I am not sure about you, but I needed, REALLY needed to get away from the monotony of grey days, missed school days and #2’s new habit of throwing tantrums every ten minutes. So as soon as we had even a ray of sunshine, I made small day trips with the kiddos. Here is the scoop on our trip to the Eastern Shore, with another on a day at Roundtop Ski Area to follow.
So the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources has this great program called Scales to Tales. They rescue and rehabilitate a variety of wild birds, then use those birds in educational programs at state parks.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland hosts a popular Eagle Festival every year in March. The DNR brings their birds to the festival and there are several fun activities for the kids to do. It’s a wonderful day. It helps when the weather cooperates. We enjoyed an awesome mild day, which was followed by several inches of snow! UGH!
Blackwater is about an hour from Annapolis/the Bay Bridge on Route 50 East. Remember your $6 toll to go over the bridge. There are no other tolls.
Drive over the Choptank River bridge and through Cambridge. Just past the Walmart and opposite the entrance to the Hyatt Chesapeake Resort, turn right. Follow that road, there are plenty of signs to direct you. Note that for the festival, traffic is sometimes diverted along a backroad. Just keep following it, several miles through farmlands, until you get to the marked parking area.
Parking is free but offsite for this event, with regular, clean, quick and easy shuttle service. The refuge is about a mile from the parking lot, so it really is quick. There are about 70 spaces at the refuge reserved for handicapped access, emergency vehicles and employee parking.
The festival starts in the afternoon, giving folks plenty of time to go to the gym (yay! Yoga then eagles!), sports, etc. before heading over. I think we left Annapolis around 11:30 and arrived just as the event started.
Regularly timed show-and-tell with the Scales and Tales. Kids and adults can get close to eagles, osprey, owls and more while they learn all about the program, the birds, their rescue and what we can do to help the wild bird population. These talks weren’t boring–my kids sat on wet grass for at least 20 minutes before moving on.
- Hands-on exhibits from regional wildlife organizations. Note that some of the exhibits were do-not-touch. It’s hard for a 5 year old boy to not want to touch a stuffed raccoon! Most of the staff are friendly and understanding though.
A kiddie tent with 3-4 crafts including a turtle made from yarn and color-your-own buttons. Also a chance to poke through some owl poop to identify what is in the pellets.
Make your own bird house–this activity always had a long line and we haven’t participated because we don’t have that kind of patience. We have made a bat house at a similar event, and I recommend it. This involved rudimentary carpentry and every child and adult walking away from the area had a smile!
There is also this cool mascot walking around to keep the kids either excited or scared out of their wits. #2 had to show him his new owl.
- Learn how to shoot a bow-and-arrow. Kind and patient instructors show the kids how to shoot and each child gets 3-4 chances. My kids were so excited? What child doesn’t want to be Robin Hood?
Shoot a Daisy BB gun. My kids waited for 20 minutes for the chance to put on goggles and pop off 4 shots. #2 saved his target paper to show dad, who was duly impressed. #1 sulked that she didn’t make a bullseye….
Inside exhibits, including lots of stuffed animals, a piece about nutrias–a destructive part groundhog/river rat/nasty little rodent–that both kids really liked. Also inside is a small store. This area will be the one place you pay to play, and pay dearly. Proceeds go to the refuge though, which I consider to be a good cause. There are also very clean bathrooms and some seats to rest on.
- Lots of Wildlife, specifically birds. They were awesome!
Things to Consider
- There is food, in the form of candy, soda, hot dogs and french fries provided by a local Scout troop. Best to bring a picnic or eat in Cambridge.
- This is a popular event and can be crowded at times. That being said, there is much space to move about and it is never aggravatingly crowded….except when people with long cameras or shortsightedness insist on blocking your kids’ view of the birds so they can get close….even that is bearable, because eventually they move on and your kid gets to be about two feet from an amazing creature.
- Beyond the festival is the refuge itself, a marvelous and beautiful example of Maryland’s Eastern Shore long before development. There is a short road around a portion of the refuge, so visitors can spot birds, fowl and wildlife (nothing crazy, maybe a little deer or two) from the car. There are a few short hiking trails and miles of kayak trails. It is especially stunning to kayak through the park at dawn or dusk, even in winter, when all is so still. Blackwater is a regional treasure!
- If your children aren’t adequately tired out, stop off at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge, located near the visitors center on the South side of the bridge. The park features a faux lighthouse, plenty of greenspace for kite flying, a playground, swings overlooking the charming Choptank River and access to bathrooms.
NOTE! To use the bathroom, visitors must ask for a key in the visitor center!
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