Kent Island’s Hidden Treasures
Next time you cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, stop and stay for a bit.
It’s impossible to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without driving through Kent Island, and yet few travelers even realize they’re on an island when they reach the eastern side of the 4.3-mile overpass. At this point, bridge-lovers are still exhilarated from the view; beach-going parents are busily catering to the needs of the tiny tyrants (ahem, adorable children) in the back seat; and those who fear the bridge are trying to rediscover their resting heart rate.
But this small patch of land in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, is more than just a pass-through on the way to Easton or Rehoboth Beach. Surrounded by both the big bay and a few smaller bays, cleaved by twisty creeks and rich with wildlife and natural habitats, the island, which offers 157 miles of shoreline, has a charm of its own.
Currently made up of two incorporated towns—Stevensville and Chester—Kent Island was originally the home of the Matapeake tribe, who referred to the island as Monoponson. They held onto it for more than 10,000 years, according to the Kent Island Heritage Society, until William Claiborne landed there in 1631, changed its name and made it “the first permanent European settlement in what is now Maryland.”
The thing about Kent Island is that it doesn’t look all that special when you’re whizzing by on the merged Routes 50/301. Aside from the water, which is viewable from just about everywhere, its other virtues require a little digging.
Take Terrapin Nature Park, which is oddly tucked behind an office park. It’s got extensive walking trails, beach access, bridge views, a picnic area with grills and tall grasses that sway peacefully in the breeze. Here, cyclists can pick up the Cross Island Trail that stretches eastward through a section of the former Queen Anne’s Railroad railbed, or the South Island Trail, which runs north to south along Route 8 past several parks and a golf course, ending up at Romancoke Pier near the island’s southern tip.
Hidden within the Chesapeake Bay Business Park itself are two other highlights you won’t want to miss. A 90-minute factory tour of Paul Reed Smith Guitars starts in the loud and fragrant wood room, with omnipresent sawing and machinery transforming wood species from all over the world into handcrafted instruments. Watching the different stages of the process will appeal to just about anyone. Afterward, you can go for a spirits tasting at the neighboring Blackwater Distilling—it conducts tours and offers samples of rum and vodka daily—and pretend you’re a bit more rock ’n’ roll than you really are.
In the sweet little town of Stevensville, you’ll find some of the island’s oldest structures. There’s a cemetery that dates back to 1652, the Historic Christ Church that was built in 1880, and the gabled Cray House, erected in 1809 as a tradesman’s home. Many of the sites are open to the public on the first Saturday of each month from April through November.
What isn’t hidden, thankfully, is the water—and there are plenty of ways to get near it, on it and in it. Nature lovers will enjoy the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, a 510-acre wildlife preserve in nearby Grasonville that offers guided kayak tours, four miles of trails and an abundance of native flora and fauna among its woodlands, marshes and meadows. A trail behind the Chesapeake Heritage & Visitor Center leads to a secluded beach at Ferry Point Park, where kids can splash worry-free in the shallow, tranquil inlet. (Do bring bug spray, though. The mosquitoes are aggressive.)
For sporting types, the island is a departure point for many charters, including Angler’s Connection Guide Service for finding the best fishing grounds; Narrow Escape Charters, which focuses on bow-fishing for stingrays; and Captain’s Pride Charters, which is run by a second-generation charter captain. A handful of hunting outfits offer land excursions to shoot waterfowl, deer and small game.
And, of course, there’s seafood. Hopefully, you like crab—a ubiquitous offering in these parts. You’ll find crab dip, crab soup and crab cakes galore on just about every menu.
During warmer months, the nightlife at Kent Narrows—the thin strip of land that sits just east of Kent Island, serving as a sort of connector to the Eastern Shore—heats up with live music, tiki bars and water-taxi barhopping. Or perhaps you’d prefer to end the day with a more low-key option like a sunset cruise.
Whatever you do, it should definitely involve gazing out upon that beautiful, abundant, mesmerizing water.