Dorchester County is the largest county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The county has over 1,700 miles of shoreline and is nearly surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Given Dorchester’s water-based identity, the county is also a prime destination for boaters and paddlers who enjoy exploring its many waterways and vast salt marshes. New efforts are underway to expand the county’s water trail network and to map and promote water trail routes in various parts of the county.
The state and federal governments own significant acreage along the county’s southern shoreline, but there is little publicly owned land in the remainder of the county. Dorchester County lies in the eastern flyway and is an important area for migrating, wintering, and breeding waterfowl. The Blackwater-Nanticoke area has been identified as a focus area in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The large amount of marsh, woodland, and agricultural lands in this area make up a very diverse ecosystem, valuable to many wildlife species.
The Dorchester County Land Preservation and Recreation Plan identifies several potential trails and greenways that could provide linkages to major attractions such as Sailwinds Park, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and other natural areas like the Nanticoke River, and historic sites in Cambridge, East New Market, and Vienna. In addition, neighboring counties have expressed an interest in establishing a regional network of greenways, water trails, and pedestrian/bicycle corridors that would attract outdoor and heritage oriented visitors.
The county has been experiencing a slight decline in population. The latest county population estimates indicate a continuation of this trend with an estimated 1997 county population of 29,503. In terms of future population growth, the county is projected to increase slightly over the next 20 years to reach a level of approximately 29,750 by the year 2010. Most of this growth is anticipated in the North Dorchester and Cambridge areas.
Dorchester County covers approximately 354,870 land acres. Forty-eight percent (48%) or 170,338 acres are zoned agricultural. Agricultural land dominates most of the northeast portion of the county. Approximately 4% of Dorchester’s total land area is developed. The remaining area is comprised of resource lands including forests, agricultural lands, and wetlands. Tidal wetlands account for roughly 25% of the county’s land area. Dorchester County’s wetlands account for approximately 39% of the entire state’s wetlands.
1) Cambridge to Blackwater Pedestrian Path
The Cambridge to Blackwater Pedestrian Path is a potential trail linkage between the historic town of Cambridge and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Such a connection would encourage visitors to the refuge to visit Cambridge and possibly other areas of the county.
2) Cambridge Waterfront
The Cambridge waterfront is currently being developed along the Choptank River. The greenways incorporates open space, recreational, and commercial activities. The revitalization of the waterfront area between the Choptank River Fishing Pier and the Cambridge Creek bridge is called the “Sailwinds Park” project area. This project includes a state visitors center (which opened in 1999), a wetlands education area, beach and stage area, marina, children’s playground, exhibition center, and retail and restaurant area. Additional plans for a hotel/conference center north of the Choptank River fishing pier are also underway.
3) Choptank River Greenways
The Choptank River Greenways is a potential greenways corridor along the Choptank River. The corridor runs roughly from Travers Wharf to Whitehall Creek. The greenways would include property under easement with the Maryland Environmental Trust, the Cambridge Country Club, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies at Horn Point, Great Marsh Park, and Long Wharf Park. The Choptank River has been studied and determined to be eligible for designation under the state Scenic and Wild Rivers Program. Designation provides additional protection and the opportunity for technical assistance from the state in river management and resource conservation.
3a) Choptank River Water Trail
The Choptank River Water Trail is an existing route utilized by commercial and recreational boaters. Large, commercial craft such as the Cambridge Lady and the paddle-wheeler Dorothy Megan can be seen making the loop out of Cambridge, up the Choptank, to Secretary and back. The route is also used during the holiday season for the “parade of boats.” Smaller boats and personal watercraft are used to explore the many small creeks and tributaries off of this section of the Choptank River as well as farther down towards the confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. There is tremendous potential to tie this section of water trail to efforts farther north along the Choptank and Tuckahoe rivers.
4) East New Market-Secretary-Hurlock Rail Trail
The East New Market-Secretary-Hurlock Rail Trail is a potential trail along an inactive rail corridor that would provide linkages between historic East New Market, Secretary Park, and the Hurlock Recreation Complex. The trail could potentially extend west into Cambridge and north into Caroline County where it would connect with the waterfront project at Federalsburg. The rail corridor is used once a year when the town of Hurlock runs a fall excursion train along the route to Cambridge in celebration of Hurlock Days.
