Assateague Island
Administrative History
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Chapter IV:

Retention of Assateague State Park under the Maryland Department of Forests and Parks was another of the compromises Secretary Stewart L. Udall and his Interior officials made to win support for the national seashore legislation. "I wish to make it clear for the record that it has been our thought, and still is, that the State of Maryland would continue to acquire and ultimately manage and develop a State park on the northern nine miles of the Island," he wrote Governor J. Millard Tawes in May 1963. "There apparently has been some misunderstanding about this..." [1]

In truth, the state and especially its park officials did not entirely trust Secretary Udall's denial of Federal designs on their territory. They had good reason not to. The barely concealed efforts of Interior and the National Park Service to take over the state park once the seashore was authorized were exceeded only by the state's efforts to hold on to it. With such opposing objectives, the relationship between the parties was inevitably conflict—ridden.

A master plan prepared for Assateague State Park in 1964 by the J. E. Greiner Company of Baltimore called for major development on Maryland's 688 acres. Included were an administration building, restaurant, bathhouses, harbormaster building, paddock, general store, marina, boatel, camping areas, two employee residences, and a barracks for seasonal staff. Extensive hydraulic dredging from the bay would build up a protective dune and elevate the areas to be developed. The total cost of implementing the plan was estimated at $7,400,000. [2]

The National Park Service, not then as averse to intensive island development as it would later become, was nevertheless unenthusiastic about the level of construction planned by the state. It was no more pleased with the "temporary" facilities erected for the state park's opening in June 1966, which did not follow the master plan and were not compatible with Service standards. That August, after the first of his many visits to the national seashore following its authorization and discussions there with Superintendent Bertrum C. Roberts, Secretary Udall recorded his views and advice in a telling memorandum to NPS Director George B. Hartzog, Jr.:

It is clear already that the type of development and management envisioned by the Maryland State people at their state park will create great confusion when contrasted with the traditional National Park standards and management principles. At the time of the Assateague fight we chose to go along with Maryland's plans for the state park, largely for the reason that this might have enlarged the area of controversy at a critical juncture. It now seems to me that we are in a position to reconsider this decision, particularly in light of the fact that a new Maryland administration will take office in a few months. In order to preserve as much leverage as possible, I suggest that we drag our feet and not pay Maryland the money authorized for their bridge before we make a fresh effort early next year with the new Governor and his Director of Parks to consider transferring jurisdiction over the State Park to the National Seashore. [3]

Bert Roberts, who came to enjoy an unusually close relationship with the Secretary, was in full accord with Udall's opinion of the state's development on Assateague and his objective of acquiring its park. "The area east of the Sandy Point Bridge is taking on the appearance of a poorly planned development with temporary buildings, leveled dunes areas, maintenance yards and perhaps over—development," he wrote in February 1967. That August he reported further to Director Hartzog on the state's activities and his opposing efforts:

Based on their successful [1966] summer the State proceeded to level out large dunes areas within the State park for camping and proceeded with planning for an unsightly water tower, septic systems, etc. We quietly sponsored public and press reaction to attempting to develop too rapidly without firm master planning. During this period the State furnished us with no information as to their development and on inquiry shuffled and doubletalked our questions.... Since September 1966 we have been, at this level, devoting our efforts to pointing up through all of our contacts the various drawbacks of two separate administrations of Assateague Island. [4]

Roberts' efforts went beyond talk. "About 2 months ago, he continued, "subsequent to an announcement of the location of a new road and bridge to Ocean City, we participated, with the Delmarva Advisory Council and several other groups who are favorable to our management of all of Assateague Island, in the planting of an idea for an 'in lieu of' State park in this area." The "front man" for this scheme was Ocean City realtor Jack Calvin P. Pruitt, who publicly proposed that the state acquire 3,000 available acres across the bay from Ocean City (subsequently developed as Ocean Pines) for a summer home for the Baltimore Symphony. Money for the new park would come from Federal payment for the state's improvements on Assateague. This idea seems to be receiving support and may very well be the major carrying device toward our goal with respect to Assateague State Park," Roberts reported. ".. .[W]e should now parley our position into at least an agreement for a moratorium on development of Assateague State Park pending a way for the State to move out in exchange for the value of the improvements." [5]

