MD - Pocomoke River - 2009/05/15 to 2009/05/17 - 36 miles
Three day weekend on the Pocomoke among the pond lilies and the cypress.
In the last part of the 19th century, the river played a crucial part in the life of the region. All the produce of the surrounding area was brought to the river for shipment to the busy and burgeoning metropolis of Baltimore. The legacy of this commerce is seen in the placenames of today, Milburn Landing, Winter landing, Shad Landing, all that remains of the places where the freight from the farms was loaded onto sailing vessels for the return trip to the big metropolitan city. A few cities grew up right on the river, Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, serving as cultural and commerce centers for the region. Many period houses remain in the heart of the two quaint little cities. The modern malls and big box stores of our age are clustered around the intersections of the major roads that pass through here. Most travelers never see the quaint and quiet charm of these little places as they pass through on the modern side of town.
The Pocomoke River is one of the most beautiful and wild places to paddle on in the Chesapeake Bay region. It is a narrow but deep river that wanders up from the Northeast corner of Fishing Bay through the fertile heart of the Eastern Shore farms. Once the location for large plantations growing tobacco, corn and wheat, this area is now the incubation factory for the chicken producers Purdue and Tyson. The poor practices of the captive independent chicken producers regularly pollute the waters of the river and its tributaries with excessive loads of nitrogen and phosphorus from the run off of rain water over their uncontained and uncontrolled chicken manure. These large poultry producers fail to monitor the problems created on these farms and are happy to declare that the pollution is not their problem. Yet they manage to control every other aspect of the production of the chickens produced for them.
We came down to spend three days on this incredibly beautiful river system. The river is perfect for a long weekend, as it has a number of close paddles each with a different feel. There are numerous one way and round trip paddles available. Boats and guides are available from the Pocomoke Canoe Company located in Snow Hill. There are two campgrounds within Pocomoke State Forest at Milburn Landing and the very beautiful a large facility at Shad Landing. Both campsites and cabins are available at both locations. Cabins are difficult to book for the weekends and must be reserved well in advance. But there are almost always camp sites available even on the busiest weekends. There are also many inexpensive motels in Pocomoke City. Snow Hill and Pocomoke City both have charming and friendly Bed & Breakfast establishments in late 1800s period facilities.
The waters of the Pocomoke are stained a dark tea color. This is not from a man made pollution. It is the stain of tannins from the roots of the cypress trees lining the banks of the river and from the extensive cypress swamps at the head of the river and its tributaries. This is the northernmost cypress swamp in the United States. Once logged out at the turn of the last century for the rot resistance cypress wood prized for docks and shingles, much of the cypress coverage has returned. The largest trees are around 100 years old and some attain good size. Much of the river is still without development. A good bit is protected by the Pocomoke River state forest and holding by the Nature Conservancy along its major tributary, the Nassawango Creek.
Since the route was quite simple no one had brought a map or chart, so there was some discussion as to whether we had gone too far and missed the turn into the creek. The GPS maps without specific detail for the area are not accurate enough to see where the small creek comes into the main river. But we pressed on and located the creek entrance on the western bank which was quite obvious. The small creek had a steady 3/4 knot current coming out of the 50 foot wide mouth of the little waterway. We turned into it a paddled between the twisting banks of verdant foliage. Swamp rose, as well as fringe trees and mountain laurel were in full bloom. Their white and pink flowers graced every section of the thickly wooded shore.
With a drive of over three hours from Baltimore and environs to reach Pocomoke City, we had picked a simple round trip paddle with no particular objective. We would just paddle up Dividing Creek, a twisting and overgrown tributary that enters the Pocomoke River about 3 miles north of the free public ramp in Pocomoke City. Everyone arrived within reasonable time of our 11:30 AM departure. The eight paddlers headed north against a light current up the Pocomoke River and under the draw bridge that once carried all the traffic from the main road through town. Now a new fixed bridge carries the US route 13 traffic over the river without interruption. The 35 foot vertical clearance stops many of the larger cruising yachts from venturing farther up the Pocomoke than the city docks.
We went up the creek until time called a halt to our advance. There was still more creek to go, but we wanted to set up camp and get dinner before dark came. We got past the road crossing for something like a mile. There was no easy put in at the road crossing so this paddle is best done as a round trip. We made the seven mile return much faster as the current was now with us. After a short run up US 113 we turned into Shad Landing campground and set up our campsites. It was a great start to our weekend.