5) Fishing Bay
Fishing Bay is the largest existing greenways corridor on the lower Eastern Shore. Located along the southern end of the county, the corridor includes the 18,000-acre
Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, the 65,000-acre federally owned Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and the 40,000-acre Taylor’s Island Wildlife Management Area. Most of the parcels along the eastern border are contiguous, connected by wetlands and therefore still protected. Wetlands also provide a link to a large parcel under easement with the Maryland Environmental Trust to the north of Fishing Bay. A branch can also be made across the Nanticoke River to Ellis Bay in Wicomico County.
5a) Fishing Bay Water Trail
A cooperative effort between the Dorchester County Office of Tourism and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was launched in 1999 to develop a series of water trails at Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area. These paddling routes are specifically geared towards paddlers interested in wildlife viewing and an outdoor experience in a remote area. The routes are self-guided, and as Fishing Bay is a wildlife management area, there are no bathroom facilities available.
In the first phase of this project two routes have been identified. The first route is the Bestpitch Loop Trail which originates at the DNR boat ramp off of Bestpitch Ferry Road and makes a five-mile loop around Guinea Island. The second route is along Island Creek. Three different launch sites along Elliott Island Road will be utilized to provide access to Island Creek, Island Creek Landing, Greens Island, and Langrell’s Landing. Improvements to these three launch sites are expected to begin in 2001, and are expected to be complete by 2003.
6) Hurlock Rail Trail
The Hurlock Rail Trail is a potential rail trail along an inactive rail corridor which runs between Hurlock and the Connectiv power plant near Vienna Park. The line is currently owned by Connectiv, and the power company could have a future use for rail service should the power plant begin to use coal.
The rail corridor is part of a line that once ran to Salisbury. Wicomico County is interested in developing a trail along a section between Salisbury and Hebron. A proposed extension to Vienna would tie the Salisbury trail into the Hurlock segment.
7) East New Market / Hurlock Loop
The East New Market Loop is a potential greenways trail along roads in the northern part of Dorchester County. The route would run west along Rt. 14 to Suicide Bridge, then north and east along Rt. 331 into the town of Hurlock.
8) Marshyhope Creek
Marshyhope Creek is an existing stream valley greenways. This corridor is undeveloped and consists of wetlands, marsh, and wooded banks that provide valuable habitat and stream protection. The corridor extends into Caroline County where a significant amount of long-term protection and public access have been secured. On the southern end of Marshyhope Creek in Dorchester County, the greenways ties into the Marshyhope Heritage Area and a Boy Scout camp. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge manages some of the woodlands and wetlands in this area. Marshyhope Creek has great potential for development of water trails with connections to the Nanticoke River. Marshyhope Creek was deemed to have statewide significance by the Scenic and Wild Rivers Program and is eligible for state designation. The county’s Marshyhope Rural Legacy area consists of 404 acres and runs from Marshyhope to Reliance north of Rt. 392.
9) Nanticoke River
The Nanticoke River is a partially established stream valley greenways. The river was studied by the Maryland Scenic and Wild Rivers Program and was found to possess nationally significant natural, recreational, and cultural values. The town of Vienna purchased 300-400 feet of waterfront along the Nanticoke and is in the midst of developing a plan for the area. Several thousand acres are protected in Wicomico and Dorchester counties by the Nanticoke River and Fishing Bay wildlife management areas. Significant acreage is also protected by several natural heritage sites along the river in both Dorchester and Wicomico counties.
Much of the land along the river corridor is undeveloped and privately owned, but portions of private land are protected by non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy is protecting a core area of the Nanticoke River at its confluence with the Marshyhope River, as well as other areas along the river in Maryland and Delaware. Most of the land surrounding the Nanticoke River is either marshland or steep slopes. As such, this greenways corridor is ideal for wildlife. Bass fishing, boating, kayaking, and canoeing are activities currently enjoyed on the river.