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Getaway to Tangier Island: Crabs, History, and the Mighty Chesapeake

Our region is in large part defined by the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Although we in D.C. live a bit inland from the Bay itself, we still benefit from its bounty, such as blue crab feasts, seafood at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, and excursions along the shore.

But while you live in the area, it’s worth getting a total immersion into the richness and culture of the Chesapeake Bay.  To do so, take a weekend and head down to Tangier Island, located 12 miles into the middle of the Bay.  In order to get to Tangier, you must take a 1.5 hour ferry ride from either Reedville, VA or Crisfield, MD (each about 3 hours away from D.C.).  While there are day trips to the island, that option gives you only about two hours until the ferry turns around and comes back, so I’d highly recommend spending at least one night to really get a feel for the place.

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The island is comprised of about a thousand acres, only about a hundred of which are actually inhabited (the rest being marsh).  About 500 people live on Tangier, and since no cars are allowed bikes and golf carts are the main forms of transportation.

Tangier has an important place in American history.  Pocomoke Indians inhabited the island for many years before Europeans including John Smith arrived.  It is also historically significant because it served as the staging ground for British troops during the War of 1812.  And interestingly, to this day, residents speak in a dialect that linguists believe is very similar to the English that European settlers spoke when they first arrived in America.

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The best part of Tangier Island is the crabs and observing the economy and culture that has been built up around them.  According to locals, about 75 percent of our country’s soft shell crabs (those that have just molted out of their old shells and are soft and squishy all over) come from the area every year, and it also provides a significant amount of hard crabs, oysters, and even eels that are sold to markets in New York and other places around the country.  Because the economy is built around the crabbing, it has a feeling very similar to a New England fishing or lobster town, with little changed over the last century.

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One of the must-do activities during your visit is to take a tour of a “crab shanty,” the structures on the water around the edge of the island where watermen tend to and harvest soft shell crabs.  Because the crabs harden again within a few hours of molting, the watermen must immediately ready them for packaging and shipping, meaning that they work around the clock.

The island is not much built up for tourism quite yet, which is part of its appeal.  There are three bed and breakfasts (I stayed at the Bay View Inn, which was lovely), a couple of ice cream/sandwich places, and a few gift shops.  The three restaurants which are open for dinner (one of which has a last seating at 5pm) sell mostly an array of crab-based fare, including crab cakes, soft-shell crab sandwiches, and crab bisques.  It’s worth mentioning that the island is dry, so bring your own alcohol and be discreet about it.

crab roll

Other activities to do on the island include taking in the small yet chock-full Tangier History Museum, kayaking in the marshes to see the myriad of shorebirds (including glossy ibis and black skimmers), and biking to the beach to see a sunset.

Tangier Island is truly a step back in time, and a glimpse of how and why the Chesapeake Bay is so important to our region and its economy, ecology, and shared history.

To visit:  Ferry once daily from Reedville, VA (May-October) or Crisfield, MD.  Various bed and breakfasts, as well as vacation rentals.  Go during the summer, as very little is open during the winter.

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An Understated Tribute to Sacrifice: the Women’s Titanic Memorial

D.C. is home to dozens of memorials, many bursting with grandeur and stateliness.  But some of the most poignant moments that our city offers are found in the lesser-known memorials that are more off the beaten path.

One of these is the Women’s Titanic Memorial, located along the southwest waterfront at approximately 4th and P SW.  It was erected by the female survivors of the sinking of the Titanic, to pay tribute to the men who lost their lives in order to save women and children.

The monument is comprised of a figure wrapped in a billowing shroud, with arms up and out (not unlike Kate Winslet’s iconic pose in the movie “Titanic.”)  The inscription notes that the statue is erected by the “Women of America,” and movingly, the back reads “To the young and the old/the rich and the poor/the ignorant and the learned/all who gave their lives nobly/to save women and children.”  Almost all of the 1,514 people who lost their lives in the ship’s sinking were men (1,352 altogether).

Originally located at the southern end of Rock Creek Park, it was funded and built by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association in 1931.  It was moved to its current location in 1968 to make way for the Kennedy Center, and is one of dozens of memorials across the world to pay tribute to those killed in the disaster of the Titanic.

