Day One | Day Two | Day Three
In years past, I've biked around the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. There are some nice routes and maps that one can pick up at the visitor center. As is always the case, when I am near the water, I look for places to paddle. It doesn't matter if I'm driving, hiking, or biking. I'm on the lookout for launch sites. I found a few in this area back at the end of 2005. I knew I'd be back with my boat looking for more. This weekend, that would happen.
With Blackwater being so far from home, I didn't want to make this a day trip. Hence, I needed to find a place to stay. This was the most difficult part of the preparation. Even though a signficiant part of Dorchester County is set aside for wildlife, there are no state campgrounds. I checked with the private campgrounds. One had no e-mail address or website while the other had just an e-mail address. Both were contacted and only one responded, Taylors Island Family Campground. Reservations were made.
As with many of my multi-day adventures, I wanted to mix things up a bit. There is no good hiking in Dorchester County. Lots of swamp and flat lands. But biking in this area could be good. It just turns out there was a group bike ride going on for the Saturday I planned to visit so I made sure to sign up for it. A plan was set.
On April 18, 2007, the Maryland legislature voted to preserve 70% of the land that was part of the Blackwater Resort community in Cambridge. The agreement reached between the State and developer reduces the number of homes by about 80%, with a maximum of 675 units to be built in the northwestern corner of the original plan, an area outside the Critical Area. The developer will pay $1.2 million for restoration, which will incorporate 230 acres of operating agricultural land, with a memorandum of understanding between the Soil Conservation District and the Department of Natural Resources.
"This is very good news for all of us that live in Maryland, but also for those living in DC and Virginia, as it gives us hope," said Mary Ann Ray, the Chapter Conservation Chair. "The Blackwater Development fight was long and ugly, but those of us who were opposed to the development, on the edge of a national wildlife refuge that houses the largest population of nesting bald eagles on the East Coast, hung in there, and we won this one."
-from the Appalachian Mountain Club - Washington DC Chapter Newsletter, Spring 2007
Day One, June 9, 2007
Norma and I loaded up the boat and the bicycles then drove out to the town of Easton on the eastern shore of Maryland. At 1000, we met with several people from the Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) for a 30 mile bike ride. The group carpooled from Annapolis so they arrived in bits and pieces. That gave me time to work on my frizbee throwing skills.
Tom and Christine led this fine looking group from Easton, to Oxford, and across the Tred Avon River via ferry. The ferry generally transports vehicles, not bicycles, so I think they had more people than normal on the boat. In the first photo at left, notice how the sign near the top says there are life jackets for 18...but there were far more than 18 adults on the boat. Things that make you go hmmmm.
Norma and I posed on the boat for a picture. See second photo at left. With a helmet to make her hair go flat and a bay breeze to fluff it up, Norma was looking beautiful as always.
Once on the west side of the river, we biked to Saint Michaels for a waterfront lunch at Saint Michaels Crab House followed by a few minutes for us to shop and explore the heart of the city. See third photo at left. It seems with the sunny weather and highs in the mid-80s, everyone and their dog managed to get outside and walk the town.
I had my Platypus water carrier filled with a mixture of ice, water, and Gatorade. Norma found the combination quite a thirst quencher. If she was thirsty, she'd pull up beside me and drink from the tube attached to my pack while we both rode. It reminded me of how military airplanes refuel in mid-flight.
There were quite a few people out biking and it was easy for folks to get with the wrong pack. Unlike most of the other MOC events in which I've participated, I didn't know many people in our group. The only familiar faces were Ali and the ever-so-camera-elusive Marty. Fortunately, Ali generally remained near the leader and with his orange shirt, he was hard to miss.
On the way back to Easton, I saw a group of men wearing tuxedos in a place that looked like a country club. I thought they were a string ensemble so I checked them out. They called me over and I rode over to greet them. Turns out they were there for a wedding and for some reason they wanted to get me in the photo. I posed with about 8 of them, all dressed in their finest and holding drinks. They asked if I was there for the triathlon. I said no and had no idea what they were talking about. I left and caught up with the rest of the group. This isn't the first time this has happened.
