This tannin-stained waterway is steeped in early American history and one of the most beautiful and tranquil places in Maryland.
Canoeing Nassawango This tannin-stained waterway is steeped in early American history and one of the most beautiful and tranquil places in Maryland. © Alan Eckert Photography

Places We Protect

Nassawango Creek Preserve

Maryland / DC

Climb into a canoe and enjoy a tranquil paddle.

Nassawango Creek is one of the last pieces of true wilderness left on the East Coast.  Dominated by bald cypress and black gum, the massive trees of this primeval forest envelop visitors with ample shade and security. 

The preserve recently celebrated its 40th anniversary! Starting with a gift of 154 acres given by E. Stanton Adkins in 1978, the effort to establish the preserve was spearheaded and led by a group of Worcester County residents who recognized the beauty and diversity of Nassawango Creek and its intrinsic value to the region.

Since those beginnings in 1978, we have worked to protect 14,787 acres of swamp and upland forest along Nassawango Creek. Today the preserve includes 9,953 acres of this land, and is one of the northernmost remaining examples of a bald cypress swamp.

Current Conservation At Work

Since 2009, more than 36,000 Atlantic white cedar trees have been planted at Nassawango Creek Preserve in partnership with the National Aquarium and with the help of the Maryland Conservation Corps. Many of the seedlings were grown in the classrooms of Wicomico and Worcester County middle schools, and the students come out to the preserve every spring to plant their trees.

In 2014, TNC acquired the 693-acre Taylor farm which sits at the headwaters of Nassawango Creek.  We're working with partners to restore 381 acres of Taylor's cropland to forested wetland. An additional 312 acres of forested uplands and wetlands will also be protected.

These restoration efforts will reverse the impacts from extensive drainage, grazing, and crop production. Restoring the natural hydrology will improve the quality of water and habitat in Nassawango Creek and downstream water bodies. 

A long-term monitoring program will allow the Taylor farm to become a “living laboratory”. The data we collect through this restoration will inform our conservation strategies on a larger scale and will be shared with other landowners as we work collaboratively to conserve the productive lands and waters of the Eastern Shore.

At several bogs deep within the preserve, our stewardship staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to thin encroaching hardwoods to make room for native vegetation. We have already seen a resurgence of pitcher plants, rare grasses and rare sedges growing in the bog.  

A legacy of support

The Nassawango Creek Stewardship Committee was formed in 1979, and has been going strong ever since!  The committee ranks among the longest-serving groups of preserve volunteers in the history of The Nature Conservancy. 

Contact Joe Fehrer at jfehrer@tnc.org to learn how you can become a part of this dynamic committee and help ensure the ongoing care of this beloved preserve.

Why You Should Visit

This tannin-stained waterway is steeped in early American history and one of the most beautiful and tranquil places in Maryland. From Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Nassawango Creek flows southward into Pocomoke River, a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.

Nassawango is home to an abundant array of wildlife and native plants, including many species of orchids and warblers. 

With more than 60 recorded species of migratory birds, such as the scarlet tanager, yellow-throated vireos and prothonotary warbler, there’s no doubt that Nassawango Creek is a critical stopover point for migratory birds.  The preserve's Cubler Payne Forest is part of an Audubon Important Birding Area.

Nassawango Creek abuts portions of Pocomoke State Forest, a nearly 15,000-acre forest of loblolly pine and cypress swamps. Large, intact forests also serve as corridors for large mammals, such as deer, and help sustain the overall health of the forest by allowing the forest to survive and recover from destructive events such as hurricanes and wild fires.

Along the boundary of Nassawango Creek Preserve is Furnace Town, an historic village.

Bobcat, mink, fox, and a host of interior forest nesting bird species thrive here as a result of maturity, ecological integrity, and relative scarcity of harmful invasive plants and animals. Rare plants such as pink lady’s slipper, cardinal flower, and Indian pipe color the forest floor.

If you have any questions about visiting the preserve, please call Joe Fehrer at  410-632-4761.

