Chestertown: Wilmer Park, Wayne Gilchrest Trail, & Chestertown WWTP
Wilmer Park: 399 South Cross Street, Chestertown, MD 21620 | (410) 778-0500
Wayne Gilchrest Trail South End: 400 South Cross Street, Chestertown, MD 21620 | (410) 778-0500
Chestertown WWTP: 25792 John Hanson Road, Chestertown, MD 21620
You are probably thinking that a wastewater treatment plant, a hiker-biker trail, and a little municipal park make an odd combination for a birding expedition. But combining a visit to Wilmer Park in Chestertown with a short walk on the Wayne Gilchrest Trail and then a stop at the nearby Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) will allow you to develop a well-rounded set of species for your day list, as the three sites are close together but attract different suites of birds.
Located on the Chester River waterfront, Wilmer Park is a small (6.5-acre) park owned by the Town of Chestertown. It features a paved walking path that circles the grassy lawn and skirts by the bulkhead on the Chester River shoreline. There are excellent views of the expanse of the river from the walking trail, as well as from the raised platform at the Lelia Hynson Pavilion at the park’s south end. The west side of the pavilion looks out over a small wetland area, worth checking. At the northeast corner of the park, between the walking path and the bulkhead, there is a low spot in the grass that often has a puddle that may contain shorebirds or songbirds. Also check the scattering of deciduous trees and shrubs on the street side of the park, near the parking area. Near the pavilion is a soft launch for kayaks and canoes. The elaborate boathouse and dock immediately to the south is owned by Washington College and is not open to the public.
If you would like a bit more walking and habitat exploration, try the south end of the Wayne Gilchrest Trail, which runs along an abandoned railroad right of way. The trail, also known as the Chestertown Rail Trail, is named for the former congressman who has been a champion of the environment and an active volunteer for conservation projects on the Eastern Shore. To reach the rail head, from the parking lot at Wilmer Park, walk west across South Cross Street and through the parking lot of the Stepne Station Office Building, a large wooden-siding structure – originally a train station – located at a deep bend in South Cross Street (see Chestertown map at link at left). At the northwest corner of the Stepne Station parking lot, a paved path will take you to the southern terminus of the Wayne Gilchrist Trail. Walk northwest along the trail and you will soon see natural habitat on your left, including an 8.6-acre parcel called the Lawrence Wetlands Preserve, owned by the Sultana Education Foundation. The Preserve features a variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, including swamp, woodlands, non-tidal wetlands, shrublands, meadows, and a fresh-water pond. There are no foot-trails or other access to the Preserve at present, but there is good viewing from the Wayne Gilchrest Trail. The Lawrence Wetlands Preserve will eventually host environmental education programs , focusing on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. After viewing the Preserve, you can continue north on the Wayne Gilchrest Trail, or you may choose to return to your car for the short drive to the wastewater treatment plant.
If you continue on the trail, it will take you northwest (see Chestertown map at link at left), running parallel to Cannon Street and through a residential area. The trail then turns to the northeast and after crossing High Street, passes an industrial property before entering the campus of Washington College as it swings to the northwest again. The trail, shaded by trees in this stretch, runs past the athletic fields of the campus and ends at Morgnec Road/MD Route 291. A trail extension and a spur is planned, but for now, the existing trail is 1.2 miles long, one-way.
Upon returning to your car at Wilmer Park, you are now ready to visit the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant, which can be a magnet for waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and terns, like many others in Maryland and throughout the country. What makes this one special is that it is possible to get decent views of the main settling pond from the public road. There is no public access to enter the facility and walk around inside. One simply pulls up on the wide grassy shoulder on the northeast side of John Hanson Road to view the facility; there is room for several cars to pull entirely off the road. Bring a scope for the best viewing. There are two settling ponds at the facility; the one closer to the road is easy to see, but the back pond is mostly out of view. Also be sure to scope the surrounding fields and the hedgerow running across the field to the southeast for field birds and songbirds. The adjacent lands are privately owned; please be careful not to trespass. Heads up: the front settling pond is labelled as the “Montrose Farm Pond” on many maps, including Google and Open Street Map.
