Tuckahoe State Park
As the paddlers make their way through the braiding stream valley, a plethora of wildlife surprises them at every turn. Wood ducks explode from small coves as they pass; deer and wild turkey move quietly away from the water and into the surrounding marshes, often unseen. A great blue heron lifts almost silently from the creek; croaking its displeasure as it flies overhead. Painted turtles slide off logs along the shoreline and the sounds of songbirds fill the air. As the group enters the open water near the end of their journey they begin to chatter excitedly about all they saw, finally able to talk without fear of scaring away some new creature. The park naturalists and rangers smile as they listen to the tales they have heard so many times before.
Nestled quietly along the border of Caroline and Queen Anne counties, Tuckahoe Creek and the creeks or “runs” that feed into Tuckahoe Lake are the main attraction for many Tuckahoe State Park visitors. To their surprise, they find much more to enjoy at this quiet park that is little more than an hour away from the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. This stream valley park comprises more than 3,800 acres of varying terrain with ample room for multiple uses.
A Noteworthy History
The area is rich in history dating back well before the first European settlers first set foot in Maryland. A gristmill was once located on the creek, the center of a small community long since gone. The stream valley has also been noted as a route along the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves heading north toward freedom. Even the park’s administrative office is a piece of history. A farmhouse typical of those built at the turn of the 20th century, it was purchased along with the surrounding farmland when the park was being created in the 1960s and 70s. The park staff has been lovingly renovating their “Old House” for several years, making every attempt to maintain the original character of the structure while adding modern conveniences such as - working - indoor plumbing.
On the park’s trail system, visitors can re-create the park’s history. Former farmsteads, long abandoned and overgrown, are marked in spring by gardens of jonquils. Trees flower next to the skeletal remains of old foundations. Occasionally, sections of fencing, rusted farm equipment and other long-forgotten “trash” appear along the trails, to be discovered by curious hikers.
Railroads and steamships were once an integral part of the early Eastern Shore landscape and both modes of transportation were commonly employed in the area. On the southern edge of the park, the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia Railway Company (and later the Pennsylvania Railroad) operated a line that covered much of the Eastern Shore. The last train rumbled over the Tuckahoe Creek bridge in 1997 when the independent short-line “Chesapeake Railroad” went out of business. The bridge and railway through the park will be part of a planned rails-to-trails conversion project that will further expand the existing trail system.
Passenger and freight steam vessels sailed the Choptank and Tuckahoe rivers until the 1920s. The steamers landed just south of the park in the quaint town of Hillsboro. The vessels brought manufactured goods from Baltimore and returned home with abundant supplies of local grain and produce.
The story of how the park came to be is almost as braided as the stream from which its name derives. In the 1960s, the State of Maryland began purchasing property along the stream valley.
The original plan was to dam the creek and create a 300-acre lake that would support a variety of recreational activities including a marina, swimming beaches and extensively developed recreational park facilities. Following the discovery of a national champion overcup oak tree (no longer standing) in the proposed lakebed, it was reduced to the 63-acre lake that exists today. Most of the original development ideas including a hotel and golf course were shelved, and a typical stream valley park formed.
Pick your pleasure
Today visitors come from far and wide to enjoy the many features of this quiet Eastern Shore gem. Anglers are found almost daily along the banks of the creek, at the spillway or out on the lake. The catch varies with the season. Anadramous
fish travel up through the spillway and fish ladder to spawn in the early
spring. The creek and feeder streams literally teem with thousands of white and
yellow perch, shad and herring. (Herring were once so plentiful here that they
were caught and thrown onto farm fields as fertilizer.) On occasion our state
fish, the striped bass, has been noted in the stream and trout are released
every spring and fall to enhance the fishing experience.
In the lake, even the novice may catch largemouth bass, pickerel, bluegill and crappie. Bass enthusiasts work their way through the flooded woodlands in search of elusive “lunkers,” and each year park staff hear stories of largemouth bass more than two feet long, weighing at least five pounds!
Paddle sports are a popular alternative for people who want to explore the lake. The park’s flooded woodlands are home to many birds, turtles and mammals. Eagles and osprey are routinely viewed flying overhead, and silent paddlers often observe otter, beaver and muskrat. The park has canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for rent or you can bring your own.
To people with land-based adventure in mind, the park has more than 20 miles of marked trails that provide excellent hiking, mountain biking and equestrian riding terrain. Most of the trails have gentle grades with occasional short steep climbs. Birding enthusiasts frequent the park during the year to observe a variety of songbirds, hawks and owls.
The lake picnic area is a popular site for family gatherings. Kids of all ages enjoy the recycled tire playground and the open space along the lake provides an area for volleyball or a place to throw down a blanket for some relaxation. For people who want to spend a few days camped out in the woods, the park campgrounds are well spaced and maintained. There are 51 family campsites (33 with electric), four camper cabins and four group camp areas.
