There's room to roam in this Eastern Shore county
2020 may be the year we have to keep our distance, and there’s no better place in Maryland to spread out than Somerset County. With a population of only 26,000, Somerset is the second-least populous county in the Free State. Located at the tip of the Eastern Shore, it contains almost as much water as it does land, making its outdoor opportunities as diverse as they are numerous.
Somerset’s largest ongoing — and most exciting — project is the 413 Rail-to-Trail. When completed it will connect Princess Anne to Crisfield, repurposing the railroad that was built to transport Chesapeake Bay blue crabs from the shore to the rest of the world. The trail will be completed in phases, but signage exists along State Route 413 to help you complete the journey today.
If traveling north along the trail from Crisfield, you’ll arrive at Great Hope Golf Course, which is an Audubon-certified course, meeting strict standards for conservation and habitat. Even non-golfers can enjoy the path here, looking for egrets, herons and woodpeckers.
As of this writing, certain campgrounds and boat launches at Maryland State Parks are closed, so keep your eye out for updates. Once you’re sure the coast is clear, dust off the paddles and the PFDs and head to Janes Island State Park, where more than 30 miles of water trails meander through the saltmarsh. Most trails are suitable for beginners, but for the daring, the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay pay off in the form of gorgeous panoramas and ample solitude. Three paddle-in campsites are available for reservations at Jane’s Island and offer an Eastern Shore adventure you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Before your trip, read up on the fascinating history of the island, which includes Annemessex Indian villages, colonial settlements and shootouts between watermen and Maryland’s famous Oyster Navy (now the Department of Natural Resources).
A Little Bit of Both
For those who can’t choose, there’s Deal Island State Wildlife Management Area. The 13,000-acre property contains plenty of open water as well as forested wetlands and a 2,800-acre man-made pond. The water bugs and crustaceans, as well as the abundance of native grasses, makes Deal Island one of the best places in Maryland to find waterfowl. You’ll find herons, egrets, and the state’s only breeding population of black-necked stilts.
Deal Island is a hunter’s paradise, and it’s a prime spot for crabbing and fishing, too. Trapping leases are also available. To enjoy a famous Chesapeake Bay sunset, set up camp at one of the WMA’s primitive campsites — just avoid high summer and its mosquitos.
No matter where you choose to spread out in Somerset County, keep in mind that you will be in a rural area where cell phone service can be hard to come by. Always let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Bugspray and sunscreen are always a good idea, and a lifejacket is mandatory.