Chesapeake Beach has a new attraction – filled with great blue herons, snapping turtles, monarch butterflies and raucous sea gulls feasting on cast offs from the local charter boat fleet. You’re welcomed to join the fun. And all you need is a pair of walking shoes.
Dedicated on Sept. 30, 2011, after more than 20 years of wishing, planning and cobbling together funding from a variety of sources, the 1.3-mile Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail takes visitors on an enjoyable stroll along, over and through Calvert County’s beautiful Fishing Creek marsh.
The trail follows a portion of the right-of-way laid out more than a hundred years ago for the Washington-to-Chesapeake Beach railroad, and even points out portions of the trestle that remain from that bygone era. Using a combination of composite decking boardwalks and paved walkways, the trail is perfect for walkers, runners and bikers. Benches along the way encourage visitors to stop, look and listen, lingering for a few moments to acclimate to the woodsy, watery ecosystem surrounding the trail.
But the real star of this rails-to-trails adventure is the wildlife you’re certain to encounter. From kingfishers, ospreys and red-winged blackbirds to river otters, beavers, white-tailed deer and blue crabs, the 120-acre property is a veritable nature preserve where visitors are immersed in a living outdoor classroom. Visitors may also notice the addition of oyster floats near the trailhead; 80,000 baby oysters are currently being grown in the waters of Fishing Creek under the trail through a collaboration between the town of Chesapeake Beach and the Chesapeake Beach Oyster Cultivation Society.
Joyce Stinnett Baki, a lifelong Calvert County resident, spent an afternoon walking the trail shortly after it was dedicated and remarked how peaceful and educational it was. “Chesapeake Beach has done an excellent job of incorporating this walking trail into the natural beauty of the area,” she said. “It’s a well-maintained, comfortable walk and it definitely provides an opportunity for residents to get to the beach and all its attractions without having to brave the highway.”
The trail project had been a dream of many people for many years – not the least of whom was Chesapeake Beach Mayor Bruce Wahl. When he first moved to Chesapeake Beach in the mid-1980s, he brought with him fond memories of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which he frequented in Fairfax County, Va. Knowing the history of the Chesapeake Beach railway and the fact that much of that right-of-way and train bed still existed had him longing for a similar amenity in his new hometown.
After years of slow and steady land acquisition, appeals for state and federal funding, support from both the town of Chesapeake Beach and Calvert County government, and approval from a bevy of regulatory agencies, the project finally came to fruition last fall. “I don’t know how I could be any happier with how it turned out,” says Wahl. “I get the most joy from watching people enjoy it; that’s the best reward. I especially like seeing people push relatives down the path in wheelchairs,” he says. Since the trail is fully ADA compliant, Wahl appreciates the fact that people who might not otherwise get an opportunity to delight in a nature walk can do so safely and comfortably. “It’s really a lot of fun being on the trail and, no matter what time of year, there’s always something new to see out there in the marsh.”
The delicate wetland environment, so important to the health and well-being of the Chesapeake Bay, is brought to life on the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail. Details in a number of informational signs posted along the route explain the importance of preserving local wetlands. They sponge, funnel, and filter sediments and nutrients; provide habitat for wildlife; and help keep our waterways clean. We can all play an essential role in maintaining the balance and beauty of this ecosystem – even if it’s just by taking an appreciative stroll.
If you go: Start at the trail head, just off Gordon Stinnett Avenue behind the Water Park in Chesapeake Beach. Leave plenty of time to enjoy the sights and read the informational signs along the way, and don’t forget to clean up after your pet by using the waste stations provided. ✦