Paddle Fatigue on Va.'s Eastern Shore

Visitors to the shore can go fishing, birding and kayaking. Friendly locals are a bonus, be they "come-heres" or "been-heres."
Visitors to the shore can go fishing, birding and kayaking. Friendly locals are a bonus, be they "come-heres" or "been-heres." (By Chris Batin)
By Carol Sottili
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008; Page C02

The mid-Atlantic version of a monsoon was not a good beginning. Then came that untimely dip in the frigid bay. Then the grief over a ruined camera. Oh, let's not forget the winds that drove all those promised migrant birds deep into cover.

So how did I manage to enjoy this eco-tourism weekend? I thank the hospitality. And the wine. Definitely, the wine.

The May excursion to Virginia's Eastern Shore looked iffy as I watched the Weather Channel from a condo in Ocean City. Sustained winds of 39 mph, gusts to 58 mph, coastal flood warnings, high wind warnings, wind chill of 40 degrees, gale warnings for coastal waters . . . and did I mention the thunder and lightning?

All I wanted to do was drive to Cape Charles, Va., and start my long-planned trip exploring the state's largely undeveloped coastal shore. But things weren't looking good.

Dave Burden, owner of Southeast Expeditions, an outfitter headquartered in Cape Charles, was optimistic in an e-mail, promising "a nice, if slightly adventurous, trip." Dubious, I got in the car, put the windshield wipers on high and headed south on U.S. Route 13, down the 70-mile-long peninsula that adjoins Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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Carol Evans, co-innkeeper at Cape Charles House, a nearly 100-year-old restored Colonial Revival, greeted me with a glass of Holly Grove chardonnay. After a second glass of this locally grown wine, my drive-induced white knuckles had regained their color. Suddenly, things were looking up.

Evans, who also chairs the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission, is a "come-here," not a "been-here," meaning she wasn't born on the Eastern Shore. But she and her husband, Bruce, like most of the area's civic leaders, are tireless promoters of preserving the ecology of the rural waters and countryside who also try to attract eco-friendly tourism.

"We were immediately captivated with the town and the stunning architecture," said Evans, who first vacationed in Cape Charles in 1991 and opened the inn in 1994. "It was like Mayberry."

Most of the barrier islands on the Atlantic side of the peninsula are owned by the Nature Conservancy and protected from development. Large tracts of the mainland on the southern tip are preserved as state parks and national refuges.

It's an eco-tourist's mecca. Kayakers paddle along the shore's 100-mile-long Virginia Seaside Water Trail. Birders flock to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge and to Kiptopeke State Park. Anglers come to catch drumfish. The tourism commission's new motto sums it up nicely: "You'll love our nature."

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