State of the Beach/State Reports/MD/Beach Access

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion

Maryland Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access88
Water Quality77
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures8 4
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


According to Maryland's 2001 Assessment, MDNR's program Open Space primarily relies on Land Preservation and Recreation Plans prepared and adopted at the local level to select sites for acquisition. These plans reflect local priorities for public access and are used to guide allocation of State and local funds for enhancement.

The state of Maryland has a line item in its budget for continued acquisition of property that will provide public access to the Chesapeake Bay. At both its 1996 and 2000 meetings, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council reaffirmed the Bay Program's commitment to implement measures to provide public access to the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and streams, and other parks and green spaces. Such measures may include acquiring and maintaining Bay, tributary, and park public access facilities. Operation of these facilities and maintenance of infrastructure at such facilities, including park and public landings, result in substantial local investments in facilities which support achievement of Bay Program objectives. In FY 2000 Maryland spent over $12 million for Chesapeake Bay access.

In December 2008 Gov. Martin O'Malley announced plans to spend $72 million to acquire more than 9,200 acres of land that stretches through St. Mary's, Charles, Cecil and Worcester counties and contains more than 20 miles of shoreline. State officials intend to protect the land from development and convert it to open public spaces, such as trails, parks, beaches and ecological preserves. The property acquistions will be funded by the state's land preservation fund and federal money. The Greenprint Website has an interactive map that shows state land preservation efforts.

The Website for Assateague National Seashore contains information on Over Sand Vehicle Use.

Site Inventory

According to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237, the amount of publicly owned shoreline in Maryland is unknown. This same document identifies 725 public access sites. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 4.5 miles of shoreline.

Maryland is in the process of collecting a comprehensive shoreline inventory on coastal access, stabilization structures, natural features, bank height and condition characterization.

MDNR staff states that information on the percentage of publicly owned shoreline is available, but is too difficult to gather. They also state that the percentage of private beaches that are publicly accessible is unknown, and that the average miles between coastal access points is also unknown.[1]

A newspaper article in January 2004 stated that "96% of Maryland's coast [is] in private hands."[2]

The boundary between public and private lands at the beach is the mean high tide line. Beaches are managed by the state, by Worcester County, by Ocean City, and by the National Park Service.

Maryland's Atlantic coastline consists of the Ocean City and Assateague Island beaches. Ocean City has approximately 10 miles of beaches. The beach access within the city is primarily street-end access with parking lots and restrooms at several locations. In addition, the city has a boardwalk that runs approximately 30 blocks.[3]

There is a Public Access in Maryland fact sheet that identifies public access improvement projects completed between 1992 and 2002.

Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City websites have some beach access information.

The Assateague Island National Seashore composes the remaining 20 miles of open ocean coastline, which means Maryland's open ocean coastline is approximately two-thirds publicly owned. The island has four miles of roads and the remaining land contains hiking trails, 4WD trails, and protected land. The park contains 300 campsites, and charges both entrance and camping fees.[4]

Also see Assateague State Park and a map of the park.

In 2006 the Chesapeake Bay Program announced the availability of a new Chesapeake Bay, Susquehanna River and Tidal Tributaries Public Access Guide. The full-color map/guide includes more than 650 public access sites in the Bay area, providing information on boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, beach use, parking and other opportunities. The guide was developed by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Public Access Workgroup whose membership includes representatives from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and the federal government. Copies of the guide are available free of charge from sources in each of the Bay states. To obtain a copy in Maryland, visit any of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Regional Service Centers, Welcome Centers, State Park Visitor Centers or contact DNR’s Greenways and Water Trails Program at 410-260-8771.

Previously, the Chesapeake Bay Program had published the 2000 Chesapeake Bay, Susquehanna River and Tidal Tributaries Public Access Guide. That edition provided information on over 600 major public access sites in the Bay area, 304 of which were in Maryland. The guide listed 42 swimming beaches. Basic site information, such as county/city location, type of parking, and the availability of boat ramps, fishing, swimming beach, trails, and restrooms, was provided.

The Maryland Park Service (MPS) Website lets you search for parks by geographic area (via a map) and gives a nice summary of site information, including history, fees, and directions.