Paddling on Nassawango Creek
Nassawango Creek Preserve
Climb into a canoe and enjoy a tranquil paddle along Nassawango Creek's majestic balk cypress swamp.

Nassawango Swamp Preserve Climb into a canoe and paddle along tranquil Nassawango Creek.

Centuries of agriculture and industry have reshaped the landscape on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Forested wetlands were ditched and drained to make way for Loblolly pine plantations. Over the past 10 years, the Maryland chapter has worked to restore the natural hydrology and processes of these once thriving wetland forest ecosystems around Nassawango Creek Preserve, and the results have been extraordinary.

Changing the Landscape
Changing the Landscape Remnants of loblolly pine plantations planted on Maryland's Eastern Shore. © Matt Kane / TNC
10-Year Planting Site
10-Year Planting Site Aerial view of the 2009 Atlantic white cedar planting site at Maryland's Nassawango Creek Preserve. © Severn Smith / TNC

Following the reintroduction of fire through controlled burns at sites around Nassawango Creek, plants that haven’t been found there in decades are suddenly making an appearance. Among them are several species of rare orchid, which bloom for just a few weeks over the summer.

White-fringed orchid
White-fringed orchid Platanthera blephariglottis is distinguished by its bright white color and long “tongue” protruding from the bottom of the flower. © Matt Kane / TNC
Crested Yellow Orchid
Crested Yellow Orchid Platanthera cristata has a rich yellow-orange hue and a short “tongue” with tassles spreading out below. © Matt Kane / TNC
In addition to providing small pops of color in the landscape, orchids help nourish pollinating insects like this spicebush swallowtail butterfly.
Nassawango Orchids In addition to providing small pops of color in the landscape, orchids help nourish pollinating insects like this spicebush swallowtail butterfly. © Severn Smith / TNC

As butterflies and other pollinators carry pollen between the different plants, occasional cross-pollination takes place resulting in the appearance of an even rarer orchid hybrid.  The colors of the white-fringed orchids and yellow-crested orchids have mixed to create this hybrid’s cream-yellow hue, which also features a flower structure combining distinctive elements of both species.

This hybrid displays characteristics of both the white-fringed and yellow-crested orchids.
Cross Pollination This hybrid displays characteristics of both the white-fringed and yellow-crested orchids. © Matt Kane / TNC

In addition to the orchids, several carnivorous plant species like the pitcher plant have begun to establish themselves around Nassawango Creek.

The interior of the pitcher plant’s pipe-like chambers are covered in tiny downward pointing hairs, which make it difficult for insects that slip into the plant’s chambers to climb back out again.  As the bodies of collected insects decompose in the chambers’ pools, the plant absorbs the nutrients that are released.  This source of nourishment allows carnivorous plant species like the pitcher to thrive in environments where the soil is low in nutrients.

Carnivorous Plants
Carnivorous Plants Pitcher plants at Nassawango Creek Preserve. © Matt Kane / TNC
Carnivorous Plants
Carnivorous Plants The downward pointing hairs that line the pitcher plant's interior chamber help trap the insects the plant feeds on. © Severn Smith / TNC

The sundew plant is another carnivorous plant that can be found at Nassawango Creek Preserve. The tendrils of the spatulate-leaved sundew feature hairs with tiny drops of sticky, sweet sap that can trap small insects looking for a snack.

Drosera intermedia, a carnivorous plant found at Maryland's Nassawango Creek Preserve.
Spatulate-leaved sundew Drosera intermedia, a carnivorous plant found at Maryland's Nassawango Creek Preserve. © Severn Smith / TNC

A dwarf sundew plant was recently discovered at Nassawango by botanist Chase Howard—an exciting find! Smaller than a dime and typically found growing in moist soil, it’s an easy plant to miss.

The discovery marks the first time the plant has been found in the state of Maryland, having never before been found further north than North Carolina.  Scientists aren’t yet sure what led to this occurrence, but the appearance of new plants outside their known ranges will likely become much more common as the climate continues to warm and ecological conditions change.

