Newtowne Neck State Park in Compton should be opening in early 2014, state officials said Thursday, two years after it was closed down when unexploded ordnance was found on its beaches.
When the 790-acre waterfront park does reopen in the winter or spring it will remain in passive use until a master planning process is completed, said Christy Bright, park manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s a beautiful place and I can’t wait to get it open,” she said.
Visitors found several unexploded projectiles two winters ago, which were detonated on site and prompted the park’s closing. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed last summer the munitions dated back to World War II when Johns Hopkins University leased 462 acres from the Jesuits to test proximity fuses for anti-aircraft artillery. It was top-secret work at the time.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with the Navy and Johns Hopkins, found the projectiles only used small amounts of black powder and those incendiaries are now gone.
But before the park can reopen to the public, an operational plan and unexploded ordnance response plan need to be completed, , said Karis King of DNR’s office of communications. Those plans are now in their final stages, King said.
There will be signs posted at the park to advise visitors on what to do if more ordnance is found, Bright said, “so the public is going to be well informed.”
The last sweep for explosives was made in June, where 24 more projectiles were found and detonated, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s office reported. If any more are found in the future, “We’re pretty confident most are going to be inert rounds,” Bright said
“Once we get the park back open, there’s not going to be any new facilities constructed, no new activities permitted until we have our master plan process completed,” she said. The park’s uses include hiking, fishing, kayaking and hunting.
The planning process was put on hold when the park closed. This winter, a timeline for the planning process will be put together, Bright said.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for the public to weigh in,” she said, over the course of several public meetings. The planning process should take between 12 and 18 months, she said.
The Rev. Thomas Crowley, new pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, wrote to DNR on Dec. 5. “I am hopeful that any master plan for the park will take into account the unique role that St. Francis Xavier has played in this history and will be respectful of St. Francis Xavier and its parishioners’ rights to worship. I am also hopeful that whatever public uses are ultimately approved as part of a broader master plan will have a low impact on the surrounding community and will not impede access to St. Francis Xavier Parish or St. Francis Xavier Cemetery,” he wrote.
Maryland bought the 790 acres along Breton Bay, the Potomac River and St. Clement Bay from the Roman Catholic Clergy for $14 million in 2009. It was part of a larger transaction where the state bought 4,473 acres in Cecil, Charles and St. Mary’s counties for $57 million. The other property in St. Mary’s was 985 acres in St. Inigoes, bought for $15.8 million, as a state forest.