EA Vaughn Kayak Trail
Nestled in one of the most beautiful settings on the Eastern Shore, this water trail meanders through tidal creeks surrounded by low marsh and forest. For open water enthusiasts, it offers a 6-mile leg around Mills Island in Chincoteague Bay. MD Route 12. From U.S. 50, take MD 12 south to Girdletree and to E.A. Vaughn WMA
This trail has a number of routes suitable for both experienced and inexperienced canoers and kayakers. The map includes a route on either side of Mills Island and quiet, flatwater paddles down Scarboro, Pikes, Beasey, and Cottman creeks. Any of these routes can begin or end at George Island and Taylors Landings at both ends of the EA Vaughn Wildlife Management Area.
The modest single-story frame structures dotting Taylors Landing were built during the early to mid-twentieth century to serve the commercial fishing and shellfish businesses that played a vital role in the economy of the region. Many workers at the time were employed on the water as sailors, oystermen and clammers. The area was celebrated for its mariners and their crops of cultivated oysters known as "Chincoteagues."
In 1906 Girdletree, originally called Girdletree Hill, boasted a Baptist church, three stores, a sawmill, a bank, two canneries, a hotel, a forge, a stave and barrel factory, and a livery stable.
Today, Taylors Landing is still used by commercial clammers and crabbers and by recreational fishermen and boaters.
George Island Landing
Stockton, once known as Sandy Hill, stood out a century ago as a water-oriented town noted for its famous "Chincoteague" oysters. The commercial fishing operations here played a significant role in the prosperity of the area. After the 1933 hurricane, the seafood industry and, in particular, oystering, rapidly declined. Fifteen oyster packing houses were destroyed during the storm and most were never rebuilt. The permanent salt-water influx from the Ocean City inlet has since allowed for oceangoing drills and parasites to decimate the oyster population.
In the late 1800s, Stockton, named after Methodist minister Thomas H. Stockton, supported three churches, a new school, a hotel, a steam sawmill, a train depot and a host of stores and shops. There was also a gristmill for grinding grain on Pike's Creek called Rowley's Mill which operated until 1892. In 1906, a fire which started in the general store owned by PE Wharton, reduced most of the business district to ashes.
Although the black bears, cougars, timber wolves and elk that roamed this area are gone, this once remote "trapping land" still holds onto significant biological diversity.
Terrapins, once prized for their flesh and still harvested in some parts today, are faring well in this part of the bay and can be seen popping their heads above the water to peak at paddlers. Blue crabs and lush seagrasses are also still part of the lower Chincoteague Bay experience.
This area of Chincotegue Bay enjoys some of the best water quality in the entire coastal bays ecosystem from the Delaware line to Cape Charles, Va. The tidal creeks on this trail are in close to pristine condition. Some 85 percent of all marine life depends, directly or indirectly, on these salt marshes and the bays for some aspect of its life cycle.
Taylors Landing to George Island Landing (around east side of Mills Island): 6.5 miles
Taylors Landing to George Island Landing (around west side of Mills Island): 6 miles
Taylors Landing directly to George Island Landing along the bay shore: 3 miles
Length of Creeks (one way)
Scarboro: 2 miles
Pikes: 3 miles
Beasey: 1.4 miles
Cottman: 1.4 miles
Distance to Assateague Island Kayak Trail from Mills Island (north leg): 4.4 miles
Distance to Assateague Island Kayak Trail from Mills Island (south leg): 3.4 miles
Several birds rare to Maryland breed in the 3,500-acre EA Vaughn Wildlife Management Area, including barn owls whose boxes you will paddle by along the creeks, marsh hawks, king rails, oyster catchers, marsh wrens, bald eagles, gadwall, and black-crowned night herons. In the summer, look for brown pelicans, blue herons, green herons, tri-colored herons, little blues, and great and snowy egrets.
From September to April, check out red-tailed hawks, merlins, coopers and sharpshin hawks, peregrine falcons, and northern harriers scanning the marsh for voles. Duck and diving bird diversity here is spectacular with common and red-throated loons, horned grebes, surf scoters, bufflehead, lesser scaup, red-breasted mergansers, wood ducks, canvasbacks, pintails, brant, and snow geese amassing in winter.
On the islands, Forsters, royal, and common terns abound along with eight species of herons and egrets. Common here are also kingbirds, clapper rails, and tree swallows.
The Venerable Oyster
These waters now have only relict remains of the once ubiquitous oyster on riprap, pilings, and bridge supports. In addition to their commercial value, oysters provided a critical component of the ecosystem by building reefs which supported a rich community of organisms. The reefs and the several dozen species of fish, crabs, and seahorses, which prospered in them, are now also gone or clinging to fragile populations.
Still, clamming in Chincoteague Bay remains a lucrative business and bay scallops, which disappeared in the mid-1930's, have mounted a comeback. Bay scallops, too, were once commercially harvested from these waters.
This trail was mapped and produced by Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experiences, with financial assistance from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Worcester County, and Maryland State Highway Administration. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources also played an important role in design and creation. For a copy or for questions call: 800-852-0335 or 410-213-2297
Graphic collages in this article were created for print publication by Gerlitski Design.
E.A. Vaughn WMA - Girdletree, Maryland