Finding Nature and Solitude on Kent County’s Waterways
A quiet bit of water in a lush and unspoiled setting offers a paddler a sense of solitude and wonder. In Kent County, three paddles on three different waterways offer such experiences.
These rivers and creeks offer an array of Chesapeake Bay watershed habitat—from coves studded with brilliant starbursts of American lotus to the deep shade of graveled-bottomed headwaters. They teem with birds, fish, muskrat and tiny jewel-like damselflies. Although each is easily accessible by car, they are far from crowded.
Each is a perfect portal to the magic of our region’s waterways and has much to offer any paddler, from a beginner just gaining equilibrium to the competitive kayaker.
Fair to Middlin’ on Morgan Creek
Although other launches are closer to the mouth of Morgan Creek, a tributary of the Chester River north of the Chester River Bridge, heading to a hidden public landing provides access to the creek’s lovely, quiet middle waters. Put your small craft in the water at Riley’s Mill landing, which has a dirt ramp where the channel cuts close to the bank. Plan to paddle upstream, where the few houses you’ll see are glimpses of 18th century estates and are far in the distance.
Morgan Creek, especially north of the public landing, is an incredible waterway for animal watching. In the cattails, tuckahoe and hardwood marshes, paddlers might see osprey, a noisy heron rookery, river otters or bald eagles (and probably not a human). A round trip of three miles takes about two hours. At the halfway point, the creek splits into several small runs, one which is fed by Urieville Lake.
Launching from the Kent County Shadding Reach site, where a concrete step leads to a sandy bank of the Chester River, begins a four-mile paddle. Once in the water, head north, exploring shady, cool oxbows of the Chester’s headwaters. The shallow depth of the river at this point (sometimes only a few inches deep) means no competition from motorboats or wave runners, and the water clarity is excellent, with waving underwater meadows and a gravel bottom.
Nearing Millington, the river splits, with the left branch leading to the town and the right branch (Unicorn Branch) leading to a worthwhile quick side paddle just below Unicorn Lake. After checking out the gorgeous shallows of Unicorn Branch, backtrack and continue to head upriver to Millington. Don’t miss the fun directional sign on the way, posted by an unknown local with a sense of humor, directing paddlers to Chestertown, Crumpton and Key West.
Passing below the state Route 301 bridge, enjoy the uniquely peaceful vantage point while cars rush overhead at 60 miles per hour. Millington’s Waterfront Park is the halfway mark and a good spot to pull out of the water for a stretch, a snack, and a walk into town before heading back downstream.
The Sassafras River can be a highly traveled stretch of water, especially on summer weekends, when boaters from Georgetown Yacht Basin and local launches visit to enjoy the tidal freshwater beaches and cliff views. This is a landscape familiar to John Smith, who documented his exploration of the Sassafras in 1608 and his brushes with the local Tockwogh tribespeople. In this short paddle, which launches from the ramp of the Turner’s Creek public landing, paddlers staying in the shallower reaches of the creek will enjoy a quiet paddle evocative of Smith’s descriptions.
This paddle is about slowly exploring, rather than distance, so it’s perfect for a hot day. Upon launch (watch out for the workboats—this is still one of a few local wharves still used by watermen), immediately turn upstream (to the right) to follow Turner’s Creek. Summertime visitors will be dazzled by the rare, showy display of the American Lotus, which thrives in the protected coves of the Sassafras. These native aquatic plants boast the largest blooms of any flower in North America, and most parts of the plant are edible.
Turning back toward the mouth of Turner’s Creek, head west and follow the shoreline of the Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area (will be to the left). Paddlers taking this route will pass bluffs and sandy beaches, as well as another large stand of lotus in a tidal pond a little further along. Duck in to watch eagles, herons, muskrat and frogs in a protected setting before heading back to the public landing.
Before you go: Use a mapping website or app to do research the location of the public landing. The keywords “Kent County Maryland Public Landings” directs to each of the landings featured in the paddles above.
While none of these paddles are strenuous on a calm day, wind, tide, season and average rainfall affect the conditions of any waterway. Plan ahead, check the weather, and go with the tide if possible.