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Maritime Merriment

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

As the morning sun climbed above the horizon, sparkling highlights danced along the crests
of waves. Birds awakened noisily, taking to the air in search of food. Fishermen gradually
appeared, rods extended in hopeful anticipation of the day’s catch. Sailboats and
motorboats began to cruise the ubiquitous waterways. Inland, patterned rows of farm crops
turned golden in the morning rays. Thus began another day on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The
Delmarva Peninsula stretches its finger southward between the blue waters of the Chesapeake
Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Broad at the top, very narrow at the bottom, it is comprised of
Delaware and the eastern segments of Maryland and Virginia, land linked closely to water.
We’re visiting the Eastern Shore of Maryland, explored by Captain James Smith in 1608.
Author James Michener based his epic Chesapeake here. Fishing villages, farming communities
and small historic towns still cling to their roots in a region the 21st century has not
yet overpowered. Generally, life here is in the slow lane. We took a leisurely driving tour
on level back roads leading to country stores, fresh seafood restaurants, historic sites,
nature preserves and, always, the water. Take the opportunity to indulge in the Three B’s;
biking, birding and boating. The land is laced with 20 rivers and their offshoots. Many
visitors try their hand at being Chesapeake “watermen” for the day, bagging blue crabs,
oysters or fish that thrive in the vast bay and its tributaries. From the north, our first
stop was Chestertown, where we discovered that Boston wasn’t the only city to throw a tea
party in its harbor. In May 1774, angry residents of Chestertown boarded the Port
Collector’s brigantine and protested England’s tea tax by emptying the cargo into the
Chester River. An annual re-enactment every Saturday of Memorial Day weekend brings
together visitors and townspeople to celebrate with music, boat rides and exhibits. Brick
sidewalks and cobblestone streets pass by manicured buildings from several eras. Along
Water Street prosperous merchants constructed impressive homes, while smaller dwellings
line Queen and High streets. Lawyers’ Row occupies intimate old buildings behind the
stately white-columned courthouse. Visit the Geddes-Piper House to see the collection
belonging to the Kent County Historical Society which, appropriately, includes teapots.
With the walking-tour map, you’ll read about 24 historical structures in this most
attractive town, once a major commercial center. Look for pocket gardens behind and
alongside many homes. From entertainment at the historic Prince Theatre to miles of trails
at the agricultural and wildlife demonstration site at Chesapeake Farms, the area satisfies
varied interests. Restock the RV with fresh produce from Fountain Park on Saturdays.
Parking in this Kent County seat is plentiful. Included in Norm Crampton’s book, 100 Best
Small Towns in America, you’ll find Easton, which exudes charm, history and culture. You’ll
appreciate its fine architecture as you stroll tree-lined streets. Guided tours with the
historical society open the doors to three historic buildings. A treat comes with an
evening performance at the art deco Avalon Theatre. For a treat of nature, join thousands
who visit in November for the Waterfowl Festival. Migrating geese and ducks add reality to
the decoy carvers, canine retrievers and artists who contribute to this popular event. St.
Michaels’ niche was shipbuilding, which was the reason why the British bombarded it during
the War of 1812. However, legend has it that crafty residents fooled the Brits by hanging
lanterns high in trees and masts, causing the soldiers to overshoot their marks. At the
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, you can feel the weight of raising a sail, or lend a hand
building a wooden boat. No ordinary reservoir of artifacts, this gem offers vessels of
every description, a captain’s home and a cannery warehouse — plus displays on the
marvelous bay that permeates life here. Flat, sparsely traveled country roads fulfill a
biker’s dream. When you tire, stop at one of the seafood restaurants sprinkled liberally
throughout, and indulge in freshly caught crabs or oysters, direct from the bay. Boat
building — along with exporting crabs, oysters and produce — brought prosperity to
Cambridge. With its enormous canvas sail floating on the air, the modern visitor center
overlooks the broad Choptank River. On a pleasant path along the river, mix gentle exercise
with nautical views. Another town best seen on a self-guided walking tour, Cambridge is
also home to several museums that relate the rich history and maritime way of life. After
you learn about the watermen, you may want to experience a skipjack, the only sailing
vessel still used for oystering. Board the Nathan of Dorchester and picture yourself as an
oysterman out for the day’s catch. If the lure of the watermen gets in your blood, cast a
line from Choptank River Fishing Piers, the abandoned bridge whose severed ends were
converted into piers. Along Wildlife Drive at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the
ever-present sound of birds accompanies visitors, especially during morning and evening
hours. In vehicles, on foot or by bicycle, people with their binoculars and scopes search
for songbirds, waterfowl and warblers among the tidal marsh and pine forest. Some winged
friends make a brief stopover as they execute the Atlantic Flyway, while others reside
permanently. Impoundments permit refuge staff to control conditions favorable to the birds,
of which upward of 250 species have been identified. As the Eastern Shore’s largest town,
Salisbury invites you to cheer on its Delmarva Shorebirds, the Class A minor league
baseball team of the Baltimore Orioles. Ornate Victorians predominate the Newtown Historic
District, but the Pemberton Hall plantation home predates them to 1741. Sunday afternoons
at Pemberton Historical Park bustle with the activity of tradespeople reenacting Colonial
days. Listen to the ocean waves crash on the shore as you stroll Ocean City’s boardwalk or
walk its 10-mile sand beach. Warm summer days bring crowds who also enjoy the golf courses,
festivals, restaurants and fishing opportunities. Weekly beach bonfires light up the
evening sky, and free entertainment fills Wednesday evenings during July and August. Camp
among loblolly pines in Janes Island State Park, then revel in the solitude of isolated
beaches and explore by small boat, canoe or kayak among the tidal marshes and creeks. Some
30 miles of marked water trails make for an easy paddle around the island section of the
park, accessible only by boat. Time spent on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a refreshing
change from our often bustling lifestyle. Allow yourself to succumb to the relaxed
atmosphere of the region and let its spirit fill you. Maryland Tourism, (800) 719-5900, visitmaryland.org

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