Prior to the 9/11 disaster in 2001, many of the wastewater treatment plants and landfills in Maryland were fairly welcoming to birders, some allowing drop-in visits and some allowing birding by prior arrangement. However, the 9/11 terrorism event led to a tightening of security everywhere, and many wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and other similar facilities in Maryland are now closed to entry by birders. The terrain and intentional screening and landscaping at most of these facilities make it impossible to view them from outside their gates. The viewing access from the public road is what makes the Chestertown facility such a notable place.
There are separate eBird hotspots for
There is no hotspot for the Wayne Gilchrest Trail at this time but we expect one to be coming soon.
At Wilmer Park in the winter, you can expect a few species of waterfowl, including Canada Goose, Mallard, Lesser Scaup, and Common Merganser, with some other drop-ins possible, especially in February or early March. There may also be the usual gulls – Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed – with the addition of Laughing in spring and fall. Possible terns include Least, Caspian, Common, Forster’s, and Royal. Double-crested Cormorants are almost always around, and Great Blue Herons are also common, especially in late summer and fall. Osprey are prevalent at Wilmer Park in spring and summer, and Bald Eagles are present most of the year, but maybe harder to see in summer.
Wilmer Park’s trees hold Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. Eastern Kingbirds and Great Crested Flycatchers use the park in spring and summer. Both American and Fish Crows are prevalent, along with Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice. This is a good place to watch for swallows from April through August: Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Bank, Barn, and Purple Martins. Carolina Wrens are commonly found; European Starlings are noisily apparent; and Gray Catbirds and Northern Mockingbirds hide in the shrubbery. American Robins and Cedar Waxwings feed on the shrubs and trees with berries. Both House Finches and American Goldfinches are abundant.
Expected sparrows include Chipping, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated, Song, and Swamp. You should keep yours tuned for the “Plink’ call of passing Bobolinks in fall. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are in the wetter areas of the park. Warblers are relatively few, given that there is not a woodland here, only scattered landscape trees. However, the park did host an Orange-crowned Warbler in January-February 2017, and overwintering Yellow-rumped Warblers can also be found. Northern Cardinals round out the list of birds that breed in the park.
Wayne Gilchrest Trail/Washington College Campus
The north end of the Wayne Gilchrest Trail provides access to the well-treed Washington College campus, which regularly hosts a good set of songbirds and can be especially interesting during fall and spring migration. The trees on the grassy lawns, the native shrubs in plantings around the buildings, and the grassy fields in the athletic complex are all attractive to birds. The old buildings on campus, and indeed in Chestertown as a whole, play host to a large contingent of Chimney Swifts, and they are almost always overhead from April through July, and then again in fall. Warblers that have appeared during migration include Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Yellow, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Palm, and Black-throated Green.
Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant
The WWTP boasts one of the biggest species lists in Kent County and with 160 species, is the #5 eBird hotspot for the county in terms of species seen. However, you shouldn’t expect to see all these species in any one visit. Chestertown WWTP is the kind of place that requires repeat visits to build your list over time, because it attracts a high number of here today-gone tomorrow rarities and near-rarities.
In the waterfowl department, the rarities include Great White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese and, rare for in inland location, Canvasback, Redhead, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, and Common Merganser. The regularly occurring waterfowl at the WWTP include Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon (sporadic), Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck. All three grebes that are expected in Maryland might turn up: Pied-billed, Horned, and Eared, as well as American Coots.
Shorebirds are a bonus feature of the WWTP. The list of 18 species includes regular appearances of Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Occasional drop-ins and rarities include Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Baird’s Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, and Willet.
In addition to the four usual gulls for Maryland (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, and Laughing), the WWTP has a good record of attracting more unusual species, including Bonaparte’s, Little, and Franklin’s. Terns include Least, Caspian, Black, Common, Forster’s, and Royal – almost the entire complement of Maryland terns.
Among waders, expect Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Green Heron. Tricolored Heron and Cattle Egret have also been found.
