ABOVE PHOTO: Thomas Point Lighthouse (Photo: Albert Barr / shutterstock.com)
By Renée S. Gordon
The Chesapeake Bay was created approximately 10,000-years ago from melting glaciers and is home to 238 varieties of finfish, 173 species of shellfish and nearly 3,000 plant types. It is the largest estuary in the country and the third largest in the world flowing 200-miles with 11,684-miles of shoreline. The Bay is a narrow waterway bisecting Maryland that is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The towns and villages located on the western shore are a fishing, hiking, boating paradise that has unique offerings for history lovers and those seeking a peaceful getaway. Visitmaryland.org
At the time of European contact there were as many as 14,000 Native Americans in the area with the Piscataway Indians living along the Western shore. Captain John Smith, was the first to document and map his exploration of the area in 1608. The bay was named Chesapeake from the native word “chesepiooc,” meaning “Great Shellfish Bays.” As proof of the abundance of oysters, archeologists have found a 30-acre midden heap 20-ft. deep filled with oyster shells.
Maryland is one of the original colonies. In 1632, the Catholic Calverts were given 12-million acres of land that encompassed all of Maryland and a large part of Pennsylvania. They established a colony founded on religious tolerance and free trade. The 189-mile Religious Freedom National Byway trail helps visitors explore significant sites connected to the area’s religious history.
Early colonists raised mainly corn, tobacco and wheat and their diet consisted of large amounts of seafood. Turtles quickly became part of the slave’s main diet to such an extent that a law was enacted that limited their owners to serving them once a week. The area continues to focus on agriculture and seafood sources. Choosecalvert.com
The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has created a trail challenging visitors to buy and eat at local farms. The trail incorporates wineries and farms that were selected for their quality, commitment to excellence, educational opportunities, views and overall uniqueness. Guides are available online. somarylandsogood.com
In 1939, seven Amish families moved to rural southern Maryland because they felt that Lancaster, Pennsylvania was too crowded. They were also opposed to some of Pennsylvania’s laws regarding education. Maryland exempted the Amish and in in 1972, Wisconsin vs. Yoder, ruled that mandating the Amish children attend beyond 8th grade violated their religious freedom. More than 200 families now farm in the area. Clover Hill Dairy is an Amish owned dairy that is renowned for the superior quality of their products and their Amish Farmer’s Market sells fresh seasonal produce, flowers and baked goods.
Spider Hall Farm, a 362-acre working farm, offers interactive tours, hands-on activities, events and special programs for children. It is a 7th generation farm and one of the few that continues to grow tobacco. Food trucks enhance the experience with Maryland’s best crabs. Spiderhallfarm.com
The American Chestnut Land Trust is approximately 3,000-acres purchased to preserve and connect people to the land. It is the last intact watershed in the region. Within the ACLT visitors can take guided hiking and canoeing trips and discover 1,000 wildlife species. Tours of the site feature a 90-ft. long beaver dam, a rain garden and a food forest consisting of foods that the early population would have found growing naturally. Acltweb.org
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary is one of the northernmost swamps in the nation. A boardwalk leads through the swamp and provides great views of Bald Cypress trees that tower up to 100-ft. An on-site museum displays information and dioramas about the geography and plant and animal life of the swamp.
Briscoe Gray Heritage Farm is a 196-acre tract of the Calvert Creeks Rural Legacy Area. It features an example of a “rolling road”, one used as early as 1725 to roll wooden barrels of tobacco to the wharves. The George Rice farmhouse and three outbuildings are also located there. Rice, an African American purchased his land in 1902 and resided there until 1938.
The 545-acre Flag Ponds Nature Center is a must. The area is 12-20 million years old and boasts 3-miles of nature trails and 4 habitats within .05-miles. Modern visitors can hunt for fossils along the beach and they are guaranteed to locate some. Examples of fossils are on display in the visitor’s center.
The state’s smallest county is Calvert, home to the Calvert Cliffs. The cliffs are 30-miles long and 120-miles high and are over 10-million years old. They are imbedded with more than 600 species of prehistoric fossils from whales to seabirds. There are 13-miles of marked trails.
Mallows Bay Park has the largest collection of historic shipwrecks, the Ghost Fleet, in this hemisphere. The 185 documented wrecks have created a unique ecosystem that is filled with wildlife and supports recreational fishing, boating, kayaking and hiking. It is possible to sail in and around the fleet.
The area is filled with Native and African American history. Blacks constructed many of the vessels, they worked aboard some of these ships and some enslaved entered the region through the shallow waters of the bay. An outstanding educational program, “Through Piscataway Eyes,” is also available. It seeks to relate the history and culture of the Piscataway on the soil of their state homeland. This authentic interpretation allows visitors to learn and experience the native lifestyle and influence on the larger culture.
I wish you smooth travels!