Because Interior and the Park Service were publicly committed to the state park remaining on Assateague, Roberts attempted to keep his role in such contrary maneuvers secret. "Public statements as to a consolidation have always come externally," he wrote later to Representative Rogers C. B. Morton's office after the alternate park scheme had collapsed and a new merger plan had arisen. "...[S]ome time ago there was a similar flurry of activity initiated by local real estate agent Jack Pruitt. That went so far as Mr. Pruitt, the Executive Director of Delmarva Advisory Council Senator Nock, and Delegate Hickman calling at my office to attempt to involve us. . . . There was much news comment about that particular plan all initiated by Mr. Pruitt." [6]

State park officials labored under few illusions as to the Service's objectives, however. Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that they exhibited a reluctance to share their development plans or shape them to Federal preferences, a competitive approach to acquiring the McCabe property (Chapter II), and general uncooperativeness.

On February 28, 1967, Representative Morton convened a meeting of both sides in his office. There he made known his sympathy for the state agency's desire to retain a piece of Maryland's seashore as a major revenue producer for its park system and his dissatisfaction with the competitiveness that had developed between the agencies. Director Spencer P. Ellis of the Maryland Department of Forests and Parks pledged future cooperation in planning and development, and he and NPS Regional Director Lemuel A. Garrison agreed on joint operation of the Service's mainland visitor information station so that the public would perceive a single headquarters. [7]

Despite the state's pledges of cooperation and the Service's disclaimers of acquisitive intent at the meeting, relations hardly improved. As related, the Service continued working clandestinely toward its ultimate objective. Two meetings in Spencer Ellis's office for coordinating planning, in March and May, "were from strained to hostile," in Roberts' words. The Service submitted its plans but received nothing from the state. A major difficulty was the Service's need for a road from the bridge south through the state park to its territory at North Beach; it would have to traverse land desired by the state for its development or run so close to the bayside marsh as to have adverse ecological effects. [8]

Roberts met with Superintendent C. Richard Robin of Assateague State Park and their respective staffs in June to plan the joint information station operation. That summer the state park assigned a uniformed employee to the Service's facility. The arrangement was not entirely successful. In a later communication to Roberts, Robin made reference to "loose talk and criticism passed on to visitors by both my people and yours" over the summer, and he declined to renew joint staffing in 1968. They did agree to hold a joint personnel orientation session on respective operating policies to forestall future "derogatory remarks" by employees to visitors. [9]

In an effort to build and maintain public and political support for the state park, the Maryland Department of Forests and Parks allocated major resources to the provision of visitor facilities there as quickly as possible. This rankled Roberts, who was still struggling to acquire the land base for future Federal facilities. To Regional Director Garrison he wrote of his frustration at having been upstaged by the state over the busy 1967 Memorial Day weekend:

Many of these visitors arrived at Assateague expecting a National Park Service operation. Many of them left unhappy because we had nothing to offer. It is our judgment that given a choice of our facilities and operation compared to the State's by far the larger number of campers and day—use visitors would use the national seashore. We cannot lose sight of this in our development scheduling, and it seems to me that in one of our future discussions with the State we must point this out. Otherwise they take the view that they are meeting the camping and day—use need, and therefore we do not need to be concerned with providing for same. [10]

Roberts' frustration was again evident in a briefing paper he prepared on the year's activities at Assateague. "Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the first full year of operational use is the great number of visitors expecting to find more complete national seashore facilities," he wrote, describing them as then "forced" to use the more advanced facilities of the state park. "The tragedy in this arrangement is that the visitors are subjected to standards of operation that vary from Service standards and are often confused and disappointed because of the dual administrations. [11]