According to the MPS Website, there are 47 state parks. Assateague State Park, Maryland's only ocean park, has two miles of Atlantic Ocean frontage plus marshes on Sinepuxent Bay. Guarded ocean beaches are available Memorial Day to Labor Day. National Geographic Traveler selected Assateague in 1994 as one of the 10 best state parks in the United States.

The MPS and MDNR Websites also provide access to an activities page that includes swimming information for 16 locations ranging from sandy beaches to ancient river swimming holes.

The MDNR Web page for "Coastal Program Funded Projects & Programs" shows an inactive link to "Public Access Projects", so hopefully something will be added here.

Maryland takes steps to minimize the environmental impacts of coastal access by prohibiting access across dunes, providing designated accessways, and by providing educational signage.

Beach Attendance Records

Information on overall beach attendance in Maryland was not readily available.

Ocean City, Maryland had almost 4 million seasonal visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2003.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

Information on the economic evaluation of beaches in Maryland was not readily available.

A study An Assessment of the Economic Value of the Coastal Bay's Natural Resources to the Economy of Worcester County, Maryland has been done. The objective of the study was to identify, characterize and quantify the "market" and "non-market" economic values of the natural resources of the Coastal Bays to the economy of Worcester County. Market values are revealed by the cost of goods and services purchased by consumers. Non-market values are represented by the willingness of residents and visitors to the Coastal Bays to pay simply for the experience of an activity, or being on or near the Bays. The study indicated that in the year 2000, direct spending by visitors totaled $215 million and non-market values totaled $179 million. The authors estimated that the value of the Bays is over $500 million per year. The results from the study are intended to assist in planning and policy development that continues to be cognizant of the relationship between the economy and the environment.

Overall state tourism contributes $10.1 billion to the state’s economy, generating 115,000 jobs. (, November 2005).

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

According to recent evaluations by NOAA, although there has been some success providing public access within the coastal zone, the need for additional shoreline access is recognized. There are a number of factors that present challenges to enhancing shoreline access, including: the amount of private property along the shoreline; the cost of property; neighborhood concerns; property maintenance and liability; and the lack of a comprehensive plan that includes shoreline access as a focus.

One of the major impediments is money. Land values continue to increase, particularly those with Bay access. Population increases and the subsequent increase in population density in areas near the water make it increasingly difficult to find affordable parcels that are large enough to provide access. Also there is a need to protect near-shore areas from overuse. The same areas that provide water access are often important environmentally. Therefore it is important to maintain a balance between access and the resources. Finally, shoreline access does not always correspond with the State's acquisition and/or enhancement process. There is a need for coordination between local governments and the State to understand the county concerns regarding liability and management of access sites, and to define a method to increase shoreline access.

NOAA's 2008 Evaluation states:

The Maryland Coastal Program continues to look for public access opportunities each year. Proposed activities include: sponsoring a Local Government Information Exchange to explore the obstacles, barriers, and liability issues which appear to be hindering public access opportunities; working with the Coastal and Watershed Resources Advisory Committee to identify ways to improve public access opportunities; identifying appropriate sites through existing Programs; and continuing communication with Program Open Space. The Maryland Coastal Program will be partnering with local governments to enhance access where possible. While important, the provision of public access in Maryland has not been and will likely not be as high a priority as other issues for the state. In the State’s 309 assessment, public access ranked medium.

Nevertheless, there are some additional activities the state could consider to enhance public access, such as: developing or finding a mechanism through which the three State databases can be used collaboratively to track public access in the State; reevaluating the state’s methodology for identifying acquisition sites to make provision of access a higher priority; continuing to target discrete public access projects with CZMA funds; sponsoring a local government information exchange to explore the obstacles, barriers, and liability issues which appear to be hindering public access opportunities; and engaging CWRAC to identify ways of improving public access opportunities.

Public Education Program

Beach/coastal access information is available at:
Maryland Beaches Program
Ocean City

Contact Info

Greenways and Water Trails Program
(410) 260-8780


  1. Katheleen Freeman, MDNR. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response. January 2003.
  2. "Officials Put Isabel's Cost at $273 Million", The Baltimore Sun. January 24, 2004.
  3. Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. "Beaches and Boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland." Site visited December 10, 2010.
  4. National Park Service. "Assateague Island National Seashore." Site visited January 5, 2000.

State of the Beach Report: Maryland
Maryland Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg