By Fern Shen
Nature Lovers Meet Here
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 15, 1992
Those who would like to raise their children to be the next Jacques Cousteau might do well to consider moving to Shady Side, just south of Annapolis.
A little nub of land curled up around the slow, wide mouth of the West River where it empties into Chesapeake Bay, Shady Side is surrounded not only by nature, but also by nature lovers.
"I've met more naturalists, and biologists and anthropologists here than I've ever met in my life," said Nancy Mikesell, who lives in the aptly named Snug Harbor section of Shady Side.
As Mikesell spoke, she was relaxing with a cup of tea on her back deck, looking past redwing blackbirds and sea gulls in the foreground, beyond watermen's busy workboats in the middle distance, to the hazy green shore on the far side of the river.
Somewhere over there, at the Smithsonian Institution for Environmental Studies, her four children were hiking a new nature trail, taken on the excursion by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, one of the area's several active grass-roots educational groups.
"Children down here are right out of Huckleberry Finn," Mikesell said. The adults lead a pretty down-home, idyllic life, too.
A quirky mix of youngish professionals, blue-collar watermen and summer-people-who-decided-to-stay-year-round, Shady Side is an old community with roots back to an Englishman's land grant in 1644, according to Virginia Fitz, president of the Heritage Society.
Shady Side was primarily a watermen's community until the 1930s, when people began to use it as a refuge from the crushing summer heat of Washington and Baltimore. Soon they were living there year-round and commuting to work. Shady Side became one of the region's more picturesque bedroom communities.
"Big parties came from Washington; we used to have wonderful fish fries," said Gloria Shenton, 72, whose 103-year-old mother Ethel Andrews, the author of "Miss Ethel Remembers," is available to settle whatever historical questions may pop up.
Today, 2,500 to 3,000 people live there. Houses in Shady Side range from tiny one-bedroom cottages to bigger properties, such as an $875,000 three-bedroom home on eight acres with its own pier, beach and lake. But it's not necessary to spend that much to get a piece of Shady Side.
"There's houses in the $90,000 range, though most of them are more like $120,000 to $200,000," said Roselyn Agee, of Penn Properties Inc. the only Shady Side-based real estate company. "A waterfront in bad or mediocre condition might bring $250,000 and go up from there."
The spiffy, newish cedar-shingled house where Mikesell moved two years ago with the kids and her husband, Paul, originally went on the market for $220,000, she said.
Working now in a framing and art gallery in Shady Side, Mikesell said she was happy to move to Shady Side after leaving status-conscious Severna Park. Now she happily putters in a back-yard herb garden, watches blue herons, muskrats and baby deer on her property and brings home buckets of bluefish and makes them into a little personal invention, bluefish cakes.
"I'm the Bluefish Queen of Shady Side," she said.
In fact, a tendency to boasting, just a bit, seems to come naturally to Shady Siders.
"It's the best place on earth," said John R. Fountain Sr., 57, a retired school principal and lifelong resident, who was hanging around Renno's Market one hot August morning. "If you want to come to The Land of Pleasant Living [Maryland's nickname], you better come to south county," referring to southern Anne Arundel County.
The market's proprietor, Mohan Grover, agreed. Originally from India, Grover is a Howard University graduate and former Silver Spring resident who came to Shady Side in 1974. Grover said he believes Shady Side makes nonwhites and all of the swelling ranks of newcomers feel welcome.
"In the beginning, it's hard coming to a rural area; it takes time for people to accept you," he said. "Now I feel involved in many things."
Grover's store, a seven-day-a-week operation that carries everything from deli sandwiches, old fashioned paddle-ball toys to bottles of Four Roses, is a kind of meeting place.
There are a dizzying number of events and groups and ways to meet people in Shady Side. The Heritage Society, for example, is running a children's program, putting kids together with local watermen and naturalists. The society is also opening a new museum, the Salem Avery House, on Sept. 26. The house, built in 1860, is being restored to illustrate its original use as a waterman's home.
Then there's the nearby Draketail Maritime Institute, an intergenerational project that brought kids and their parents together for the past two years to build a Chesapeake work boat. Now they're puttering around the bay on their creation, studying bay lore and ecology. If that's not enough, there are parades, sailing regattas and fish fries aplenty.
"You give up some things living here. There's no malls close by; that's inconvenient sometimes," Mikesell said. "But, in the past, I've always lived in communities with covenants, where everything was the same. Here the land is so unspoiled and the people are so interesting and genuine. I'm here to stay."
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