The new Maryland administration that Secretary Udall anticipated might be more receptive to a jurisdictional transfer took office in 1967. On October 5 Governor Spiro T. Agnew wrote Udall about Interior's rumored interest in acquiring Assateague State Park. Agnew expressed his preference for joint development, noting that the state needed more land for intensive camping and day—use facilities. A meeting was scheduled, for which George Hartzog asked Park Service planners to prepare a rush prospectus for concession development at North Beach. "It is the feeling of all who have discussed this problem that to provide NPS sponsored concession facilities in the North Beach area may reduce the requirement for the extensive development in the State park located at the main entrance to the Seashore," Regional Direct T. Sutton Jett of the Service's National Capital Region informed the planning office. [12]

The meeting with Governor Agnew and Maryland park officials was held November 14 in Secretary Udall's office. Udall presented the recently completed one—sheet master plan for the seashore and the hastily prepared North Beach concessions development prospectus as evidence of what his department had in store for Assateague. Citing the advantages of a single administration of the island, he suggested that Interior could acquire the state's improvements with discretionary funds and assist Maryland in obtaining other parkland (specifically mentioning the Pruitt proposal west of Ocean City). Agnew replied that the state was not then in a position to comment and recommended that planning and operations proceed on a coordinated basis while the offer was under consideration. [13]

Representative Morton, present at the meeting, deplored the continuing difficulties with the dual administration fostering visitor confusion and competition for land acquisition. He raised the possibility that Interior might take over operation of Assateague State Park without the state relinquishing title. NPS Associate Director Howard W. Baker cited the lack of precedent for such an arrangement, Udall expressed doubts, and Agnew was again noncommittal. [14]

After Morton and the state officials had departed, Udall voiced his belief that the state's reluctance was influenced by the revenues expected from its park. He advised Park Service personnel to stress in their outside contacts the probable greater benefits to Maryland and Worcester County under the Land and Water Conservation Fund fee system and the taxable improvements that would be built under the Service's concessions plan. The Secretary followed up the meeting with a January 3, 1968, letter to the Governor in which he repeated his offer, emphasized the potential tax revenues from the proposed $2.6 million private concession investment, and warned that competition from Assateague State Park would stifle this development program. [15]

Governor Agnew finally made clear his thinking in a May 7 letter to Secretary Udall: ". . .I have concluded that the interest of the citizens of Maryland will best be served by the State retaining Assateague State Park and continuing the program of developing this facility that began in 1965." Udall's reply two months later did not conceal his disappointment: "Your decision to retain and continue development of Assateague State Park is, of course, a prerogative of the State, but I must note that the long range problems of a dual administration of the Assateague Island seashore area, which prompted our earlier discussion, remain unsolved." Again raising the specter of visitor confusion and duplication of effort, he concluded by suggesting future discussions on the subject. [16]

A cooperative planning meeting of the Park Service and the Department of Forests and Parks in Annapolis March 20—22, 1968, had been amicable and productive, perhaps because the Service was then striving to be conciliatory, perhaps because the state officials felt reassured by Governor Agnew's evident support for their position. A joint plan for the north end of the island evolved from the session. But the improvement in relations was superficial. Nathan B. Golub, maintenance chief of the NPS Northeast Region, appraised the situation for his regional director that September:

[W]e are operating on an obvious competitive basis with the adjoining Maryland State Park which the Service would like to absorb on the justification that "we can do the job better. Maryland has apparently accepted the challenge and has devoted a major portion of its park development construction program to this park. It provides excellent facilities which after being compared to our rudimentary installations, places the Service in a rather unfavorable light. [17]

