While much of Nassawango Creek Preserve is protected, agricultural runoff, increased residential development, and wetland alterations continue to threaten this area. The Swainson’s Warbler remains on the state endangered list, and bald cypress trees are protected because they are so rare in this part of the country.
Don’t worry if Nassawango Creek’s waters look chocolate brown—they’ve looked that way since Pocahontas’s friend Captain John Smith first canoed up this stream in 1608. Naturally darkened by tannin from fallen leaves, Nassawango Creek is actually one of the most pristine tributaries of the equally dark Pokomoke River, which starts out in Delaware’s Great Cypress Swamp and ends up in Chesapeake Bay. It’s one of the Eastern Shore’s most tranquil and unspoiled corridors, spooling its way through rare bald cypress swamp and forests of Atlantic white cedar, loblolly pines, and seaside elder, where a profusion of orchids bloom and warblers sing.
Captain John Smith had one thing right—canoeing is the best way to explore Nassawango Creek. This 18-mile (29km) stretch of water is part of a network of canoe routes called the Bogiron Water Trail, in honor of the iron-rich bogs around here, which gave rise to a thriving ironsmelting industry in the early 19th century. (The historic village of Furnace Town, center of that industry from 1828–50, lies inside the preserve boundary—information is available at the visitor center.) Rental canoes are available in Snow Hill. Turn off Route 12 onto Red House Road, drive 1 mile (1.6km) and turn right, where there’s a designated parking area. Launch on the west side of the creek; you can canoe all the way to the Pokomoke River.
As you paddle along the creek, keep an eye out for river otters and painted turtles, and for white-tailed deer and gray foxes in the woods around you; listen for the rattat-tat of the pileated woodpecker. In fall the marsh blazes red and gold with cardinal flowers and spotted jewelweed. You can also take a short, easy hike on the Paul Leifer Trail through those woods, where you’ll see wildflowers like pink lady’s slipper, mayapple, wild lupine, and jack-in-the-pulpit in spring.
Of course, when John Smith steered through here, there was nothing special about Nassawango Creek except its natural dark color. But these days, bald cypress forests rarely grow this far north, and many of those orchids and warblers are threatened species. Nassawango Creek shows us what the eastern shore was like, once upon a time. Nature can be hardy: Despite the years of iron smelting, the bog habitat replenished itself. But if this last sliver of the old woods goes, we’ll never see its like again.