder on the board, McLeskey settled into the top position on the white marlin leaderboard and the big fish held on for the rest of the week, making her the first woman to win the WMO’s signature division.

The tuna division was shook up on Friday with two leaderboard bigeyes brought to the scales, including a 200.5-pound beast, above, worth $399,209.

The tuna division was shook up on Friday with two leaderboard bigeyes brought to the scales, including a 200.5-pound beast, above, worth $399,209.

McLeskey’s 94-pound white weighed last Wednesday is the third largest in tourney history. In 2009, a 93.5-pounder won the tournament’s top prize, and in 1978, a 93.5-pound white also won the tournament and a 90-pounder won in 1981. Incidentally, the Maryland state record is a whopping 135-pounder caught by angler George Pierson with Captain Charlie Kratz on the “Five C’s” that has a permanent home on display at the foot of the Boardwalk.

With McLeskey and the “Backlash” on the board with a 94-pounder, most participating captains, anglers and boats were ready to concede first place in the division, but there was still a potential big prize out there for another qualifying white marlin, although stormy conditions and rough seas offshore certainly made it a challenge. For the first time this year, there was an optional white marlin winner-take-all category with a $10,000 buy-in. About a third of the tournament’s 307 participating boats ponied up for the new white marlin category, setting that purse at around $1 million.

McLeskey and the “Backlash” were not among the participants who entered the winner-take-all category and the big prize was still out there for the taking on the tournament’s last two days. On Friday, angler Bill Haugland on the “Lights Out” came into the scale with a big white to weigh and the fish topped out at 79 pounds. It was only the second qualifying white marlin weighed all week and it was an important one. The “Lights Out” was entered in the new white marlin category and claimed a little over $1 million in prize money.

Dockhand Mike Hannon measures what would be the second-place white marlin in this year’s event onboard the “Lights Out.” Photos by Hooked On OC

Dockhand Mike Hannon measures what would be the second-place white marlin in this year’s event onboard the “Lights Out.” Photos by Hooked On OC

While the white marlin division produced its share of drama throughout the week with a couple of near misses, the blue marlin division was all but wrapped up after day one. Angler Larry Hesse Jr. on the “Goin Deep” rolled into the scale on Monday with a big blue to weigh and when it was pulled from the boat and hauled up the scale, it topped out at 551 pounds. No other qualifying blue marlin was weighed the rest of the week and Hesse and the “Goin Deep” crew took home the division’s $778,352 in prize money.

The tuna division leaderboard changed often throughout the week before a big 200.5-pound big-eye settled the issue on the tournament’s last day. On Monday, angler Logan Pusey and the crew on the “Rumor Has It” weighed a 177-pound tuna to settle into the top position on the leaderboard. On Wednesday, angler Mike Beckett and the crew on the “Pez Machine” weighed a 155-pounder that briefly took the second place spot and angler Jim Jensen at the “Plane Simple” settled into third with a 141.5-pounder also on Wednesday.

As expected, the 94-pound white marlin hooked by Cheryl McLeskey held on first place and had a $1.1 million payday. Photo by Hooked On OC

As expected, the 94-pound white marlin hooked by Cheryl McLeskey held on first place and had a $1.1 million payday. Photo by Hooked On OC

However, the tuna leaderboard was erased and re-written on Friday, the tournament’s last day. Angler Mark Donahue on the “Miss Annie” weighed a 200.5 pound big-eye on Friday to take the division’s top spot and a total of $398,834 in prize money. Pusey and the “Rumor Has It” was bumped to second and earned $174,120. Angler Dante Soriente on the “MJ’s” out of Ocean City weighed a 176 pounder on Friday, good enough for third place and $26,366 in prize money. The “Pez Machine” finished fourth and the “Plane Simple” finished fifth, with each winning $33,945 in prize money.

In the dolphin division, it was angler Andy Shelton and the “Streaker” taking first with a 46.5-pounder worth $24,847. Chris Manetta and the “Tra Sea Ann” took second with a 42-pounder and earned $23,847, while Jesse Morris on the “Turn Me Loose” took third with a 36.5-pounder worth $22,847. In the wahoo division, the one and only qualifier was a 45-pounder caught by angler Jay Mascaro on the “Warden Pass” worth $33,271. There were no qualifying sharks weighed during the tournament.

The 2015 White Marlin Open set a record with $3.9 million in total prize money.

