Chesapeake Bay Voyage: Elk River Park to Still Pond

The Chesapeake Bay Voyage is a series of kayak trips, with the goal of paddling the entire length of the bay from north to south. It was conceived to take place over several weekends to accommodate people who work during the week. Knocking an item off my bucket list, with the added gift that someone else was doing the logistical planning, I had no hesitation signing up for the whole series taking place during the warm seasons of 2014.

Day 1 (Sat 4/5/2014): Elk River Park to Elk Neck (11.5 miles)

We met at Still Pond, a public park and also the site of a USCG seasonal station (used during busy summer months). NOAA issued a small craft warning for Saturday, and we were feeling the winds as we loaded boats and gear onto trailers and vehicles according to our prearranged shuttle assignments. Peter and I were in the back seat of the middle car in our little caravan, when the whole group got pulled over for speeding. Despite Peter’s backseat-driver warnings, all three drivers wound up with tickets from the Kent County police. Oops, not an auspicious way to start a trip!

Boat ramp at Elk River Landing

Elk River Park boat ramp, the start of our voyage

With an assessment of the wind conditions and a decision to go ahead and launch, we loaded up and headed out of Elk River Park at the northernmost tip of the Chesapeake Bay.  The shoreline mostly sheltered us for the first half of the day, but there were just enough crosswinds to cause frustrating weathercocking behavior from my newly built Night Heron. After a lunch break on Oldfield Point, Peter had traded my kayak for his, and we paddled into Piney Creek Cove where 25-30 knot headwinds and a good amount of fetch made conditions more challenging. I was much happier in his Shearwater.

Eventually we were led by Bob and Chip to the prearranged landing spot at Elk Neck State Park. Our leaders told me it had taken quite a bit of negotiation with park staff to allow our group to land on a nice beach by the picnic area, rather than at the boat ramp, which was a much longer walk to the camp and cabin loops. Why are public parks sometimes so bureaucratic about allowing people reasonable use of the land? We were all relieved to get out of our kayaks after a long and rough day. I beelined for the hot showers, while others relaxed and chatted and filed off to their cabins. Chip was our company for dinner at a nice picnic table overlooking the water. Rather than truck all our stuff up to the gravel camping pads, Peter and I stealthily pitched our tent on a quaint grassy point where we could watch the ships go by. By morning we we had left no trace, and nobody was the wiser.

Elk Neck State Park picnic area

Landing site at Elk Neck State Park

Day 2 (Sun 4/6/2014): Elk Neck to Still Pond (15.3 miles)

As we awoke feeling somewhat beaten up by a hard first day, we were grateful to see the winds had calmed down significantly. Breakfast with hot coffee was followed by packing and wriggling into our drysuits, then the group (minus Rita and Liz, who had bailed out not feeling well) headed across toward the obvious landmark of Buttonwood Beach RV Resort. As we passed by Crystal Beach, Chip told us stories of his time living there under the pretense of a job building split-rail fences. Later we ducked into Pond Creek and found a beach scattered with perfect sittin’ logs as a place to have lunch.

Rounding Grove Point where we’d have to cross the wide Sassafras River, Dave took a vote on our target destination. We could head upriver a bit to see the town of Betterton Beach, which would incur some extra distance, or we could cut a straight line across the mouth of the river to the opposite bank at Howell’s Point. All but Bob wanted to do the longer open-water crossing resulting in shorter distance overall.

Peter first, we all pulled up to the beach at Howell’s Point. We mingled at the waters edge and a few people checked out the three picnic pavilions. Soon we were all confronted by a woman who’d been beachcombing, complaining loudly that the land was private and we were trespassing and she was about to call the police. Our leaders did their best to dull her hysterical tone, while everyone hunkered by their boats below the mean tide line and nibbled on snacks — we needed the break. Turns out it wasn’t her we needed to be afraid of. She owned the land next door, where she offered to let us to hang out and stretch our legs. But she warned us the guy who owns the land and pavilions at Howell’s Point was the shoot-first-ask-questions-later type, and that he had endured too many parties on his littered beach to tolerate any more uninvited guests. Sure enough, she had that guy on the phone within minutes, and next we saw his car coming down the road to watch us depart. Our short, low-impact, sober stop had been ruined by the prior invasion of too many drunken, destructive rednecks; oh well. As I floated away, I entered a GPS waypoint labelled “Hostile Point” highlighted by a red stop sign, and a note never to go near the place again.

From there it was a short and scenic trip past red clay cliffs back to Still Pond. I paddled up next to Dave, who told me the history of Betterton Beach. First settled in the mid-1600’s as Fish Hall and later Crews Landing, it was a small fishing town for centuries. In 1851 Richard Townsend Turner (a Quaker) renamed it “Betterton” after his wife’s family and built a pier providing access to the shipping trade. Residents followed suit, constructing Victorian-style homes, cottages, hotels, restaurants, taverns, dance halls, and arcades to host and entertain vacationers and shippers traveling by steamboat up the Chesapeake and into the C&D Canal. After its boom period as a resort town in the early 1900’s, Betterton suffered a steep decline during the Great Depression and into WWII. Now it is reduced to a sleepy place with a population of fewer than 350 and not even one grocery store, but it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Given the experience we’d had, I was wishing we had made the choice to visit this interesting site.

I made my way lazily into Still Pond, somewhere in the middle of the pack, enjoying greetings by Gray Vultures on the beach spreading their wings to dry, and a lone Pied-Billed Grebe (aka “Pocket Duck”) swimming around the glassy cove. We unpacked and loaded up our cars, saying goodbye until our next installment of the voyage.

Still Pond USCG Station

Still Pond at the end of Day 2

Peter and I detoured into Chestertown on our way home, hungry for local seafood. We wound up at the Imperial Hotel on High Street, a historic structure with a charming atmosphere. Peter ordered two of the special $5 fish tacos, and I scanned the menu for a crabcake that came with lemon aioli sauce, warm potato salad, and roasted brussels sprouts. Both dinners were excellent, and renewed our energy for a stroll around town. We stopped at the dock to say hello to the Schooner Sultana, and found the new location of Robert Ortiz’ studio where he makes unique and beautiful wood furniture.

Link to more photos

Link to Google map of Chesapeake Bay Voyage series

Link to Dave’s Spot tracks

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~ by pasadenagina on April 11, 2014.

One Response to “Chesapeake Bay Voyage: Elk River Park to Still Pond”

  1. Very nice blog Gina. I’ll watch it closely during our trip. I hope we don’t have too many costly trips like this one.

    Next Friday, after visiting the C&D canal museum, why don’t you take a drive down to Betterton. Walk out on the beach there and imagine what the place looked like in the 1920’s, with the swimmers, the dance hall, the big bands playing, and theater-goers. Oh, and if you happen to see the mayor, ask her about the skulls.

    See you next week.

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