Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Serenity Granted: Maryland’s historic Eastern Shore offers a quick escape into nature

Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

I used to look forward to summer as a time to travel and explore the country. Often, I’d find the time to create a blog post on places of interest.

Most years, I manage to enjoy three or four summer trips, but COVID-19 has changed all that. This summer, my “outings” are generally relegated to grocery stores and my “trips” to the rooms of my house.

By August, I realized that this just wasn’t cutting it. I was determined to escape house arrest at least once this summer, and my requirements were simple: visit an area less than four hours away (by car) and rural enough to attract more wildlife than people.

This thought was in the back of my mind as I browsed pictures on Instagram and stumbled on the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Md. I researched the region and recognized that it checked all my boxes. It may also check yours, especially if you’re seeking a peaceful getaway to relax and unwind.

On the Wing

Watching wildlife is always enjoyable from a kayak, and paddling through the calm, brackish waters of the Blackwater River is an easy way to take in the beauty of the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Matt Meredith’s family has been in the area since the mid-1600s and has been conducting tours for years.

If you’re a birdwatcher, this is where you’ll want to be. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot eagles, ospreys and heron, or have the opportunity to take a photo of an eagle’s nest like I did.

A word of warning: Be sure to take a map along because your cell phone may as well be a brick in this neck of the woods, and you’re likely to get lost on the way to meet Matt at BlackWater Adventures. Don’t ask me how I know.

Afterwards, you may want to see depicted in art what you just saw on the water by visiting the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.

Located at Salisbury University, the waterfront museum is comprised of six galleries, two of which rotate periodically.

Uniquely, most every piece of wildfowl art is crafted of wood, from majestic owls to ducks to other impressive creatures. A particularly detailed piece depicts a hawk, wings akimbo, striving to snatch a fleeing pheasant.

These representations are so stunning that visitors often marvel at the talent of the carver behind them. Wooden “feathers,” in particular, tend to elicit exclamations of awe for their realism.

Many of the wildfowl appear to be in mid-flight, thanks to one well-placed rod—a limitation required to compete in the Ward World Championship held in nearby Ocean City. That competition draws more than 1,000 artists annually, with many of the award-winning pieces gaining a temporary home at the museum.

Staying, Eating

Located along the Wicomico River is the Whitehaven Hotel, built in 1810 as a private home. A ferry adjacent to the hotel dates back to 1685 and is known as the oldest publicly operated ferry in the country.

In the late 1800s, the village of Whitehaven was a bustling, vibrant community with shipyards, a canning factory, a school, a church and retail stores. The demand for lodging necessitated the transformation of the private home into a hotel in 1877. The hotel was host to steamship passengers, which included salesmen who traveled among the farming communities. It also drew guests who arrived by horse, and it now continues to connect the public to places like Quantico and Princess Anne.

Today, the hotel features eight guest rooms, with nary a television to be found. As for the internet, let’s just say that if you recall “dial up,” you can relate. Your time will be better spent gliding through the water in a kayak on the Wicomico River or relaxing on the spacious porch with a good book.

A 15-minute drive takes visitors to a longstanding casual joint called “The Red Roost Crabhouse and Restaurant,” which was established in the 1970s. With trashcans at the end of tables for guests to sweep away their shells and goo, you could say that the décor is more conducive to chowing down than ambiance. That matters not to diners who come from miles around to belly up to the picnic tables and eat their fill of shellfish and fried chicken.

Another area favorite is a newer establishment, the Evolution Craft Brewing Co. Public House in Salisbury. The microbrewery and restaurant once housed an ice plant and, since opening, has won a number of awards for excellence.

Located about an hour’s drive from Whitehaven are Assateague and Chincoteague islands, both of which are known for wild horses that roam free on the beaches.

Those who wish to stay closer can take the free ferry to Princess Anne in Somerset County. There, they can tour the 200-year-old Teackle Mansion or take the historic walking tour of the town (the innkeeper can provide you with the pamphlet). Also notable is an antique shop that benefits the historical society in the area.

Getting away and unplugging from the bad news delivery system is sometimes good for what ails you, especially these days. I know that I returned much more relaxed and better able to take on life’s challenges, thanks to a change of scenery and the simple serenity of a life unplugged.

For more information on the places featured in this story, visit their websites.

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