Painter Documents Weekend’s Inlet Rescue On Canvas

Plein air artist George Kalwa’s account of the rescue that took place on Sunday was immediately put on canvas.

OCEAN CITY — One local artist participating in an Art League of Ocean City event near the Inlet on Sunday is credited for initiating the rescue of a body-boarder in distress, while a second artist instantly captured the emergency situation on canvas.

Sunday morning was a typical one in downtown Ocean City in August with fishermen casting from the Inlet rocks, early beachgoers arriving and setting up camp for the day and children playing along the water’s edge, creating an idyllic setting for the Ocean City Art League’s annual “Artists Paint OC” plein air event. However, the serene scene quickly turned frantic when an unidentified man on a body-board became caught in the rushing current in the Inlet.

Two artists participating in the plein air event witnessed the man in distress and alerted lifeguards in the area who were not yet on duty. In a right place at the right time kind of moment, one of the artists actually captured the rescue carried out by the lifeguards and the Coast Guard on canvas.

West Ocean City artist David Simpson was on the scene watching other artists in the plein air event and quickly notified the Ocean City Beach Patrol of the emergency unfolding. Simpson, also a local surfer who knows the Inlet area well along with its dangers, reached out to a lifeguard he knew and set in motion the rescue of the distressed man.

“The lifeguards weren’t in their chairs yet, but I saw Lauren Reck, a lifeguard I knew, sitting in her car waiting to go to work,” said Simpson this week. “I told her what was happening. She dropped her coffee and book, blew her whistle and went right into action.”

OCBP Crew Chief Kevin Johnson, who was also parked at the Inlet lot before going on duty, heard Reck’s multiple whistle blasts, indicating she needed back-up and radioed the Coast Guard requesting assistance. Reck and Johnson then entered the water and swam to the distressed body-boarder.

“He had washed out to sea at least half of a mile,” said Simpson. “They risked their own lives to save him.”

The Coast Guard arrived in a rescue boat and pulled the unidentified body-boarder and the two lifeguards to safety. During the rescue, artist George Kalwa, one of 34 artists participating in the Art League’s two-hour quick draw contest in the area, recorded the event. Kalwa was already set up and painting at the north jetty when he saw the rescue unfold.

“The tide was screaming through the Inlet,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. The rescue was perfect for me because I can paint so fast.”

Kalwa does have experience painting fast. He is a former courtroom illustrator who worked in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. capturing the action in many high-profile trials, including Oliver North’s trial in the Iran-Contra incident about three decades ago.

Kalwa’s finished painting, showing the churning waters of the Inlet and the lifeguards in action, finished second in the Art League’s quick draw competition. Ann Coates, owner of Bishop’s Stock Gallery in Snow Hill and a contest judge, said Kalwa’s painting was deserving of an award.

“It was extraordinary that the artist was there to witness this event and capture it so immediately on canvas,” she said.

Kristin Joson of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said later the swimmer was lucky to have been spotted by the artist and rescued without serious injury. The lifeguards made over 70 rescues on Sunday due to heavy rip currents.

“We were not on duty at the time and the outcome could have been horrible,” she said. “That’s why we have the motto ‘keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguards are in the stand.’”

Bay Island Lovers Seek Solution With DNR To Prevent Recreational Closing

Recreational boaters are routinely enjoying days on Dog and Bitch Island, which is home to a flag erected in late June. Photo courtesy of Keepers of the Flag Facebook page

OCEAN CITY — A sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay that has become a popular recreational boating site will remain so for the remainder of this summer, but it will likely be closed to the public in the future for nesting migratory birds.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the coastal bays last winter, the resulting 40,000 cubic yards of sand and dredge spoil were used to restore some of the islands in the coastal bays that had not been seen since the 1930s, including the famed Dog and Bitch Island. Approximately 18,000 cubic yards of sand were specifically pumped onto Dog and Bitch Island, essentially accomplishing the dual goals of finding a home for the dredged material and re-creating the historic small island once essential for migratory bird habitat.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to creating a quiet reserve for threatened or endangered migratory birds, such as terns and skimmers. From the beginning, recreational boaters were drawn to the sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay and hundreds of boat operators drop anchor and wade ashore creating a weekend retreat for their families and friends.

