With the right role models, kids can discover a love for nature.
It’s long been my hope to get my boys excited about nature. I remember so many great outdoor activities and camping trips from my days as a Girl Scout leader. I’ve wanted that for my boys. Now, as they get older we’re ready to try new things and build upon those outdoor skills for those adventures.
This summer it meant learning how to kayak and as I tell you about our kayaking adventure with Susan from Blackwater Paddle & Pedal Adventures and our visit to the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve, one thing stands out more than anything else. It’s Susan. Susan is one of the owners of Blackwater Paddle & Pedal Adventures. But beyond that she is a mom and grandmother who has homeschooled her children and has a wealth of knowledge about the area beyond her years. When, I say there could not have been a better role model and guide to introduce my children to kayaking and the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve, it comes from the heart. She showed such patience and kindness when we took off together on our kayaking voyage and throughout our time together.
My middle son, my 10 year old, found his place on the water and even joked at one point about how cool would it be to make a living off of having a job like this. Little did he know that you actually can.
About the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve
From the US Fish & Wildlife Service
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway.
With three major habitats – forest, marsh and shallow water, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is home to a diverse and significant collection of animals and plants. The refuge contains one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands, which makes it an ecologically important area within the state. These wetlands also provide storm protection to lower Dorchester County, including the town of Cambridge. Blackwater NWR is recognized as a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention and was named a priority wetland in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. In addition, Blackwater NWR has been designated as an Internationally Important Bird Area.
Blackwater NWR is currently home to the largest remaining natural population of endangered Delmarva peninsula fox squirrels and is also home to the largest breeding population of American bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida.
5 Ways for Families to Discover Nature at the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve
Kayaking with Blackwater Paddle & Pedal Adventures
Not only does Blackwater Paddle & Pedal Adventures offer motorboat, bike, kayak, and other water sports equipment rental at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, but they also have a separate facility about 15 minutes from the resort. At their second location, adults and families can enjoy kayak and bike rentals, as well as guided tours. You can learn more about Blackwater Paddle & Pedal adventures on their site, www.blackwaterpaddleandpedal.com.
We were hosted for a 2 hour guided tour with Susan. Their kayak tours include a Wilderness Systems kayak rental, Bending Branches paddle rental, life jacket, and bottled water. Since this was our first time kayaking as a family, I was plenty nervous. Would my boys tip over? Would they listen to Susan? Would they get tired and frustrated halfway into our trip?
My worries were unfounded. We put on our lifejackets and Susan lead us in a warm up and introduction to kayaking before we even got in the water. We were taught how to hold the paddle and which direction to move it to move in the direction we wanted. We learned that it’s actually very rare to tip over in a kayak and if we did the marsh is shallow enough that the water wouldn’t be more than waist deep.
With the training over, we set out in our kayaks. My two oldest (10 and 11 years old) each paddled their own kayaks while I kept my 8 year old with me in a tandem kayak.
We explored the Choptank River and Shoal Creek, in search of wildlife. Dorchester County hosts the largest concentration of Bald eagles on the East Coast next to the Florida Everglades and has a large population of the Maryland Diamondback Terrapin. We were curious what we could find and eager not to miss anything.
At several points along the Choptank River, Susan pulled my boys in closer. She taught them about the difference between the grasses we saw at the marsh, about what’s native to the area, and what’s not. She showed them the tools researchers have built to deal with the inhabitation of foreign plants.
We learned how the woodpeckers peck away at the trees until the bark is pretty much gone. When Susan spotted a baby eagle in the trees, she helped us find it. She stayed with us, making sure each of us found it before we moved on to another area. She pointed out the different eagles’ nests in the forest.
We saw terrapins, eagles, ospreys and more. Susan showed us more unique plants. My 8 year old snoozed as I kayaked and my 11 year old set about seeing how fast he could paddle his kayak (his own way to enjoy being on the water). All this while my 10 year old absorbed every minute of it. He asked Susan questions. He explored nooks and crannies. He wanted to get as much from the experience as he could. He was developing his love for nature, and I loved seeing that side of him.
