Worcester County lies within two watersheds, the Pocomoke River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay and the coastal bays adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. The topography of the county is relatively flat. Sensitive areas like bays and tidal marshes abound within the county. The Pocomoke River and Nassawango Creek, a tributary, provide links to natural, historical, and recreational resources. The Pocomoke River and Nassawango Creek also offer opportunities for active and passive recreational use, water quality enhancement, and wildlife habitat. Marylandís coastal bays flanking eastern Worcester County, attract millions of visitors each year. The bays are a valuable resource for outdoor recreation from birdwatching to boating.
Worcester Countyís base population has grown by approximately 22% since the 1990 census. In 1998, the county had an estimated population of 42,790 and is projected to reach 48,850 by 2010. The major portion of the existing and future population is in the northeastern corner of the county.
The county covers approximately 303,920 land acres. Seventy percent (70%) or 212,740 acres are currently zoned for agriculture. Although scattered throughout the county, agricultural land is particularly prevalent in the north, south, and mid-to eastern portions of the county. Worcester County is among the stateís leaders in the percentage of cropland protected by nutrient management plans. Of the approximate 86,000 acres of land actively farmed in the county, 60-75% have nutrient management plans. Based on the 1990 Developed Lands Study, only 3.4% of the county was developed.
The widespread use of automobiles has reduced the countyís isolation and brought it within an easy drive for millions of vacationers each year. The natural environment is Worcesterís most valuable resource and the key factor in increasing tourism over the last three decades. The seasonal growth has mushroomed from approximately 300,000 in 1985 to 400,000 projected for 2005 on a peak summer week.
The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan (1989) supports the development of recreation of many types. Emphasis is given to development in the countyís northeastern corner. The zoning ordinance encourages maintaining large open space areas for recreation, as well as buffering of sensitive natural habitats and the protection and improvement of local water quality. Within the county is a system of facilities including boat landings, waterfront parks, regional parks, town and village parks, and in high-density areas, childrenís play lots.
1) Assateague Island National Seashore
The Assateague Island National Seashore is a barrier island owned and managed by the National Park Service and DNR. This corridor connects to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. The National Park Service operates a visitor center on the mainland approach to the island, and there is a trail running along the island south of the state park.
In addition, the perimeter around Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays is controlled by wetland regulations providing a protective buffer. Worcester County has also adopted a setback ordinance along the coastal bays that provides additional protection. The Ernest A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area protects over 1,700 acres along Chincoteague Bay. The county has established a Rural Legacy Area of approximately 15,000 acres in the southern coastal bays watershed protecting 16 miles of undisturbed shoreline adjacent to the wildlife management area.
There is also a potential spur to this greenways along Rt. 611 south of Rt. 376. Also check out Assateague State Park.
1a) Sinepuxent Bay Water Trails
The Sinepuxent Bay Water Trails are existing routes that skirt the Assateague Island National Seashore on Chincoteague Bay. Two routes, the Old Ferry Landing Loop, and the Bayside Loop can be accessed from launch sites off of Bayberry Road and Bayside Drive. Both routes circle Little Egging Island and provide opportunities to explore the marshes.
2) Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is an island greenways owned by the state of Maryland and Worcester County. The state portion of the island is a wildlife management area currently used for recreational boating, fishing, and shell fishing, primarily by visitors from neighboring Ocean City. It may be possible to expand the area of this greenways northward to protect and preserve the fragile salt marsh environment.
3) Nassawango Creek Preserve
The Nassawango Creek Preserve is a partially protected greenways along Nassawango Creek. The Nature Conservancy owns about 3,300 acres along the Nassawango in Wicomico and Worcester counties. The bulk of the protected lands are in Worcester County. This corridor serves environmental protection purposes by providing habitat for plants and animals and also protects water quality in the creek, which is home to some of the northernmost bald cypress forests in the country. The preserve also harbors at least 14 species of orchids, and more than 14 species of warblers including the striking prothonotary, which raise their young in the dense swamp. Seaside alder (Alnus maritima), although abundant locally, is rare nationally. In total, almost 90 rare plant and animal species live in the watershed. The preserve is maintained by a dedicated corps of volunteers.
Much of the area is not suitable for public access. However, there are a few nature trails on the property. The Nassawango Creek Nature Preserve is also accessible by canoe from Red House Road at a newly constructed put-in, and canoe rentals are available in Snow Hill. The Nassawango Creek Nature Preserve includes land along the Pocomoke River from the mouth of the creek to a point across the river from the Snow Hill sewage treatment plant.
4) Pocomoke River Regional Greenways
The Pocomoke River Regional Greenways is a potential multi-county greenways along the Pocomoke Scenic River in Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties. Options for use and preservation of this riverís scenic and historic attributes are being explored by the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Committee.
In Worcester County, the river passes through several DNR properties including the Pocomoke Wildlife Management Area, Pocomoke State Forest, Pocomoke State Park, and Lankfordís Discovery. The river also connects to the Nassawango Creek Preserve, and The Nature Conservancy owns several parcels along the river farther north. Several state and municipal parks and county boat ramps provide access to the river.
4a) Bogiron Water Trail
The Bogiron Water Trail is an existing network of water trail routes along the Pocomoke River and Nassawango Creek. The route along the Pocomoke River runs between the town of Snow Hill and Shad Landing State Park. The route along Nassawango Creek runs from the canoe launch at Red House Road to the confluence with the Pocomoke. Launch sites for the Bogiron Water Trail include: Red House Road at Nassawango Creek, Snow Hill at Byrd Park, and at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company on Rt. 12 at the Pocomoke River bridge.
5) Snow Hill Rail Trail
The Snow Hill Rail Trail is a partially established greenways along an inactive rail corridor connecting the towns of Stockton and Girdletree to Snow Hill. Most of the corridor is west of Rt. 12. Worcester County renovated the old train station in Snow Hill and constructed a half mile of trail.
County officials are hoping to provide a loop to Pocomoke River State Park to give campers and day visitors access to the trail. The rail corridor extends beyond Stockton to Greenbackville, Virginia, providing the possibility of an interstate greenways in the future.