Twelve years ago (it took 7 years to get the approvals, funding and complete the work), the Rotary Club gave St. Michaels its nature trail.
And what a gift it is.
1.3 miles of a winding path on the west side of St. Michaels. I venture on the trail several times a day to walk my dogs or cycle. I am never alone, even at daybreak. Joggers, couples, walkers, cyclists, families, children on bicycles or skateboards and people with dogs quietly enjoy the gift of nature.
Bluebirds are ubiquitous, alighting on the electrical wires across from the barn, searching for insects. An indigo bunting has claimed a territory around the bridge and flaunts his beauty; most mornings he sings a song that sounds like an old, scratchy music box. And, of course, the blue heron motionless, except in the morning when I hear their squawks from the rookery in the tall loblolly pine trees. Ospreys, bald eagles, and buzzards fly overhead. And, of course, the goldfinches, robins, cardinals, blue jays, black birds and sparrows.
The peacefulness of Solitude Creek obscures the turtles, muskrat, and small fish that use it. In the morning, the boat slips are empty, by the late afternoon, the deadrise boats have returned, the gear stowed, the boat readied for another day of crabbing.
The story of this gift is one of generosity, forward-thinking, persistence, politics, and a tragedy. Here is how it happened. To commemorate the Rotary centennial year, St. Michaels Rotary Club chose to build a nature trail along the abandoned train tracks. The original plan was to create a walkable path by bushwhacking the old railroad trail at an expected cost of $20-30K. The project languished for several years awaiting state approvals, obtaining the land, public concerns, etc. By then, the concept had grown to an 8’ wide paved trail at a cost of $1,000,000.
It would have been impossible, but for the generosity of the Rotary Club, local businesses, and the state of Maryland. Environmental Concern worked tirelessly to design the trail, develop the educational signage, provide funding and support to build the path. The Elm Street Group donated land and money. Delmarva Power and Light donated land. St. Michaels town leadership supported the project through the meetings and education of its citizens. In 2008, the Rotary Club took action to put these pieces together and build the path. 2008 was also an election year and the SHA and State of Maryland provided $500,000 funding.
But there was a problem. Delmarva Power and Light was concerned about the safety of a path built under its wires. They feared that a bridge over Solitude Creek would be used for fishing and fishing lines would get tangled up in their wires, creating a safety hazard. They demanded a covered bridge. There was no funding for a covered bridge. Enter the tragedy. Bill Shook, a top executive at Clark Engineering, was killed in a car accident and his brother, Langley Shook, was determined to use this tragedy to help build this path. Clark Engineering donated the covered bridge, dedicated it to Bill Shook and quietly convinced Delmarva Power and Light to allow the path to be built. It would not have been built without this group coming together under the leadership of the Rotary Club.
So each time that I enjoy this nature trail, I feel gratitude, for the natural world and the world of generous souls who foresaw its importance.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.