One of the best things about this memorial is its location.  It is located at the end of the waterfront pathway—technically the Southwest Waterfront Park—which ends just as Fort McNair begins.  It is a quiet, contemplative spot, framed by rows of trees planted when the waterfront was at its heyday as a bustling commercial center.  And the view is across an arm of the Potomac of the green and lovely Hains Point.

Although it was a British liner, the Titanic was carrying many emigrants seeking to call America their new home.  And thus, while a quiet tribute, the Titanic Memorial fits in well with the ethos of our historic city, one that honors and remembers those who helped our nation become what it is today.

To visit:  A 10-minute walk from the Waterfront metro stop, or the red line of the Circulator stops nearby.

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A Bit of Nature Within the City: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Washington, DC is a surprisingly good spot for green spaces.  From Rock Creek Park to the Capital Crescent Trail, our city has many natural havens.  But one of the best and least known of these spots is hidden in Anacostia—Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

Kenilworth, located on the banks of the Anacostia River, is a 14-acre set of gardens adjacent to 77 acres of marshland.  The park is best known for its unique water lilies, lotuses, and other flowering plants on the garden ponds.

It also has a restored tidal marsh, one of the city’s last tidal wetlands.  A boardwalk out into the marsh provides a glimpse into the unique habitat—on my visit, I saw an osprey with a large fish in its talons alight on a branch across the marsh.

Kenilworth in managed by the National Park Service and therefore has excellent visitor outreach such as a small visitor’s center and binoculars available for loan.  It also provides garden tours and opens early every morning at 7am for birders.  And you’ll be sure to see some interesting avians—I caught a glimpse of a brilliant orchard oriole on my walk.

The history of the gardens dates back to 1882, when Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw decided to use his farmland to create a series of water ponds and gardens.  After his death in 1921, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to dredge the gardens to deal with the silt that had filled the Anacostia River, but Shaw’s daughter formed a citizen’s activist group that saved the site. She also convinced Congress to buy the gardens for $15,000, which the National Park Service acquired in 1938.  Since then, it has been essentially unchanged.

Kenilworth has different attractions for the different seasons.  As its website says:  “Spring is the best season for wildflowers in the marsh that borders the athletic fields and gardens.  Summer is the season for the Aquatic Gardens.  Winter, when leaves are off the trees, is the best time for birding at any of the sites. “

One of the best things about Kenilworth is that it is metro accessible.  From the Deanwood metro station, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the park entrance.  It’s a special place in our city that is definitely worth losing yourself in for a few hours.  Bring your horticulture knowledge and a birding guide and you’ll forget that the city and highway 295 are less than a mile away.

To visit:  1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019.  Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  Metro accessible via the Deanwood station.  The park is also accessible from the back on the river with a canoe or kayak.  Free to visit.

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Teeing Up At The Miniature Golf Course On Hains Point

I’m often surprised by some of the amenities that DC doesn’t have, like cheap bowling (although luckily that can be found just across the pond at Ft. Myer).  Add to that list lots of mini-golf—there are only two spots in the city to get your putt-putt on:  the indoor course at the H Street Country Club and the outdoor course on Hains Point near the Mall.

The East Potomac Golf Course is known best for its nice public golf course, one of three in DC.  But on its grounds is also an 18-hole mini golf course for those of us who prefer putting to driving.  The course opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest courses in the nation.  In addition, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places as the “oldest continuing operating miniature golf course in the country.”

Other than the history, there’s not too much to say about this mini golf, which is fairly standard.  It’s quite old, seen for example in the fact that some of the carpet is warped, some of the features are broken, and there is debris like leaves and sticks on the ground.  But, it all adds to the charm.  And hey, it’s the only place you can play outdoor mini golf in our fine city!

Prices are $6.50 for adults, $5 for kids, and $5.50 for groups of 20 or more.  There was not a crowd when we visited in May, although staff told me that it gets busier later in the summer.  The course is able to host kids’ birthdays and other such functions.

Also on site are a pro shop and a snack bar that serves beer.  After an exhausting game of mini golf, there’s nothing like sitting and cooling off in the afternoon shade with a cold one.

To visit: 972 Ohio Drive SW, (202) 554-7660.  Open April-October, only on weekends during the spring and fall, times vary (see here) but are generally 11am-7pm.  About a half hour walk from the Smithsonian and Waterfront Metro stations.  A car or bike are the easiest options.

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