Dwarf sundew
Dwarf sundew Drosera brevifolia, is an exciting find at Nassawango! The species has never before been found further north than North Carolina. © Matt Kane / TNC
Dwarf sundew
Dwarf sundew Drosera brevifolia, is an exciting find at Nassawango! The species has never before been found further north than North Carolina. © Matt Kane / TNC

As the Maryland/DC chapter and our state partners continue to bring back fire and other ecological processes around the Nassawango Creek Preserve, the appearance of plants like these give us an even clearer picture of the amazing biodiversity to be found here.

Fire from a controlled burn slowly moves towards a purple pitcher plant at Maryland's Nassawango Creek Preserve.
Good Fire Fire from a controlled burn slowly moves towards a purple pitcher plant at Maryland's Nassawango Creek Preserve. © © Chase McLean / TNC

Planning a visit to Nassawango Creek Preserve? Before your trip, download our self-guided audio tours to your handheld device. It's like having a naturalist in your pocket! 

MEET YOUR GUIDES

Deborah Landau (Johnson Tract, Leifer Trail) is the Maryland/DC chapter's conservation ecologist.  She enjoys exploring nature both on her own and with others, especially her children, who often spot interesting things that adults miss.  She enjoys cooking, traveling, gardening, and learning about geology.

David Ray (Prothonotary Trail) is an applied forest ecologist whose work focuses on management and restoration of coastal plain habitats.

Janice Ward (Prothonotary Trail), a retired school library media specialist, has been a member of The Nature Conservancy's Nassawango Preserve Stewardship Committee since 1995.  She is currently serving as the Lower Shore Coordinator for the Maryland Bluebird Society, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of the Eastern Bluebird.  She has been involved with bluebirds since 2006 with the establishment of the Nassawango Creek Bluebird Trail on Nature Conservancy property near her home.

Start Your Journey

We have three tours available: the Johnson Tract, the Leifer Trail, and the Prothonotary Trail.

Audio Tour Maps

Johnson Tract Audio Tour

In this audio tour, Conservation Ecologist Deborah Landau describes our prescribed burn program, Atlantic white cedar restoration and the importance of giving back to the community through certified forestry operations.

Step 1: Download the Johnson Tract audio tour map. This map will help identify which audio tracks to play based on your location on the trail, so make sure to take a copy with you on your trip.



Step 2: Download and save each of the below mp3 files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!

1. The Johnson Tract

2.1 At the Gate

2.2 Trail Advice

3. Direction on the Trail

4. Atlantic White Cedars

5. Laura Bankey on Atlantic White Cedars

6. The Role of Fires

7. Thinning

8. Left and Right

Leifer Trail Audio Tour

In this audio tour, Conservation Ecologist Deborah Landau discusses hundreds of years of human and natural history at Furnacetown.

Step 1: Download the Leifer Trail audio tour map. This map will help identify which audio tracks to play based on your location on the trail, so make sure to take a copy with you on your trip.



Step 2: Download and save each of the below mp3 files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!

1. Furnace Town

2. The Furnace Habitat

3. Paul Leifer Trailhead

4. Mining - First Bench

5. Pink Lady's-slippers

6. Floodplain

7. Bald Cypress

8. Furnace Canal and Xeric Dunes

9. Why We Love Our Volunteers 

Prothonotary Trail Audio Tour

In this audio tour, Applied Forest Ecologist David Ray and Preserve Stewardship Committee member Janice Ward introduce you to Nassawango's diverse bird life.

Step 1: Download the Prothonotary Trail audio tour map. This map will help identify which audio tracks to play based on your location on the trail, so make sure to take a copy with you on your trip.



Step 2: Download and save each of the below mp3 files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!

1. Parking Area in Open Field

2A. Kiosk Project Overview

2B. Blue Bird Trail Project

3A. Start of Trail in Forest

3B. Woody Debris and Snags

4. Old Dump Site and White Bird Box

5. Undergrowth-Free Bird Banding Loop

6. Bottomland and Cypress Knees

7. Creek Overlook and Beaver-Chewed Oak

8. Tagged Cypress Tree and Elevation Change

9. Intersection of Trail

10. Tree Root Tip-Ups

11. Painted Trees - Inventory and Monitoring System

12. End of Trail

Geocaching is a fast-growing hobby that provides an exciting way to explore the outdoors. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS, and can then share their experiences online. 

