Cover Story

Explore the Allure of the Eastern Shore

 

by Cindy Farlow, Contributing Writer

 

 

The first tourist to visit the Eastern Shore of Virginia was quite impressed. In fact, after Capt. John Smith toured the area in 1608, he wrote, “Heaven and earth seemed never to have agreed better to frame a place for man’s commodious and delightful habitation.”

More than 400 years later, visitors to the area echo the good captain’s emotions as they take in the luscious forests, fertile fields and magnificent beaches framed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.

But Donna Bozza, executive director of the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission, says it’s more than just the beauty of the area that keeps folks coming back. “We welcome visitors to the Eastern Shore with a pledge, ‘You’ll Love Our Nature,’” says Bozza. “Certainly a big part of that is our rare natural beauty as the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline remaining on the entire eastern seaboard. But it’s also about the warm, welcoming nature of Shore folks you’ll meet on our country roads and friendly beaches and in our amazing coastal villages up and down the peninsula.”

Frequent visitor Ted Efaw of Maryland agrees. “I love Shore living,” he says. “The slower pace and simply the family-friendly lifestyle. I always feel like I’m coming home again, whenever I return. I hope, one day, to live there the rest of my life.” Efaw comes “down to the Shore” from the north, but most Virginians coming to the area do so by way of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), which connects the peninsula to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Approaching the Shore from the south, one begins to understand why so many visitors make the peninsula an annual vacation destination—and the passion local folks have for their home. The view from the high rise of the CBBT offers the first glimpse of pristine beaches, the teeming wildlife and unrivaled recreational opportunities.

Those opportunities begin almost immediately at the southern tip of the Shore at the Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge.

A WILDLIFE WATCHER’S PARADISE

Comprised of well over 1,000 acres, the refuge is recognized as one of the most important stopovers for the migratory bird population in the eastern United States. While the Annual Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife festival draws hundreds of spectators during the fall migration, the refuge also provides daily opportunities for wildlife observation, photography and education. Hunting and boating are also available at the refuge, located on what locals refer to as “the seaside” of the Shore.

About three miles “up the road” from the refuge on “the bayside” is Kiptopeke State Park. Offering recreational access to the Chesapeake Bay, Kiptopeke also has accommodations for camping, an RV park, lodges and even a yurt. Swimming, boating, fishing, and wildlife and biking trails are all featured here.

Leaving Kiptopeke, travelers headed north up the 70-mile-long Virginia peninsula should consider a side trip to the bayside town of Cape Charles. Here another beautiful Chesapeake Bay beach awaits visitors, while charming shops and restaurants abound. Victorian homes on tree-lined streets grace the town’s historic district and a deep-water harbor welcomes all types of watercraft from the local crabbers’ scows to visiting tall ships.

Adjacent to town is Bay Creek, a 1,700-acre community offering upscale homes and vacation rentals, a marina, restaurants, shops and two signature golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Heading back to U.S. Route 13, the Shore’s major thoroughfare, travelers will soon find themselves at the turnoff into Eastville. Best known as the home of the country’s oldest continuous court records, dating from 1632, Eastville also boasts wonderfully preserved Colonial architecture. The old clerks’ office and courthouse date from 1731 and was the site of the public reading of the Declaration of Independence in August of 1779.

Heading north once again, travelers soon come to the tiny village of Machipongo, home of the Barrier Islands Center on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Here visitors can tour the Barrier Island Museum and learn about days gone by when the Shore’s now barren barrier islands were bustling communities. A visit to the Almshouse also sheds light on the past, bringing into focus just what it was like to grow up poor in rural 19th-century America.

A few more miles up the road and motorists enter Accomack, the northern of the Shore’s two counties. As in Northampton, agriculture and the ever growing aquaculture industries are the mainstays of the economy. Among the agricultural enterprises are a growing number of vineyards and the Shore is fast becoming known for some of the state’s finest wines.

Winery tours offering a look at the operations as well as tastings have become popular with locals and tourists alike. When it comes to culinary delights, however, nothing can upstage the Shore’s seafood. Restaurants up and down the Shore offer the freshest in fish, crabs, clams and oysters. While restaurant dining is always a delight, many visitors to the Shore come in quest of gathering their own delicacies. Whether trailering their own craft or taking advantage of the numerous charter services, anglers enjoy world-class ocean fishing out of Wachapreague, known as “The Flounder Capital of the World.” For Chesapeake trolling, the Onancock Wharf offers excellent facilities. Whether choosing Wachapreague’s seaside or Onancock’s bayside, waterfront dining is available for those not up to cleaning their day’s catch.

A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE

For a unique bayside experience, visitors should time their arrival in Onancock to catch the ferry to Tangier Island. Discovered by that same first visitor to the Shore, Capt. John Smith, Tangier is located 12 miles west of Onancock, smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Here the 600 or so residents do without many of life’s so-called conveniences. They walk or cycle about the island, or take a golf cart. They work hard, gathering a living from the water. They take care of each other and they cherish their heritage. Natives of the island speak a distinct Elizabethan dialect of English that has attracted linguists nationwide and charms all who visit.

Visitors are most welcome and will find lovely accommodations and some of the best cooking this side of heaven. The Tangier History Museum is a must—but so is timing one’s visit to catch a boat back to the “mainland.” While Tangier stays close to its heritage, other areas of the Shore have literally blasted into the 21st century. NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility has become one of the federal agency’s most active locations. As NASA’s primary facility for suborbital research, Wallops is the site for numerous rocket launches. While those launches are the most attention-getting of the activities, much more is continuously taking place at the sprawling center. More than 1,000 scientists, researchers, technicians and support staff are involved in the work there. Visitors are able to learn more about Wallops at the facility’s Visitors Center, located between Route 13 and the island of Chincoteague.

As might be expected, the spokesperson for Chincoteague claims that island should be the ultimate destination of any visit to the Shore. “It has all the ingredients of a perfect vacation,” says Suzanne Taylor, executive director of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a pristine Atlantic Ocean beach. We have any type of accommodation from B&Bs, camping, rental homes and cottages to motels and inns, offering all of the amenities one could dream of. We have shops, museums, ice cream parlors, seafood restaurants, eco tours, fishing, crabbing, birding, hiking, bike riding and of course the famous Chincoteague ponies!” Taylor also notes that many cultural events are scheduled throughout the year, including a summer cinema series and an acoustic music series.

SEASHORE SUPERLATIVE

The Atlantic Ocean beach to which Taylor refers is Assateague National Seashore. Considered one of the best public beaches on the East Coast, Assateague is also a wildlife paradise, a surf fisherman’s dream and a perfect venue for cyclers. A trip to the island is not complete without a stop at the historic Assateague Lighthouse, in operation since 1867. There’s no evidence that Captain John Smith ever made it as far north as Assateague in his explorations of the Shore. But if he had, he most likely would have had even more to say in his notes. Still, his brief “Tour of the Shore” paved the way for many others fortunate enough to stumble upon this place of “commodious and delightful habitation” where, as Bozza promises, “You’ll love our nature.”  

 

Home ] Up ] Caught in the Web ] [ Cover Story ] Down Home ] Editorial ] Happenings ] Perspective ] Reader Recipes ] Rural Living ] Say Cheese ]