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A Walk on Wye

This quiet nature retreat beckons visitors to a enjoy a beauty-filled respite

By Anne McNulty

Tucked between the Wye and Wye East Rivers in Queen Anne’s County lies a tranquil oasis called Wye Island. Hundreds of white-tailed deer roam the fields and woods of this 2,450-acre state-owned preserve managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Here wood ducks and mallards swim around the island’s 30 miles of shoreline. Overhead, a marsh hawk hovers then swoops down to capture a rabbit. A solitary fox hunting for prey crouches in the field while Delmarva fox squirrels scamper up the island’s Osage orange trees. As you approach the island from Carmichael Road, you cross the bridge where sunbeams sparkle on the river. You will then pass by the leased fields planted with corn and soybeans.

Next, you will come to the Granary Creek picnic area that invites you to sit at a picnic table and walk over to the creek. There’s a new canoe/kayak launch here that’s available to visitors from March until October. Red and blue kayaks dot the creek during spring and summer, but in the fall and winter, it belongs to the waterfowl. You will know when the geese arrive as they noisily skid into the creek.

As you continue along the 4.2-mile road, yellow oaks tower overhead — their branches arching together resemble a Gothic cathedral. COVID-weary humans can take comfort in the beauty that reaches out to them as they walk, drive, or bike along the gravel road.

You will pass Schoolhouse woods — an old-growth forest over 200 years old. In this area stands an old holly tree that’s over 260 years old, and you can view it close-up from the Schoolhouse Nature Trail.

A Barred Owl overlooks the natural habitat of this tranquil island

Further down the road are three campsites that Scouts and other youth groups can use. At night, campers will often hear the Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech owls.

During this winter afternoon, a couple walks their Irish Setter who constantly has his nose to the ground. They’re strolling along the three-mile Ferry Point Trail that leads to a small beach where in the summer you see children splashing in the water and then running back to land.

The island was settled and owned by two prominent men ­— Charles Beale Bordley farmed and owned the western half of the island, while his brother-in-law William Paca, a governor of Maryland and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, owned the eastern half. Bordley, thanks to the labor of his enslaved workers, was able to make his own bricks, brew his own beer and produce wine from the grapes he grew in his vineyard.

Since that time, sections of the island were bought and owned privately, and in 1922, an eccentric couple named Glen and Jacqueline Stewart bought eight of the 13 farms that were there at the time. Then in the 1940s during World War II, Stewart began building a hunting lodge he called the Duck Lodge. Fearful of a German invasion, he put in a false floor in front of the fireplace that had a trap door to the lodge’s concealed basement. Stewart then stocked it with a year’s supply of food and plenty of ammunition.

The lodge, located on Granary Creek, remains today. Able to accommodate about 25 persons, it’s now used for meetings, conferences, and small weddings.

Today the island, except for six private residences, is owned by the State of Maryland who wisely decided that this historic and beautiful parcel of land should not be bought by developers, but instead used for the benefit of those who wish to visit.

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