The weekend recreational boating hub was solidified in late June when Captain Glen Smith of Selbyville waded ashore with a flag pole, an American flag and bags of concrete, and with a help of some new friends raised Old Glory in a spontaneous act of patriotism. In the weeks since, the island’s popularity has grown, but its days as a weekend recreational boating destination are numbered.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which partnered with the Army Corps on the dredging and island creation project, has watched the island’s popularity grow at arm’s length for much of the summer because it is currently not being used for nesting birds. However, when the birds return in the spring, the DNR, under whose purview the island lies, will likely impose time-of-year closures and utilize the enforcement resources at its disposal including potential citations and fines.

Already, a growing grassroots group of recreational boaters operating under the “Keepers of the Flag” Facebook page, which has more than 850 followers, and the www.americanflagisland.org website are petitioning the DNR to continue to allow public access to the popular boating destination. The group maintains the project was funded by taxpayer dollars and should be available to the taxpaying public. While sympathetic to the need of the threatened and endangered birds, the group believes the economic and recreational benefit enjoyed by hundreds outweighs the ecological significance.

“It’s good for Ocean City,” said group spokesman Chuck Idol this week. “We all appreciate the importance of preserving and protecting those birds, but this is a success story. All of the recreational boaters agree they do not want to go under the Route 50 bridge. This is a fabulous asset for the Ocean City community and it should be enjoyed by the public.”

Idol said the group believes there is a solution available and is willing to sit down at the table with the DNR and other organizations to find a compromise.

“The push-back is coming from the non-profit organizations and the DNR, which claim the island should be used for breeding endangered and threatened birds,” he said. “We just feel like there could be an alternative. In places like New York and New Jersey, they are doing creative things with barges to create man-made areas for nesting and breeding birds.”

Rather than nurturing an “us versus them” mentality, the group is hoping for an amicable solution.

“We’re trying to put a positive spin on this,” he said. “It’s a very positive thing that happened from a dredging experience and we just would like to see it remain open for public access. We’re not trying to be adversarial and create this ‘us versus them’ situation. We just think there might be some compromise or solution.”

Official documents appear to send conflicting messages to the parties involved. For example, Maryland law clearly states the creation of Dog and Bitch Island and similar islands in the coastal bays are the state’s natural resources under the purview of the DNR.

“All islands created, made or formed within the confines of Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight and Chincoteague Bays by the dumping or depositing of excavated material from dredging or other artificial means employed by either the state of Maryland or the United States, or by either or both, or by any department or agency thereof during the construction or maintenance of the Ocean City Inlet and the channel in said bays as well was all accretion to such islands past or future are hereby declared to be natural resources of the state of Maryland,” the law reads.

On the other hand, the Army Corps of Engineers’ public notice about the dredging project and the creation of the islands suggests there could be a public benefit.

“The decision whether to accomplish the work proposed in the public notice will be based on an evaluation of the proposed work on the public interest,” the notice reads. “All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered. Among those are economics, recreation and the needs and welfare of the people. Any person who has an interest that may be affected by the placement of this dredged material may request a public hearing.”

However, the DNR is clear in its intent to preserve the island for threatened or endangered bird habitat.

“These islands are already part of the Sinepuxent Bay Wildlife Management Area,” said the DNR’s Jonathan McKnight this week. “It’s not some new world where one can plant a flag and claim it. This island was built specifically for nesting habitat for endangered or threatened migratory birds.”

McKnight said there are times of the year when the migratory birds are not using the island, but they don’t coincide with the recreational boating season in the resort. Essentially, there appears to be no solution under which the birds and boaters can peacefully coexist.

“Sadly, the uses are incompatible,” he said. “There is a reason why these birds no longer nest where Ocean City is today. They can’t adapt to human interaction and they can’t adapt to predators. That’s why they are endangered in the first place. These little islands are taking the place of the barrier islands like Ocean City that are developed and no longer suited for nesting habitat for threatened or endangered birds.”

McKnight said the DNR and its law enforcement arm NRP would allow the status quo for the remainder of the summer season, but closures are imminent in the future.

“Probably not this year unless the party there starts to get out of hand,” he said. “As long as people aren’t damaging the island, we won’t close it this year and the Natural Resources Police will continue to patrol and monitor it. Next year, however, there will be a time-of-year closure when the birds are breeding. Unfortunately, the breeding time coincides in large part with the recreational boating season in Ocean City.”

McKnight agreed the situation does not have to become adversarial and stressed the importance of increased public awareness and education.

