Discovering a Gem in a Former Back Yard – Marshy Point Park and Nature Center, Bowley’s Quarters, Maryland

So, as alluded to yesterday, TJ and I were craving an overdue hike and while visiting her daughter, we were given the recommendation to check out Marshy Point Nature Center. It turned out Marshy Point is planted between the Essex and Bowley’s Quarters/Oliver Beach regions where I once lived as a child. It’s also where my grandparents resided for much of their lives and where both my mom and stepfather grew up.

It was a kick just to go back into the area I’d been a deep part of in my own right, still today a culture clash of old school Post World II Americana, modest Cape Cods and ranchers still standing with fresh coats of paint, in defiance of four-to-five-bedroom Craftsman, Victorians and Tudors dwarfing them. I was delighted to see much of the area looked and felt the same, given I hadn’t been down those roads in decades. The post office that’s been there since the dawn of time is there and in full swing, a beautiful oddity against a hard-fought push into the contemporary.

Oliver Beach is from which my family roots on my mother’s side stem and I was astonished to see my grandparents’ modest Cape Cod, in which we’d squished up to 17 people at a time for a gathering, now expanded, bricked over and fenced into a mini estate I am still marveling at this morning. A beautiful makeover, as had happened to many of the homes in a private beach burg I’d spent a considerable part of my younger life walking all over, though swimming in the Middle River flanking the neighborhood had become prohibited in light of toxicity to the water. I miss that, actually.

I felt like a complete stranger driving through Oliver Beach, gaining stares and a couple of stink faces from people who wouldn’t know I’d spent nearly a quarter of my life there as a regular. Moreover, I less the interloper given all the stories I had collected from the people of the Fabulous Fifties who’d built the community into what it’s become. Blue collar waterfront crabber folk evolving into a patriotic red territory unabashedly touting its money with mega horsepower on their outboard motors, boating for pleasure instead of sustenance. Even the Oliver Beach Inn, a former dive my grandfather liked to drink at, had become an unexpected upscale pub house, even while maintaining its original shack-style framing.

It was with all this nostalgia and glee of seeing a holdover respect for the country vibe the area still possesses, blowing a proverbial raspberry from the outskirts of Baltimore’s industrializing (there is still an operating drive-in movie theater, Bengie’s, which both myself and my parents haunted for much of our lives) which gave me hope when TJ and I swung into Marshy Point Park and Nature Center. It being a channel into the grand expanse of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Marshy Point is the best of both worlds with its forestation and open water for fishing and kayaking.

As far as Marshy Point being a road lesser traveled, that’s only relative to whatever trail you can grab away from the central attractions which lures a lot of families and elderly day trippers. The nature center itself was booming with activity and children being taught about local vegetation by the on-site rangers. Surrounding them were birds of prey pens, which TJ and I found a gorgeous snow owl no doubt “over it” being on display for visitors. There is even an old boat that I know by local crabbers and fishermen of the past, was retired from pragmatic use and morphed into a small playground which amused the 2-6 age bracket.

Opening in 2000, Marshy Point has become a hub for earth science and conservation and especially a hot spot for osprey sightings. Its connector bridge on the 0.6 mile Katie and Wil’s Trail offers a splendid view of the tributary and the circumventing reeds. When I showed my pictures to my mother yesterday, she immediately laughed and went into reminiscence mode. She and her friends had long blazed these paths and trails before us through the 1950s and Sixties and she said the original bridge had been far more treacherous to navigate in her day. She gave me her promise to share all the stories she has of the park region before it became this investment of love by the Weiskittel and Zielinski families. One of the trails is named for the former.

Our mission was to find the least traveled of Marshy Point Park’s ten trails, keeping in mind a few are short connectors to the longer ones. The longest trail onsite is the 1.5 mile Greenway Trail, which we took on, along with a few others.

While we sighed over the floral fragrances and blossoming ferns on the White Tail and Weiskittel Trails, we groaned by the “overlook” baited on the Weiskittel, as it was nothing more than a lead to a local road. Regardless, we positively geeked to spot a patch crow’s feet on the White Tail Trail you’d miss if you’re not scouting the ground for anything of interest. We were also visited by three frogs, which was ironic for TJ, who’d narrowly avoided hitting three frogs in her car the day before. In the esoteric community, there in the principle of the power of three. As a totem animal, the frog is a proponent of letting your voice and spirit be heard as emphatically as possible.

After getting a taste of the bridge and water inlet, we swung back onto Dundee-Saltpeter Trail which skirts onto the Greenway Trail, and here, is what we decided, was Marshy Point’s road lesser traveled. Though the Boy Scouts have markers from footbridge erections in a couple spots, much of the wooden walkway splicing through a prominent section of the Greenway was gulped by overgrown forestation, as much as the reeds overpower the planks taking you out to a muddy view of the water back at the White Tail Trail. Greenway does dump into a residential area near the park before getting back into the conservation, and it was even less blazed than the wooded section.

Normally I would conquer an entire park in a day, especially since Marshy Point’s trails are flat. Warm caveat to those who prefer less stress on the knees or need to build up their cardio for more rugged terrain. Much tamer than Palmerton, Pennsylvania, where I’ve done two ferocious Spartan Trail 10Ks up and down the ski resort’s mountain slopes.

Aside from me getting squishy in the swampy parts and TJ doing her best to capture me doing Spiderman leaps off tree stumps to no avail, we decided to leave the rest of the park unexplored for a return visit. I look forward to that, but nowhere near as much as hearing Mom and Pop’s stories of the same ecosystem from fifty-plus years ago.

Watch yourself out there, TJ…

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

7 thoughts on “Discovering a Gem in a Former Back Yard – Marshy Point Park and Nature Center, Bowley’s Quarters, Maryland

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