ST. MICHAELS -- For visitors to the Eastern Shore outside the Ocean City resort area, much of the attraction is that most of the region has not been overly developed or commercialized. It has an authentic, unspoiled feel about it.
The Eastern Shore is a nine-county chunk of Maryland between the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean. Many of its communities - Chestertown, St. Michaels and Cambridge, for example - are on tidewater tributaries that flow into the bay.
The Eastern Shore has no dominant attraction puts it on the map. Nothing of national historic significance took place here, unless you count George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers who passed through while traveling between Philadelphia and points south.
Away from the water, the region is mostly flat agricultural landscape that looks much like the Midwest, except for flocks of sea gulls following tractors tilling fields. The region is also humid in midsummer. At least in some places, mosquitoes are prolific. In one case, even the mosquitoes are an attraction: On Route 16 at Church Creek in Dorchester County is the world's largest mosquito made out of wire. The menacing-looking critter hangs outside Maryland Wire Belts Co.
Shore highlights include Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge south of Cambridge; Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, the Waterman's Museum in Rock Hall and cruises on the bay.
Both the Waterman's Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum keep alive the heritage of a vanishing breed: watermen, who made livings on the bay from fish, blue crabs, clams, oysters, shrimp, eels, waterfowl hunting and boat building.
Many residents of Maryland's Western Shore keep boats at Eastern Shore marinas, and nonboaters come to the area for bicycling (there are few hills), bird-watching, sightseeing or relaxing getaways. Tourism officials report the area is being discovered by many out-of-state residents.
"Our market is primarily couples in their late 40s or early 50s," said Carla Massoni, owner of Chestertown's 13-room Imperial Hotel, which also has a gourmet restaurant. "If they are younger, they tend to be cyclists."
With the decline of waterfowl hunting, Massoni said, clay shooting courses have become very popular attractions in the area.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 23,000 acres along the Blackwater River, is the biggest attraction in Dorchester County, said refuge spokeswoman Maggie Briggs. "And it's going to double in size in the next couple of years."
"This probably is the best place on the East Coast north of Florida to see eagles," said Briggs. "We have 12 nesting pairs. We have eagles here all year-round."
In addition to bald eagles, the refuge is the home of two other endangered species: Delmarva fox squirrels and peregrine falcons.
A 6 1/2 -mile wildlife drive goes through forests and between ponds and the river. "The drive takes about an hour," said Briggs. "Some people take all day. Others zip through in 15 minutes, then say they didn't see anything."
Canada geese, great blue herons, egrets, osprey chicks in nests, red-winged blackbirds, turtles, Delmarva fox squirrels, white-tailed and sika deer, foxes, wild turkeys and mean but nonpoisonous water snakes also inhabit the refuge. The snakes are nasty, said Briggs. "They won't hesitate to bite you."
The 32-year-old Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels includes more than just the lighthouse on pilings that is its signature attraction. It has nine exhibit buildings on 18 waterfront acres, plus up to 85 boats. Visitors can even watch small boats being built.
Promoted as the Eastern Shore's largest cultural attraction, the museum draws 93,000 visitors a year. It claims to be the only museum preserving the history of the entire bay.
Its newest permanent exhibit is Waterman's Wharf, which includes a replica of a crabber's shanty, several boats and nine stations where visitors can try watermen's skills.
Among the museum's many highlights is a two-story steam engine with a propeller in the Steamboat Building. The Waterfowling building houses punt guns, overgrown shotguns used to bring down flocks of geese.
St. Michaels promotes itself as the town that fooled the British. The tale that the town was saved with a blackout and lanterns hung in distant trees to deceive the enemy in a night-time bombardment during the War of 1812 is widely accepted.
Other things to do in St. Michaels include attending narrated cruises on the Miles River aboard the Patriot, eating at the Crab Claw and shopping for gifts and antiques, said Debbie Dodson, director of Talbot County's visitors bureau. Many visitors arrive by boat.
Another drawing card to St. Michaels is Inn at Perry Cabin. It is owned by Sir Bernard Ashley, co-founder of the Laura Ashley company and Laura Ashley's widower. Elegant yet comfortable, it has been ranked the fifth-best U.S. resort by Conde Nast.
Walking in Chestertown