Driving Tour: Northern Bay Waterfowling
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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This tour lets visitors learn how waterfowling and decoy carving evolved on the northern Chesapeake, then visit the body of water that supported those linked traditions.

Havre de Grace Decoy Museum Elk Neck State Park A Community of Decoy Carvers
Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, Havre de Grace, MD.

At the turn of the century, waterfowling on the northern Bay was a passionate pursuit for wealthy businessmen and politicians who traveled from Philadelphia, Baltimore and even New York to go gunning for birds on the Susquehanna Flats. The decoy carvers and guides from Havre de Grace used their local knowledge and skills to accommodate them. The community of carvers that grew from this tradition still thrives today. You can meet some of them at this museum and see them working. Others are profiled in detail and surrounded by examples of their work. More than 1,200 decoys are on display here. You can also explore other aspects of waterfowling, such as the boats designed to hide hunters from incoming birds. None was more lethal than the sinkbox or sneakbox, from which it wasn’t unusual for hunters to kill as many as 10,000 birds in a single day on the Flats.

Seeing the Susquehanna Flats
Elk Neck State Park, North East, MD.

A quick drive from Havre de Grace brings you to Elk Neck State Park. Here, from the high bluff of Turkey Point, the broad expanse of the Susquehanna Flats spreads northwest like an enormous wading pool. At only one to five feet deep, the Flats once supported vast fields of submerged aquatic vegetation like celery grass. Hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and swans came here annually to feed. So did the hunters. Based at exclusive clubs located around the Flats’ waterfront, they killed thousands of ducks daily during the autumn. The sheer quantities of birds killed began to alarm state legislators as early as 1832, when they began regulating hunting times, as well as types of boats and guns hunters could use. Today, you can walk along the western edge of the park and see the Flats as they are now, and imagine a time when waterfowl blanketed the water.

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