1 Visit Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers at Blackwater: 25,000 acres, 35,000 migrating geese, 15,000 migrating ducks, 165 threatened or endangered plants, and more pairs of nesting bald eagles than any other location on the East Coast north of Florida. Visit the refuge and you’ll come away with just one reaction: awe.
Hiking, biking, kayaking, and driving tours make it easy to explore its various ecosystems, from freshwater ponds and tidal marshes to deciduous and evergreen forests. Yes, this is how much of the Eastern Shore used to look.
On Nov. 20, 1683, Talbot County authorized the establishment of a ferry service for “horses and men” and paid Richard Royston 2,500 pounds of tobacco per year (about $25) to operate it. More than 300 years later, a ferry is still crossing the Tred Avon River between Bellevue and Oxford, although, it’ll cost you $16—a large chunk of Mr. Royston’s yearly wage—for you and your car to make the round trip. The 3/4-mile journey is a beautiful (and historic) way to travel in these parts and a Chesapeake must. In summertime, the views of sailboats and mammoth waterside mansions are made that much sweeter with a scoop of homemade ice cream by Scottish Highland Creamery, sold topside. Open daily, 9 a.m. to sunset, April through Nov-ember. 410-745-9023, http://www.oxfordbellevueferry.com. —J.S.
9 Go Chicken Neckin’
Catching crabs may not possess the same level of adrenalin-pumping excitement as landing a blue marlin, but generations of weekend crabbers love the experience for its simplicity—not to mention tasty rewards at the end of the day. All you really need is a nylon line or trap, a dip net, and a chicken neck or two, and voilà, you’re a crabber. Pick a public pier or dock, open a cold beverage, and see what takes the bait. See dnr.state.md.us for current crabbing regulations. —J.S.
11 Learn to Sail
People have been doing it on the Bay since John Smith arrived in 1608. The powerboat crowd may blanch, but the Chesapeake, with its wide-open waters and ample breezes, is simply made for exploring by sail. Somebody dubbed Annapolis the “sailing capital of the world” for a reason, right? And to think that 400 years later, you and the good Capt. Smith could share a common experience (thankfully, without scurvy). Many programs offer sailing instruction around the Chesapeake. Popular ones include those held by Chesapeake Sailing School (htp://www.sailingclasses.com), Upper Bay Sailing (http://www.upperbaysailing.com), and Womanship (http://www.womanship.com). —J.S.
12 Read James Michener’s “Chesapeake”
It really should be required reading for anyone who lives in the area. Michener’s 850-page epic spans Chesapeake history from the 16th century up to the late 1970s. Even if the characters (and many of the places) are fictional, to anyone who’s spent time on the Bay, it feels as if this could be our history. Every time we read it, we get chills at the descriptions of a pristine Chesapeake, with its abundance of crabs, oysters, and “clouds of geese so thick the sun could not be seen.” —J.S. (The outline for "Chesapeake" was written by James Michener at the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, Maryland)
13 Sail on a Skipjack
You won’t find many watermen earning a living on a skipjack these days, but for decades, these graceful boats were regular sights on the Bay. You can still get a taste of the old days on the Martha Lewis or Stanley Norman, two of the Chesapeake’s few remaining working skipjacks. Join the crew for a sail and you’ll find yourself appreciating the history and romance of a vanishing trade, as well as the gritty reality of contemporary oystering. Pleasure cruises can also be booked on the skipjack Rebecca Ruark, captained by the incomparable Wade Murphy out of Tilghman Island. skipjackmarthalewis.com, cbf.org/discoverytrips, http://www.skipjack.org. —C.D.
14 Charter a Fishing Boat
Let’s say you haven’t won the lottery yet, and you don’t have the means to afford your own powerboat with the latest fish-finding technology. Or even if you do, the experience of chartering a fishing boat on the Bay—with a captain who has been fishing his entire life—should be on anyone’s Bay bucket list. The key here is finding the right skipper—one who knows instinctively where the fish lurk, and can share his knowledge of the Bay as expertly as he baits a hook. The best captains, of course, send you home with great fishing stories, even if you don’t catch a thing. —J.S.
16 Visit a Lighthouse
There are 22 lighthouses in Maryland waters, 10 in Virginia, and 17 in Delaware still standing. Some shine as brightly as they did when they were built; others have gone dark and exist only as quiet sentinels. Some have been transplanted and continue to shine as tourist attractions. Whatever their current state, lighthouses will always be some of the Bay’s most identifiable icons, familiar friends, worthy of a visit.
Visit a lighthouse up-close on a boat tour (try http://www.chesapeakelights.com, http://www.downtimecharters.com, or http://www.watermarkcruises.com) or, better yet, step foot on one during the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s tours of the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse (amaritime.org). —J.S.
20 Visit Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
How many museums do you know with a real lighthouse and a full-size drawbridge in its collection? The Hooper Strait Lighthouse and the old Knapps Narrows drawbridge may be some of the larger items on display at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, but the smaller items—the decoys, the trail boards from long-gone steamers, the amazing assemblage of oyster cans—tell the complete story of a region and its people. This is where you go to learn about the Bay—past, present, and future. 410-745-2916, http://www.cbmm.org. —J.S.
22 Stop at a Farm Stand
“Produce!” You see it painted in capital letters on propane tanks and on wooden signs 3 feet high along Route 50. Sometimes the message is more specific: Lopes. Corn. Tomatoes. And later in the year: Mums. Pumpkins. Maybe, a corn maze. The stands are run by folks known as Pop-Pop or John and you see them every year when you stop en route to the beach, say a shy hello, notice their kids getting taller as you add a jar of homemade jam to the dozen ears next to the register. You may shop your local farmers market, but here the corn is always sweeter, the tomatoes always plump. —M.Z.
25 Down an Oyster Shooter
We’re not completely sure who invented the oyster shooter, but we’d be happy to buy him or her a drink. It’s really the most efficient way to eat the Bay’s favorite bivalve: plop the oyster in a shot glass of cocktail sauce, down it, and chase with a beer. Bars around the Bay offer their own interpretations, but we bet Annapolis’ Middleton Tavern has served up the most over the years. Consider it the Chesapeake’s official drink. —J.S.
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