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Maryland takes steps to improve waterway access

Maryland boaters say they’re happy to see increasing public access to local waterways and the state government is trying to make public access even stronger.

In the United States, it can be tough for boaters to find acceptable water access for watercraft such as kayaks and motorboats. A boating survey released by a national public opinion firm this year found that 43 percent of boaters say public boating ramps are too crowded and 30 percent say there aren’t enough boating access areas in their state.

There were 185,626 registered boats in Maryland in 2012 whose owners need to find regular public water access, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Liz Sweeney, with her kayak, and Rick Warner, with his bass boat, were two boaters who visit Loch Raven Fishing Center in Baltimore County.

Warner classifies Loch Raven Fishing Center as his “home base,” but uses the interactive map on Maryland's Department of Natural Resources website to find other boating ramps in the state, including at Rocky Ridge and Prettyboy Reservoir.

Mark O'Malley, boating director for the department, said Maryland has an advantage when it comes to boating access because of the number of waterways available to the public, especially Chesapeake Bay.

“We try to market Maryland in its uniqueness because you can fish or you can join a community to boat,” O’Malley told the paper. “There's something for everybody, whether you have a sailboat or a paddleboard.”

During the recession, O'Malley said, many people sold their boats because they couldn't afford to maintain them or buy a slip at a marina. Instead, people — especially the younger working class — are purchasing personal watercraft, which are easier to get onto the water and don't require a whole slip at a marina.

The survey also showed that 41 percent of boaters use a boat mainly to fish. To accommodate people who have fishing boats, the state has been trying to keep up existing public ramps rather than put in new ones.

In 2013, the Maryland Senate passed a bill that established a task force to study and improve boating in the state, and the House passed a bill that requires the Department of Transportation, when constructing or improving a waterway crossing, to review how that crossing could be improved for water access.
The task force looks at existing ramps and makes recommendations about how they might be improved or repaired.

In the study, the main problems boaters had with public access ramps included inadequate space, insufficient parking near the ramps and water that was too shallow.

Michael Belitzky, manager of government relations for the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, said the Senate bill was a big step for Maryland in providing the best boating access.

“The creation of this task force demonstrates Maryland's commitment to boating, and how to develop best practices to not only promote recreational boating, but also to consider incentives for boaters to register in the state and use marinas and boatyards for recreation, repair and outfitting,” Belitzky said.