Wye Island by Boat: Paddlers gain new access
A new public access site on Wye Island in Queen Anne’s County opens the scenic island to new recreational opportunities. With support from outdoor gear manufacturer REI Co-op, whose generous funding matched a grant from the Maryland State Highway Administration’s National Recreational Trails Program, the Chesapeake Conservancy successfully completed the installation of a new canoe and kayak launch.
The new launch provides access to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (Chesapeake Trail), within a 1.5-hour drive from the metro Annapolis-Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor, making it an ideal location for urban day-trippers, as well as those on longer excursions.
An east coast paradise
Wye Island is one of my favorite places in the world. In the mid-1970s, this beautiful place was nearly lost to the public. Plans to turn the island into a housing development failed to come to fruition because the Maryland Department of Natural Resources purchased the land with Program Open Space funds and turned the island into a Natural Resources Management Area.
This 2,800-acre island is an incredible place to explore by both land and water. Wye Island provides habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel, which until recently was on the endangered species list. A diversity of birds also visit the island, including bluebirds, vireos and warblers, which are seen in the spring and early summer months. Flocks of waterfowl attract hunters in the fall and winter. It has more than 12 miles of hiking trails, with opportunities for trekkers of any level.
Ferry Point Trail at the east end of the island is like something out of a movie. Most of this idyllic trail is lined with old Osage orange trees. Though not native to the East Coast, these trees have grown over top of the trail to create a stunningly beautiful vegetative tunnel. When planted close together, Osage orange trees can create natural fences. They also produce strange, tropical-looking — but inedible — fruit the size of softballs. At the end of the trail, you’ll find a sandy beach with a rope swing, picnic table and rustic bathroom.
Paddling through a dilemma
Wye Island is also wonderful because of the beautiful and relatively clear water of the Wye River. Before the new launch was added, public access for paddlers was extremely limited. I know this from first-hand experience!
Four years ago, my wife and I loaded our kayaks onto the car and drove across the Bay Bridge to Wye Island. We parked and launched from the dock owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and enjoyed a day paddling around the island, seeing all that it has to offer. When we arrived back at the dock, we learned that it was not open to the public, and we were asked to leave immediately.
Because the only suitable place to launch boats on Wye Island wasn’t available for public use, I decided to work to create better public access for paddlers. The new launch feels like a personal victory to me. Thanks to REI, the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for helping us make it happen!
Public water access on Wye Island is an example of a larger issue facing the Chesapeake Bay region.
The watershed has nearly 12,000 miles of shoreline, but only 2 percent of it is publicly accessible. If people can’t access the water, we can’t ignite their passion to become environmental stewards.
The Chesapeake Conservancy is dedicated to working with partners such as the National Park Service to create, improve and promote public access to the bay and its rivers. These efforts strive to fill in the gaps identified in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan. This plan emerged as a way to reach the goal of adding 300 new public access sites across the watershed by 2025.
I believe that Chesapeake Bay and the Chesapeake Trail are as beautiful and precious to our nation as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite. I hope that you and your family take time to go outside and explore the parks and special places in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Article by Joel Dunn—Chesapeake Conservancy president and CEO . Appears in Vol. 21, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, summer 2018. This article was updated from a piece that originally appeared in the Chesapeake Bay Journal.