By Jack Sherwood
There’s a price to pay before reaching the retreat of Muddy Creek bay on Maryland’s Western Shore in Edgewater, a hideaway gunkhole and federally protected wildlife sanctuary. A boater in search of summer tranquility must first run a gauntlet of hectic nautical activity on the upper Rhode River so feverish that the river-fronted Camp Letts suspends all water-related activities on busy boating weekends.
However, once you dodge the raft-ups, kayakers, canoeists, water skiers and zipping PWC to get behind Big Island, a 2,800-acre world of nature preserved by the Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center awaits. (The center isn’t open to dinghy landings; only to those arriving by land vehicle.)
Oddly, most Chesapeake cruising guides make no mention of the fact that this undeveloped western side of the Rhode is owned and protected by the Smithsonian. But what has attracted most boaters to the upper Rhode are two islands: High and Flat. Big Island is a posted Smithsonian bird sanctuary and off limits. The other two islands (or what’s left of them) are fair game and have been seriously eroded by heavy human and boat traffic, and no posted speed limit to keep wakes down. (Other uninhabited islands attracting maritime multitudes on the upper Western Shore are
Dobbins, on the Magothy River, and Hart-Miller, a man-made
spoil island off Middle River.)After entering Rhode River off West River, immediately to port is a quiet, popular anchorage known as Half-Moon Bay. It’s for cruisers who don’t want to deal with the maritime mayhem just around the bend less than a mile upriver.
But if it’s islands you are after, the first one (if you can see it) has the ironic name of High because it once had an elevation of 40 feet. It now has no elevation and is underwater at high tide with nothing to mark the shoal. In an area so dominated by the Smithsonian, it seems a pity that endless swarms of visitors climbing High’s sandy hill caused it to collapse and dissolve to nothing. Flat, the second sister island encountered, also is suffering the same fate.
But just beyond this hectic anchorage is a quiet world that many overlook, whose waters are open to boaters even if the shore is not. Turning the southwest corner at Big Island into water with 5- and 6-foot depths, little Muddy Creek bay opens up beyond Contees Wharf. It is, in its own way, an ideal gunkhole hidden among the shores of Fox, Muddy, and Boathouse creeks — all in a natural state of preservation that will never be developed.
These creeks and marshes, while shallow, are rich in wildlife and may be explored by dinghy, canoe or kayak, though no-trespassing signs are posted. The rule of silence is quietly obeyed here, unlike the opposite side of Big Island, where humans abound.
The developed shore of the Rhode is the complete opposite of the shore owned by the Smithsonian. Cadle, Sellman, Bear Neck and Whitemarsh creeks on this developed shoreline are crowded with homes, marinas and boatyards.
There also is a little-known county pier and landing open to the public at the end of Carrs Wharf Road. (Look for the signs on shore and a portable toilet.)
Just a few miles farther along West River is the charming village of Galesville, which also has a pubic pier and dinghy landing, in front of the Topside Restaurant. This pier, popular with crabbers (known locally as “chicken neckers”), is flanked by two other restaurants on the water.
Just a short stroll from the dock is a delightful country store with a front porch, benches and outside tables for al fresco dining. It offers sandwiches, homemade pies and groceries. Nearby is a package store selling beer, wine, liquor and ice. One of the Chesapeake’s oldest and acclaimed marinas and boatyards, Hartge’s Yacht Yard, also is located in Galesville. (Check NOAA chart 12270 for help navigating.)
Check out the other parts to our Gunkholing series:
Explore our picks for 10 great gunkhole getaways:
Learn The Art of Gunkholing
Or introduce yourself to "Mr. Gunkhole."