Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Check-out the Bike Trail along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal

Guest blogger Harry Schwarz describes an early fall bike-ride along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

My wife, Cathy and I, had a pleasant and engaging bike ride on Sunday Sept. 25th along a fully-paved recreational trail that extends 16 miles through the the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Wildlife Area. The trail follows the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal from Delaware City, DE via the Michael Castle Trail in Delaware, to Chesapeake City MD via the Ben Cardin Trail in Maryland.

Location of C&D Canal (red arrow), between Chesapeake Bay and Chesapeake City, MD, and 

Delaware River and Delaware City, DE (Google Map adapted by Harry Schwarz)

Delaware City

The trail begins in Delaware City at Battery Park and follows the Delaware City Branch Canal south to the C&D Canal. Delaware City is a charming riverfront town of 1,695 (Wikipedia) with an historic district that dates from 1826 to 1930. The town is surrounded by Delaware Estuary marshes, and is the gateway to Fort DuPont and Fort Delaware.

Central Hotel, Delaware City DE (by Cathy Schwarz)  
Michael Castle Trail, just outside of Delaware City DE (by Cathy Schwarz)

Fort DuPont State Park

Fort Dupont, Delaware City, by Michael Cipriani

Named for Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont, the Fort was actively used as a military base from the Civil War through World War II. Fort Delaware was critical in defending the Delaware Valley during the Civil War. The fortress also saw duty during the Spanish American War, where she was the key in a ‘Three Fort’ defense made up of Fort Delaware, Fort DuPont and Fort Mott (NJ). Fort Delaware was active until WWII, and her guns were never challenged. Following World War II, the Fort was turned over to the State of Delaware. Portions of the land were dedicated as a state park in 1992.

map and brochure for Fort Delaware and Fort DuPont State Parks

Fort Delaware State Park (Pea Patch Island)

Fort Delaware Aerial Photograph 2011, by Missy Lee (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Fort Delaware, the Union fortress dating back to 1859, once housed Confederate prisoners of war. It was originally built to protect the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia. Visitors take a ½ -mile ferry ride from Delaware City to Pea Patch Island. A jitney provides transport from the island dock to the granite and brick fortress. Here, costumed interpreters take you back to the summer of 1864.

map and brochure for Fort Delaware and Fort Dupont State Parks

AERIAL VIEW OF FORT DELAWARE AND PEA PATCH ISLAND in Delaware River 1998 looking Northwest, by Michael Swanda, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Wildlife Area and Michael Castle Trail

Cathy and I biked about 14 miles round trip from Delaware City to Summit Point Marina at the center of the map just south of Lums Pond State Park. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is a deep ship canal -- some 450-foot wide and 35-foot deep, owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Wildlife Area, from Delaware City DE via Michael Castle Trail and
Chesapeake City MD via Ben Cardin Recreational Trail (click on image for actual trail maps)

“Today’s canal is a modern sea-level, electronically controlled commercial waterway, carrying 40 percent of all ship traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore. Cargo ships of all sizes, tankers, container-carrying vessels, barges accompanied by tugboats, and countless recreational boats create a steady flow of traffic.” (Wikipedia)

Tugboat and barge on the C&D Canal (by Cathy Schwarz).

Tugboat and barge approaching the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Lift Bridge,
Norfolk Southern Railway over the C&D Canal (by Cathy Schwarz).

Through the marshes towards the Reedy Point Bridge, DE-9 over the C&D Canal (by Cathy Schwarz)

Looking across the C&D Canal from the Michael Castle Trail (by Cathy Schwarz)

The Biddle Point Trailhead, Michael Castle Trail (by Cathy Schwarz)

St. Georges Bridge, US13 in the foreground, and Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Bridge,
DE-1 behind (by Cathy Schwarz)

Tanker Vessel (by Cathy Schwarz)

Chesapeake City, Maryland

The town has many restored historic homes, shops and galleries, featuring hand-painted originals and prints, antiques, collectibles, clothing, gifts and crafts. Additional sights include the Canal Museum, art galleries, summer concerts, boat tours, and tours of the nearby horse country. There are also many fine restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and transient/seasonal boat dockage availability. Chesapeake City’s Victorian charm has been featured in several national magazines, including Travel & Leisure, Coastal Living and Southern Living.

from Welcome to Historic Chesapeake City MD, Chesapeake City MD Chamber of Commerce

Aerial view, Back Creek Basin, Chesapeake City Md (by Kevin Quinlan,
Chesapeake City MD Chamber of Commerce)

Chesapeake City MD (by Dick Legate, Chesapeake City MD Chamber of Commerce)

from Chesapeake City Walking Map,

The End of the Day

Cathy and I didn’t bike as far as Chesapeake City. Instead we returned to Delaware City and had drinks and a great seafood restaurant at Crabby Dick’s, overlooking the Delaware River. A steel band played by the outdoor bar.