I could have stayed there all day. I think Susan could have too. The boys, however, were getting tired so we made our way back into the creek. We said our goodbyes for now, certainly not forever. With the knowledge and kindness we experienced with Susan and what we saw through her sons (also guides), we’ll definitely be back to paddle with Blackwater Paddle & Pedal Adventures again.
Visit the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve Visitor Center
Open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it their before closing. We’ll have to check it out next time. In addition to being a great viewing spot for bald eagles as they soar over the center and forage in the nearby marsh, the Center has exhibits specific to the refuge, an upstairs observation area and library, an authentic eagle’s nest, and monitors for watching live video from the osprey and eagle cams and the “Eagle’s Nest” bookstore and gift shop. Outside the Center, visitors can enjoy a Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden with walking paths, and use a picnic table for a meal. Definitely pack a lunch. The only downside of the Visitor Center and Reserve is there is not any restaurants nearby. Make sure you pack snacks or grab food on the way from where you are staying.
Hike the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve trails
Since we visited the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve after our 2 hour kayaking adventure and the boys were a little tired, we passed on the hiking. Instead we drove the Wildlife Drive.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has four land trails: the Marsh Edge Trail, the Woods Trail, the Key Wallace Trail, and the Tubman Road Trail. The trails are open to hikers from dawn to dusk, but pets are not allowed on the trails. Visitors should wear insect repellent in the warmer months and be prepared for muddy trails after rain.
Some trails do close at certain times of the year. For more details and the hiking trail maps, click over to their site. There is a $1 fee for walking or biking.
Bike the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve Route
Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve has a bike route for everyone. It’s $1 per bike for ages 16 and older. From the beginner biker to those with more experience, cyclists at Blackwater can bike an approximate 4-mile or 7-mile loop route along the paved Wildlife Drive (where cars will be). Looking for a longer trail, Blackwater NWR has maps avaiable for 20-mile and 25-mile routes that follow county roads through the varied habitats of the Refuge and surrounding area. Click over to their site to learn more.
Drive along the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve Wildlife Drive
This is the option we took. We paid the $3 admission fee through an envelope system. As we drove the 4 mile route along the Blackwater River, we stopped often looking for wildlife we might see in the Refuge. Turnout areas are available at different points to safely stop and look around. We were fortunate on our visit. There weren’t many other cars so we drove very slowly. I’ll admit it took a while to see anything but once we started seeing wildlife it was worth the wait.
We first saw a few different families of osprey. We tried to record their conversations. But each time we hit record, they got quiet. We’d stop recording and they’d start talking again. It was quite comical.
As we drove along we spotted multiple Great Blue Herons. We remembered how we were able to watch them fish with Susan on our kayak tour. We watched, we waited patiently. Those Heron can be quite still. We never did see this one dip his beak in for fish, but the beauty of the Great Blue Herons was still enough to keep us mesmerized and looking for more.
Towards the end of the trail, we saw this Great Blue Heron. We approached ever so slowly and quietly with a minivan of kids. ;-) Again, we waited hoping to see him fish or do something exciting.
He didn’t fish, but we did get to see him take off in flight.
We spotted another Great Blue Heron, this one up in the tree. I almost missed him, but my nature lover, my 10 year old found him. We knew we wouldn’t see him fish, but we waited to see what he would do. He too, took off in flight, but at least this one we caught on video flying and showing his incredible wing span.
We came upon a bunny, quite content to just hang out and hop along the Wildlife Drive.
And as we drove away for more Cambridge adventures, we came across one last Great Blue Heron. I think this might be my and my 10 year old’s favorite wildlife creature. I am pretty sure whenever we see one again, we’ll be reminded of this special visit to Cambridge and the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve.
On your trip to Cambridge Maryland, make sure you give yourself time to explore the Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve. Do one way or all of them, you’re sure to discover new wildlife animals no matter which way you explore.
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Click over to see the rest of our Family Travel to Cambridge, Maryland series or Visit Dorchester for help in planning your family vacation to Cambridge, Maryland.
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