Somewhat defensive about Golub's appraisal, Bert Roberts denied that a "we can do it better" attitude had shaped Service policy and downplayed the acquisition objective. "Any desire on the part of the Department to acquire the State park. . .if it exists as a policy now" was based on other factors, he contended: Governor Agnew's initial inquiry the preceding fall and the "current open situation"; the desire to eliminate visitor confusion and establish a single standard of operation; the state's unwillingness to forswear intensive development immediately east of the bridge and guarantee retention of a roadless natural environment to the north; and the state's refusal to jointly develop utilities and other common needs, threatening duplication of effort. He took further issue with Golub's characterization of the state park facilities as "excellent." [18]

Notwithstanding Roberts' pains to deny that the Service was motivated by a sense of superiority, state officials undoubtedly shared Golub's impression. Equally calculated to antagonize was the Service's and Interior's response to the bridge reimbursement provision of the seashore authorizing act under which the state was due a million dollars.

As much as he shared Secretary Udall's goal of obtaining Assateague State Park, Superintendent Roberts resisted the Secretary's prescribed tactic of stalling on the bridge payment to prwithholdingerage with the state. The witholding of the money, a portion of which would go to Worcester County, was placing Roberts in an "untenable position" with the county commission on other park wants: property tax relief for Assateague landowners pending Federal acquisition, concurrence in declarations of taking for certain island areas with county—owned lands and rights of way, protective zoning in the headquarters vicinity, and county road work benefiting the seashore. "While we have attempted to use the $1,000,000 somewhat as a wedge with respect to the State park," he wrote Director Hartzog in August 1967, "it really has no direct relationship; and we are suspect now with respect to integrity in following through on the legislative agreements." When the state park installed an objectionable concession stand just outside the Service's North Beach area on the temporary access road, Roberts again blamed the payment delay: "The difficulties in having to depend on access through Assateague State Park are becoming increasingly evident. The hostile attitude is because of the block on completing the Maryland Bridge transaction." [19]

The block was outwardly initiated by a disagreement over whether the Federal Government could and would share in the maintenance of the bridge. Whatever may have been Secretary Udall's part in encouraging this disagreement as a stalling device, it gathered enough momentum on its own to outlast Udall's tenure by more than two years.

One or more of the Assateague bills originally introduced in the 88th Congress explicitly provided for bridge maintenance sharing, and before enactment of the Assateague legislation Udall led Maryland officials to believe it would occur. Although the final legislation did not include the specific maintenance sharing authorization, Special Assistant Attorney General Joseph D. Buscher of the Maryland State Roads Commission forcefully reminded the Service of Udall's assurances. In April 1967 he submitted a draft agreement on the Federal bridge payment providing for the Service to assume joint control of the bridge and approach roads with Maryland and to pay one—half the cost of their upkeep and repair. [20]

Interior's Philadelphia regional solicitor, William W. Redmond, judged that joint control went beyond the intent of Congress and would entail joint liability and responsibility for the enforcement of state law. Attaching significance to the fact that maintenance sharing language had been deleted during the legislative process, he opined that the seashore act did not authorize the Service to participate in maintaining the bridge. [21]

Roberts informed Buscher of the solicitor's opinion in June and re ported him to be "quite upset about the matter.... Mr. Buscher still insists the matter of maintenance is contrary to an understanding the former Tawes administration had with the Secretary, and he said that the commission might wish to take recourse to the Secretary." Redmond revised Buscher's draft, deleting the provisions unacceptable to Interior, and Roberts returned it to Buscher in November with a diplomatic letter suggesting that maintenance sharing could be resolved later after the bridge payment: "[W]e have requested permissive legislation to enter a maintenance agreement should that later be appropriate." He also noted that the Service had acquired the McCabe tract on which the eastern approach road to the bridge was located under permit (rather than state fee ownership of the right of way), "and therefore we conclude that we may at the present time maintain this section." [22]

Buscher was not mollified. "Please be advised that as far as I am personally concerned the proposed draft is utterly and totally unsatisfactory, and I will not recommend its approval by the State Roads Commission," he replied to Roberts. Eager to conclude the bridge payment transaction, Roberts suggested to his regional director that the Service's "hard position" was vulnerable, given that the state was then maintaining the road on the McCabe acquisition and that much of the bridge was within the authorized seashore boundary "over water and bottom that we are asking the state to release to us." [23]