All in all, this section of Maryland /Delaware has a lot to offer. We plan to return there soon to explore the forts.

Crabby Dick’s, at the Delaware City Hotel (by Cathy Schwarz)

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with Bearsolutions LLC, helping charter school authorizers provide effective financial oversight. For more blog posts by Harry Schwarz, go to

For other day trip destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip

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Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What's Haunting Dorchester County?

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I went on the Tubman Trail Ghost & Graveyard Bus Tour, offered by Chesapeake Ghost Tours. I've been wanting to go on one of Mindy Burgoyne's ghost tours for a while -- I learned of her blog and her ghost tours shortly after I began blogging in 2013. A sunny but cold Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally make good on my promise to myself to explore haunted Eastern Shore.

It also was an opportunity to further explore a region that frankly fascinates me. I'm intrigued by Maryland's Eastern Shore: the desolate but beautiful marshland scenery, the lives of the watermen who fish the Bay, the history of the region.

The Eastern Shore holds hundreds of square miles of mostly flat farmland, scrub forest, and marsh, and as Burgoyne points out during the tour, is the least developed contiguous piece of agricultural land between Maine and Florida. Much of the land is barely a foot or two above sea level, and there are signs that, like many of the disappearing Chesapeake Bay islands, much of the Eastern Shore will soon sink into the waters and join the Bay itself. With such a flat landscape, the sky becomes very big, visually. We feel so very small beneath it.

Thus, even on a bright sunny and cheerful afternoon, the landscape can seem mysterious and even ominous.

It's worth noting that, aside from a very few more houses, the landscape has largely remained unchanged since times goneby. Ditches dug by enslaved Africans in the 1800s to drain the fields so they could be tilled and cultivated still drain the same fields. Many of the old farm houses also still stand, although some tilt precariously and more than a few lack a complete roof overhead. The fields where Harriet Tubman toiled are still there.

It is in this landscape, of the marshes and the scrub woodlands and farm fields, that Burgoyne spins her stories about Big Liz, an enslaved African American who was quite probably a Union spy; she was murdered by her master -- who sympathized with the South -- to make an example of what happens to slaves who dare defy the plantation owners.

Big Liz, or so the story goes, was forced by her master to dig a hole in which to safely store his money. After the money was safely buried, he murdered her. To this day, she can be seen, roaming the local marshland, enticing gullible individuals to follow her into the swamp to find the money. Only, if you follow her into the swamp, they warn, you will never emerge alive.

The bus tour brings us through the depths of Dorchester County, down along Smithfield Road and to Hoopers Island. While traveling along Smithfield Road -- known locally as the most haunted road in the county -- we hear about a little girl ghost, who haunts her family home where she died. Seems she was a sickly little girl and when she died, her family buried her in their family plot, out back beyond the house and the barn, as was common at the time. (In fact, as you travel through Dorchester County, you'll note many small graveyards -- family plots, although the homes are now gone, the graves yet remain); Seems that years after her death, the area was badly flooded, and as sometimes happens, her coffin, not being buried as deep as the others in the family plot, got lose and floated up to the door of her former home. The lid of the coffin was ajar, and as her family lovingly adjusted the coffin lid, they stole one last glance at their little girl. They noticed, to their horror, that there were marks on the inside of the coffin lid: she'd been buried alive. Her ghost can be heard faintly crying inside the house where she once lived.

We also hear about two individuals who disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again, on the very same day of the year, seven years apart from each other in 1953 and 1960 -- amazing in a village with just 50 or 60 inhabitants.

