Chesapeake Landscapes & Outdoor Adventure
Heart-shaped and nearly surrounded by water, Dorchester County is defined by its 1,700 miles of serpentine shoreline framing forests, farms, and 39 percent of Maryland’s wetlands. Here, in the Heart of Chesapeake Country, human and natural history are inexorably linked to the watery surroundings. Old homes lining the shoreline were built there for convenience, not for the view. In addition to expediting travel and commerce around the bay, being on the water allowed planters to trade directly with merchant ships that would take their highly desired tobacco crop directly back to Europe. Today, in many cases, boats remain the most practical means of transportation.
When Captain John Smith and his men explored the Chesapeake in 1607, the fish were so abundant that the men tried to catch them with their frying pans! Perhaps it is not as easy as it was 400 years ago, but fishing in the Heart of Chesapeake Country is still very satisfying. Bait and tackle shops, as well as fishing reports offer a sense of what’s running and where. Boaters will find numerous public ramps, marina services, and water trails. Click here to view a map of them. Those without a boat can board charters for a half day on the water, or they will find numerous places to fish from land, including the Choptank River Fishing Pier. Open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, the pier is popular because of the variety of fish that can be caught including perch, striped bass, hard heads, sea trout, and catfish. The pier is lighted for night fishing and it adjoins Sailwinds Park East, with its playground, picnic tables, and restroom facilities.
While the landscape is soothing, it belies the pain and suffering of generations of people. For nearly 200 years, Maryland was a slave holding state, and because of its dependence on agriculture, slavery was considered a necessary evil. The water that served as a highway for those with boats was a terrifying barricade for those without. The landscapes where enslaved men and women toiled remain remarkably intact, including a canal near Madison that was dug by slaves to float trees from the inland forest to the shipyards on the Choptank River.
In the early 1820s, Harriet Tubman, a slave girl who was destined to change history, was born in Dorchester County. The farm where she lived and the forest where she worked next to her father remain here largely intact, as does a store in Bucktown, where she probably committed her first act of defiance by defending a fellow slave from an overseer. Eventually, Tubman escaped, yet she returned numerous times to help friends and family find freedom as well. Today, she is honored with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway. For more information on scenic byways or to download a brochure click here.
Over the centuries, the county’s remote location protected it from the onslaught of post-war development, and its lack of breaking waves and cool summer breezes saved it from throngs of beach goers. As a result, the Heart of Chesapeake Country is the perfect destination for outdoor adventure. With no hills or altitude, exploring the landscape is a pleasure for anyone. Cyclists can pedal over miles of county roads without encountering a traffic signal or stop sign. Plans are underway for additional greenways and walkways to connect attractions, historic sites, and communities. Twice a year the county welcomes two major cycling events, the Ironman Eagleman 70.3 and the Chesapeake Man Triathlon. Participants consistently mention the warm hospitality and community support they experience during these exciting events.
The myriad waterways create an ideal habitat for waterfowl and wildlife. In addition to white-tail deer, muskrats, and wading birds, there are bald eagles and protected habitat for the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Kayaks can be rented from several outfitters who also offer guided tours of Fishing Bay, the Blackwater River, and the Underground Railroad. Bicycle rentals and guided tours are also available. Trails through Blackwater are well marked and maintained.
Because of its location on the Atlantic Flyway, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a bird watcher’s dream. In spring and fall, tens of thousands of birds and waterfowl take sanctuary there for a few days or all season. Created in 1933, Blackwater consists of 27,000 acres of wetlands and brackish tidal marsh, which are open year-round for bird watching and nature walks. Guided tours are available, but cycling and hiking through the refuge can also be an exciting adventure. Visitors might see majestic bald eagles, fast-flying osprey, or tiny songbirds. Blackwater often offers activities for children and is open year round.
Generations of local men grew up running lines of traps for muskrats, eating the meat and selling the pelts. Today, hunting and trapping remain an important part of the local culture. Visitors will see plenty of camouflage in markets and restaurants during the season. Properly licensed hunters can find guides to take them to the best shooting spots. For information on hunting outfitters click here. February, the National Outdoor Show honors that tradition with skinning contests, calling contests, wild meat cook offs, and the “Miss Outdoors Show” pageant.
With its authentic landscapes, outdoors guides, wildlife sanctuaries, historic agricultural traditions, and opportunities for water sports, the Heart of Chesapeake Country offers intimate, exciting, and unique land and water experiences to visitors of all ages and abilities.