The regular raptors include Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. In winter, watch for Northern Harriers, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. Rarely, a Short-eared Owl has been found in winter. American Kestrels, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon might be found during fall migration.
The trees near the WWTP hold Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and even Pileated Woodpeckers, along with Northern Flickers, and in winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. In summer, there are Eastern Wood-Pewees, Eastern Phoebes, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Kingbirds. You can hear White-eyed Vireos singing from the hedgerows. American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, and Cedar Waxwings are all commonly seen.
Be alert for swallows over the settling pond and fields: Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree, Bank, Purple Martin, and even an occasional Cliff Swallow in fall. Chimney Swifts are abundant during the warm months.
House Finches and American Goldfinches are year-round residents, and there may be Purple Finches and Pine Siskins in winter.
Check the fields for Horned Larks, which are present almost year-round, and for American Pipits, which can show up in late fall through early spring. Bobolinks come through during fall migration, and there are sporadic reports of Eastern Meadowlarks. Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles are present most of the year. Check the treelines during the spring and summer for Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.
Summer sparrows may include Grasshopper, Chipping, and Field; winter sparrows include Dark-eyed Junco, maybe White-crowned (rare), White-throated, Savannah, and maybe Swamp (rare unless you have very good ears for distant birds). Song Sparrows can be found all year. Eastern Towhees are, surprisingly, mostly absent. The breeding bird coterie includes Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting.
Warblers are represented only by Common Yellowthroat (breeding), Palm Warbler (fall migration), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (wintering). There are occasional sightings of American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and Blackpoll Warbler.
Pets on leash are OK at Wilmer Park and on the Wayne Gilchrest Trail. Be prepared to clean up after your pet. At the WWTP viewing area, it would be best to keep your pet in the car and deter barking so that the birds don’t flush.
Wilmer Park has two designated handicapped parking spots. Wilmer Park’s paved walking trail is wheelchair accessible, but the soft launch for paddlers is not wheelchair accessible. ◾ The paved Wayne Gilchrist Trail is wheel-chair-accessible for its entire length. ◾ At the WWTP viewing area, the road shoulder is not wheelchair accessible but it is possible to get a good view from within the car.
There is a no-fee soft launch for canoes and kayaks near the pavilion at Wilmer Park. ◾ The website Paddle the Chester provides an interactive map of the river and some suggested paddling itineraries and sites of interest. The website is a joint project of the Chesapeake Conservancy, the Sultana Education Foundation, and the National Park Service. ◾ The non-profit Sultana Education Foundation offers fully outfitted, small group Public Paddles guided tours for all skill levels. Naturalists will point out wildlife and flora, historic locations including ancient Indian ruins; and salt marshes and tidal creeks. ◾ A list of businesses offering kayak and canoe rentals can be found at https://www.kentcounty.com/recreation/paddling/kayak-rentals. ◾ The Chester River and its Riverkeeper are part of the Shore Rivers Consortium.
The picturesque community of Chestertown, dating to the colonial period, offers many sight-seeing possibilities and restaurants. See also the downloadable Visitor’s Map of Chestertown. ◾ Group walking tours of Chestertown are available through the Historical Society of Kent County.
Washington College has developed state-of-the-art programs to immerse students in environmental sciences. The River & Field Campus at Washington College is managed by the Center for Environment & Society and hosts the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory and the Natural Lands Project. The Center for Environment and Society at the College welcomes donations to support its work in avian biology and habitat restoration.
The non-profit Sultana Education Foundation provides a number of educational programs in history and environmental science for students, teachers, and the public. The organization’s pièce de résistance and its namesake is a full-sized, seaworthy replica of the 1768 schooner Sultana. The Sultana Education Foundation’s Holt Education Center hosts programs about the Chesapeake Bay and provides opportunities for citizen-science involvement. The Holt Center is part of the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and is a site on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Kent County Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
The Town of Chestertown has posted a brief YouTube video featuring aerial footage of the Wayne Gilchrest Trail. The video will take you along the trail from south to north
Wilmer Park has a large paved parking lot off South Cross Street.