On Hoopers Island -- and note, if you want to say it like the locals, you'll pronounce it "huppers" -- you'll hear about the best crabcakes that can be found in Maryland and about "Mary's ghost," both of which can be found at Salty's Restaurant. The ghost is called "Mary's ghost" because it first haunted a waitress named Mary. What's so cool about this stop is that Mary, a long-time waitress at Salty's, comes out to tell you about the ghost which haunts the restaurant, which is in a former school building. Mary is an excellent and animated storyteller, with a fine sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic! It is so rare that you actually get to hear a ghost story from someone who's actually experienced it. On this tour, you get to!

In all, you make three or four stops at various haunted locations, and hear 38 ghost stories over the four hour (plus) bus tour, that takes you from Cambridge to Trinity Church cemetery to visit Anna Ella Carroll's grave to Hoopers Island then through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and finally to Decoursey Bridge where Big Liz haunts the surrounding swamps. During lulls in the storytelling, folks on the bus generally chat and exchange pleasantries, a fun way to spend an afternoon!

Mindy Burgoyne is a Maryland State Government employee, a mom, grandmother, and wife, but also a prolific writer, blogger, and business woman. Pretty amazing, actually. This is what someone can do with talent, a little imagination, a lot of curiosity, and a lot of energy.

Burgoyne said she started researching local ghost stories because she lives in a haunted house, and from her ghost stories and her blog, she received requests for tours. During the bus tour, when she was describing some of the activity in her home, she referred to it as the Delmarva's Amityville Horror.

She wasn't joking.

Getting there: Check the website below for tour times and locations.


For other day trip destinations in and around the Eastern Shore, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Eastern Shore label below. Likewise, for other ghost tours, click on the Ghost Walk label below. 

If you enjoy this blog, please tell your friends about it!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Two Great Hikes at Rocks State Park

Although spring is in the air, the early March day still promised cool temperatures. The leaves were not out yet, and a recent rain had left the ground a little muddy. Still, the temptation to go on a hike -- to do something -- ANYTHING -- outside, was too much. A hiking we would go!

I had read about the King and Queen Seat a couple of years ago, and had added the hike to my ever-growing list of places I want to go see and things to do. The King and Queen Seat -- a dramatic rock outcropping with sheer drops of 190 feet on three sides is the 3.6 mile hike's payoff. At just under an hour north of Baltimore, it's fairly easy to get to, and on the way, once you pass Bel Air, you get to drive through some lovely Maryland countryside.

The rock outcropping is believed to be a traditional meeting place for two tribes of Native Americans: the Susquehannock and the Mingo. This belief is disputed, however. A book published in 1880 is the first mention of this area being used for ceremonial purposes by Native Americans, and it's entirely possible the author made up the story to make the area more interesting -- as if it needs any marketing! More recently, an archaeological investigation by the Maryland State Highway Administration begun in 2005 failed to find evidence that the site had significance as a “traditional cultural property.” That said, it's something that aught to be significant, right?

It's a strenuous hike -- you go up and down and then back up the side of a mountain, During the first 900 feet, you gain 200 feet in elevation. But after walking briefly along the ridge, you head back down the other side of the mountain, amidst a grove of mountain laurel that must look really lovely in late spring when they bloom and the ferns are leafed out. Between the two hikes that day, my fitbit claims I climbed 76 flights of stairs -- and the second hike was almost flat.

After a brief decent in a series of switchbacks in possibly the prettiest part of the hike due to the moss and lichen covered rocks and the mountain laurel, which in early spring offered the only hint of green, the trail crosses a park road and then gradually heads back up the side of the mountain.

About half-way up, you'll encounter a rock outcropping that is sort of split in the middle; moving to the edge of it, you get a nice view of Deer Creek below. Doofus that I am, I thought, "oh, his and hers. This is it -- the King and Queen's Seat." I was a little disappointed. (No, it's not. It's just an interesting rock outcropping.) Luckily, we kept moving, and finally came upon the real King and Queen's Seat.

The trail curls around the side of the ridge, moving away from the edge and again you encounter a dramatic elevation gain. We were huffing and puffing. Eventually we caught sight of the magnificent King and Queen's Seat rock outcropping. There's no mistaking this -- the rocks stacked upon themselves in interesting formations. This was well worth the strenuous but lovely 3.6 mile hike. Inching out to the edge, a panorama of the surrounding countryside and rolling hills and farmland of northern Harford County unfolds, with Deer Creek running almost immediately below. Stunning in early spring, once the leaves are on the trees, it must be spectacular.

