In 1990, a group of concerned individuals formed the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh, Inc. (CPBM), a non-profit citizen's action group, to preserve and conserve Baltimore County's Black Marsh, a 232-acre marsh that lies within North Point State Park, part of the Gunpowder Falls Maryland State Park system. The four main officers of CPBM were Richard C. Pollack, Sr., president; Daniel Lynch, vice president; Vera D. Hinkelman, treasurer; and Cindy Stitz, secretary. By 1995, its roughly 1,000 individual and fifty group members comprised mostly area residents and local organizations.
North Point State Park consists of 1,320 acres in southeast Baltimore County, including six miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline, and contains several marshes, the largest of which is Black Marsh. Rare birds found in Black Marsh include bald eagles, great horned owls, American bitterns, Northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, black rails, herons, egrets, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, ruddy ducks, mergansers, and scaup. Flora species in Black Marsh include whorled water-pennywort, Koehne's ammannia, flattened sedge, agalinis fasciculata, small's spikerush, white-bracted boneset, large marsh pink, and tickseed sunflower.
Continuously farmed from the seventeenth century, the site was the scene of skirmishes during the War of 1812 and housed an amusement park called "Bay Shore Park" from 1906 until the 1940s. Bethlehem Steel purchased the land in 1946, announcing the acquisition to the public in August 1947. Because the area is convenient to shipping in the Chesapeake Bay, Bethlehem Steel Company located at nearby Sparrows Point wanted to prevent competitors from developing a rival steel plant in the area. Bethlehem Steel never developed any of the property, using it only as a recreational facility for guests and employees who enjoyed hunting, fishing, and target shooting. Through the state's Program Open Space, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased the land that comprises North Point State Park from Bethlehem Steel for over $5 million on December 22, 1987.
In 1988, the DNR began to develop plans for North Point State Park (then called Black Marsh State Park). The focus of the DNR's plans for development was (in this and subsequent plans) both to protect the natural resources of the wildlands and to create bay access, including such facilities as a refurbished trolley station, parking lot, visitors' center, boat slip, fishing pier, boardwalk, pavilion, amphitheatre, fountain, picnic area, and - at one time - a restaurant.
CPBM strongly objected to the DNR's proposals for development at North Point. They argued that the marsh was a sensitive and unique environment that should be conserved and felt the DNR's plans would adversely affect that conservation. The CPBM wanted the land to be converted into a low-impact natural park and opposed any construction (buildings or roads) on the waterfront or in the marsh itself.
From 1990 until Fall 1991, CPBM pursued a number of non-litigious activities to raise awareness about Black Marsh and to voice its concern about the DNR's proposal, including letter-writing campaigns, petition-signing drives, a press campaign, a phone-a-thon, yard sales, and a march. They also mounted a campaign opposing Maryland Senate Bill 417 and Maryland House Bill 596, measures to designate North Point State Park as a wildland. CPBM believed that the new law would artificially split the park into two areas--one protected and another that could be developed at will. In addition, members of CPBM met with state delegates and DNR representatives, held public information meetings, and drafted their own plans for the park.
On September 25, 1991, the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission (CAC), chaired by Judge John C. North, II, held a hearing on DNR's draft plan for Black Marsh. Lee Epstein of Linowes & Blocher spoke at the hearing on behalf of the CPBM. The Critical Area Commission released its decision, in the form of a panel report, on November 26, 1991; it conditionally approved the DNR's concept plan in a 16 to 1 vote. On January 3, 1992, the CPBM - now represented by George Kelly and Thomas Eastman of Ober, Kaler, Grimes, and Shriver - filed an appeal in the Baltimore County Circuit Court to reverse the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission's hearing decision. On February 19, 1993, the appeal was dismissed with prejudice (a final and binding decision that bars further prosecution of the same cause of action or motion). On October 4, 1993, the CPBM sued the Critical Area Commission for a writ of mandamus, which was dismissed on October 11, 1994.
In Summer 1996, CPBM became the Friends of North Point State Park (FNPSP). As a group, members argued for an inland visitors' center and the elimination of boat tie-ups. They also supported a main trail instead of a new road through the park, arguing for the existing Haul Road to serve as the main road. In 1996, the Friends of North Point State Park accepted DNR Secretary John Griffin's offer to work with the DNR in the development of the park, acting in an advising capacity at least until the Summer 1997. They also tracked the development of North Point State Park, helped to recruit volunteers for park educational activities, and donated some materials, such as binoculars, to the park. In 1997, the FNPSP (formerly CPBM) received a certificate of appreciation from the DNR. The FNPSP appears to have disbanded officially in the Summer 1997.