On January 4, 1968, Service representatives met with Buscher and other Maryland officials on the matter. Contending they had been assured of Federal maintenance cost sharing in all discussions with Interior prior to the seashore act, the Marylanders characterized the solicitor's opinion as a breach of faith and were adamant in their position. After the meeting, in a January 9 letter to Russell E. Dickenson, NPS Chief of New Area Studies and Master Planning, Buscher yielded a bit, saying that the state would proceed with the bridge agreement if Interior would actively seek legal authority to share maintenance costs or support legislation to be introduced by Representative Morton for the purpose. [24]

The Service routinely provided drafting service for Morton's bill, but on Director Hartzog's instruction no reply was made to Buscher's request for a commitment of support. Not until Secretary Udall had left office a year later did the Service move to respond and resume negotiations. "We regret that we cannot give the formal commitment requested in your letter of January 9, 1969 [sic] to Mr. Russell E. Dickenson," Regional Director Garrison wrote Buscher January 31, 1969. "We believe it timely, however, to reopen discussions with your office on the possibility of completing the payment for the bridge. Can we separate this from the discussion of maintenance and trust that eventually an understanding can evolve that will be satisfactory to all concerned?" [25]

Nearly another year elapsed with no action other than Representative Morton's introduction in September of the bill to authorize Federal maintenance participation. [26] In December Roberts wrote Buscher again to urge settlement of the bridge payment, declaring that the Service was approaching the statutory appropriations total from which the $1 million would have to come. A meeting followed on January 27, 1970, in the office of Chairman—Director David H. Fisher of the State Roads Commission. Buscher again accused the Service of bad faith, characterized Roberts' reference to the appropriations ceiling as a threat, and raised the possibility of instituting a toll on the bridge. But Fisher seemed inclined to settle, expressing more concern about Federal repair assistance in case of major accident than routine maintenance aid. [27]

Matters again lay dormant until that September, when Roberts had a personal conversation with Joseph Anastisi, administrative assistant to the Governor. Anastisi suggested that Roberts bypass the intransigent Buscher and communicate directly with Fisher, laying out the facts and pressing for a settlement. Accordingly, Roberts prepared and Regional Director Henry G. Schmidt sent Fisher a letter attuned to his expressions at the January meeting. Although the Service could not support Morton's bill, the letter noted, it was already performing minor maintenance on a portion of the state road through the McCabe acquisition. In the event of a disaster involving the bridge the Service "would do everything possible to restore access to the national seashore and State park through whatever processes were appropriate." [28]

Anastisi's advice proved sound. Fisher responded with a rather grudging indication of his willingness to settle despite disappointment about the maintenance sharing. At his request, a reworked agreement was returned in January 1971 to the State Roads Commission, where it underwent further minor changes. Added was a face—saving provision that the state would perform bridge maintenance and repair "until such time as the NPS Director is authorized to pay a portion of the cost and expense of necessary maintenance and repair. . . . Director Hartzog momentarily balked at this addition and sought written assurance from Fisher that it was not intended to bind him to support such authorization. Fisher replied that it would simply allow the state to benefit from Federal participation should circumstances later change. Hartzog accordingly appended his signature to the agreement on June 16. The protracted bridge payment imbroglio finally terminated July 13, 1971, when Rogers C. B. Morton, now Secretary of the Interior, ceremoniously presented Governor Marvin Mandel with a check for $1 million. [29]

Meanwhile, back at the seashore, relations between Superintendents Roberts and Rohm remained rocky. Illustrative was a sarcastic written communication from Rohm in April 1970 complaining about inadequate Service information on its camping and day—use policies: "If, by chance, you should discover or determine what your operational policies for the coming season will be, and you would desire this information passed on to the Assateague visitor, please let me know..." [30]

The proposed access road through Assateague State Park to North Beach continued to be a bone of contention. The NPS Director's Road Committee, composed of William C. Everhart, Robert Linn, and David G. Wright, studied four possible alignments and recommended one that closely followed the temporary roadway built in 1967, but with the entrance separate from the state park entrance to avoid visitor confusion. The preferred alternative would least disturb the bayside marsh but intrude most into the state park. Director Hartzog approved the committee's choice September 2, 1970, but Maryland parks director Spencer Ellis wrote on January 20, 1971, that the route was "completely unsatisfactory" to his department and suggested "a lease or use agreement...whereby the entire Maryland portion of Assateague Island would be under the administration of the State." [31]

At this time the Committee to Preserve Assateague, representing a range of conservation groups and individuals, was lobbying against the state's proposed development of Assateague State Park and in favor of a Federal takeover. Echoing his boss in Annapolis, Superintendent Rohm struck back in February 1971 by proposing to the press that the National Park Service leave Assateague to Maryland and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. He blamed the controversy over administration on Bert Roberts who, Rohm said, had told him two years before that the Service would have his park within that timespan. Not inaccurately, he accused Roberts and other Interior officials of influencing the conservationists to press Maryland officials to transfer their park. [32]

At a televised press conference that month, Governor Mandel responded to a question by indicating that he would favorably consider the park transfer. Without consulting his superiors, Rohm fired off an extraordinary letter to Maryland newspapers attacking the Governor: "It appears that our fine state does not have the administrative strength and foresight that we enjoyed under Governor Tawes and Governor Agnew; these men withstood the pressures created by the federal government and the preservationist and elected to keep Assateague State Park for the people of Maryland and out of state visitors to enjoy...." Rohm's impropriety led to a one—day suspension for the superintendent, but it served his purpose of eliciting numerous letters from Maryland campers to their state representatives in favor of retaining the park. [33]

Such expressions of public sentiment bolstered the stand taken by Maryland park officials before the Governor's Joint Executive—Legislative Committee on Assateague Island later in 1971. Although critical of the high level of development planned by the state, the committee came down against divestiture in its March 1972 report, endorsed by Mandel and favorably received by Secretary Morton. This outcome effectively ended the Federal campaign to acquire Assateague State Park. Not only had the state reaffirmed its opposition, it had moved to renounce the overdevelopment that had served as an issue for the Service and the conservationists. The appointment of Rogers Morton as Interior Secretary in January 1971 had dampened any hope of support from that office. And Bert Roberts had left for the superintendency of Cape Hatteras National Seashore the same month, to be replaced by Thomas F. Norris, Jr.

Norris, formerly assistant superintendent at Fire Island National Seashore, rivaled Roberts in effectiveness while appearing less aggressive and assertive of Service prerogatives. Dick Rohm, himself possessed of a forceful personality, later declared that he had been taken aback by Roberts' aggressive attitude at the outset, whereas he found Tom Norris "a complete switch"—so easy to get along with that at first he suspected a trap! [34] Norris and his successors, without the kind of direct high—level encouragement that Roberts had received from Secretary Udall and the other early factors that offered some hope of success in acquiring the state park, still considered the dual administration less than ideal. But on the whole they accommodated to the situation. Putting matters in the best light, Norris was able to view the state's facilities as complementing those of the Park Service: because Maryland had highly developed campgrounds, the Service needed to provide only primitive ones. Later superintendents Richard S. Tousley and Michael V. Finley privately chafed at the irrationality of two agencies side by side and perhaps even retained a bit of the traditional NPS "we can do it better" attitude, but they too accepted the reality that Maryland was there to stay. [35]

Concrete evidence that the state park administrators no longer felt threatened by a Federal takeover was their cooperation on the road to North Beach. Agreement on its course followed the Mandel—Morton correspondence on the Joint Executive—Legislative Committee report in the spring of 1972 which called for joint planning. The road was built by both agencies between 1973 and 1975.

Although skirmishes would continue, the battle was over.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003