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Cruise then Brews Recap: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge & RAR Brewery

Cruise then Brews Series: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Last Sunday, a group of paddlers joined Jack Turner (aka Jack Wildlife) for a Capital SUP adventure paddle through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. Being the first event of our new “Cruise the Brews” Local Adventure Series, we stopped for refreshing brews at RAR Brewery afterwards. Officially recognized as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1933, Blackwater is considered to be some of the most important wetlands in the United States. (RAR, on the other hand, is considered to be a purveyor of the tastiest hops on the Eastern Shore).

A walking bridge span over the wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

The drive to Blackwater is like any ordinary trip to the Eastern Shore, but once you turn off 50 and head toward the refuge, it looks like a completely different world. “I’ve lived in Annapolis for years, and have been paddling all over the Bay, but when I got here I thought, ‘Wow! How [did I not] know this existed?’” said one paddler, Eric, “I had no idea there [were] wetlands of this size in Maryland.”


Capital SUP owner Kevin Haigis briefs paddlers before the adventure cruise

Capital SUP owner Kevin Haigis briefs paddlers

After unloading equipment, paddlers gathered for a safety briefing from owner Kevin Haigis, followed by a quick warm-up. Once everyone was adequately sunblocked and limber, Jack gave everyone a teaser of what to expect. He told us to look out for all kinds of creatures, from blue crabs to bald eagles, explaining that Blackwater’s three distinct habitats — forest, marsh, and shallow water — make it the ideal home for an abundance of wildlife.Though the wind was working against us, the mild temperature and late summer sun provided a relaxing setting nonetheless.


Surrounded by nothing but what seemed like endless grasses, it was obvious why Blackwater is sometimes referred to as the “Everglades of the North” (minus the gators, of course). Because the marshes are too shallow for boats, we were able to benefit from the lack of “traffic” and spread out, giving us all a chance to catch Jack providing insight on the importance of the refuge while pointing out a turtle here, a heron there, or a crab doing it’s silly sideways scuffle.


Jack taught us that Blackwater contains one third of the tidal wetlands in Maryland, and explained that

Tour guide Jack Turner in a kayak on the water of the Blackwater Nationail Wildlife Refuge

Tour guide Jack Turner teaches paddlers the importance of wetlands

tidal wetlands are a valuable natural resource because they provide ecosystem services, like storm surge protection and shoreline stability. “Think of the wetlands as a massive sponge that helps to soak up storm waters and pollutants,” he said.

Jack spotted a small tidal pond through a little channel in the grasses, and with the “okay” from the safety team, we paddled in a single file into the inlet and gathered around for another lesson. He told us that Blackwater was globally recognized as a crucial part of the “Atlantic flyway” for migratory birds, but it had quite a different history before it’s designation as a refuge. “Prior to being a refuge, the area was considered a ‘fur farm’, where trappers would target muskrats for fur and meat,” Jack told us. “While trapping still occurs near the refuge, it is now a protected area that harbors the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast north of Florida!”


Paddlers gather in a small cove in the wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Paddlers gather in a small tidal pond

Heading back to the wharf we were given the assist of a downwind ride, practically buzzing with the positive vibes that accompany any rewarding paddle. Within 15 minutes of leaving Blackwater, we were re-grouping at RAR. The newly expanded brewery gave us plenty of room to safely distance while mingling with our new friends. Thanks to RAR’s additional selection of non-alcoholic beverages and a rocking food menu, everyone was able to enjoy themselves whether or not they wanted to sample the famous Nanticoke Nectar.


Tidal wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Picturesque wetlands of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Though Blackwater is about an hour and a half drive from Annapolis, everyone agreed it was well worth the trip. Paddlers Jamie and Elaine said they had heard about the refuge for years but never had the chance to go, remarking that they also appreciated how the tour catered to all levels. “There’s folks who are new to SUP or kayaking and don’t have much access [to the water] who thought, ‘wow, this is a cool thing to do!’ — which it definitely was,” says Jamie,”but there’s also folks who kayak all the time and do have access, and for them it’s a cool new sight.”

“We’ll definitely be back to see the migratory birds on our kayaks!” Elaine added.


A flock of ducks on the water of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

We love a Capital SUP adventure, especially when there’s also an opportunity to learn. Don’t miss out on the next Cruise then Brews outing to Mallows Bay, and make sure to check out our regular eco-tours next season!

Follow Jack Turner on Instagram @jack_wildlife and check out his website for information on scheduling a private Eco-tour.