Interestingly, carving one's names and the year seems to be a tradition here, although honestly, I frown upon the more modern inscriptions, but some of them date back to the mid to late 1800s, and so the graffiti suddenly becomes quite cool! Gotta give a call-out to Eldridge, who loves Esther, since 1877.

Sadly, I noted that previous hikers had left behind fast food sauce containers, cigarette butts, and a few plastic bottles. Sad to see when the park even provides hikers with biodegradable bags so they can cart out their own trash. Also sad, there have been a number of deaths at the rock outcropping. So enjoy climbing around the rocks, but be extremely careful.

Finally, we turned around, and began heading down the trail. Although the trail was well marked with white blazes, keep an eye out for the square trail signs. The sign pointed us back to where we'd parked our vehicle, next to the park offices. The decent was steep in a few places but otherwise went quickly.

Despite being tired from the strenuous hike to see the King and Queen's Seat, we decided to finish the day with the easy, 1.1 mile there and back trail to see the Kilgore Falls -- the second tallest waterfall in Maryland. This meant a short, 5-minute drive to a different section of the state park.

This trail was surprisingly well populated for a weekday. The trail offers views of a pleasant meadow paralleling the Falling Branch of Deer Creek. Along the way, we encountered ruins, labeled on different websites as a stage coach stop or a the ruins of a mill; interestingly enough, although "substantial ruins" are mentioned several times by different guides as being on the opposite side of the creek, there they were, within 15 feet of the trail. Shortly after seeing the ruins, you reach the falls within 10 minutes.

Once you come within hearing of the falls, you have to cross Deer Creek via stepping stones which brings out the kid in you. Even with recent rain, all the stones were exposed, and only one wobbled a bit precariously. The trail leads you into a natural horseshoe of steep rock walls, overwhich tumbles Kilgore Falls.

In warmer weather, I imagine the pool below the falls would entice a number of folks to wade in and splash around.

Two important points are worth noting: the park's website doesn't do this park and these two hikes justice. And, movie goers should note that both the King and Queen's Seat rock outcropping and Kilgore Falls appeared in the movie, "Tuck Everlasting."

Know before you go #1: Even on a week day (albeit a gorgeous one) in early March, there was no solitude at the King and Queen's Seat or Kilgore Falls, although the rest of the Ridge Hike we walked alone. The park is a popular one, frequently fills to capacity on summer weekends and holidays, so plan ahead, go early to ensure both that you find parking and can get in; once the picnic areas are at capacity, the park is closed to additional visitors.

Know before you go #2: Wear appropriate clothing. Although the trails in summer are well shaded, you may still want to take usual sun precautions. Hiking boots are a must, as the trail can be steep and rocky in places. Even in early March in Kilgore Falls, we spotted an intrepid black snake out sunning itself, so even on the easier Kilgore Falls trail, think snakes and wear appropriate footwear. Finally, I noted that some trees, not immediately adjacent to the trail, had what I thought were poison ivy vines growing up them, but park rangers indicated were poison oak.

Know before you go #3: If you're not up to the full 3.6 miles Ridge Trail loop, you can take a short but steep trail directly to the King and Queen's Seat from the parking lot in front of the park office. In addition, there is another parking location, directly off of MD Rt 24, that leads you up to the rock outcropping, but that means you miss the loveliness and adventure of the rest of the loop.

Know before you go #4: Are you planning to visit Kilgore Falls at the Falling Branch area of Rocks State Park in Harford County this summer? Starting June 29 2019, reservations and a free parking permit will be required for summer weekends and holidays to properly manage traffic at this popular site. So, what perks come with this new reservation system?
  • A guaranteed parking more driving in circles for hours.
  • Visitors who have traveled a long distance to Falling Branch are guaranteed entrance.
  • A less-crowded, more enjoyable experience for everyone!
Maryland State Parks will begin accepting reservations on June 24. Call 410-557-7994 Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - noon.

Getting there: To the park office and access to the Ridge Trail Loop, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Rd, Jarrettsville, MD 21084; for the parking lot for the Kilgore Trail, 1026 Falling Branch Rd, Pylesville, MD 21132.

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Dogs: Leashed!