A high-and-low ropes challenge course is a recent addition to the recreational facilities at Tuckahoe. Begun as the small dream of a few staff members, the course continues to evolve and grow in popularity, thanks in part to the dedication of local health and recreation department officials who have assisted in finding funds for new elements. Scout troops, summer camps, school classes and even adult groups have become regular visitors to camp, learning valuable outdoors skills such as Leave No Trace and the importance of teamwork.
Tuckahoe is also one of the Maryland Park Service's "Scales and Tales" sites,
and the staff offer a variety of quality programs
Just as the ropes course encourages groups to work together, Tuckahoe State Park has evolved with the help of some tremendous partnerships. Local and state agencies have helped the staff find funding sources and support, and successful partnerships with three non-profits add to the park’s diverse appeal.
Probably the most familiar partner is the Adkins Arboretum, which manages a 430-acre parcel of the park. The original concept for the Arboretum was to create a collection of native species from all across Maryland in representative communities. After several failed plantings, it was determined that the Arboretum would focus on the native flora of the Delmarva Peninsula.
The Arboretum’s visitor center is a wonderful jump off point to explore several miles of graded trails that wind through mature forests, native grasses meadows and quiet marshes. Each year the Arboretum hosts several native plant sales and the staff is developing a docent program so that volunteers will be available to lead walks through the forest. Under the leadership of Director Eleanor Altman, the Arboretum is currently undertaking a major campaign to enlarge the visitor’s center and office, and recently has been designated as a Chesapeake Bay Gateways site by the National Park Service.
The Tuckahoe Equestrian Center is another shining example of a partnership at work. Starting as not much more than a vision in the eye of local horse enthusiast Cindy Berkey, the non-profit foundation has transformed an old farm site into an equestrian showplace complete with lighted jousting path, show ring and a judge’s stand. In the process, the group has also renovated several buildings on the grounds including a classic barn. The Equestrian Center’s “rough riders” have been instrumental volunteers in the maintenance of the park’s trail system.
Perhaps the Equestrian Center is best known for “Outlaw Days,” a special event held the first weekend after Labor Day each year. The area is transformed into a 19th Century town with trick riders, shoot-outs and brawls in “Tuckahoe City,” as well as demonstrations, horse-and-buggy tours, and pony rides for the kids.
The third partner is the quietest of the three. The Tuckahoe Bowmen are a group of archery enthusiasts who have turned an old overgrown gravel pit into a bow archery range that is open to the public. The group also hosts several competitive shoots during the course of the year.
As spring comes to this Eastern Shore treasure, the fields will turn a bright green, delicate flowers will blossom along the trails, and eager peepers will emerge from their winter hibernation to serenade campers to sleep. School groups will soon begin their visits to learn more about the park, appreciating the natural beauty around them. The staff of Tuckahoe and their partners think you should do the same.
Adkins Arboretum is a place to enjoy four seasons of Delmarva’s native flora -- spring’s spicebush and shadbush, the fragrant summer-sweet, fall’s paw paw harvest, and winter’s brilliant red holly berries. The 400-acre preserve also includes portions of one of the region’s most significant forested wetlands, as well as various stages of maturing forests and meadows.
Four miles of walks attract nature lovers, hobbyists, students and tourists. Education programs serve all ages and include classes on ecology, native flora, horticulture and natural history. Art exhibits, lectures, workshops, nature walks and garden tours are some of the many activities sponsored by the Arboretum. Public amenities include a visitor’s center with a gift shop, library, and meeting room.
Adkins Arboretum is dedicated to the protection of the Delmarva Peninsula’s natural heritage, the conservation of the region’s indigenous flora, and the preservation of open space and habitat for wildlife.
Upcoming 2006 events at the Arboretum include:
Soup'n Walk - June 17, July 15, Sept.
16, Oct. 21, Nov. 18 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Plant Sale – Sat., Sept. 9, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Halloween Haunted Hayride
Fri., Oct. 20, 8 – 10 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 21 , 7 – 10 p.m.
Fall Family Festival – Sat., Nov. 11, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Holiday Greens Sale Opening Day – Sat., Dec. 2, 10 a.m. -4 p.m.
Grand Illumination & Candlelight Caroling Walk – Sat., Dec. 9
5:30 p.m. Grand Illumination
6 – 9 p.m. Candlelight Caroling Walk
Guided Nature Walks, Saturdays, 11 a.m. (April – November)
Adkins Arboretum also hosts children’s programs, walks and plant identification programs throughout the year.
Note: A Spring Plant sale is generally held in early May.
Call the Arboretum at (410) 634-2847 for a current schedule of these programs.
Or visit their website at: http://www.adkinsarboretum.org/index.html
is the manager of the Tuckahoe State Park Complex. He is an avid outdoorsman who
has completed hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and the Long
Trail in Vermont.
His article originally appeared in the Spring 2003
edition of The Natural Resource Magazine. Our
thanks to John Ohler for up-dating his article for the 2006 Centennial Notes