The largest estuary in North America is, without doubt, a national treasure not just for conservationists but for boating and outdoor enthusiasts alike. A complex ecosystem, Chesapeake Bay and its forests, wetlands and rivers provide home and food for myriad groups of plants and animals, particularly of the marine variety which live or migrate seasonally in the Bay and its tributaries. Because of its bounty, whether in land or at sea, Chesapeake Bay and the islands located in it or close to it, is a boater’s ideal playground. If you are looking to change scenery and get a bit closer to wildlife, the following island destinations are well worth looking into.
Assateague Island National Seashore
A barrier island inhabited only by wild ponies, Assateague Island has 14,000 acres of beach, saltwater and freshwater marsh, and a forest. Aside from wild ponies, the island, which is completely uninhabited by humans, is also home to migratory birds, white-tailed deer, and the introduced sika deer. The island is designated not just as a national park, but its lower half – about 48,000 acres – is also categorized a National Seashore whose geography is constantly shaped by the elemental forces of wind and water. Because of its isolation – as it is detached from the Maryland mainland and on the Atlantic coast – Assateague Island is ideal for a weekend escape.
Established by Henry Hooper as a tobacco plantation in the mid-17th century, Hoopers Island is in fact a chain of three small islands in the southwest shores of Chesapeake Bay, which serve as its border on one side while Honga River borders it on the other. Befitting a true watermen community, sport fishing and crabbing are the islands’ biggest tourist draws. While it remains largely uninfluenced by 21st century – its small population of less than 500 had to be self-sufficient to thrive here – its fish stocks nonetheless are seriously under threat by water pollution. The waterfowl sanctuary of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is nearby.
Documented in the book 'Blue Highways,' Smith Island stood in isolation for centuries until Chesapeake Bay boaters and ferry tourists discovered its unspoilt charm and the islanders’ hardy fishing livelihood. As the island is very small, it can be explored by foot or bicycle –there are no cars for hire, not even a car at all! – on a day trip. It is also close by to another largely isolated Tangier Island.
Twenty (20) miles off the shore of Annapolis, Kent Island at the eastern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a go-to destination for authentic Maryland seafood and early 17th century history. As the oldest English settlement in Maryland, Kent Island is fast becoming a renowned tourist attraction, and its proximity to one of Maryland’s bigger cities make it a popular boaters’ destination complete with all the comforts and conveniences a boater or overnight visitor might need for sailing farther afield.