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Unfold a chair and settle in.

Wriggle bare toes in the warm sand.

Close your eyes and ... relax. Hear the rhythmic sound of the water lapping up onto the shore — spooosh-phewww, spooosh-phewww.

Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

No need to brave the bay bridge. No need to fight the traffic to creep into the Outer Banks of North Carolina. St. Mary’s residents can go to the beach without leaving the county.

Beaches are open to the public at Point Lookout State Park and Greenwell State Park and the Elms Beach Park and Myrtle Point Park. And for those with access to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, there’s Cedar Point Beach.

Stacey and Greg Gibbs of Dameron took advantage of the Elms Beach last Friday, bringing their two little girls — Addison, 2, (3 on July 3) and Casey, 15 months. They packed a picnic, gathered up some sand toys and spent a couple of hours at the park that is only five minutes from their home. It is a destination for the family about twice a month, they said.

“It’s quiet,” Stacey said about what she most appreciates about the local beach. She sat on a towel and just watched as her younger daughter entertained herself by using a little plastic shovel to slowly and contentedly fill up a pail with sand.

Just a little farther down the beach, Jane Bicknell of Callaway sat in a camp chair with a cold soda at her hand and watched her three grandnieces and a niece splash and play at the edge of the water. “There’s no place like St. Mary’s County,” Bicknell said. Raised in Piney Point, access to the water has always been part of her life.

She recently had a knee replacement, and as she heals from the surgery, she said the sun and salt water feel good on it. “Oh, I love the water,” she said. “It’s peaceful. Any time you’re next to the water, it’s peaceful.”

Christy Bright, park manager for the Point Lookout State Park complex, said the beach area at Point Lookout is a popular destination on summer weekends. Once school lets out for the summer, “it’s packed,” Bright said.

“But during the week, Point Lookout is very peaceful,” she said. “It’s an entirely different experience. It depends on what you like.”

Bright said the big crowds on the weekends will continue until school opens again. “It drops off right after Labor Day,” she said. “It’s like someone turns a switch.”

Jellyfish can be an issue at area beaches. They start becoming more noticeable around July normally. But Bright noted that the spring has been unusually wet, decreasing the salinity of area waters. “Jellyfish hold off a little longer when there is a lot of rain,” Bright said.

There was a time when Point Lookout put up nets in the water around the swimming area to keep the jellyfish away. But the constant wave action of the water just broke up the jellyfish into little pieces that were widely dispersed in the swimming area. “The water was littered with tentacles, so it wasn’t productive,” Bright said.

The beach area at Greenwell State Park is small and there is no lifeguard, Bright said. During the summer, the park hosts a variety of children’s camps, many of which use the beach area, so visitors need to expect to share that space.

Brian Loewe, director of St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation and Parks, said that both the Elms Beach Park and the beach area at Myrtle Point Park are popular destinations. “They both provide a very nice beach experience,” he said.

During the summer there is a per-car entry fee for both of those parks on Saturdays and Sundays and on holidays, like the Fourth of July, “to help offset some of the staffing needs,” Loewe said. Otherwise, entry to the parks is free.

Those with access to Pax River can also visit the beach located off Cedar Point Road. “It’s not too crowded,” said Connie Hempel with the Navy base’s public affairs office.

The beach at Pax River is open all the time and it’s a beautiful place to just take a walk, Hempel said. “There used to be a [woman] here who did that every day after work. She did it to decompress.”

The base is also sponsoring free workouts on the beach early Tuesday and Thursday morning through the month of July.

Charlene Rohulich of Lexington Park just this year discovered the beach possibilities in St. Mary’s County. She has been taking her three children, ages 4, 6 and 7 to the Elms Beach Park three to four times a week the last few weeks, she said.

On Friday, Rohulich and her children spent three hours at the beach — she, mostly sitting and watching, while the children played in the water, buried each other in the sand and built sand castles.

“They’re little treasures,” Rohulich said of the local beaches.

Hit the beach

Beach areas are available at two state parks in St. Mary’s County. Point Lookout State Park has a guarded, designated swimming beach area of about 800 yards on the Potomac River. Lifeguards are sometimes on duty. The park also has a separate beach area designated for visitors with pets. The park is located where the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River meet, at the southern end of Route 5. There is a fee, per car, for entering the park. For more, call 301-872-5688. Greenwell State Park has a small, unguarded beach area. Greenwell is located in Hollywood, at 25420 Rosedale Manor Lane. For more, call 301-373-9775 or visit www.greenwellfoundation.org.

Two county parks have beach areas. Neither have lifeguards. Elms Beach Park is located on Bay Forest Road, off of Route 235, in Dameron. This park is south of the Elms Environmental Center and doesn’t share the same entrance as the center. Myrtle Point Park is on Patuxent Boulevard, off Route 4, in California. Elms Beach Park and Myrtle Point Park are free of charge Monday through Friday. There is a fee Saturday, Sunday and holidays to enter these two parks beginning the first weekend in May through the end of Labor Day weekend. These two parks open at 7 a.m. and close at sunset during normal weekday operations in this time period. On weekends and holidays between the first weekend in May through the Labor Day weekend, these two parks open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. For information call 301-863-8400, ext. 3570, or see www.stmarysmd.com/recreate.

Cedar Point Beach is located off Cedar Point Road at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and is always open for those with base access.

scraton@somdnews.com