“In a perfect world, we could find a way to educate the boating public about the importance of these islands and these birds,” he said. “There are just so few places for wilderness. This is public land created specifically for breeding bird habitat and that’s what we’re going to do with it. If we were to just let this go, it would be extremely irresponsible of us as an agency.”

McKnight said enforcement in the form of citations and fines will be a measure of last resort during the anticipated closure next spring.

“For breeding season, we’re just going to close the area to the public,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll take the appropriate enforcement actions including citations and fines. We hope it won’t come to that and we can educate boaters on the importance of those breeding areas, but we will do what we must to preserve this habitat.”

 

 

 

Surfers Healing Provides Memorable Day For Special Needs Families In Ocean City

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Surfers Healing returned to Ocean City today, providing a day-long surfing camp and a lifetime of memories for kids with special needs and their families.

Surfers Healing is a national organization featuring teams of surfers traveling to coastal communities all over the country to provide a day of surfing for kids with autism and other special needs. While the event is all about surfers riding waves in tandem with young kids with special needs, it is really a day for the kids and their families to just enjoy the beach with other families facing the same challenges.

The event was held on Wednesday on the beach at 37th Street in front of the Castle in the Sand Hotel. Dozens of surfers helped hundreds of kids with special needs enjoy the ocean and the exhilaration riding a wave the calming influence of the sea. About 220 families signed up for the Surfers Healing event on Wednesday, an event that sold out in about five minutes.

The Surfers Healing crew tours beach communities up and down the coast throughout the summer. For example, the traveling camp will head to Virginia Beach this weekend and will be in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. next week. For one day, however, the tour returned to Ocean City on Wednesday for the seventh year in row.

Wednesday was a picture-perfect day on the beach at 37th Street with hundreds of young kids with special needs riding in tandem with their surfer coaches. The ocean provided perfect fun-size knee-high waves and a large pod of dolphins swam by to check out the event. One parent who has been involved in the event since the beginning said he believed the dolphins show up every year, perhaps because they sense something special is going on.

Another parent, local Andrea Baker, whose son Bobby participated in Surfers Healing on Wednesday, also volunteers to help coordinate Ocean City’s event with organizers Dale and Kelly Loeser of the Quiet Storm Surf Shop. Baker has been involved since the beginning and marveled at how the event has grown in seven years.

“It’s gotten so big,” she said. “They open the online registration and it fills up in about five minutes. There are 220 kids participating this year.”

Baker said the event provides an opportunity for families sharing the same issues and challenges to just put away their cares for a day and enjoy the beach and ocean.

“Everybody you talk to says it’s just a great day at the beach and everybody is upbeat and having fun,” she said. “It’s just a great day to be a regular family because everybody out here is facing the same challenges.”

Baker also had high praise for the surfers who ride the waves with the kids, some of whom can stand up and surf and others who ride the waves like a body-board.

“The surfers are amazing,” she said. “They are just wonderful. They’re calm and just patient with the kids.”

Chris Williams traveled from Silver Spring, Md. to participate in the annual event with his son T.J. and his other child Trevor. T.J. had finished his heat and was proudly displaying his trophy on the beach while Trevor was out surfing in tandem with one of the surfer. Williams said T.J. looks forward to coming back for Surfers Healing each year.

“He just loves the water,” he said. “He was out there for a while and he’d go back if he gets the chance. It’s just a really cool beach day.”

Dale Loeser was busy running back and forth on the beach, helping the next wave of kids head out with their surfers. He said some of the kids are reluctant participants at first, but really come around when they hit the water and get their first crack at surfing.

“It’s a great day,” he said. “You can see a big change in them. Sometimes they don’t want to get in, but once they do, the ocean has this calming effect on them. When they come out, you can see they have this big sense of accomplishment.”

While the families and the kids with special needs really enjoy the day, the traveling band of surfers who serve as teachers at the camps take away their own reward.

“The surfers really enjoy it,” said Loeser. “It is very rewarding to help a child and do something you love at the same time. I honestly don’t know who gets more out of this, the kids or the surfers.”

Surfers Healing now serves around 4,500 kids and their families each year at coastal communities all over the country, but it began with a single child. Israel and Danielle Paskowitz founded Surfers Healing for their son Isaiah, who has autism. When Isaiah struggled with frequent meltdowns and sensory overload, riding the waves with his father calmed him like nothing else could.

