Weekend getaways with family are my favorite. A feeling of excitement and anticipation was in the air on a Friday afternoon when I picked up my 7-year-old son, Patrick, from his after-school program. He buckled himself in next to piles of duffel bags and gear, and as I backed out of the parking lot, he yelled, “We’re going camping!” That’s right, buddy. Our weekend plans were underway: we were heading from our home in Berlin for a weekend in Somerset County to participate in the inaugural Paddlefest at Janes Island State Park.
My husband, Brian, drove separately after getting off work and met us at our campsite, where we immediately got to work setting up camp. After a picnic dinner, we wandered over to the nature center to register for Paddlefest, which would officially start Saturday morning.
The park staff was so welcoming, and we immediately felt a sense of camaraderie as we met other families checking in. Brian even serendipitously reconnected with an old coworker!
The next morning, we hit the ground running. I entered the Janes Island Challenge, a 13-mile circumnavigation of the island, which departed at 7:30 am. After a quick safety briefing and a heartfelt “Good luck, Mom” from Patrick, I started the long journey around the island.
Although I have paddled distances up to 17 miles in the past, I was nervous about my ability to paddle 13 miles this early in the season. I felt safe knowing park staff stationed themselves at different checkpoints along the way and support boats were available in case of an emergency. I stopped around the 8-mile mark to stretch my legs on the island’s beautiful beach, take in the scenery, and refuel with a snack. I texted Brian an update on my progress just as he and Patrick were heading out to paddle the Poker Run, a 5-mile loop through the water trails on the island’s interior.
I didn’t linger on the beach for long, though. I could feel the wind picking up, and I wanted to complete my journey before the predicted 20-knot winds hit in the afternoon.
After struggling through a brutal two miles against the wind on the island’s south end, I took a moment to catch my breath and admired the rustic shacks known by locals as “crab shanties” along the waterfront in Crisfield.
Crab shanties are buildings filled with tanks where blue crabs are kept until they molt. This is how most soft shell crabs are harvested.
I pressed on to the finish line, completing the 13-mile loop in just under 4 hours. I felt VERY accomplished.
Since Brian and Patrick were still out on the poker run, I decided to drive into Crisfield to explore the town and reward myself with a soft shell crab sandwich from Fisherman’s Grille.
The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the parking lot, aside from the giant octopus mural on the exterior, but upon walking inside, I was treated to a gorgeous outdoor dining area overlooking Somers Cove. The indoor dining area fit Crisfield’s working waterfront culture, with bushel basket lamps and tables resembling docks.
Since I knew Brian and Patrick would be returning soon, I decided to order my sandwich to go. If I had had more time to kill, I would have lingered to enjoy the view before checking out the Tawes Museum, a wonderful tribute to the maritime history and culture of Crisfield and the Chesapeake Bay.
I ate my sandwich on the dock at the state park while waiting for them to return. And let me tell you about that sandwich—I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best soft shell crab sandwich I’ve ever had in my life! The two crabs were perfectly battered and fried, and they were so fresh, I bet they had been swimming just a few hours earlier!
I soon spotted Brian and Patrick coming out of the creek. Neither of them had a winning hand on the Poker Run, but they still had a great time exploring the marsh creeks and counting turtles and birds along the way. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying Paddlefest’s activities for kids: a bouncy house and a boat ride down to Crisfield. Park staff told us all about the history of Janes Island along the way, as well as Crisfield’s history, dating back to the 1600s. I was particularly interested in hearing about the train that used to come all the way down to the city dock to ship fresh seafood to major cities, making Crisfield the seafood capital of the world in the 1860s! Nowadays, that rail line has been turned into a rail trail, open to anyone looking for a place to walk, run, or ride a bike in Somerset County.
As if we hadn’t had enough fun for the day, Patrick and I rented bikes from the nature center after dinner and explored the rest of the park. We then enjoyed the Paddlefest campfire and live music until after dark. Needless to say, we all slept well that night!
We had a leisurely breakfast the following day before packing up camp and hitting the road. Brian had to return to work, but Patrick and I continued our weekend by playing tourists on the way home. We took a slight detour to explore the historic downtown of Princess Anne. I was particularly impressed with Somerset Choice Station, an incredible antique shop full of items representing the county’s culture.
We also meandered down to Teackle Mansion, an impressive 10,000-square-foot mansion dating back to 1802! Unfortunately, the museum didn’t open until 1 pm, and we were quickly losing steam after our busy weekend. We snapped some photos and headed home.
Although I’ve lived on the Eastern Shore for nearly 18 years, I honestly hadn’t spent much time in Somerset County. Now that we’ve been, we’re already making plans to return. Many of the places we visited are part of the Chesapeake Country All-American Road, one of just 37 federally designated All-American Roads in the country. This byway is packed with historical sites and recreational spaces that tell the story of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and illustrates how natural resources and cultural heritage are deeply intertwined along the shore’s waterways. I’m excited to explore more of the byway with my family this year. One of the many lessons I’ve learned from years of exploring is that there are always new things to discover.
This article is sponsored by Somerset County Recreation, Parks, & Tourism. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Somerset County is the southernmost point in the state and offers excellent outdoor recreation opportunities, fresh seafood, and a laid back atmosphere. Kayak, canoe, hike, bike, hop on a cruise to Smith Island, there’s a little something here for everyone.
Lead Photo: Laura Scharle
About the Author
Laura Scharle is a small business owner specializing in ecotourism and heritage tourism marketing. She loves finding hidden gems and developed www.delmarvatrailsandwaterways.com to connect others with outdoor spaces. She lives in Ocean Pines with her husband and son, where they frequently paddle, hike, and fish together. She can be found on Instagram @easternshorepartyof3