The Nature Center at Martinak State Park
By John Ohler
Just east of the town of Denton in rural
Caroline County, Martinak State Park sits quietly nestled along the banks of the
Choptank River. Designated a state park in 1964, the bulk of this 107-acre park
was donated to the state by George Martinak, a retired government printer, World
War I veteran and camping enthusiast.
the late 1920s, Martinak bought the land as a private hunting and fishing camp,
later donating it for preservation as a recreational facility and a natural area
for the enjoyment of
The park supports a wide variety of plant and animal life, and boasts 63
improved campsites, several picnic shelters and great fishing and boating
In the last few years, Martinak State Park has
benefited from a series of facility upgrades and more are scheduled for the near
future. Two playgrounds, camper cabins and improvements to the Watt’s Creek
Amphitheater beckon new visitors. Within the next year, additional trails and
walkways will be completed along with improvements to the restrooms and camping
facilities. This quiet park has been home to a loyal “family” of campers, many
who have been patrons for over 25 years.
A very popular activity is the Annual Fall Fest,
where families make scarecrows, decorate pumpkins, and take turns helping to
shell corn or stir a 30-gallon kettle of homemade apple butter. In December,
Santa’s Magic Workshop draws residents from all over the mid-Shore region to the
park to enjoy a light display, train gardens, crafts and a visit with Santa.
Martinak was one of the first Maryland state parks to be designated a Chesapeake
Bay Gateways Network site. Coordinated by the National Park Service, Gateways is
a system of over 120 parks, wildlife refuges, museums, historic communities and
trails around the Bay watershed through which one can experience and learn about
the Chesapeake. Along with the Gateways designation came the opportunity to
apply for federal funding for interpretive displays and improvements to the
park’s Nature Center.
Martinak’s Nature Center was created in the late 1970s when park staff enclosed a portion of a
large pavilion. The building was improved over the years as the staff collected
an interesting array of display materials, tables and AV equipment, many which
were hand-me-downs from other parks and Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
With financial support from the Friends of
Martinak State Park, Inc., the park was able to begin a complete renovation and
enlargement of the Nature Center during the fall of 2002. Staff installed new
flooring, ceiling, lighting, windows and doors to enhance the interior, and
cedar siding was installed on the exterior to give the building a rustic,
natural feel. In addition, the Friends group donated new tables, chairs and
additional equipment allowing the main room to be used for meetings, classes and
The Nature Center’s
interpretive displays are interesting and informative. A striking
mural painted by local artist Kurt Plinke features commonly found flora and
fauna, including a nearly life-sized great blue heron and bald eagle. Other
displays highlight the Delmarva Peninsula’s Native Indian population, including
a collection of artifacts found in the area by retired park ranger Joe
Reinhardt. A large picture window offers a tremendous view of a bird and
butterfly garden being developed with the assistance of a local Girl Scout
troop, local school students, and volunteer master gardener. The Center’s children’s corner includes a library with books, games and
The main feature of the
Nature Center is an 800-gallon aquarium containing a variety of species from the
Choptank River and nearby Watt’s Creek, including largemouth bass, channel
catfish, white and yellow perch, chain pickerel, darters and striped bass.
Just a few steps beyond the Nature Center, visitors
can ponder over the remains of an old historic vessel which are housed in an
open air pavilion. Originally pulled from Watts Creek when the boat ramp was
improved, the vessel remains are now on permanent display. Expert opinions
vary, but most agree the vessel is a Pungy, a two-masted schooner that was at
one time a common workboat of the Chesapeake Region.
The Nature Center is open on
weekends during the summer as well as selected days during the spring and fall.
DNR’s popular Park Pals (for 4 to 6-year-olds) and Junior Rangers (for 7 to
14-year-olds) programs use the Nature Center as a base to learn about and
explore a variety of outdoor topics. The staff of Martinak State Park invites
you to visit this quiet gem on the Eastern Shore.
For more information on Martinak State Park, visit
the park’s website at http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/eastern/martinak.html or call the office at
Note: John Ohler is the manager of the Tuckahoe
State Park Complex. John wrote the original article, which appeared in the
Spring 2004 issue of the The Natural Resource Magazine, and also up-dated the
article for 2006. An avid hiker and outdoorsman, he has completed hiking the
Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and the Long Trail in Vermont.