It's a great way for kids to connect with nature and learn navigation skills, with the fun reward of finding real hidden treasure.

There are three geocaches at Nassawango:

We invite you to explore the Conservancy's natural areas in this fun and free way.  It's a great hobby, and you may learn a little about our work as you play!

Log on to www.geocaching.com to set up a free account and start the hunt for geocaches placed by MarylandTNC.

Please keep these tips in mind during your outing:

  • Caches are only accessible during normal hours of operation.
  • Stay on marked trails at all times.
  • Please leave pets at home.  Dogs are not allowed on any Conservancy preserve.
  • Do not litter; used marked receptacles to dispose of any trash.
  • Please respect the land; do not remove plants, animals, artifacts, or rocks.
  • For your safety and comfort, bring drinking water, hats, sun protection, bug repellent and use appropriate footwear.

New geocaches are not permitted on Conservancy preserves.  These sites were carefully selected for their accessibility and low impact to the environment.  For questions about geocaching at The Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Maryland, please contact Deborah Barber at dbarber@tnc.org.

The Nature Conservancy’s preserves are set aside to protect natural plant and animal communities. We invite you to observe and enjoy these preserves, but remember that every visitor has an impact. Please follow these guidelines to protect yourself and nature.

  • Preserves are open to the public during daylight hours. 
  • Passive recreation such as walking, bird watching, and photography is welcomed.  

The following activities are not allowed:

  • Bringing dogs onto the preserve.  Dogs are not permitted at any Conservancy preserve.
  • Picking flowers, mushrooms, etc.
  • Removing rocks or other parts of the landscape.
  • Smoking.
  • Camping, fires or cookouts.
  • Driving motorized vehicles, including ATV’s, except on designated access roads.
  • Biking.
  • Fishing, trapping, or hunting, except as otherwise posted.
  • Horseback riding.
  • Feeding wildlife.
  • Releasing animals or introducing plants.
  • Disposing of trash or other waste, including biodegradable materials.

To minimize your impact, we ask that you please also observe the following:

  • Use trails.
  • Avoid walking in wet, boggy areas.
  • Inspect pant legs and shoes to remove seeds before entering and when leaving the preserve. Failure to do so could introduce unwanted weeds to new locations.
  • If you flush a ground nesting bird - stop and avoid walking near the nest area.
  • Observe all posted signs.
  • Please do not remove stakes, signs, flagging, tape or other objects - they might be part of a research project.
  • Please do not trespass on private property adjacent to the preserve.

For your own comfort and enjoyment, come prepared. Wear comfortable shoes for hiking, pack some rain gear and wear long pants with socks over them to protect yourself from ticks and poison ivy.

Bring along insect repellent and sunscreen for protection. Always remember to carry a water bottle for thirst quenching. And, of course, bring your binoculars, camera, field guide and a compass.

Tick and Mosquito Alert

When you get home, plan to drop your clothing directly in the laundry and do a tick check before you shower. Deer ticks, the type that carry lyme disease, are about the size of a pinhead and tend to attach in hair, under ears, underarms, trunk of the body, groin, and backs of the knees.

Remove them by gently pulling with tweezers and wipe the skin near the bite with a mild disinfectant. If, within 7-10 days after exposure, you experience a rash (especially an expanding "bull's eye" rash), chills, fever, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and/or aching joints and muscles, contact your doctor.

You can find more information on lyme disease at www.aldf.com or by calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at (404) 332-4555.

More Information

If you want to conduct research on a Nature Conservancy preserve, please share your plans with us and receive permission before starting. Contact Deborah Barber, Director of Land Management, at 301-897-8570 or dbarber@tnc.org.

If you observe any illegal activity on a preserve such as ATV use, do not confront the offenders yourself. However, do feel free to call local law enforcement.

Enjoy your visit and please report any problems with a preserve to the Maryland Chapter at 301-897-8570.