by Jordan Loran
Just two miles west of Ocean City lies an exceptional opportunity to view two coastal bays and Fenwick Island from a beautiful spot along the shoreline: The Isle of Wight Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Approaching Marylandís most popular seaside resort by Route 90, take a right turn at the traffic light at St. Martins Neck Road, enter the WMA, travel about 1,000 feet to the end of the road and park. From there, walk east along the shoreline about 2,000 feet, and you will be standing about 8 feet above the Isle of Wight Bay looking over the water towards Ocean City.

What you might find at the Isle of Wight WMA

The Downy Milk Pea
(Galactia volubilis) is a vining plant with elliptical to oval leaves and hairy stems.

  • Grows to 6 feet or more, flowering from July to September with bright pink blossoms that fade to blue.

  • Prefers rocky wooded slopes and glades; pine, oak and hickory woods; moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils.

  • Native to the United States but very rare in Maryland.
    - Protects itself by climbing inedible bushes.

  • Identified easily when in flower but may be confused with other vining plants in the Fabaceae family at other times.

a photo of a northern pine snake

The Northern Pine Snake
(Pituophis melanoleucus) is a large, nonvenomous snake that is harmless to people.

  • Grows 5 to 7 feet long.

  • Prefers pine forests (of course!) and sandy soil for easy burrowing.

  • Found from New Jersey to Alabama, regionally rare in Maryland. Spends much of its time underground, rarely climbs vegetation and is most active in early morning or late afternoon.

  • Feeds on birds, small rodents and mammals as large as rabbits, coiling itself around and suffocating its prey.

  • Breeds by laying eggs midsummer in underground nests that are reused year after year.

  • Known for being secretive, hissing loudly when found, and for its small, pointed head and thick neck, which are useful for excavating and moving soil.

o the north extends Assawoman Bay. On a clear day looking south, you can see the Route 50 bridge 4 miles in the distance. This special site has been made even more special by the restoration work recently completed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Worcester County.

Attractions
The Isle of Wight WMA encompasses 223 acres of woodlands and marsh, covering virtually the entire island, which lies just west of Ocean City between the Assawoman and Isle of Wight Bays.

The area is a magnet for wildlife and a haven for birdwatchers, attracting many species dependent upon tidal marshes and bays. Great blue and green herons hunt for small fish along the marshy shores. Waterfowl commonly sighted include black and scaup ducks, buffleheads, Canada and snow geese, brants and swans. In winter, the laughing call of the common loon adds to the wilderness atmosphere of the isle. Woodcock, quail, raptors and songbirds are abundant as are four-legged creatures, including deer, rabbit, squirrels, raccoon, muskrat, opossum and fox.

Immediately adjacent to St. Martins Neck Road at the western end of the site is a narrow wetlands area. During the summer months, you can see fiddler crabs scurrying through the mud and plants in search of food and cover. DNR Natural Heritage staff have documented the presence of the downy milk pea, a plant listed as "highly state rare", and the northern pine snake, listed as "regionally rare".

Maryland established WMAs primarily to conserve wildlife and its habitats and to provide low-intensity wildlife-related recreation. State forests fulfill these functions but serve many other purposes as well, such as water-quality protection, wildlife management and timber management. State parks also provide habitat for wildlife but are mainly dedicated to outdoor recreation and the conservation of open space. DNRís State Forest and Park Service manages the forests and parks, while its Wildlife and Heritage Service manages all WMAs.

The Isle of Wight WMA is split by Route 90 running east and west. The portion north of Route 90 is still in pristine condition, hardly changed from 300 years ago. Hunting is allowed there but only with bow, muzzleloader and shotgun. Waterfowl hunting is available from portable blinds. Anglers will enjoy fishing for croaker, sea trout, spot, flounder and bluefish in the waters surrounding the isle. Nature photographers are attracted by the diversity of wildlife and by the spectacular views of the Ocean City skyline and the coastal bays.

The portion of the WMA south of Route 90 is approximately 12 acres and faces the Isle of Wight Bay. Because of its location directly across the bridge from Ocean City, the southern site has long been a favorite stopover for summer visitors wishing to fish, crab or just relax and enjoy the scenery. Many local residents consider the site a gateway to Worcester Countyís coastal bays and Fenwick Island. Unfortunately over the years, the site became a favorite dumping ground for construction debris, old refrigerators and assorted garbage.

Former Conditions at the Southern Site
In 1996, efforts were initiated to improve the southern site for both safety and recreational reasons. At the time the site included 500 linear feet of deteriorating
The southern shoreline as it previously appeared, covered with concrete rubble.steel bulkhead along the eastern shoreline and approximately 2,000 linear feet of southern shoreline partially protected by dumped concrete rubble. The old steel was rusted and jagged. The concrete rubble included embedded asphalt and steel reinforcing rods.

Although people enjoyed the site, it was dangerous and posed serious safety concerns. The most unusual feature was located at the eastern end of the site: an empty concrete form nearly 450 feet long, 4 feet deep, and 35 feet across. The form was a remnant from 1972 when the State Highway Administration used the site as a staging and manufacturing area to build the beams for the Route 90 bridges.

A Restoration Plan Evolves
This piece of property is strategically located to act as a northern welcoming point for Ocean City and Worcester County, and various usage plans were put forth. Proposals included building music pavilions and paving a large part of the site for parking.

A reasonable plan designed to preserve the natural setting and enhance the shoreline was developed by the Resources Planning and the Engineering and Construction units of DNR. In 1997, while DNR was working with Worcester County and Ocean City to finalize the plan for making the site safer and more inviting for visitors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed an environmental restoration project for the site in their Ocean City and Vicinity Water Resources Study. DNR then entered into a project agreement with the Corps to complete the project.

Restoration Implemented
The full plan, embraced by the Corps, DNR and Worcester County, included replacing the steel bulkhead with a stone revetment topped by a 150-foot timber boardwalk; constructing a new access road and a 15-car parking area; installing a 500-foot timber pier; removing the dumped concrete rubble, and replacing it with 2,000 feet of stone breakwaters and sills with sand fill and intertidal marsh grass, creating approximately 10 acres of tidal marsh. All of this has now been accomplished.

Official surveys site while developing the Isle of Wight restoration plan.The entrance road off Route 90 has been improved, and parking for six additional vehicles has been added. The concrete form was filled and the area now provides overflow parking during busy summer days. In August 2003, the Board of Public Works approved a lease plan that allows the site to be managed by Worcester County.

The estimated cost was $2.6 million. Federal funding covered 65 percent of the environmental aspects of the project and 50 percent of the recreational aspects. The remaining obligations were met in part by two state capital-fund appropriations: $264,000 in fiscal year 1999 and $650,000 in fiscal year 2001.

Restored and Ready
If you are vacationing in Ocean City or visiting Worcester County, be sure to stop by the Isle of Wight WMA. Bring a rod to fish from the shore. Grab your binoculars for close-up views of the many shore birds, marsh birds, songbirds, and waterfowl. Take along a camera to photograph the wildlife and landscapes. And donít forget your walking shoes to hike the trails maintained throughout the WMA. Walk along the shore. Watch the sailboats. Listen to the waves. Take in the Isle of Wightís many sights - and perhaps one nicely restored site in particular.

Jordan Loran...
is DNRís Eastern Region Chief for Public Lands. He also provided the photos for this article.


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