MD - Choptank River - 2002/05/03 to 2002/05/04



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Choptank River (21 miles) and Tuckahoe River State Park and the upper Tuckahoe (26.3 Miles)




By Hank McComas

Tuckahoe River and Choptank River map


I packed my van the night before, so I was able to get an 8:00 AM Friday morning start on my two day trip to Maryland/s eastern shore. I was planning on one day of paddling in the lower Tuckahoe and the middle Choptank river. The next day I would meet Steve Rohrs. Tom McCrea, Mike McCrea and perhaps one or two others for a short paddle in Tuckahoe State Park.

Friday started out cool and windy as a high pressure system swept into the Maryland region. Even early in the morning the winds were 20+ knots. I decided to go up around the North end of the bay through Havre de Grace, Northeast, Chesapeake City, Georgetown etc. instead of going to Baltimore, Annapolis and across the Bay Bridge. This was partly because I was carrying a propane tank for my camping stove and would not be able to use either Baltimore tunnel. Besides the slightly longer, slower trip was much more scenic and pleasant than the Bay bridge route.

I arrived at Tuckahoe State Park at 10:30 AM and went to the non-electric camping loop where there are 15 sites. This was the first weekend the park was open for camping. I had not made any reservation because I had assumed that this early in the season there would be little patronage.

I was surprised to find that 13 of the 15 sites were reserved for the weekend. Although only 3 were reserved for Friday, only two were open for Saturday. I pulled into site 14, unloaded my gas tank and stove onto the table and headed off to find the ranger and pay station.

The pay station was located at the electric loop, where a larger selection of sites were still available, although most were reserved for the weekend. The non-electric sites are $13.00 per night. I didn't have change and there was no ranger anywhere in site. So I drove out of the camping area looking for a ranger. I stopped at the ranger's office, which is several miles from all the other facilities and located in an older farm house. The sign to it has lettering only on one side ( not the side I was coming from ). The office was locked and no one was on duty even though the sign clearly stated that the office should be open. I drove to the lake area several miles away and attempted to find a ranger, returned to the ranger office which was still locked and then returned to the camping area. No one official was to be found. I highly recommend making reservations and paying for them over the web, at least if you are going on a weekend and are certain of your length of stay. I wrote my name down on a reservations list at the pay station, took a payment envelope and headed to the Choptank for the day's paddle.




I drove to New River Landing about 2 miles north of the Choptank river. There was a concrete ramp there and parking along the side of the street leading down from the bridge. There was no one there at all. The wind was blowing as it had all morning with gusts to 30 knots. I positioned the car so that the wind would blow the kayak back onto my roof rack as I removed the tie downs from my boat. As I hoisted the boat up out of the rack, the wind tossed it about until I lowered to the ground. I loaded my gear and headed down the Tuckahoe toward the Choptank river. The following strong Northwest wind and favorable current took me the 2+ miles in less than 30 minutes. I rounded the point at the Choptank and hugged the northern shoreline to keep the wind and fetch to a minimum.




Just past the next point, I turned up into a small winding channel cutting through the reeds and arrow arum on the north bank. This channel extended for 1/2 mile. As I passed the box shown in the picture on the left, a female duck created a sudden racket as she beat her wings to get up and out of the deep wood duck box on the edge of the channel. It startled me. Further along the channel I saw Yellow Iris, two deer and a beaver dam.

Returning to the main river I kept close to the shore and headed into the wind that was now coming more from the west. The strength and constancy of the wind reminded me of my trip to the Everglades, where I spent most of my time paddling in strong winds.




I paddled past several landings and a ramp on the south side of the river. I did not stop at any of them as I wanted to stay on the north side of the river. The longer fetch on the far side gave the wind an opportunity to raise 2 foot waves which were white capping madly. I saw many remains of old steamboat landings on that side of the river.

I kept paddling until I came to Kingston Landing on the north side of the river. A gentle sand beach at the end of a country road with nice grassy parking for many vehicles offered an inviting launch for another trip. There was even a trash can here as there was at New River Landing, a rarity these days with the state's "pack it out, don't spend any money" outlook on trash cans. Unfortunately, some beer drinkers couldn't be bothered to actually get the empties into the can. After a short rest on the grassy shore, I once again started down the river.

Just past King's Point, a long narrow spit that has mostly disappeared under the high tide waters, I came upon King's Creek and the Nature Conservancy's King's Creek Preserve.

