Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay
By Deane Winegar
Anne Arundel County lies along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay east of Washington, DC, and south of Baltimore. Its western border is defined by the scenic Patuxent River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary important for its aquatic ecosystems protected and studied by various research centers, parks, and preserves. In fact, Anne Arundel is intersected and bordered by several important Chesapeake Bay tributaries, including the lovely Severn River, which passes by the city of Annapolis on its way to a confluence with the bay. A total of 400 miles of waterfront provides endless opportunities for sport-fishing, boating, touring, swimming, sunbathing, photography, nature study, and dining with outstanding views. On weekends from Labor Day weekend through October, the Maryland Renaissance Festival draws some 200,000 visitors to Crownsville, about 4 miles northwest of Annapolis. A 22-acre re-creation of a sixteenth century English village offers entertainment, foods, and shopping. Jousting, Maryland’s state sport, takes center stage.
[Fig. 13(8)] In the wetlands of Muddy Creek, where the brackish Rhode River receives an influx of fresh water, scientists from the Smithsonian Institution carry on environmental research. The 2,600-acre research center, located across the South River from Annapolis in Anne Arundel County, includes coastal plain forests in varying stages of succession, agricultural fields, freshwater wetlands and marshes, and open waters where salt water and fresh water mix.
Guides lead visitors on hikes or Saturday canoe trips (call ahead to arrange) into the marshes and forests of poplar, river birch, sycamore, and oak. The 1.5-mile Discovery Trail follows Muddy Creek through forests of tulip poplar and sweetgum. A boardwalk allows exploration of a marsh and leads to Hog Island, where the trail is shaded by groves of mountain laurel.
Canoeists and hikers sometimes see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and beaver. Birds in the marshes include osprey, snowy egrets, great blue herons, swans, and even bald eagles. Birders have also identified many varieties of ducks, songbirds, and spring and fall warblers.
Interpreters explain the food value to wildlife and wildfowl of estuaries such as this one. Runoff from agricultural fields contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Through photosynthesis, plants that grow in the shallow water convert these nutrients into food for small animals. The entire food chain benefits.
This rich resource attracted Native Americans to the area many thousands of years ago. Middens, or garbage heaps of discarded clam and oyster shells, help archaeologists unravel the mysteries of the lifestyles of various Indian tribes. The Piscataways, the Choptank, and the Mattaponi once hunted where the scientists now carry on their studies.
By the time explorers arrived, warring Susquehannocks from the north and Powhatans from the south had made the area too dangerous for other Indians. The lack of resident tribes had an interesting result—relatively few rivers and creeks in this part of Maryland have Indian names.
Following long use as a tobacco farm, the land’s soil was further depleted by a dairy farming operation between 1915 and 1947. By the time the Smithsonian acquired Java Farm in 1965, vandals had destroyed buildings and the Smithsonian came close to selling the property. A committee of scientists from the institute, however, saw promise in the land, and encouraged the Smithsonian to establish a research center in the Rhode River watershed. In the ensuing decades, nature has seriously begun restoring the health of wetlands and forests.
[Fig. 13(8)] This 1.3-mile trail leads from the Reed Education Center past exhibits depicting the area’s history. Included are a depiction of pre-colonial Native American culture, description of slave life on a tobacco plantation, remains of the Java mansion, an exhibit on the dairy farm that operated here in the first part of the 1900s, and a demonstration of natural processes that slowly reclaim cultivated land.The trail features the Piscataway Indians, one of three tribes known to have hunted in the area during late summer and fall. White-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, black bear, geese, ducks, wild turkey, muskrat, and river otter supplied them with food, clothing, and tools. The Indians found many uses for wetland plants such as pickerelweed, wild rice, and duck potatoes.
[Fig. 13(9)] This National Historic Landmark was constructed in the late 1750s to provide food and lodging for passengers who would take the ferry across the South River to Annapolis. With changing fortunes, including the silting of the river and declining popularity of the ferry, much of the original community of Londontown has disappeared, with the notable exception of The Publik House. Archaeologists still search for other evidence of the lost town.Eight acres of woodland gardens with scenic river frontage feature paths with themes such as a Spring Flower Walk and an American Wildflower Walk. On special occasions, interpreters dressed in colonial attire lead tours.
