The past is present in Calvert County, Maryland, where 15-million-year-old Miocene cliffs rise above the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. The ebb and flow of the tides reveal fossils—if you’re lucky enough to find them—dating from five to 24 million years ago. Over 600 fossil species have been found: shark teeth, shells, coral, and barnacles, among them.
On a warm fall afternoon, I stroll along the shore at Calvert Cliffs State Park, stooping at times to scan multi-colored shell bits, hoping to find a fossil myself. All of a sudden, a shiny shark tooth appears out of nowhere. I look up at Mike Mannion, a volunteer who’s showing my husband and me around, and say, “You put that there, didn’t you?”
Mike grins sheepishly and admits to planting the fossil so I could find it. I pick it up and cradle the tooth in my palm. Never mind that I didn’t really find it. The tiny relic connects me to another era, a time before industry and pollution, a time when nature was pristine and humans were nowhere to be found.
Calvert County, Maryland’s smallest at thirty miles long and nine miles wide, celebrates its connection to nature and to the past. Here visitors can explore history, archaeology, marine heritage, and beautiful preserves of forests and wetlands. An emphasis on eco-tourism fits in perfectly with the county’s preservation efforts. And don’t forget the bounty of seafood brought to shore by local watermen, continuing a tradition that has lasted for centuries.
ANCIENT SAND DOLLARS
Start getting to know the county by visiting local museums. In North Beach, exhibits at Bayside History Museum give an overview of the resorts that developed along Chesapeake Bay beaches. A few miles away the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum, housed in the original depot, also displays memorabilia from the region’s resort heyday. From the late 1890s to 1935 trains filled with passengers from D.C. would chug into town, and visitors would flood the beaches, boardwalk, amusement park, and casino. The Great Depression ended the resort era, and today North Beach and Chesapeake Beach retain a peaceful small-town vibe.
Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons is home to an extensive collection focusing on three themes: paleontology, marine history, and estuarian life. The museum’s director, Sherrod Sturrock, shows us around the galleries, starting with the family-oriented Discovery Room, a “microcosm of the museum,” she explains. A touch tank with horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapins, sea stars, and prickly sea urchins invites curious visitors to have a sensory experience, as volunteers stand by to assist.
We chat with a member of the museum’s fossil club, who’s busy extracting ancient sand dollars from cement-like sediment. You can see it’s a labor of love. Other clubs at the museum include a canoe/kayak club and a boatbuilding club. We meet a gentleman putting the finishing touches on a small pleasure boat he built, rigged with batteries to make it eco-friendly. He can’t wait to take his grandkids out on the bay.
People are friendly in Calvert County, happy to share their stories. During warmer months visitors can join a Watermen Heritage Tour, which typically includes a ride in a workboat, and a chance to try your hand at using tools and gear—think long-handled oyster rakes. The best part is hearing stories from watermen (and women) who have spent their lives scudding along the windswept waves of the bay and nearby Patuxent River.
In a remote fishing village called Broomes Island on the Patuxent, we meet Jill Buck, owner of Island Girl Oysters, whose aqua-cultured oysters grow on leased land under the river. She also harvests wild oysters and lets me taste test each in a small shop where she sells her gifts from the sea. The farmed oysters, which can’t reproduce, are larger and creamier looking. “They use all that energy they would spend on reproducing into getting fatter and fatter,” explains Jill. Both are tasty, but the brinier, wild oyster is my favorite.
Oyster aquaculture operations are multiplying along Maryland’s shores, we discover at the PEARL Lab, an educational facility located at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. PEARL Lab’s mission is to help the oyster industry grow, says Rebekah Borgert, hatchery operator. She and her assistant, Amber DeMarr, research best practices for ensuring healthy life cycles of oysters, beginning with tiny oyster larvae, which turn into seed and then spat, finally growing into mature oysters, ready for shucking. As a bonus, oysters are good for the bay since, as filter feeders, they constantly clean the water of impurities. That’s what I call eco-friendly.
Protecting the bay and its tributaries has become a mission for Steuart Chaney, owner of Herrington Harbor, an Eco-Lifestyle Marina Resort located just north of Calvert County. After buying the property in the late 70s, Chaney began building a luxury resort with two marinas and a picturesque inn overlooking Herring Bay. More importantly, over the years Chaney has incorporated green initiatives on his property, ensuring the local environment stays pristine and healthy.
For example, he created marshes and living shoreline buffers to filter storm-water runoff, set up recycling programs, and installed pervious pavement. Eco-trails invite guests to wander through some of the resort’s 550 acres of preserved land, home to migrating birds and waterfowl.
The inn, which also incorporates eco-friendly practices, recently completed an expansion and now offers eight tastefully decorated suites as well as guestrooms—some with screened porches—overlooking the bay. Resort activities include paddle boarding, kayaking, and swimming in the pool and the bay. It’s an ideal place to savor quality time with family and friends. The best part is knowing the pioneering owner of Herrington Harbour has created an eco-haven for you—and the local wildlife—to enjoy.
A beautiful oasis called Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center near Solomons celebrates art and nature on its 30-acre campus. A 1/4-mile nature trail winds through the woods, where visitors can view art installations that encourage reflection. The children’s area called Fairy Lolly brings out the child in everyone with gaily painted structures and decorations. Inside the soaring arts center, programs, art classes, and changing exhibits keep visitors entertained year ‘round. The arts center uses recycled materials for kids’ art programs—think cardboard creations—and also hosts Calvert Green Living, an annual event with demos designed to encourage residents and visitors to think green!
Back in Calvert Cliffs State Park, Mike takes us to a dense wooded area that smells of ancient times. “You almost expect to see a dinosaur come walking up,” Mike says. “It feels primeval.” His love for the forest is palpable. Everyone I meet is proud of Calvert County’s commitment to preserving and enjoying nature. It’s an ideal destination for eco-minded travelers, especially if you look beneath the surface, where little bits of history wait to tell their story.
For more information, visit www.choosecalvert.com.
Recommended Places To Stay
• Chesapeake Beach Resort - www.chesapeakebeachresortspa.com
• Cove Point Lighthouse - www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/200/Cove-Point-Lighthouse
• Herrington Harbour - www.herringtonharbour.com
• Hilton Garden Inn Solomons - www.hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com
Recommended Places To Eat & Drink
• Boomerangs, Solomons - www.loveribs.com
• Charles Street Brasserie, Solomons - www.charlestsreetbrass.com
• E-Z Thai, Prince Frederick - www.ezthairestaurant.net
• Friday’s Creek Winery - www.fridayscreek.com
• Scorpion Brewery - www.scorpionbrewery.com
• The Pier, Solomons - www.thepiersolomons.com
• Traders Seafood Steak & Ale, Chesapeake Beach - www.traders-eagle.com