The Paskowitz family began inviting other families with similar challenges and the idea caught on. Surfers Healing is now a nationwide, grassroots non-profit organization, and while it serves thousands, it thinks only in terms of ones. One child, one family, one day at the beach.

Media Company Drops Appeal In Drowning Victim Name Suit

gavel

OCEAN CITY — There was a measure of closure this week in a news media outlet’s suit against the Town of Ocean City and its police department over the release of the name of a teenage drowning victim when The Daily Times and its parent Gannett Company, Inc. officially dropped its appeal.

Last September, Gannett filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court against the town and its police department seeking to force the town to release the name of a 17-year-old victim who drowned in the ocean off 92nd Street in June 2014. That incident marked the second time in less than two weeks a teen visiting the resort died in the ocean.

The Ocean City Police Department did not release the victim’s name, citing a request for privacy from the teen’s family. Most local media outlets did not pursue the issue any further, respecting the family’s wishes and deciding instead releasing the victim’s name would not serve any public purpose or contribute to the newsworthiness of the story.

Following the incident, Gannett Company Inc. submitted a Public Information Act (PIA) request to the OCPD seeking the victim’s name, but were denied by the department, which stood behind the wishes of the family not to release the information. Gannett then filed a second PIA request asking the resort to point out where in the law a special exception based on privacy was included.
Rebuffed again, Gannett last September filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court against the Mayor and Council and the police department seeking to force the resort to release the victim’s name. By that point, the media outlet’s quest became less about the release of the individual drowning victim’s name and more about the town’s ability to pick and choose what information it chooses to release or withhold.

It’s important to note as the case wore on, it became less about the name of the victim and more about the media and public access to information. In February, Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Groton entered an opinion on the town’s motion for summary judgment, essentially ruling the town’s police department had met their burden under the Maryland Public Information Act.

“The request seeks no information about a governmental agency, and it would provide no further understanding or insight into the conduct and procedures of the investigation,” the opinion reads. “The request only seeks the name of the decedent, a private citizen. The request is an unwarranted invasion of privacy under the definition established.”

Despite the unfavorable outcome in Worcester County Circuit Court, Gannett would not let the issue die and filed an appeal of Groton’s decision in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. This week, however, it was confirmed the media company had dropped the appeal.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said this week the dropped appeal brings a measure of closure for the town and its police department as well as the victim’s family.

“We are pleased to move forward knowing that we acted in the best interest of the victim and the victim’s family,” he said this week. “We take very seriously the ability to keep our residents and visitors safe and protect their privacy within our best ability when requested. This was a very tragic incident, but I hope that we can begin to move forward and allow the family privacy to continue healing from their loss.”

Inlet Dredging Set For This Month, But Long-Term Commitment Still Being Sought

Inlet

OCEAN CITY — While the Army Corps of Engineers will return to the resort area later this month for a short-term dredging project to temporarily fix the chronic shoaling problem in the Ocean City Inlet and commercial harbor, state and local officials continue to push for a long term solution.

The Inlet and the channels in and around the resort area naturally silt in at different times during the year due to a variety of natural and man-made factors and need to be frequently dredged to maintain a navigable depth. The federal Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) maintains the depth of the channels at 10 feet with two feet of overdraft and the Corps’ heavy dredging equipment is a fixture on the resort landscape each spring and fall.

At the prompting of a delegation of local, county and state elected officials, ACE will return to Ocean City later this month to dredge the Inlet again to keep commercial and recreational boat traffic flowing. A massive hopper dredge vessel, named “Currituck,” will conduct the project with a tentative start date of around Aug. 25.

However, it has come to light in recent months the federally authorized 10-foot depth in the Inlet is not sufficient to sustain the multi-million dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries.

This spring, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C), along with the Ocean City Mayor and Council, the Worcester County Commissioners and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fired off a joint letter urging the Army Corps of Engineers to embark on a long-term plan to dredge the Inlet to 16 feet and the commercial harbor to 14 feet.

The letter cited the 1998 Water Resources Report that predicted many of the problems now occurring with shoaling and dredging nearly two decades ago. The original letter urged the ACE to act on the 1998 report and increase the depths of the Inlet and harbor. The Army Corps has been responsive to a degree.

