Paul Bollinger experienced a wide range of emotions earlier this month when the Chesapeake Bay Region Accessible Boating staff officially moved into a new headquarters.
Bollinger, 66, said he felt immense pride, joy and gratitude that the Adaptive Boating Center he proposed shortly after being named CRAB president and chief executive officer in 2016 finally had become a reality. His overarching feeling while hauling boxes into the main building, however, was relief.
“It felt like a giant burden had been lifted off my shoulders,” said Bollinger, an Easport resident. “I’ve spent so many years battling to move this project forward and all of a sudden that pressure was gone. I’ve slept a lot better ever since we physically moved into this beautiful facility.”
Last Thursday afternoon, about one week after moving in, Bollinger was like a proud father as he gave a tour of the Adaptive Boating Center, located at the end of Bembe Beach Road on just under an acre of property overlooking the mouth of Back Creek.
The facility will host a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., May 2 with Gov. Wes Moore, County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley among many politicians invited to attend.
Chesapeake Bay Region Accessible Boating’s core mission is to provide therapeutic sailing to people with disabilities. The organization’s outreach has grown to include getting children from underserved communities out on the water.
Every element of the new facility was designed to exceed requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Environmental considerations include the roof of the Lawrence B. Taishoff Building, which features 72 solar panels as well as a third of the parking lot sits on a porous surface designed to drain stormwater.
There are four electric charging stations positioned around the parking lot and two specially designed bio-retention ponds located between the property and Back Creek to catch and filter runoff.
All told, the Adaptive Boating Center cost $6 million, half of which CRAB raised through more than 150 private donations. Its main building, which houses the Don Backe Learning Center along with offices and bathroom/shower facilities was named in honor of the late Lawrence B. Taishoff, whose family philanthropic foundation has a long history in supporting public health initiatives. The foundation was the single-largest donor on the project with a gift of $500,000.
A lawn planted with zoysia grass leads up to the Arthur A. Birney Sr. Pavilion, while various equipment and supplies are stored in the Jeremy Hopkins Boathouse.
In September 2020, the Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously approved $1.8 million in funding for the Adaptive Boating Center, a major turning point in helping the project come to fruition.
Using funding through the Maryland Program Open Space, the city of Annapolis bought the property at 7040 Bembe Beach Road, previously home to the Port Williams Marina. CRAB then signed a 40-year lease with the city to build and operate the Adaptive Boating Center, which will serve the entire Chesapeake Bay region. Anne Arundel County provided another $1.3 million in open space funding.
“This state-of-the-art facility is one of the finest of its kind nationally and a tremendous asset for the city of Annapolis,” said Bollinger, emphasizing that zero taxpayer dollars were used for the project.
Bollinger and the CRAB board of directors formally decided to pursue building the Adaptive Boating Center in January 2017. Since its inception in 1991, Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating operated from a public pier at the Sandy Point State Park marina.
Don Backe, the founder and first executive director of CRAB, realized early on the challenges of the arrangement. There were many weekends when CRAB guests could not gain access because Sandy Point State Park had to close its gate after filling to capacity. It was also unwieldy having the CRAB offices located 10 miles away on Defense Highway.
Backe dreamed of CRAB operating under one roof from a private facility, and Bollinger dedicated seven years to making it a reality. There were plenty hurdles along the way and Bollinger spent sleepless nights trying to find answers.
“There were many and they were incredibly challenging to navigate,” Bollinger said. “If we had let the various roadblocks stop this facility, we would never have gotten out of the gate. Even at the 11th hour some things were brought up that cost CRAB more money.”
Bollinger described every approval process at the city, county and state levels as “monumental” and said they caused great anxiety. He spent a year working to get the Department of Natural Resources to approve the Program Open Space grant. It also took some effort to convince the Annapolis to acquire the property.
“We constantly had to come up with a new strategy, a new angle or a new way of accomplishing this task,” he said. “We just never accepted no for an answer.”
Bollinger said he is grateful for all the support provided by the many friends of Chesapeake Bay Region Accessible Boating, from former Gov. Larry Hogan to Annapolis Alderman Rob Savidge and many other elected politicians and government officials in between.
“Rob Savidge has been a tremendous advocate for this project every step of the way,” Bollinger said of the Democrat who represents Ward 7, where CRAB is located. “There have been five votes before the City Council about the Adaptive Boating Center, and all five were unanimous, which meant an awful lot.”
The centerpiece of the Adaptive Boating Center is the Arthur and Patricia Edwards Family Marina, which features floating docks accessed by a bridge ramp. There is a 140-foot main dock with a 103-foot finger pier. There are two electric Hoyer lifts that are used to help disabled guests get into the boats.
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The facility’s fleet consists of six Beneteau First 22A (A for adaptive) sloops, a Martin 16 sailboat and two 30-foot Ohana canoes. A new addition is a Gemini Freestyle 39-foot power catamaran that has room for five occupants in wheelchairs and five others.
Now that CRAB has its own facility, Bollinger said he is able to add another day of activity. There will be boating Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday along with the usual weekend events.
“We’re hoping to host 50% more guests than we did last year at Sandy Point State Park,” Bollinger said.
Bollinger has already scheduled several training and social events designed to introduce its 150 volunteers to the facility.
To help raise much-needed operating funds, CRAB intends to rent out the Adaptive Boating Center for weddings, cocktail receptions and other events.