On the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, close to several major cities yet a world apart, visitors will find a very special place … Talbot County, Maryland. Steeped in history, blessed with abundant natural beauty, and dedicated to cultivating both its cultural sophistication and its rural ambiance, it may be the best-kept travel secret in America.
The county’s support of smart environmental initiatives is no secret, though, at least to those who have visited. Perhaps the best example: the long-term commitment to rescuing a disappearing island, and history and jobs along with it.
Poplar Island, located about 34 miles south of Baltimore, first made the history books in 1627, when the governor of Virginia authorized William Claiborne to explore and locate the source of the Chesapeake Bay. While traveling, Claiborne chose an island (now Kent Island) on which to establish a trading post, creating the first permanent English settlement in Maryland. He named nearby Popely’s Island, now Poplar Island, making it one of the first areas of Talbot County to be named by its settlers.
The island itself was settled in the 1630s, by Richard Thompson. He farmed the land and operated a trading post until 1637, when he returned from travel to find the residents murdered. Thomas Hawkins inherited the island upon Thompson’s death, and he lived there until 1654, when the island was larger than 1,000 acres. The island was purchased by Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, in the latter part of the eighteenth century. By the early 1900s, the island hosted approximately 200 inhabitants, multiple farms, a post office, a school, and a sawmill, but the eroding shoreline had split, creating three separate land masses.
Later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman discovered the islands and, in 1931, the Jefferson Islands Club was established to provide a weekend retreat for prominent Democratic lawmakers and businessmen. The clubhouse was built on one of the two islets that had been carved away from the main island to the west. By that date, Poplar Island had been reduced to only 134 acres.
The clubhouse burned down in 1946, the islands changed hands several times, and by the 1960s, the main island was barley 80 acres in size. The erosion continued, until in 1990 the total area was less than 10 acres.
In 1994, an interagency group that included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Port Administration, and federal and state environmental agencies began to study the feasibility of using Poplar Island for a “beneficial use project” for dredged material from the Chesapeake Bay navigation channels leading to the Port of Baltimore. (The port was established in 1706 and is now one of the largest and most modern seaports in the nation. It contributes some $3.6 billion in personal wages and salaries and $388 million in tax revenues every year.) Ultimately it was determined to restore over 1,000 acres of habitat. The project was approved in 1995, construction began in 1998, and completion is expected by 2027.
The Poplar Island Paul S. Sarbanes Environmental Restoration Site has become a national model for habitat restoration and the beneficial use of dredged material. By using dredged material that otherwise would have to be disposed of elsewhere, this project not only beneficially reuses a “waste” – it creates jobs and restores the important ecological function of the island.
Using remnants of the original island, engineers constructed more than 35,000 feet of containment dikes into which the dredged material was pumped. The dry material is being shaped to create 1,140 acres of island habitat, with the eastern half, 570 acres, being transformed into tidal wetlands, including low (80%) and high (20%) marsh areas, habitat islands, and open water ponds, and the western half, 570 acres, being molded into upland habitats, including forests and meadows.
The project isn’t even completed, yet ospreys, egrets, terns, herons, eagles, terrapins, and other wildlife are already making their homes there. Over time, as the wetlands mature, they will naturally filter the water and serve as habitat for birds, crabs, fish, and shellfish. Meanwhile, the island will be monitored to collect data and identify lessons learned.
Now that’s a triple win, Talbot County!
Talbot County, Maryland: making a difference, every day
About Talbot County, Maryland:
Talbot County, Maryland invites visitors to experience the perfect balance of rural simplicity and urban refinement. With the timeless beauty of the Chesapeake Bay as their backdrop, the county’s sophisticated small towns, charming country byways, and wide array of activities offer something for everyone who appreciates the opportunity to relax, reflect, and renew. The Talbot County Office of Tourism offers comprehensive information and trip planning services at its Easton, Maryland office (1- 410-770-8000) and on its website (www.tourtalbot.org).