Suggested Trip

Nassawango Creek Preserve by Land and by Water

 

The Nature Conservancy refers to it as “one of the last pieces of true wilderness on the East Coast,” and there is no doubt in my mind that that is an accurate statement. Nassawango Creek Preserve is a true hidden gem in the heart of rural Worcester County, offering an incredibly important wildlife corridor and ample opportunities for visitors to connect with nature.

The preserve consists of nearly 10,000 acres of land, protected by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  In addition, many portions of the preserve back up to the Pocomoke State Forest, making for an even larger expanse of protected land.  Nassawango Creek itself feeds into the Pocomoke River, both of which offer miles and miles of undeveloped shorelines and riverbanks to explore.

By Land

I first discovered Nassawango Creek Preserve in February of 2020.  But for someone that has been living in Worcester County for a decade, and someone that loves exploring the outdoors, I couldn’t believe it took me eight years to find this place!  My husband, son, and I ventured out on a cold, sunny day to explore the Prothonotary Warbler Trail.  The trailhead had room for no more than two cars on the side of the road, coincidentally close to the intersection of Nassawango Road and Creek Road.

To my surprise, the trail was very well marked with adorable TNC-branded trail markers. There were several boardwalks to cross, and a bench overlooking Nassawango Creek.  A sign at another trailhead indicated that this area was a designated Old Growth Forest, with oak, bald cypress, and shortleaf pine trees over 150 years old!  We also learned that the preserve is home to a variety of wildlife, with the star being the prothonotary warbler – an important songbird species that can be spotted in this area in the spring and summer.  The highlight of our hike, at least for our 4-year-old, was finding an owl pellet and breaking it apart on a picnic table to learn about what the owl had been eating!

After that February hike, I knew I would be back to explore more trails and to paddle the creek, but at that moment, I had no idea just how much I’d be venturing out to explore over the next three months. With the onset of the pandemic in March, my son and I ended up hiking all the trails in the preserve, as well as several trails in the adjacent state forest.  With school and work shut down, hiking was a daily escape for us, and it was a time I will forever look back on to cherish those precious extra days I got to spend with my son in the great outdoors.

In addition to the Prothonotary Warbler Trail, we also hiked the Paul Leifer Trail and the Nassawango “Joe” Trail.  The Paul Leifer Trail, about a one-mile loop, can be accessed from Furnace Town, a delightful historic site and museum located in the heart of the preserve.  Furnace Town is really off the beaten path, but once you’re there, that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere really helps you imagine what life was like when Furnace Town was a thriving community of miners, colliers, molders, draymen and bargemen back in the early 19th century. 

The 1.5-mile Nassawango Joe Trail has two trailheads on either end, one on Red House Road, and one on Old Furnace Road.  Parking for the Red House Road trailhead is on the side of the road near the kayak launch adjacent to the bridge.  You’ll have to walk across the road where you’ll find the first trail marker across from the intersection of Pennewell Road.  If you choose to access the trail from Old Furnace Road, you’ll need to park in the Furnace Town parking lot and walk about a quarter mile up the road to the east, and the trailhead will be on your right.  Both the Paul Leifer and Joe Trails are pretty well marked and offer several boardwalks over creeks and soggy spots.  Our favorite time to hike these trails is in early spring, when the air is still crisp, the bugs aren’t out in full force, and leaves and grass are just starting to add a pop of green to the brown of the winter woods.

By Water

There are portions of Nassawango Creek Preserve that can only be explored while paddling.  The upper reaches of Nassawango Creek are not accessible by even the smallest motorboats, and most of the creek is not able to be viewed from the hiking trails.

My favorite place to launch is from the bridge at Red House Road.  The creek here is all but a few yards wide and completely shaded.  The launch itself can be a bit challenging to use – it’s not a soft launch that you can push off the shoreline from. It’s similar to launching from a bulkhead and the water is probably a few feet deep, so getting in and out can be a mildly dicey task.  But once you’re comfortably in your kayak and immersed in the sights and sounds of the preserve, you’ll quickly forget about the ungraceful launching process.

While Nassawango Creek is pretty well known by the local paddling community here on the lower shore, I still have rarely encountered other paddlers when I’ve visited.  Red House Road has very little traffic, if any, making for an extremely tranquil paddling experience.

It was in mid-May the first time I ever launched at Red House Road, and I was on a mission to spot prothonotary warblers.  Within two minutes of launching, my mission was accomplished!  Two vibrant, yellow warblers flitted about in some of the low-hanging branches for a few moments, right above my head, before moving on through the woods.  I was only on the water for about an hour that day, but I spotted several others.  Almost the whole time I was out exploring, I could hear their songs coming from all directions. 

But enough about the warblers.  They’re super cool to see, but that’s not all Nassawango Creek has to offer.  As you paddle downstream, you’ll have the opportunity to see massive, old bald cypress trees, some of which are probably over 150 years old.  It’s also very common to spot painted turtles basking on logs, northern water snakes hanging out on low branches, or the occasional beaver or white-tailed deer.  And if you stop paddling and just listen for a few minutes, you might be lucky enough to hear a barred owl or a red-shouldered hawk in the distance.

It’s just over two miles to get to the bridge where River Road crosses the creek.  Most of the times I’ve paddled to the bridge, there has been enough space to paddle underneath it, but if we’ve had a lot of rain recently, or higher tides, it might not be possible to get by. 

If you want to extend your adventure beyond the Nassawango Creek, you’ll meet the Pocomoke River after another mile beyond the bridge.  I highly recommend paddling two miles up the river to the town of Snow Hill.  There is a floating kayak launch at Sturgis Park where you can get out, stretch, have a picnic under the pavilion, use the restroom, or even walk into town for a bite to eat before heading back up the creek.  If a 10+ mile round trip paddling adventure is a bit more than you can handle, there is a local canoe and kayak rental company in town that provides shuttles so you can complete a one-way excursion - super convenient!

While I love nothing more than to share outdoor spaces and hidden gems with others, I realize that in doing so, those special places could see increased visitation, lessening the “hidden gem” atmosphere.  When visiting off-the-beaten-path places like Nassawango Creek Preserve, it’s so important to follow Leave No Trace principles.  Stick to marked trails, leave nothing but footprints, adhere to all posted signage, and always respect other visitors.  To learn more about the history and delicate natural resources of the preserve, be sure to check out the resources on The Nature Conservancy website, for videos, downloadable maps, and audio tours.

Pocomoke River State Park

Located within the 15,000 wooded acres of Pocomoke State Forest in the Southwestern section of Worcester County, Pocomoke River State Park provides a base for a vast array of outdoor and tourist activities.

Pocomoke State Forest

Pocomoke River State Forest and Park provides 17,676 acres for exploring stands of loblolly pine, cypress swamps, and the beauty of the Pocomoke River, a major Eastern Shore tributary.

Nassawango Creek Preserve - Furnace Town

Canoe Nassawango Creek, one of Maryland's most pristine waterways, and visit Furnace Town, the 19th century village and iron furnace.

Laura Scharle

Laura Scharle grew up in Baltimore County, but has spent the last 18 years on the Eastern Shore. Having worked for both Maryland Environmental Service and Delaware State Parks, she has a passion for connecting people with green spaces. In her spare time she chips away at her goal of paddling around the entire Delmarva peninsula (650 miles!). And when she’s not paddling around the peninsula, she and her husband make every effort to get their five- year-old son out in the great outdoors.

July 22, 2022

Main image: All photos by Laura Scharle
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