If you want to get away from the St. Patrick’s Day hype, but don’t have the time, energy or funds to go far, consider a trip to Dorchester County, Maryland. Whether you’re a wanderer who likes to get off the beaten path, a foodie, a nature lover or simply a mom or dad who craves a day at the spa, Dorchester has something for you and your family.
One of our favorite Dorchester attractions is Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Founded in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is just a few miles outside of Cambridge. Well off the beaten path, but also well worth the drive, Blackwater boasts more than 28,000 acres of marshland, streams, and forests, as well as numerous opportunities for recreation and natural beauty.
A great time to visit Blackwater is for one of their major events, including the Annual Eagle Festival, held every year in March.
Blackwater Wildlife Refuge Eagle Festival
Planned as an anniversary celebration of the founding of the national wildlife refuge system, the Eagle Festival coincides with the migratory return of birds of prey and songbirds to the sanctuary. In fact, Blackwater is a major resting stop for birds along the Atlantic Flyway. Peregrine falcons, eagles, hawks, osprey, waterfowl, herons and many other creatures make their seasonal home amongst the marsh grasses and mud flats where food, shade and natural habitat help them recuperate from the long flight north.
The Eagle Festival has a strong focus on wildlife and nature, and includes everything from guided tours to visits from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Scales and Tails program.
What You Need to Know
Date: Saturday, March 17th
Time: 9am to 4pm
Location: throughout the refuge, but especially at the Visitor’s Center
Parking: Free, see below
Reservations: not required
Blackwater is about an hour from Annapolis via Route 50 East. There is a $4 toll over the Bay Bridge, but no other tolls. Turn right just past Wal-Mart and across from the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay entrance onto Church Creek Road, and then follow the signs to the event.
Note if you are using GPS, you must enter the physical address of the refuge. Do not use “Blackwater Wildlife Refuge”.
2145 Key Wallace Drive
Cambridge, Maryland 21613
For major events, parking is limited to the maintenance office lot and traffic is diverted along a back road. Simply follow the event signs past farm fields and forests about five miles until you get to the marked parking lot. A shuttle bus takes visitors to the hub of activities, about one mile away. There are 70 parking spaces at the refuge Visitor’s Center reserved for handicapped access, emergency vehicles and employee parking. These spaces are open to the public on non-event days.
Things to Remember:
- This event is great when the weather cooperates. Rainy or foggy weather would not be fun for little ones.
- There are no restaurants in walking distance: pack a picnic or rely on the burgers, hot dogs and candy snacks provided on site by a local Boy Scout Troop Pack 532.
What To Do
Venture indoors: The Visitors Center features a shop and two floors of educational exhibits. Upstairs there are four powerful telescopes and access to the RaptorCam, which streams live video of an osprey nest.
Venture Outdoors: The small but beautiful native garden faces the loop drive and is perfect for bird watching, a seat in the sun, butterfly gazing or a picnic. The nearby Loop Drive offers five miles of bird and creature watching at your leisure.
MDNR Scales to Tails: Get up close to owls, eagles, hawks and osprey through this great state-sponsored rescue and rehabilitation program.
Talk to a Ranger: See large birds of prey in person as you listen to a ranger from the DNR talk about native species. Not your typical boring presentation, even children sit mesmerized by the birds and the ranger’s information.
See exhibits from regional wildlife organizations. Note that some of these exhibits are do-not-touch, but who can resist identifying scat or fur samples or getting nose to nose with a turtle?
Make a craft: three to four child-friendly, take-home crafts are inside weather proof tents and managed by volunteers.
Make your own bird house. What kid, let alone parent, doesn’t want to take up hammer and glue to make a DIY birdhouse? If your kids get bored waiting in line, there are sand pits for little ones to play in on either side. Keep this in mind when deciding what to wear.
Take a Selfie with an (mascot) Eagle
Go on an Eagle Prowl: join a ranger to spot eagles and falcons throughout the refuge.
Learn how to shoot a bow-and-arrow. Kind and patient professional instructors show Robin Hood wannabe’s the right moves for hitting the target every time.
Shoot a Daisy BB gun. Brave the line, don the goggles and aim for the targets. Managed by professional Daisy representatives who have safety as their Number One priority. Each participant gets their target to take home.
- Beyond the festival is the refuge itself, a marvelous and beautiful example of Maryland’s Eastern Shore long before development.
- If your children aren’t adequately tired out, stop off at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge, located near the Dorchester County Visitors Center on the south side of the Choptank River bridge. The park features a faux lighthouse, plenty of green space for running and kite flying, a playground, swings overlooking the charming river and public bathrooms.
- Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, a large resort and marina perfect for all ages, with an indoor pool, all season golf course, fine dining and spa.
- Harriott Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
- City of Cambridge historic downtown
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