Looking for a few days away from the hustle and bustle of Ocean City? Not far from the ocean, on the other side of the Delmarva Peninsula, lies the Chesapeake Bay. And dotted across the eastern shore are a number of beaches and state parks to light the fancy of any soul willing to take the trip just a little east. Private campsites abound from Delaware’s beaches to the shores of Assawoman Bay, the Isle of Wight Bay, and down into Chincoteague Bay in Virginia. But this is summer, and unless one has planned far enough in advance, getting a camping spot that faces the Atlantic Ocean is near impossible. Look a little further and you might find a little state park just outside of Crisfield, Maryland that is right up your alley. Janes Island State Park is a great weekend getaway on the shores of Tangier Bay which bubbles right into the vast waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
My family arrived on Friday night and plugged in our little camper. The setting sun, falling over Janes Island to the west, is the highlight of this hidden little gem. From the long stretch of campsites that front Daugherty Creek Canal almost every visitor gets a beautiful view of the yellow sun as it fades into the water’s edge.
The land near Janes Island was first inhabited by the Annemessex indians. When the English settled in the area they found the Annemessex indians to be a friendly people, and they began to farm the marshy island itself. The fertile soil proved bountiful for growing watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, and peaches. Nearby waters were plentiful, too, for oysters and other fishing. Farming on a marsh, however, proved difficult, and by the 1930s most of the farm land had been abandoned. The only visible man-made structure on the island is the tall brick smokestack left over from a fish processing plant on the southern tip that was destroyed by fire in 1932.
On Saturday we rented a canoe from the park and, with lunch packed, rowed across the Daugherty Creek Canal, dredged in 1939, and into the miles of channels that wind through the island itself. Even for inexperienced canoers like us the water was easy to navigate, and in less than an hour we were on part of the miles of beaches on the bay side of the island accessible only by boat. The water in Tangier Sound was warm and calm, a far cry from the cold and sometimes raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The area is a big draw for fishermen who love to ply the waters around Janes Island where the striped bass are as long as a grown man’s leg and fight hard to stay in the water.
Our first night there we saw a boat coming in with two men on board. My daughter was fascinated by the boat, and she watched the men pull the boat into the dock. “What are they doing now?” she kept asking. It was a shallow green camoflouged skiff with a flat floor and two main seats, one behind the wheel and another in front of the wheel. Benches lined either side of the prow, and there were half a dozen fishing poles of various lengths and girths. While the captain of the ship backed his boat trailer into the water his companion showed us the fish he had caught, about two-and-a-half feet long. “The others were bigger,” he told us. “This was the only one we managed to get into the boat.”
While there seemed to be a lot of boaters going out into the water, most of the vessels we saw were canoes and kayaks loaded down with up to four people. Like us they seemed to be newbies to the boating scene. I saw one couple in a kayak doggedly rowing their small craft into the dock. The husband in back rowed forward while yelling at the wife to steer, while the wife rowed backwards and yelled at the husband to steer. (Like most arguments between husbands and wives, the wife was right—it is the aft passenger’s job to steer the boat.)
What impressed me most about Janes Island State Park was the nature center attached to their camp store, and the number of activities they had planned for kids. We brought a car full of games to play and balls to toss around with the kid, but when we returned from our boating excursion shortly after lunch she discovered a room full of kids all making crafts. She returned to the campsite carrying a can with holes in the bottom that she said was for putting out our fire. Then she took me back to show me the marshmallow roasting stick she’d painted. Later, just after dinner, more than a dozen kids from the campground gathered around a small firepit behind the nature center while a visiting musician played a guitar and one of the park rangers led them in campfire songs. My daughter was front and center for the singing and the dancing.
In the evening, as the sun again settled over the water, we sat beside our camper in the shade of a tall loblolly pine and read. The air was cool, and though the greenheads were all around they weren’t as bad as they had been when we were out on the water. At home my mind would race with all that needed to get done: a weed-filled yard, an unfinshed rain garden, a lawn that needs mowing, a house that needs cleaning, a desk that needs building, and a roof that needs fixing. Here, though, I relaxed, disconnected, and enjoyed the warm evening, the smell of the fire, the water lapping at the marina. Janes Island State Park is a perfect place to get away to recharge your spirit. And it’s only about an hour’s drive from Ocean City!
What are you waiting for?