[Fig. 13(10)] This 44-acre county park, acquired in 1962 for recreation and conservation, sits on a narrow peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the South River, southeast of Annapolis. Perhaps the park’s small size gives it a low profile. Maybe most people are looking for more excitement than walking, jogging, watching birds, fishing, or enjoying the scenery. Whatever the reason, this little gem remains largely undiscovered by the throngs that occupy many other public areas. The park offers a magnificent view of the Chesapeake Bay, with the Bay Bridge to the north and, to the east, Thomas Point Lighthouse and the Eastern Shore.
The bay’s excellent fishing waters surround the park. Because of its small size, limited parking, and sensitive natural environment, which includes a wildlife refuge and marsh, recreation is limited to passive Activities and vehicle permits are required. Walkers and bikers may enter without a permit. Swimming and wading are not allowed. Leashed pets are permitted.
[Fig. 13(11)] Located at the mouth of the South River, southeast of Annapolis, Thomas Point Lighthouse is one of the few surviving offshore screwpile lighthouses still in use by the U. S. Coast Guard. It was built in 1875, the third lighthouse on this site, and was among the last Chesapeake Bay lighthouses with a keeper. The first lighthouse was so poorly constructed that it lasted only a short time. Severe shoaling caused the second one to be abandoned. The current wooden hexagonal structure is slated to become a National Historical Landmark.
The lighthouse, accessible only by boat, is not open to the public, but it can be seen—and photographed—from Thomas Point Park. With its attractive red roof and white sides, it has become one of the most loved and most photographed lighthouses on the bay.
[Fig. 13(12)] South of Annapolis on the South River is Quiet Waters Park, where a looping trail leads for several miles past flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), pink azalea or pinkster flower (Rhododendron nudiflorum), tall pines (Pinus), and majestic white oaks (Quercus alba). In a beautiful natural setting, including trellised benches, trail users can enjoy views of the South River. An outdoor rink is popular among ice skaters.
A concessionaire offers opportunities to explore Chesapeake Bay natural history by sea kayak, canoe, and pedal boats. Sea kayaking instruction is available.
Natural history lectures held from time to time at the park’s Blue Heron Center are sponsored by the Anne Arundel Bird Club, Friends of Quiet Waters Park, Severn River Association, Sierra Club, and Anne Arundel County SPCA. Various experts talk about mysterious creatures of the marsh, or where to find particular wildflowers on area trails and in parks and marshes. Listeners learn how to help save the Chesapeake Bay, beginning in their own backyards. On another night they might hear about the breeding biology and feeding habits of the black skimmer (Rynchops nigra).
The 23-mile-long Severn River and its 9 miles of headwaters in Severn Run have figured prominently in Maryland’s history. The area remained relatively unchanged during thousands of years of use by Native Americans. Puritans who came up the Chesapeake Bay and turned into the Severn in the 1650s established a brisk tobacco trade out of the Annapolis harbor. But as soils became depleted, the tobacco port shifted to Baltimore, while Annapolis re-established itself as a political and military center. The U. S. Naval Academy opened its doors on the banks of the Severn in 1845. Today, a fourth of Anne Arundel County’s population lives within the 70 square miles of the Severn watershed, but about half the land remains forested and undeveloped.With a growing population depending on good water quality, the Severn River was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in the 1970s, and its waters now receive protection under federal and state laws. The designation was a natural. The Severn’s steep ravines and stands of huge tulip poplars and oaks provide beautiful surroundings in addition to protecting the watershed. Fascinating wetlands with names such as Sullivan’s Cove Marsh and Round Bay Bog are home to black ducks, mallards, pintails, great egrets, green-backed herons, ospreys, muskrats, and several species of frogs. Standing water in the acidic soil of Round Bay Bog provides a niche for cranberry bushes (Vaccinium) and the Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica).On Severn Run, the part of the Severn watershed that’s above the fall line, red maples and river birches color the riverbanks with red and yellow fall color. The banks of the Run, as it’s called, are home to many plant species, including a rare climbing fern (Lygodium palmutum). This plant has unfernlike leaflets divided into two hand-shaped parts.As the water crosses the fall line into the Severn River and flows toward the Chesapeake, it collects an increasing number of boaters, fishermen, crabbers, and others seeking recreation on coves, creeks, and river. Oyster gatherers would also be competing for space, but the supply of oysters has dwindled with increasing pollution and siltation.In late winter, the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) spawns at the mouth of the Severn and other major rivers of the upper Chesapeake.
[Fig. 13(13)] The 1,600 acres of Severn Run Natural Environmental Area in western Anne Arundel County are divided into six tracts along the Severn River, varying in habitat from marsh to mature forest. The land is owned by the state and managed as a buffer zone to protect the water quality and scenic value of the Severn River.
