Kent Island's Cross Island Trail leads visitors away from the hubbub and back to the Bay.
by Diana Prentice
illustration by Richard C. Goertemiller
It almost sounds like an oxymoron, but my husband Randy and I made a special trip to busy congested Kent Island this spring just to "get away from it all." Really. Ever since I had first spotted it from the highway the previous summer, I had been anxious to explore the island's recently constructed Cross Island Trail. So now, as soon as we had tied up our sailboatStriderat Lippincott Marine, I was raring to go.
As it turns out, Lippincott is one of only two area marinas that are not directly linked to the trail. But the path was easy to find, requiring only a short walk west to the easternmost segment where it circles the Waterman's Monument. This is the hub of Kent Narrows's clamorous cluster of marinas and restaurants . . . but don't judge the whole trail by what you see here. I wasn't going to. I already knew better, because on that previous summer's drive to the Bay Bridge, I had glimpsed joggers loping over a long wooden span that bisected a wetland. A parallel universe? I wondered. Later, I did some research and discovered that in 2001, fighting asphalt with asphalt, Queen Anne's County had unveiled the Cross Island Trail, which tracks U.S. Highway Route 50/301's northern edge. At last, I thought, something on Kent Island designed for deceleration.
"The Land That Once Was Eden" is how author Janet Freedman described Kent, where, after nearly four centuries of slashing and resurfacing, nirvana has shape-shifted into an unnerving overdrive of bustle and congestion. Until recently, my own waterborne and roadway perceptions-as I passed eitherthroughKent Narrows or over it-suggested exit ramps, rampant growth and ever taller nearly indistinguishable communities. Now here was something that promised a glimpse of that other, older Kent.
So now I hurried along the trail as it crossed Maryland Route 18 then traversed the drawbridge onto Kent Island. There, I took a right-hand spur to the Chesapeake Exploration Center, where I browsed through the exhibits and picked up a map/brochure of the Cross Island Trail Park. Returning to the pathway and continuing west, I found myself in that magical parallel world I'd seen from the car-a delightfully expansive 10-foot-wide boardwalk over Piney Creek. The daydream atmosphere here was a far cry from the relentless traffic just a quarter of a mile away. Here I watched distant sails above Chester River whitecaps. Here, finally, I had found the Isle of Kent's "Eden." While the trail continued temptingly west through aromatic pines, I was forced to backtrack since I'd promised Randy I'd meet him at the Narrows restaurant for dinner.
But my curiosity about the trail was far from satisfied, so the next morning I arranged for the local bus service to take me to Happy Trails Bike Rental near historic Stevensville. There, Lisa Hummel and Diana Widican equipped me for a day of exploring on wheels, including appropriate bicycle and helmet, full water bottle and maps galore. Good to go, I turned north toward the Cross Island Trail's closest access point to Castle Marina Road-a move that turned out to be the only adrenaline-pumping part of my day. To get from bike shop to trail I needed to negotiate the congested roundabout on Route 18. (While motorists yield very nicely to one another, they are not so yielding to the nonmotorized traveler.) But I finally made it across, and, after reaching the trail a few minutes later, the "aahhh" factor soon kicked in. As I headed west along the trail, the only thing pumping hard were my legs, and the only thing that required my attention was the sound of birds, bugs and the breeze through the pine tops.
Since 1630, Kent Island has been a kind of stepping stone-as trading post, then ferry stop and more recently as high-speed traffic conduit. Few of those traveling either by car or boat stop to consider what this low island once was. But now the Cross Island Trail allows access to what's left of those hidden worlds- from Terrapin Nature Park along the water (with a grand vista of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge) to swaths of deciduous and evergreen forests, cultivated fields, cricket-filled meadows alive with red-winged blackbirds and marshes with statuesque water birds. Sometimes straight, sometimes serpentine, the corridor never rises far above sea level, while along its sides rough-hewn fencing and rustic benches appear here and there.
I paused to admire the view from a wooden bridge that spans the narrowest and northernmost end of Cox Creek, then, just beyond a sign indicating where the trail forks south toward the library and a skateboard park, I turned left through a small maze of Jersey barriers onto State Street to visit historic Stevensville. Just a couple blocks off the trail, Stevensville is a nearly forgotten ex-railway and ex-steamboat town, left out of the loop by a modern highway system that successfully funnels people from beltway to beach. But perhaps this was a blessing. Its mid-1800s core remains untainted. With a town walking-tour map in hand, I followed the narrative for each charming landmark, from the petite gingerbread post office to the gambrel-roofed ship's-carpenter home. While the bulk of Kent Island may be generally unwalkable, Stevensville is kind to pedestrians, its sidewalks lined with clapboard buildings roofed in tin and shake. Inside the corner bakery, Peace of Cake, I relished a fresh fruit tartlet on a perfect crust while I sipped a cup of Kona coffee. Enwreathed in the ovens' intoxicating aromas and surrounded by a cheerful decor of surfboards and pastry paraphernalia, I alternately observed the busy bakers and the barely busy street scene.
Once satisfied that I'd peeked into every shop, I biked back to Route 18 to browse through Kent Island Federation of Art's exhibit of unusual oil portraits and modern wood sculpture. From there I hit the trail again to explore the beach at Terrapin Nature Park before turning east and back toward the Narrows. Later, on regaining the drawbridge and looking down on the boat traffic, I wondered how many on the waterway or the highway knew of Kent Island's alter ego. It's ironic, I thought, that more paving has provided access to what I thought had been obliterated by paving. But the best part of my whole day was that not once did I even come close to the trail's official speed limit of 15 miles per hour.