North Point State Park: A getaway close to home

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A new poll shows that many Americans won’t take a summer vacation this year because they can’t afford it. But there’s some good news for those of us in the Baltimore area. For $3 and a short drive, you can feel like you’re away from it all at the beach at North Point State Park, formerly home to the Bay Shore amusement park.

In early 1900s the 26 streetcar clanged from dawn until 11 p.m., northwest toward downtown Baltimore, and back to the Chesapeake Bay, ferrying Baltimoreans to a bustling amusement park along the water. The opulent Bay Shore, built by the United Railways and Electric Company, included a bowling alley, Ferris wheel and restaurant, and provided a fun day trip for families in the area.

Things are much quieter here today. The amusement park is gone, and the area is known as North Point State Park. The streetcar hasn’t run in decades; you’ll have to take a car. But for $3 ($4 on weekends) you can still enjoy the summer oasis.

A few reminders of the Bay Shore days remain. Odd hunks of concrete and metal peek out from the trails — relics, perhaps, of the park’s old rides. The brightly painted visitor’s center recalls the park’s restaurant. Still remaining, too, is the pavilion where streetcars of families once unloaded, children giggling in anticipation of a day at the beach.

Isaiah Daugherty, 11, was smiling on the beach — his body almost entirely covered in sand.

“It’s family bonding time,” said his grandmother, Catherine Walker of Highlandtown, who said she has been coming to the park for many years.

Though the park gets crowded on weekends — regulars tell me the front gate sometimes turns people away when the lot gets full — on a weekday, there’s plenty of free space for blankets and grilling.

Erica Coleman of Dundalk said she likes the mixed crowd the park attracts — there’s people of every race and nationality. Plus it’s safe.

“You can set your stuff down and go in the water,” said Coleman, who sat on a blanket in the sand. “You come back and all your things are where you left ‘em.”

And the water isn’t just for swimming.

Hever Diaz, who lives in Washington, D.C., but is originally from Guatemala, wore a Yankees cap as he fished along the park’s long pier — which recently underwent a $1.3 million renovation. He wasn’t catching much. Budding clam-catchers were having better luck. Gabe Bruins, 15, and his buddies managed to fill up several buckets with crusty, closed-up clams. They said they would cook them for dinner.