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Updated April 2019

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Forgotten Fort Foote

I happened upon Fort Foote accidentally. I was on my way to Fort Washington, which I'd visited with my two sons years ago. I saw signs for Fort Foote and since I had all afternoon at my disposal, I turned and followed the signs to the fort.

Fort Foote was constructed in 1863 on top of Rozier's Bluff, 100 feet above the Potomac River below, to strengthen the ring of fortifications that encircled Washington, D.C. Two of the guns that protected Washington are still there, along with the remains of the fort's earthworks.

Fort Foote was a Civil War-era wood and earthwork fort that composed a portion of the wartime defenses of Washington, D.C., by helping defend the Potomac River approach to the city. It remained in service well after the Civil War, and concrete and brick improvements were made to the fort, the ruins of which still remain.

In the opening days of the Civil War, the defenses of Washington D.C. were primarily concerned with an overland attack on the capital city of the United States. In 1861, the Arlington Line was constructed to help defend the city from attack via the direct, Virginia approach. Additional forts were constructed on the city's northern approaches to defend against any attacks from Maryland. But most of these forts were earth and log forts -- temporary for the period of the war. 

At sea, or rather, by river, however, only Fort Washington, a fort originally built to defend the city in the War of 1812, blocked the approach along the Potomac River, but at 16 miles from Washington, it was considered too far away to adequately protect the Capitol. Rozier's Bluff, just 6 miles away from Washington, was considered ideal, and so Fort Foote was built.

Construction began in the winter of 1862–1863, but progressed slowly. By fall 1863, the fort was complete, and was ready for action. Due to its location along the coast, the use of iron in the fortifications was limited, and most of the fort was constructed of earth and locally cut lumber.

It was named after Union Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote, who distinguished himself in actions against Confederate forts along the Mississippi River but died of his wounds on June 23, 1863.

The portion of the fort that faced the Potomac was over 500 feet long with earth walls approximately 20 feet thick. A central traverse ran the length of the fort and contained bombproof magazines and storage areas for the eight 200-pounder Parrott rifles and two 15-inch Rodman guns contained in the fort.

The guns themselves came in dribs and drabs, due to delays in casting and the demands of guns needed for combat in Virginia. The first 15-inch Rodman gun arrived in late 1863, and others arrived at various points over the next two years. The fort was not completely armed until April 1865, just before the final surrender of Confederate forces in Virginia,

Fort Foote never fired a shot against any opponent, Confederate or otherwise. With the end of the war, the Federal government began turning over Washington's forts and the land on which they rested to their pre-war owners. In a few cases, the Federal government chose to retain possession; Fort Foote was one of those exceptions. New construction of concrete and brickworks was required to fulfill its role as a federal prison, which it performed between 1868 and 1869.

During the First World War, the fort was used for gas service training, and during the Second World War, the site was used by officer candidates from Fort Washington. 

Today, what's left of the fort is operated as Fort Foote Park, which is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) as part of the National Capital Parks-East system. It is not a popular tourist site. The park has the look and feel of a poorly maintained regional park rather than an NPS park; other than a few signs posted near the parking lot (which I freely cribbed from for this post), there is little explanation of what you are seeing. After researching the park, I'm guessing that the concrete ruins are from the post-Civil War period, when it served briefly as a prison. It seems a shame that at least the area around the ruins aren't being maintained. It's almost as if the NPS doesn't expect anyone to actually go there.

Fishing and picnicking along the Potomac River are the draw for all those I encountered that mid-April Sunday afternoon -- everyone but me at cooler chests and fishing poles. I toured the abandoned earthworks and concrete ruins near the two Rodman guns completely alone. Vines and weeds grew among the ruins and fallen trees marred the earthworks. Nature is slowly reclaiming its own on this historic site.

So why go see it? The views of the Potomac River from the bluff are amazing. But also go to explore the history and to understand the times in which it was built. This was one of 60-odd (numbers I've seen vary) Civil War forts built to protect DC from Confederate forces and is a part of our national history.

Know before you go: Wear proper shoes, and because of the condition of the ruins and overgrowth, be alert for snakes amidst the ruins. Entering the ruins, although theoretically possible, is not advised -- these ruins are crumbling.

Getting there: Fort Foote Rd, Fort Washington, MD 20744

Dogs: Yes

Hours: Dawn to dusk.