Many bicyclists thrive on adrenaline-fueled treks across rocky or wooded terrain, or long-distance hauls of a hundred miles or more. Not me. While I do not shun physical exertion or breaking a sweat, I’m a walker, not a runner; my workaday life offers enough white-knuckle adventure for my taste. Come the weekend, I prefer pedaling through nature at a more leisurely pace. Maryland’s Kent Island – just east of the Bay Bridge (Route 50), about an hour’s drive south of Baltimore – provides just that. (En route, Wawa store #569, off Route 50 Exit 29A, makes an ideal pit stop, offering clean restrooms, reasonably priced fuel, food ranging from prepared sandwiches to fresh fruit to every kind of processed junk, and, of course, top-notch coffee.)
Unlike some of the state’s more congested bike trails, Kent Island’s Cross Island Trail, an east-west route running between Stevensville and Kent Narrows, is never crowded. The paved six-mile asphalt trail is open to skating, walking, running, and biking. Its consistently flat terrain makes it ideal for families with young children, older users looking to avoid high-traffic areas, and anyone simply out to enjoy the scent of salt air and the island’s towering pines.
We favor setting out from Terrapin Nature Park, at the Trail’s western terminus, as the Chesapeake Exploration Center, at the eastern end, makes for an excellent mid-ride break (more on that later). A playground near Kent Island High School, about a mile out, is a welcome pit stop for small children. Farther along, the Trail wends its way through alternating patches of forest and wetlands. Use caution at the handful of highway crossings; while many drivers will stop to allow trail-users to pass, some do not.
Upon reaching Kent Narrows, grab your water and snacks and climb the spiral stairs of the three-story outdoor observation platform at the aforementioned Exploration Center for a marvelous view of the Narrows, the Chester River, and their attendant varieties of marine traffic. Downstairs, visit the indoor interpretive center, offering all manner of island life and history ranging from the ice age to recent work by local artisans (not to mention very clean restrooms). The friendly staff will be happy to chat and answer any questions.
Of approximately equal length, the nearby South Island Trail, running from Matapeake Park to Romancoke Pier, provides a north-south alternative to the Cross Island Trail. However, but for the fishing pier at its southern end, this trail features little else of interest, especially for children.
While there is no charge for using either trail, it should be noted that, in 2014, Queen Anne’s County instituted paid permit parking for public spots like Matapeake Beach and Terrapin Nature Park. Seasonal ($35) and daily ($5) permits are available, however, they must be purchased from certain local businesses, which may or may not be open during park hours. While I have no problem paying a fee, especially if it benefits trail maintenance and patrols, having onsite purchase points would be infinitely more convenient and practical.
Situated in the unassuming office park just across the street from the entrance to Terrapin Nature Park is Blackwater Distilling, makers of the fabulously smooth Sloop Betty vodka. Maryland’s first fully-licensed distillery in more than 40 years, Blackwater offers free tours and tastings Friday through Sunday. Staples like Sloop Betty Honey utilize local, organic ingredients, while the distillery also produces various seasonal infusions throughout the year.
No bathtub hooch, Sloop Betty has won three Gold Medals, including the Gold Medal and “Best in Show” distinction at the New York World Wine & Spirit Competition, while The Tasting Panel magazine awarded the vodka a 94-point rating in its July 2011 issue. So take a bottle home, and keep your drinking money local!
WAWA STORE #569
321 Buschs Frontage Road, Annapolis, MD 21401
Hours: Open 24 hours
Phone: (410) 757-2328
CHESAPEAKE EXPLORATION CENTER
425 Piney Narrows Road, Chester, MD 21619
Hours: Open year-round 7 days/week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter); Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., weekends 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Phone: (410) 604-2100
184 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD 21666
Hours: Free tours offered Friday – Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Phone: (443) 249-3123