The next day the weather forecast was for clouds and showers in the morning with possible clearing in the afternoon, Everyone launched from the 6 ramp launch right at Shad Landing. We paddled two miles up the main River to the confluence of the river with its major tributary, Nassawango Creek.
The Pocomoke River is a beautiful River lined with cypress trees, swamp gums, sweet bay and mountain laurel. Banks of shallow pond lilies hug the insides of the curves of the river. A few large cypress lean out from the banks, their fluted trunks struggling to maintain the massive trees upright.
As we gained the creek entrance, a broken sky let the first sun of the morning through the gauzy cloud layer. The wind was light and the day warm. It was turning into a really nice day.
Much of the banks of the Nassawango is owned by the Nature Conservancy, a world wide conservation organization that buys critical habitat to preserve it from development and then seeks to sell it to government for permanent protection. Because they can act quickly to save land that might be lost to development before government can find the will or financial approval to save the area, they have been very successful in preserving interesting pieces of property all over the Mid Atlantic region. Besides here on the Nassawango, they also have property along the Choptank River and own many of the islands off the Virginia Lower Eastern DelMarVa shore.
The result of their pro-active stance is this beautiful river with only a few homes on its banks. Overhanging cypress and dense foliage greet the paddler at every turn.
Pocomoke Canoe Company runs one way excursions down the Nassawango following the water trail designed as the Bogiron Water Trail. They offer primarily canoes. We came across one of their outings as we paddled up toward the road crossing where their trip begins. There were five canoes led by a guide in a kayak.
The creek gets quite narrow as it approached the road crossing. Past the bridge over the road, it becomes even smaller, shallower and twisting. Since the trail is not maintained north of the bridge as actively as it is in the other direction, you will eventually come across a blow down that has not even a little place to squeeze past. When we came to such a tree, we also turned around. By three we were back at the campground, where some of us returned to the camp to relax and a few of us paddled part of the Corker Creek trail. This little water trail right next to the campground is a beautiful little trip itself, if not as impressive as the one we had just completed. It can be paddled in about a half an hour, but reading all the information plaques and studying the plants and observing the animals (we saw a muskrat) can take several hours. In any case it is a must do if you are staying at Shad Landing.
The next day the weather report was for ninety percent chance of showers. Only Wayne and I were interested in this day's scheduled paddle up to the end of the Pocomoke from Snow Hill. The others having had a really relaxed two days on the river needed to get back and prepare for the work week. Wayne and I drove up to Snow Hill and launched from the floating dock at Pocomoke Canoe Company located just upriver of the bridge.
The bridge is quite low. Near high tide it is not passable even in a kayak and certainly not in a canoe. The public ramp in Snow Hill is downstream of the bridge. If you want to visit the gorgeous head end of the river you will have to use the Canoe Company facility. They are quite friendly and as long as there is not a trip going off when you want to use it are more than happy to let you launch if asked.
Of the three routes we paddled this week this is the most amazing. There is no development north of Snow Hill as the surrounding land is quite swampy. You will skirt a farm field which eventually might see development, but as of now there is not a single piece of construction visible once you leave Snow Hill.
As the river dwindles in width the current picks up. It is almost always flowing downstream as there is little tidal current to overcome the flow of water out of the swamp. Cypress are not the only large trees here as other types of wet bog foliage and trees abound. You will see more large trees here than along the Nassawango. The banks are covered in mini forests of cypress knees. Toward the top it will be necessary to maneuver around and sometime over fallen trees.
On our return trip the promised rain arrived. The winds were either low or from behind so I really enjoyed paddling through the rain. When the wind is in your face and the rain stings your cheeks it is not so much fun. But this was nice. The hiss of the rain on the blackwater surface and the little silver balls that hop up on top the water were fascinating.
As we moved down river the rain started to get quite heavy. As it increased the clouds got thick and a grey color muted the once bright green foliage to a dark umber color. It was almost spooky. To me this was the best part of the weekend. Dressed for the cool water, our waterproof clothing kept us quite warm as we stroked steadily downstream.
It was still raining when we returned to the Snow Hill launch. We pulled up to the floating dock, which tipped several degrees as we hauled out of our kayaks like seals on a beach. The steady rain was now driven by 20 knots winds. As we now needed to face into it and were no longer expending as much energy, we were getting quite cold by the time we got the boats strapped to the car. By quarter of one we were on the road back home with expectation of joining our families for dinner.