We finished our ride around 1600. Good weather and no flat tires...or were there?
See Easton, Oxford, and Saint Michaels for the route.
Norma and I checked into Taylors Island Family Campground, set up our tent, got cleaned up, then went out to eat at the Dockside Bar and Grill Floating Restarant. I was getting asked by more people if I was there for the triathlon. What triathlon?
Though Norma bought firewood, we were too tired to stay up after returning to the campsite. Maybe tomorrow night.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Two, June 10, 2007
Norma and I were up at 0700. The plan was to leave the campsite at 0800 but we got a late start due to a bicycle flat tire. Must have been a slow leak. I hadn't heard from anyone planning to join us so I assumed Norma and I would do a bicycle shuttle since we didn't have a second car. Hence, we changed the tube. I hadn't fixed a flat or replaced a tube in several years so we were slow.
We got on the road and headed toward the launch site. As we approached Smithville Road, we saw several bicycle racers. Now I had my answer about the triathlon. I later found out that this wasn't just any race. It was the Blackwater Eagleman Triathlon where the top finishers qualify for the famed Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii. I was now flattered that people though I was a participant.
A policeman directed traffic and we had to wait awhile before turning. Needless to say, driving was slow though many of the racers kept quite a pace, 20-25 mph. As we got closer to the launch site, we saw Vince driving towards us. I hoped he'd join us though I wasn't sure until then. There was no place to turn around so Norma and I pulled over and waited for him to turn around and catch up.
Eventually, we parked at Beaverdam Creek. This was our take-out. Like Turkey Point in Maryland or First Baptist Church in Sacramento, there are lots of Beaverdam Creeks. This one, however, was at Smithville Bridge on the western side of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. We put both boats on Vince's car then drove to the launch site.
Ideally, the launch site should have been at Taylors Island Boat Ramp. We didn't find that until later. Instead, we launched just a short distance away at the County Dock. Not as nice but it did the job. At 1015, we were on Chapel Cove.
Vince was in a yellow plastic sea kayak that was much more streamlined than my tandem sit-on-top 30 inch wide, 76 pound Ocean Kayak Cabo. Fortunately, Norma and I had wing paddles. I paddled harder than normal to keep Vince from getting bored. Like his wife, Susan Justice, he is a racer, though not as competitive as her...is anybody?.
From Chapel Cove, we paddled south (upstream) on Slaughter Creek. Vince really liked the name Slaughter Creek. Sounds intimidating. Soon, the river narrowed as we paddled into Slaughter Creek Narrows. It also became very circuitous. Sort of like a labyrinth at times. My paddling book said it was easy to get lost in this area but it seemed that there were many routes that connected in the end. Still, a global positioning system (GPS) or at least a map and compass should be used. I had both. As long as we took what appeared to be the biggest waterway, we were fine. Only once or twice did we get caught in shallow water.
The area was all grassland marsh bordered by trees off in the distance. I thought the scenery was just good though Edward Gertler, the author of Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails rated it as excellent. Just a difference of taste I suppose. The landscape didn't change much but I must admit it was peaceful. Though it was a Sunday, we saw almost no people. Also almost no trash. Unfortunately, not much wildlife either. This might have been the first time I paddled in such open waters without seeing a single osprey, though I did see a vacant nesting platform. All we saw were herons, egrets, and red wing blackbirds. No turtles or snakes.
It didn't take long before we saw my car at the take-out. I expected more problems getting through the winding portion of Slaughter Creek Narrows. We ventured onward.
In the nearby town of Easton, the forecast called for a high of 86 degrees. It remained cloudy and cool for most of the day and I don't think it ever got above 80 where we were.
The three of us paddled south through Upper Keene Broad then on part of Punch Island Creek. Next, we paddled north up Jacks Creek as far as we could. We managed to paddle all the way to the start of the creek. Unlike most areas I paddle, the water in this area generally remained fairly deep. When a creek ended, it just came to an abrupt stop. None of the teasing with scenic wetlands off in the distance that is only 6 inches deep.
