Walks on the mild side

For that peaceful, easy feeling, stroll the trails of the Eastern Shore

October 07, 2006|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN REPORTER

Crossing the Bay Bridge to Kent Island is frequently a tiresome exercise in fighting traffic congestion, but the first exit from the bridge puts you on the road to a peaceful weekend walk.

Exit 37 leads to Log Canoe Circle and the modest entrance to Terrapin Nature Park, a 279-acre preserve with 4,000 feet of beach, woods and a great view of the Bay Bridge.

It is one of 33 places that Jay Abercrombie recommends in his Weekend Walks on the Delmarva Peninsula (The Countryman Press, $15.95).

His walks on the 6,000-square-mile peninsula range from Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. They take anywhere from about an hour to about five hours.

"Walking is the right tempo for experiencing this land, often overlooked by car travelers as they speed between home and the ocean beaches," says Abercrombie, an entomologist who spent 15 years in Maryland and now lives in Ohio.

One of his favorite spots is Assateague, where he suggests spending three days. "The light seems a little more striking here than anywhere else on Delmarva - the sunrises, sunsets, the moon, the stars, a little more brilliant - and the air almost always pure and clean.

"Cradling the island on all sides are the changing but eternal tides. After a few days on Assateague, you become attuned to the motion of the planet and the universe," he writes.

He's more pragmatic about Terrapin.

"That's a neat one, isn't it?" he says during a phone conversation from his home in Suffield, Ohio.

He thinks a leisurely stroll through Terrapin park (2.75 miles) will take an hour and a half. It may be one of the few nature reserves you enter from a business park. You pull into the parking lot just beyond the big brick buildings of Chesapeake Bay Business Park to begin your walk.

You take the Oyster Chaff Trail, which leads past a meadow and a marsh to the beach and a fine - and remarkably quiet - view of the Bay Bridge, looping over the water like some lanky modern sculpture.

A handful of people are putting together some sails for a wind surfer, but the beach is mostly empty.

Leroy White rides up on his bicycle. He's 76 and looks a whole lot younger. He calls himself a volunteer trail warden.

"Whenever I come on the trail, I look for things," he says. "Dirt on the trail, people fallen with injuries, that sort of thing."

He turns out to be a rocket scientist, retired since 1989 from Lockheed Martin, where he worked 31 years, mostly in California. He says he designed and built rocket motors for Polaris, Poseidon, Minuteman and Pershing missiles. These days he lives in Piney Narrows Yacht Haven on his boat, a Freedom 40 he had built in Rhode Island 30 years ago.

"I sailed it for years. I don't anymore, too old for it," he says.

Now he bikes every day, 50 miles to 70 miles a week.

"There's no better way to get exercise, unless you want to jog," he says. And he thinks biking is better than jogging for older people. "You don't hurt your hips, and your knees."

He zips off.

"Get yourself a bicycle," he yells.

Abercrombie thinks of Kent Island as a good introduction to the Eastern Shore.

"Because the [Bay] Bridge was built," he says, "Kent Island got overrun with development. But there are still some places on the island that are quite natural and those are the places I like to visit."

Abercrombie for years was stationed in Washington and Fort Dietrich in Frederick as part of the Army Medical Service Corps.

"I loved it there. I still do. Family considerations entered my life and I returned to my home in Ohio, Suffield near Akron. I was born and raised in Akron."

Abercrombie wrote the hiking book two decades ago, but has "radically changed" this second edition, published earlier this year.

"I threw out a lot of the old chapters and added new chapters just because things have changed so much," he says.

Terrapin Nature Park is one of the new parts.

"It wasn't there a couple of decades ago," Abercrombie says. "It's a beautiful bay shore now."

From Kent Island you can see another of Abercrombie's walking sites, Eastern Neck Island, but it's nearly 50 miles away by car.

Go to Rock Hall on the Kent County peninsula, drive south on Route 445, cross a short white bridge, maybe 30 yards long, over the Eastern Neck Narrows. Maybe a dozen or so fishermen have their lines in the water.

On the island, Kate Arden peers through binoculars across a cove at a little bird shelter.

"I think it's a an eagle," she says. "Sometimes it's hard to tell. But when he turns his head his profile is beautiful."

She and her father, Henry Bartolo, once a chemist at DuPont, have come from Wilmington, Del., to vacation until the beginning of the month. They'll see plenty of birds. Migration is in full swing from the end of September and into October.

But they may miss the handsome tundra swans that come by the thousands to winter on the island, but not usually until November. They're the last native swan in Maryland; just over 2,000 wintered in the state last year.

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