The following is exerpted from the Nature Conservancy website.

"The Kings Creek Preserve, part of a larger tract known as the Choptank Wetlands Preserve, was established in 1978.  It protects about 250 acres of fresh to brackish tidal marsh along the Choptank River in Talbot County.  The Nature Conservancy acquired the land and built the 1600-foot boardwalk and observation tower with help from the Easton, Maryland, Waterfowl Festival. "


Kings Creek Preserve Canoe Landing
Nature Conservancy Photo


"The marsh is a temporary home for many species of water birds during migration seasons.  In winter you may see northern harrier, wood duck, or snipe flying over the wetlands.  In spring you might be treated to red-winged blackbirds, osprey, least bittern, and red-tailed hawks. Summer is the best time for flowers."

"King's Creek marsh has a boat dock, a 2,000-foot board-walk over the marsh with interpretive signs, and an elevated viewing platform.  A brochure about the marsh and a checklist of birds are available at the entrance.  There is no access to the Frazier Neck (Hog Island) marsh."

"The Preserve is open dawn to dusk, year-round, for nature walks. The preserve is reached by small boat from Kingston Landing, located about 2/3-mile upstream on the Choptank River.  Overland access is across private property and permitted only with prior permission of The Nature Conservancy.  The preserve can accommodate school or group field trips with advance notice."

"In the summer months, come prepared with sunscreen or hat and insect  repellant. "

Significance

"The Choptank Wetlands are of extraordinary ecological value for wintering and nesting waterfowl, spawning fish, sediment control, and nutrient production.   A survey of the natural areas by the Smithsonian Institution ranked this marsh system as one of the most important Chesapeake Bay natural areas.  The King's Creek Preserve in Talbot County is a joint project of The Nature Conservancy and the Waterfowl Festival, Inc., which shared the cost of land acquisition and construction of the 2000-foot boardwalk and observation platform."

Facts About Choptank Wetlands Preserve


Choptank wetlands preserve

Counties
Talbot and Caroline

Acres Protected

King’s Creek:  250
Frazier Neck (Hog Island): 406
Total:  656

Protection Started

King’s Creek: 1978
Frazier Neck (Hog Island): 1976

Benefactor

Land donated in part by Choptank Partnership
Preserve Usage Guidelines

  • The preserve is open for daytime use only. Camping is not permitted.
  • Please remain on the boardwalk at all times to avoid destroying vegetation.
  • Fires and smoking are not permitted.
  • Do not remove or disturb any plants or animals.
  • Weapons are not permitted.
  • No pets are allowed.





I paddled up King's Creek which meanders like a rope laced back and forth on the deck of a ship. I stopped at the boat dock pictured above. The dock is useless for kayaks, but there is a nice solid shore around the dock where oyster and clam shells have been dumped to provide a place to get out safely. A clearly marked trail leads through a field to the start of the boardwalk pictured on the left. The sun bleached boards show the harsh environment of the open marsh.

Stationed periodically along the boardwalk are plaques describing the flora and fauna to be found in the marsh. The boardwalk visits several differing regions of the marsh where a variety of reeds and grasses are found. Several channels under the board walk drain water from the marsh and teem with small fish hunting in the tidal flow. The boardwalk continues through tall reeds (phragmite australis) and culminates in a large observation platform. Finally a fine vista overtop the marsh can be seen from the two-story high platform.

I returned to my kayak and headed up King's Creek for another 45 minutes, when I reached my turn-around time. I headed back down King's Creek and entered the Choptank with the still strong winds at my back. On the way back I deliberately moved to the windward bank and surfed the two foot steep waves racing up the river against a strong adverse tidal current of 1 1/2 knots. The favorable wind and exciting surfing made an otherwise tedious pull against the current a blast. The bright skies and wind driven mares tails lasted the rest of the day. I arrived back at my car at 6:50, loaded the kayak and drove into West Denton to get change for the campsite.

I returned to the camp site and paid my fee after determining that my site had not been claimed by any other campers. ( All sites were now either full or reserved.) I looked around for Steve Rohrs who was supposed to meet me there at the park, but did not locate him. He arrived at the site about 30 minutes later. He had been there for about an hour, but the reservation sheet that I had signed in on apparently had been replaced by the not-to-be-found ranger. Steve was guessing where I was camped. An hour later, I was finishing my dinner in the dark and waiting for the stars to appear.