The riverine habitat is ideal for many species of wildlife. Great blue herons have established a rookery in the area. In spring, a horseback rider may watch several deer browsing at the edge of woods. Canoeists might see mallards, black ducks, or wood ducks clatter into the air as they approach. Hikers sometimes spot raccoons, red foxes, gray squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. They also may find the furred or feathered remains of a hawk’s or an owl’s dinner.
Anglers enjoy catching perch, largemouth bass, and stocked trout from Severn Run. A well-defined trail with walkways and bridges originates where Dicus Mill Road crosses Severn Run and provides access to Severn Run during trout season. Dicus Mill Road goes west from MD 3, about 1.5 miles north of the junction with MD 32 at Millersville.
There are several other unmarked trails and many footpaths throughout the area, where pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) grows in shaded woodlands in May and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) provides a bit of green among the dead leaves in winter.
A 1-mile unmarked loop trail provides scenic views of the upper Severn River. The trail is located at the end of Indian Landing Road in Millersville, northwest of Annapolis. A 3-mile horse trail leads from New Cut Road toward Quarterfield Road southeast of Ridgeway.
The Severn Run Natural Environmental Area has no developed picnic areas or overnight camping Facilities except for a campground for organized youth groups. For permission to explore the variety of hiking trails here and for a map, contact Sandy Point State Park, which oversees recreation in the Natural Environmental Area.
[Fig. 13(14)] On the north side of the Severn River, the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park extends arrowlike for 13.3 miles along an old railroad bed. Hikers, bikers, joggers, equestrians, roller bladers, moms with strollers, and wheelchair users pass through urban areas, small towns, fields, wetlands, and forests as they follow the route of the old Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad from Glen Burnie south to Annapolis. The paved path is a comfortable 10 feet wide. Wildlife such as gray squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, great horned owls, and a great variety of songbirds find suitable habitat in the 66-foot wide park.The trail is busiest on weekends, holidays, and during after-school hours. Peak use occurs during spring and fall, with heaviest traffic in the middle of the trail around Severna Park. The rural southern end of the trail across the bridge from Annapolis affords the most solitude. Markers placed at 0.5-mile intervals begin with Mile 0 at the southern end.Trail users can thank the folks associated with the national Rails to Trails Conservancy for their ongoing work to transform abandoned railroad beds like this one into trails the public can enjoy. Also, many volunteers help by maintaining the trail, planting flowerbeds, building benches and bulletin boards, preserving railroad history, and patrolling the park. Evidence of the historical significance of this route remains in old railroad switch boxes, track sections, and the Severna Park Railroad Station. On Thursday evenings in summer, the B&A Trail Porch Pickers entertain from the front porch of the park ranger station at Earleigh Heights.
[Fig. 13(15)] Sandy Point is one of Maryland’s older state parks, developed during the 1950s to give people recreational opportunities on the Chesapeake Bay. The park’s sandy beaches are the prime attraction, affording sun worshipers and builders of sand castles a picture-postcard view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge suspended above sailing regattas, ocean-going freighters, and smaller working boats.Adding its own ambiance to the scene is Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse. The lighthouse is a solar facility built on a caisson foundation in 1858, and is still operated by the U. S. Coast Guard. On clear days, Baltimore Light, which guides boats toward the entrance of Baltimore Harbor, is visible to the north. Both lighthouses have a caisson foundation, are accessible only by boat, and are not open to the public.Located as it is next to the bridge, a mere 32 miles east of metropolitan Washington, DC, and just 8 miles east of the state capital at Annapolis, Sandy Point receives nearly 1 million visitors annually. Crowded conditions can be expected on the 600-acre park and 1-mile stretch of beach when school is out. For more solitude, avoid peak seasons or schedule trips for weekdays when possible. Even in summer, however, most people head for the park’s beaches, leaving the beautiful marshes and pine forests to those who wish to explore.Except for birders, who come from all over the world for the spring nesting season and to see migrant birds of prey, shorebirds, and waterfowl in fall and winter, few people are aware of the park’s beauty in the off-season. A morning stroll along the beach or a picnic lunch is a fine way to unwind on a spring weekday. Spring is also the time to collect winter’s bounty of driftwood deposited on the beach, scope out the peregrine falcons nesting on the bridge, and listen to the wild calls of Canada geese