By Jen Sparenberg, Hazard Mitigation Program Officer
Most Marylanders know Smith Island cake is Maryland’s official state dessert, but a few things about Smith Island folks likely don’t know are: it’s only accessible by water; it’s one of the oldest continually occupied colonial settlements; its isolation has preserved the culture and language patterns of its earliest colonists; the Island and surrounding bay marshes have been periodically inhabited since 10,800 BC, and that Smith Island is actually comprised of three different communities: Ewell, Rhodes Point, and Tylerton.
Despite its unique charm, Smith Island has struggled with a diminishing number of year-round residents and a shrinking maritime industry, coupled with shoreline erosion and an increased frequency of flooding. Post-Hurricane Sandy concern about the long-term sustainability of the Island was a call to action among the three communities. Smith Island United was formed with a current focus to plan for economic recovery and increase community resiliency against future storms.
Together with the Maryland Departments of Planning, Housing and Community Development, and Natural Resources, the Island has embarked on a planning and visioning study. I attended the first visioning meeting for the economic development strategy for Smith Island on December 15, 2014.
The first meeting for the plan – Creating a Vision for the Future – was attended by roughly 30 residents from all three communities, with the goal of identifying ideas to improve community resiliency and spur economic development. Specifically, organizers sought feedback about the need for: public spaces/activities; changes in boat transportation scheduling; infrastructure improvements; businesses/services on-Island; more watermen as year-round residents, and how to implement those ideas. Collaboration is a key component of the redevelopment strategy. In order to create a successful plan, the three communities on Smith Island must collectively define their identity, improve their resiliency to flooding and erosion, preserve their cultural and historic resources, and create an economically stable community. The visioning meeting was a good first step in a planning process that has residents eager to engage in further plan development. For more information on the Smith Island Community Visioning Process, please visit: http://www.cbuilding.org/project/smithisland