However, Carozza fired off a second letter to the Army Corps last week urging a quicker long-term solution. The letter raises concerns the Army Corps might step back and take a broader view of the entire watershed without focusing on the immediate problem.

“Specifically, the purpose of this letter is to request that the Army Corps of Engineers narrow its focus to update and use the information and recommendations from the comprehensive 1998 Water Resources report and any other current or recent similar reports to move forward with the immediate study or review and implementation of the reports’ recommendations focusing on resolving the continuing shoaling of the Ocean City Inlet through to the West Ocean City Harbor,” the letter reads. “Unless the focus of the action is confined to the most highly impacted areas, the process will take too long and the resulting action items will be too costly to obtain funding.”

The most recent letter points out the 1998 report identified situations existing then and the likely events to occur as described that have proven over time to be almost totally accurate and have even accelerated and worsened faster than predicted.

“The degree of shoaling in the Ocean City Inlet area has become urgent and unacceptable to the point that it is severely impacting economic and safety issues for both commercial watermen and recreational boaters,” the letter reads. “Several commercial vessels have left the Ocean City area to continue their business in New Jersey.”

While the Army Corps appears willing to address the issue, both long-term and short-term, funding for any major project will likely be an issue. Carozza staffer and commercial and recreational boating advocate Pat Schrawder said this week ACE largely bases funding decisions on the economic impact of the commercial fishing industry in an area.

“The Army Corps bases its dredging schedule on a cost-benefit ratio looking at commercial boats only,” she said. “There aren’t many left here, and when they leave, they conversely impact that cost-benefit ratio.”

In addition, an ACE funding decision will not be based on the level of recreational fishing activity, the importance of which, this week more than any other week of the year, could not be more evident.

“We know there is a lot of recreational boating and fishing activity impacted by this,” she said. “Just look around this week with the White Marlin Open here and that is pretty obvious, but the Army Corps only takes into consideration the level of commercial activity.”

Carozza’s most recent letter urges the ACE to consider an immediate solution to the long-term problem.

“We’re happy they’re going to do the short-term remedial dredging this month, but we’re really pushing for the Corps to follow the 1998 report and dredge the Inlet to 16 feet and the harbor to 14 feet,” Schrawder said. “What we don’t want is for them to start a big study all over again. If they do another two-year study, we’ll lose more and more commercial boats.”

Motorists Nearly Hits Walker During Chase

OCEAN CITY — A Turkish national living in West Ocean City was arrested on multiple traffic and drug charges early Thursday morning after a high-speed chase in the downtown area that nearly resulted in a collision with a pedestrian.

Around 2:20 a.m. on Thursday, an Ocean City police officer on patrol in the area of 28th Street observed a Ford Focus heading south on Philadelphia Avenue drifting from lane to lane. The officer followed the vehicle south as it continued to swerve in and out of lanes and speeding. The officer initially tracked the vehicle driving 48 mph in a 35-mph zone.

The officer initiated a traffic stop by activating the patrol vehicle’s lights and siren, but the Ford Focus continued south, accelerating to 56 mph at one point. When the car reached the area of 15th Street, its path was blocked by traffic in each lane ahead with brake lights. The Ford Focus abruptly turned west on 15th Street, ran through a stop sign at St. Louis Avenue and nearly struck a pedestrian, who had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck in the crosswalk.

The vehicle was eventually pulled over on St. Louis Avenue between 15th and 14th streets. The driver, Yusuf Agduman, 21, exited the vehicle and was handcuffed and taken into custody. The officer noted in his report a strong odor of burnt marijuana was detected in the vehicle and on Agduman’s person and the person of his passenger, Onur Bolaca. Officers also located a plastic pipe with marijuana residue in the console.

Another OCPD officer responded to assist and backtracked along the path the Ford Focus took during the chase and discovered marijuana wrapped in a napkin on the corner of St. Louis Avenue and 15th Street that was seen being thrown from the passenger side window during the chase. Throughout the vehicle, OCPD officers found other marijuana and paraphernalia wrapped in similar paper napkins.

Meanwhile, the initial officer questioned Agduman about why he fled. According to police reports, Agduman told police he believed the police cruiser with lights flashing and siren activated was an ambulance and that he was merely trying to get out of the way. He allegedly told police he thought the officer’s vehicle was an ambulance because he was not advised to pull over. Agduman was arrested and charged with multiple traffic and drug violations, while Bolaca was also arrested and charged with drug violations.