We stopped for lunch on Jacks Creek (see first photo at left) then continued exploring to the south. We paddled a bit on Dunnock Island Creek then headed back. Based on what I'd seen, I expect a circumnavigation of Taylors Island would not be too difficult.
We were back at the take-out at 1435, having paddled 15 miles. I took a photo of the upper reaches of Beaverdam Creek, which we didn't paddle. See second photo at left. Maybe next time.
By now the bicyclists were gone. All the water bottles we saw on the road earlier were also gone. Seems like people in this county do a good job of keeping it clean.
Again we ate at Dockside Bar and Grill Floating Restarant but this time we sat outside on the deck.
After Vince left, Norma and I went exploring for new launch sites based on things I'd read or seen in maps. We found several.
We went back to the Dockside for dessert then back to the campsite. This time we burnt a store bought log. The single $5 log lasted for hours. It was supposed to smell like coffee but neither of us noticed any such smell. With tomorrow a work day, the campground was now mostly empty.
It was windy and cool during the night. We expected rain but there was none.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Day Three, June 11, 2007
In the morning, our gear was dry. No rain or dew. We packed up and headed to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
First we went to the visitor center where I bought maps and books. We spoke to the staff and saw some new additions to the building housing things dedicated to wildlife education. There were two bald eagles just south of the visitor center. Using their spotting scopes, we were able to see them in great detail. See first photo at left.
Later that morning we launched at Golden Hill Road (route 335) to access the Blackwater River. From here, Norma and I paddled west on what the refuge calls the "green water trail."
The weather was sunnier and warmer than yesterday but still not hot. Nor was it humid. I felt fortunate we were able to camp Saturday through Monday without getting any rain or high heat.
The scenery in this area was much different than yesterday's paddling near Taylors Island. There was still a good deal of grassland but there were also many trees, mostly pine. The water was very dark (hence the name Blackwater) and shallower. Despite the color of the water, it did not appear dirty though if the muddy bottom was churned, it released a bad smell.
We passed Buttons Creek to our north. This narrow creek goes on for quite a distance. Definitely a place I'd like to explore in the future.
We also passed Rowland Island, Bettys Island, and Woods Island though on the map, they don't appear to be islands. We paddled past (or maybe through) Moneystump Swamp.
Edward Gertler rated this area as having excellent scenery and I would definitely agree.
As with yesterday, we saw no people or litter.
Norma and I took a swim. I let her use my mask and fins though the water was too dark to see anything. See second photo at left.
What made this area unique as compare to all my previous paddling experiences was the number of bald eagles. I saw more bald eagles than I could remember...certainly more than ospreys or herons. I managed to get a few photos but they were generally camera shy and only wanted to be seen from a distance. Some of the juveniles, which don't have white heads, were more cooperative with me and my camera. See third, fourth, and fifth photos at left.
Norma and I stopped for lunch at a footbridge which marks the end of the green water trail. The bridge is not stable so make sure you watch your step if you go there. Norma fell through a weak board and got a little bruised up. The bridge leads to solid land filled with pine trees. See sixth, seventh, and eighth photos at left.
We continued paddling upstream a ways. I expect we could have easily spent a few more hours exploring the river and its tributaries but the biking on Saturday and the paddling on Sunday made me a little tired. I took a 20 minute nap on the boat then we resumed kayaking back to the car. See ninth photo at left.
A sika deer was seen. Like the ones I've seen on Assateague Island, this one was eager to pose while I took photos. See tenth photo at left.
Near Rowland Island, we spotted an eagle nest. I'm guessing it was about 4 feet in diameter. See eleventh photo at left.
At 1600 we were done. We did the green water trail plus an additional 4 miles for a total of 12 miles.
A good deal of time was spent taking a scenic drive and looking for new launch sites. We saw a wild turkey. By the end of the day, we found 8 good sites I had not seen prior to Saturday. Many of these will surely make for great future trips.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.