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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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