Story at a Glance
Towns covered in this feature:
- Eagle Lake/Katy, Texas
- Waupun, Wisconsin
- Olive Branch, Illinois
- Chestertown/Easton, Maryland
- The Rest
Live decoys are long-gone, but Chesapeake Farms lives on, only eight miles east of Chestertown. Formerly known as Remington Farms, this 3,150-acre wildlife and agricultural demonstration area has been managed for waterfowl since the early 1940s. That's when the late Glen L. Martin began improving the property by building ponds; he also introduced a flock of Canada geese.
The E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company bought the property in 1956 and named it Remington Farms. Agricultural practices were maintained, and trained biologists managed the acreage for wildlife. That has remained stable, save for the name change. Driving tours are now available at Chesapeake Farms—but not from October through February.
One does not have to travel too far down the highway before landing in Easton, whose Waterfowl Festival this year will celebrate its 33rd anniversary November 14-16. Those looking for a goose and duck weekend can't miss with this one.
The makeup of the event has changed, to be sure. Where at one time visitors were likely either goose hunters or Eastern Shore residents, these days the entire eastern seaboard is represented. A license plate check might reveal as many vehicles from New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Florida, and elsewhere, as those from Maryland.
"The festival was founded in 1971 by a group of people in this area with the support of Ducks Unlimited," says Judy Price, who has served as the festival's executive director since 1996. "Basically, it was a tribute to the migration of the goose and coincided with the initiation of the goose hunting season, which traditionally opened about the middle of November each year."
"Now, I think we appeal to different types of visitors," Price adds. "There are art collectors who are looking for the best in wildlife art. There are hunting enthusiasts. There are decoy collectors. And families on weekend getaways."
And why not? Goose hunters from across the nation still consider this region a hallowed pilgrimage. And while Canadas may or may not be in season during festival weekend these days, everything else is in place.
Many activities—all geared to wildlife enthusiasts—are available. There are retriever training seminars, fly-fishing demonstrations, a sporting clays tournament, a decoy show and auction, arts and crafts, wildlife art, sculptures, shooting exhibitions, decoy carving classes, the World Goose Calling Championship, Mason-Dixon Regional Duck Calling Contest, and more.
"The involvement of our volunteer corps has been the primary reason our festival has remained strong," Price says. "We have more than 1,500 volunteers offer their time and services. More than 50 committees work year round to organize the exhibits and the events. Community pride is a part of this, and it is truly a community effort in many ways."
This is also big business—up to 20,000 people attend the event each year. To date, the Waterfowl Festival has donated more than $4.2 million to help fund wildlife habitat conservation projects throughout the Atlantic Flyway, including nearly $1 million to Ducks Unlimited.
Giving something back to the resource is simply seen as the right thing to do.
Sights and Sounds: If you visit the Eastern Shore, the 27,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge at Cambridge is a natural side trip. Or, stop by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, which features an outstanding decoy collection and related artifacts.