and tundra swans. Take a fishing rod in a rental boat on a fall afternoon and try a new lure for scrappy bluefish. A quiet, snow-covered beach in winter offers an experience totally different from the shoreline on a raucous summer afternoon. Beautifully sculpted driftwood also rewards beachcombers who come after winter storms.Winter is also the time to hear the haunting calls of the great-horned (Bubo virginianus), barred (Strix varia), and long-eared (Asio otus) owls in the park’s pine forests. Ducks such as the canvasback (Aythya valisineria), redhead (Aythya valisineria), and lesser scaup (Aythya valisineria) find refuge in the sheltered waterways.Presently undergoing a makeover is the park mansion, Sandy Point Farmhouse, which dates back to 1815 when the property was used as a farm for the cultivation of seaweed.White perch attract anglers to the 25-acre Mezick Pond fishing pier. With 23 public ramps providing public access to the pond, summer fishing is usually not possible from a boat. Off the beaches and in the brackish water of the Chesapeake Bay, however, striped bass (rockfish), white perch, channel catfish, flounder, bluefish, spot, and croaker provide plenty of action.Hiking is perhaps an afterthought at Sandy Point State Park, where the longest trail takes just 20 minutes to walk or even less time to travel by mountain bike. However, the staff also oversees two more wild places, the nearby 200-acre Corcoran Tract, a Nature Conservancy holding with very limited hiking and birding possibilities (call the park office for permission), and the 2,500-acre Severn Run Natural Environmental Area, separated into six parcels.Overnight camping (except by organized youth groups with reservations) is not permitted at Sandy Point State Park or at many other places south of Baltimore. One option for campers is the Capitol KOA Campground (410-923-2771) 20 minutes south of the park at Millersville. Many campers go to Point Lookout State Park, several hours south, in Saint Mary’s County.
[Fig. 13(16)] On the eastern end of a Chesapeake Bay peninsula formed by the Severn and Magothy rivers between Baltimore and Maryland is 231-acre Downs Park, a great getaway for hikers and bikers. Five miles of wide, paved trails are perfect for walking, jogging, biking, and roller blading.A 3.5-mile path, looping all the way around the perimeter of the park, has red markers every tenth of a mile. A 1.8-mile senior exercise trail, with green markers, begins at the information center, follows the perimeter trail to the gatehouse, then loops back to the start. Several miles of easy natural paths wind through the park woodlands, where the clear, flutelike call of the tufted titmouse rings from tall oaks.Fishermen enjoy casting from the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and in the freshwater pond at the north end of the park. Saltwater and freshwater fishing licenses are available at nearby sport-fishing stores. Swimming and boating are not permitted. Pets are permitted in the park on a leash.During summer months, a bayside concert series draws listeners to the park amphitheater on Saturday evenings to hear music as varied as honky-tonk swing, Dixieland, ragtime, country, chamber, zydeco, and big band. U. S. Navy and Air Force bands also entertain as bay waters reflect the changing colors of sunset.The park’s North Overlook is where the crumbling remains of Bodkin Island Lighthouse were once visible. Built in 1822 and abandoned in 1855, this lighthouse is now nothing more than a "navigational hazard" on current maps.
Most restaurants in Anne Arundel County are in the environs of Annapolis. Here are a few of Anne Arundel County’s fine eateries.
Cantler’s Riverside Inn. 458 Forest Beach Road. Located on Mill Creek, about 20 minutes southeast of Sandy Point State Park. Specializes in fresh crabs and other seafood, which arrives by boat. Accessible by boat or car. Waterfront view. Casual dress. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 757-1311.
Garry’s Grill. California cuisine at two locations, one at 914 Bay Ridge Road at Bay Ridge, southeast of Annapolis, and one at 533-A Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard in Saverna Park. Inexpensive. Phone (410) 626-0388.
Woodfire. 580-P Ritchie Highway, Saverna Park. Upscale, somewhat formal steak house, operated by owners of Garry’s Grill. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 626-0388.
An eclectic assortment of inns and motels are spread about this sometimes rural, sometimes suburban, county. Here is a sampling.
The Barn on Howard’s Cove. 500 Wilson Road. This beautifully restored 150-year-old horse barn is on 6.5 waterfront acres on a Severn River tributary just outside Annapolis. Moderate to expensive. 410-266-6840.
Herrington Harbor Marina Resort. 7161 Lake Shore Drive, Friendship. Beachfront inn in the southern part of the county, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Restaurant on premises. Moderate to expensive. Phone (410) 741-5100, (410) 213-9438, extension 100.
Holiday Inn-BWI Airport. 890 Elkridge Landing Road. Located near airport south of Baltimore. Features affordable weekend getaway packages. Pets allowed. Moderate to expensive. Phone (410) 859-8400.
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