This is a free excerpt from my book, Eastern Shore Road Trips #2: 26 MORE One-Day Adventures on Delmarva. The chapter involved has lots more on the road-tripping agenda, including visits to the town of Snow Hill and the Furnace Town Historic Site. More info about this and my other books exploring the history, travel, and culture on the Eastern Shore and in Delaware here.
Much of the land near Snow Hill was once part of a 50,000-plus swath of swampland that stretched from here up into southern Delaware. You can explore remnants of that old natural wonder at Pocomoke River State Park, which awaits three or so miles outside of town. The park’s Shad Landing and Milburn areas are full of the expected amenities—hiking trails, boat rentals, campsites, playgrounds, and more.
The star attraction here is the bald cypress tree, a strange creature that looks like a pine tree but drops all of its needle-like leaves every fall as surely as a maple or an oak. It thrives in flood-prone places where most other trees would drown.
And what is up with all those knobby little “knees” rising up around the trunk? They look like a gaggle of little kids gathered around an old storyteller. Experts used to theorize that these knees were all about facilitating the tree’s oxygen supply, but now they seem to prefer the idea that they are about structural stability, protecting the bald cypress against high winds during hurricanes and tropical storms.
A couple of historians have speculated over the years that the surviving remnants of the old cypress swamp—there is another one up in Trap Pond State Park near Laurel, Del.—might be about as close as you can get on the modern-day Delmarva Peninsula to seeing something that still looks pretty similar to the way it did when Captain John Smith and his crew were wandering around in the early 1600s.
These places can be quite spooky. They have a Deep South look, with sphagnum moss hanging here, there, and everywhere. Cypress swamps never really see the full light of day—it’s always somewhere between dark and semi-dark— “one of the most frightful labyrinths you can imagine,” in the words of a traveler in 1809. It should come as no surprise, then, that the swamp has served as a popular hiding place over the centuries for everyone from British loyalists and runaway slaves to moonshiners and criminals on the run.
What happened to the old swamp is a familiar chapter in the story of European development over the centuries. The bald cypress is a valuable source of hardwood, so lots of trees came down, their wood bound for use in shipbuilding, as roof shingles, and even in coffins. As the trees disappeared, farmers moved in, clearing out what was left of the old forest.
The oldest trees here today are perhaps 100 years old, a far cry from the days when visitors talked about much older and bigger trees, with wider trunks and knees reaching heights of 10 feet. Those trees, by the way, are where the Pocomoke River gets its name. Pocomoke is an old Indian word meaning “dark water”—and a key source of that coloring is the tannic acid found in cypress needles.
• Pocomoke River State Park info
Milburn Landing Area: 3036 Nassawango Rd., Pocomoke City, Md.
Shad Landing Area: 3461 Worcester Hwy., Snow Hill, Md.
• If it is more convenient, you can also visit a cypress swamp remnant at Trap Pond State Park in Laurel, Del. That is part of the trip to Laurel and Seaford in the same book this excerpt is from.
Excerpt from Eastern Shore Road Trips #2: 26 MORE One-Day Adventures on Delmarva posted by Claudia Colaprete on August 8, 2022 for Whimbrel Creations LLC/Secrets of the Eastern Shore. All rights reserved. Thank you so much for spending a little time with this story and on this site!