If you were heading to Ocean City and made a right turn in Salisbury, in minutes you would be in Somerset County, which is filled with all the splendors of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Pristine countryside, rural farms, small towns and countless miles of waterfront create the quintessential eastern shore vibe. Land-wise, Somerset County juts out into the bay with three large peninsulas and several islands, most notably Smith Island and the Martin National Wildlife refuge and Jane’s Island State park.
The welcome page on the Somerset County Tourism website states “With miles of tidal bays, rivers and lush woodlands, this is nature’s masterpiece, a paradise for outdoor sportsmen, recreationalists, nature lovers, and the ideal backdrop for family entertainment.” And indeed opportunities abound for the outdoor adventure seekers whether it’s fishing, crabbing, boating, paddling, hunting, kayaking, biking, birdwatching, photography and good old sightseeing. Of course no trip to a county with roots so deep in waterman’s heritage would be complete without dining on fresh seafood — including arguably the best crabs on the Bay, some rockfish, and following it up with the Maryland State dessert, a slice of Smith Island Cake.
But the county is about more than the land, it’s a story of the people. Dating back to the days of Captain John Smith and the exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, Somerset County was settled and established in 1659. As the original settlers survived from the habitat around them, towns popped up, largely to support the community of watermen. One of the oldest collections of towns is on Smith Island, with the towns of Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point. Inhabited by one of the region’s oldest English-speaking communities, the locals still have a relic accent preserving speech patterns from the original English colonial settlers. From erosion, the island has lost about half of its original land mass and the population is well under 200 people, far below the heyday of a hundred years ago when it hovered around a thousand. Smith Island is still accessible today via Ferry from Crisfield, and one of the Tyler’s still operates it today.
While visiting Smith Island, check out the museums, one at the Crisfield side of the ferry and one at the Smith island side. Both are extraordinary. The county is rich in human history with 73 locations on the National Register of Historic Places.
On the natural history side, enjoy the spectacular public natural areas such as Deal Island Wildlife Management Area, the Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, and Jane’s Island State Park. With a low population and a high amount of protected parklands, you can enjoy smogless skies, breathe clean air, hear more birds sing than car horns honking, and just bathe yourself in nature. After working up an appetite from hiking or biking, enjoy some of the bounty of the bay with unforgettable seafood. You’ll likely meet some friendly locals happy to share insights on life in the county, and other points of interest to enjoy.
For more information: 800-259-9198, VisitSomerset.com