Park History & About Bill Burton
From 1935 to 1987, the Emerson C. Harrington Bridge, named for the 48th Governor of Maryland, stretched across the Choptank River, connecting the towns of Trappe in Talbot County and Cambridge in Dorchester County. At about 2 miles long, this two-lane drawbridge was the longest bridge in Maryland until the construction of the Bay Bridge. In 1987, the four-lane Frederick C. Malkus Bridge was built as a more modern replacement, and stands to this day.
The older bridge, no longer needed for vehicle transportation, was split in the middle to allow for boats to pass and lived on as the Choptank River Fishing Pier, managed by the state of Maryland. Bill Burton, a reporter, writer, and fisherman, who for more than 50 years chronicled outdoor opportunities for Maryland citizens, was instrumental in preserving the bridge for a fishing pier when the new bridge was constructed.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources assumed responsibility for the piers on May 3, 1987. Within the first 8 months of operation (May-December 1987), the piers had seen over 51,000 visitors, and the site continues to be a popular recreational destination for fishing enthusiasts.
On July 22, 2009 the Board of Public Works approved re-naming the Choptank River Fishing Pier to Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park in honor of Mr. Burton, who passed in 2009. The piers were formally dedicated in an event in his honor on July 23, 2010.
In 2013, a project in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association and Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge was begun to create an artificial oyster reef habitat in the river, adjacent to the piers.
Rangers from Tuckahoe State Park staffed and managed the piers and park from 1987-2017. The piers and park are currently managed by rangers based out of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park.
About Bill Burton
He fished with U.S. Presidents, Senators, Oriole players, and Ernest Hemingway. He reported and wrote for newspapers in half a dozen states. He served in the U.S. Navy. Described by the New Bay Times as “Maryland’s premier outdoorsman,” Bill Burton was a longtime outdoor enthusiast and supporter of recreation on the Chesapeake Bay.
Born in Rhode Island, Burton enlisted in the Navy during World War II and was honorably discharged after a bout of rheumatic fever injured his heart. Scoffing at the doctors who said he'd be restricted to a desk job, he began to study journalism at Goddard College, which started a career that would last more than half a century. After working for several papers around the country, from Vermont to Alaska to Nebraska, he got a job as an outdoors reporter with the Baltimore Evening Sun and worked there for nearly four decades.
Bill Burton, the namesake of the park. Photo credit: Bay Weekly
It was in one of his newspaper articles that Bill Burton supported the idea of keeping the old U.S. 50 bridge for public use after the construction of the current bridge made the old one obsolete. The Maryland Park Service assumed responsibility for the pier in 1987, and it has been available to the public for recreation ever since. After retiring from the Evening Sun in 1992, Burton went on a fishing trip with President George H.W. Bush, who urged Burton to continue to write. He retired for a final time in 2009, just a few months before he passed away in August. Shortly before his death, Choptank River Fishing Pier State Park was renamed Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park in his honor. Burton's columns usually ended with a simple, two word phrase,