Tuckahoe State Park is known as one of the better "dark sites' in Maryland and is frequently the site of star gazing parties. Although there were some stars out this night, the high cirrus cloud that had been in the sky all day made the portion of the sky not behind a cloud shield hazy and of poor viewing quality. We turned in around 11:30.




We were up and about at 7:00 AM the next morning. It had gotten down to 37 degress that night and we moved around camp somewhat lethargically. After breakfast, we headed down Crouse Mill Rd. to the dam and its lake on the upper Tuckahoe. We launched at the ramp on the west side of the lake and headed upstream through the arrow arum and lilly pads, avoiding the spill way of the curved dam. The sun shone brightly as we crossed the lake and entered the narrow river, where we saw many animals and birds including a log surfing turtle and a barn swallow sitting on one of the many dead trees along the marsh banks. We paddled upstream for about 1.5 miles until we had to turn around to meet the others back at the dam at 10:00 AM.


Kayka on upper Tuckahoe
Kayak awaits launch
Launch Site



We paddled over to the bank near the spillway and pulled our kayaks up through the willow bushes. At the top of the bank we met Mike and Tom. Instead of the five people that we were told were going to be on the trip, there were almost 25 people coming to paddle with us down Tuckahoe Creek. They were in canoes and kayaks of all descriptions, sizes, types and colors. Some had whitewater canoes, some had regular canoes, some had homemade kayaks and we had our fiberglass and kevlar sea kayaks.

Mike quickly arranged a shuttle transfer of the cars down to Hillsboro, which was the final destination for most of the people going by canoe. Steve and I planned to kayak further down Tuckahoe creek Exactly how far we were going, had not been decided at this point. In about 45 minutes, Mike returned with most of the paddlers crammed into his large van. A swarm of activity ensued as everyone jumped into their boats and pushed off from the bank below the dam.




The trees arched over the stream, forming a tunnel of green leaves and black branches. The dappled sunlight shone through them, and made an interesting pattern on the brown water. Like the little flotilla of baby ducks we continued one by one down the course of the stream. After about an hour we stopped just short of a footbridge over the creek and had our lunch. Soon all the kayaks had arrived and the landing began to look like an invasion force. The first group made some room for the rest by starting on down the rest of the 5.8 mile paddle to the Hillsboro ramp.




Here Tuckahoe Creek is narrow and shallow. There are many snagged trees and branches which need to be gotten around. At this point the creek is not tidal but flows with a current of one to two knots. The turns around the obstructions are quite tight , and provided an interesting paddle as we headed down stream in our high performance sea kayaks. Designed more for straight line paddling, Steve and I made many leaned turns in our kayaks and utilized frequent draws and rudders, which provided great practice for these strokes we use only rarely on most trips.




Steve and I continued on past the ramp into the now widened and tidal Tuckahoe creek. The river wound back and forth like a flaked rope on a ship's deck. We continued down until we came to Covey's landing where we stopped for a snack. I had made it as far as this landing last year when I kayaked from Denton. Having reached it from the head of the creek, I have now paddled the entire length of the Tuckahoe.


Misty view of Eastern Shore farm
Farm and fields on the way back



After a brief rest, we returned to the Hillsboro ramp, loaded the kayaks and headed back to camp at Tuckahoe State park. Steve decided to return home and packed up his tent. I started my dinner and just had it cooked when it started to rain. It rained most of the night. The next morning dawned overcast with spitting rain. However I could see clear skies just to the north of me. I decided to head home also. Twenty miles north of the camp, I passed the front and the rest of the drive home was in beautiful blue skies. I stopped to take a picture of the mornign light on a mature spring wheat field. the camera apparently had condensation on the inside of the lens. It rendered this intersting picture on the right, making look as if there was fog, whcih in fact there was not.

With the 2 miles we did above Tuckahoe Creek dam, the 5.8 miles from the dam to the Hillsboro ramp, and the 9.5 miles down to Covey's Landing, we did 26.3 miles that day. It didn't feel like it, probably because of all the new people we met, the varied terrain, fantastic flora and fauna we saw and the different types of paddling we did that day.

For a trip report on the upper Choptank, click here.

For more general information see Choptank and Tuckahoe River Guide


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