Park Closure Would Impact Viewing Of Horseshoe Crab Spawning

OCEAN CITY — An unintended side effect of a proposed nighttime closure of Sunset Park came to light this week in the form of a potential loss of opportunity to witness one of the resort area’s most amazing natural spectacles.

For months, Ocean City officials have debated a potential reduction of the nighttime hours at Sunset Park along the bay at the south of end of the resort for a variety of reasons. The Police Commission endorsed closing Sunset Park at night to cut down on the unofficial activities and reduce the need for enforcement. When the issue was presented to the Mayor and Council, elected officials tacitly agreed to close the park from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day, with the exception of certain special events. However, no formal action was taken and the changes to the park’s hours remain in limbo.

While the park’s nighttime closure has bounced from the Police Commission to the Mayor and Council and back to the Recreation and Parks Commiteee, Ocean City’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee this week got a chance to weigh in from a different perspective. A private citizen reached out to the so-called “Green Team” to voice concern a closure of the park at night could deny an opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy the rather remarkable spawning of horseshoe crabs on a sandy spit of beach in the park adjacent to the bay.

The citizen pointed out a several times during the year, hundreds of horseshoe crabs beach themselves on the sandy area in Sunset Park as part of their reproductive process, which creates a natural attraction for residents and visitors in the park.

“Apparently, they come in at night to spawn and lay their eggs and it’s really something to see,” said Councilman and committee liaison Tony DeLuca. “It’s an unbelievable sight and apparently people gather to watch it and they don’t want the park closed at night because it would eliminate the opportunity to view it.”

Maryland Coastal Bays Program representative Sandi Smith agreed Sunset Park offers a unique site to view the spectacle, but said there are other alternatives in the immediate area. For example, the MCBP offers eco-tours at the nearby Oceanic Motel during which volunteers are invited to watch the horseshoe spawning and participate in a tagging program.

“We engage the volunteers to help count the horseshoe crabs because there are tons of them,” she said. “Based on the tides and the moon, they come in droves and spawn and lay their eggs and then go back out again on the tide … They want to keep the park open at night because it is such a sight to see. The answer is to go to the Oceanic Motel beach because the same thing happens there and we can monitor it with our eco-tour program.”

DeLuca said he would respond to the citizen concerned about the nighttime closure of Sunset Park.

“He’s just looking for an alternative source,” he said. “It sounds like there is at least one available nearby and we can get the word out to them and others who enjoy the show.”

Committee member John Coley wondered if promoting designated areas to view the horseshoe crab spawning was worth pursuing.

“It might be a cool thing to promote,” he said. “Kids love that kind of stuff and their might be some educational benefit to promote. I can envision something like ‘they’ve been coming to Ocean City for six million years.’”

Meanwhile, the proposed nighttime closure of Sunset Park is expected to come back to the Police Commission before a final recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.