The Wayne Gilchrest’s Trail’s endpoints are at South Cross Street/MD Route 289 near South Queen Street and at Morgnec Road/MD Route 291 at Washington College. The closest public parking at the south end is at Wilmer Park. There is no designated parking at the north end and it is not permissible to park at Washington College, where all parking is designated for college use and all cars must be registered. However, parking is available about a half-mile south of the trail’s terminus, at the town’s Gateway Park, on the east side of MD Route 20 near the intersection with MD Route 516/Flatland Road.
Parking at the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant is on the road shoulder of the northwest side of John Hanson Road. Parking higher on the hill generally provides a better view.
Chestertown is in the southwest portion of Kent County and is served by several State Routes, including 291, 213, and 289.
To reach Wilmer Park:
- From points north on the Eastern Shore, such as Elkton: Use MD Route 213 southbound to reach Chestertown. Route 213 becomes known as Washington Avenue as it enters the north side of Chestertown. Follow Route 213/Washington Avenue south through town, passing the Washington College campus on the right (west side of the road). Just past the Chestertown Town Hall on the right, turn right to go southwest on MD Route 289/North Cross Street. In three blocks, Route 289 (now South Cross Street) will make a 90⁰ turn to the left, and then in another block it will make a 90⁰ turn to the right. At this second bend, the old train station, Stepne Station, will be a large wood-sided building on the right, and immediately after passing Stepne Station, the entrance to Wilmer Park will be on the left, marked by a sign under tall trees. Turn left to the parking area.
- From points south on the Eastern Shore, such as Easton or Salisbury: Take US Route 50 northbound toward Wye Mills. At Wye Mills, stay straight on US Route 50 at the intersection with Route 404, but in 1.5 miles, at the next major intersection, turn right to go north on MD Route 213. Follow Route 213 north for 22.5 miles, through the towns of Centreville and Church Hill, to enter Chestertown from its south side, crossing over the Chester River. After crossing the river, continue north on Route 213 and make the third left to go west on MD Route 289/North Cross Street. In three blocks, Route 289 (now South Cross Street) will make a 90⁰ turn to the left, and then in another block it will make a 90⁰ turn to the right. At this second bend, the old train station, Stepne Station, will be a large wood-sided building on the right, and immediately after passing Stepne Station, the entrance to Wilmer Park will be on the left, marked by a sign under tall trees. Turn left to the parking area.
- From the Western Shore via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Use US Route 50/US Route 301 to cross the Bay on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. After crossing the bridge, in about 9.5 miles, Routes 50 and 301 will split. Stay to the left to follow Route 301 north. In another 5.7 miles (15.2 miles after the Bay Bridge), follow signs to take MD Route 213 north toward Centreville. Follow Route 213 north for 17.9 miles, through the towns of Centreville and Church Hill, to enter Chestertown from its south side, crossing over the Chester River. After crossing the river, continue north on Route 213 and make the third left to go west on MD Route 289/North Cross Street. In three blocks, Route 289 (now South Cross Street) will make a 90⁰ turn to the left, and then in another block it will make a 90⁰ turn to the right. At this second bend, the old train station, Stepne Station, will be a large wood-sided building on the right, and immediately after passing Stepne Station, the entrance to Wilmer Park will be on the left, marked by a sign under tall trees. Turn left to the parking area.
- From the Western Shore via I-95: From the Baltimore area, take I-95 north toward Elkton. At Elkton, take Exit 109 to go south on MD Route 279 for 3.8 miles. Turn left to go east on US Route 40 and drive 1.5 miles. Turn right to go south on MD Route 213. Follow Route 213 for 35 miles, crossing over the C&D Canal on the high bridge at Chesapeake City and through the towns of Cecilton, Fredericktown/Georgetown and Galena. Be aware that at Galena, Route 213 makes a right turn, so pay attention to the signs. Also be aware that the speed limit is strictly enforced along Route 213 in all the small towns. Route 213 becomes known as Washington Avenue as it enters the north side of Chestertown. Follow Route 213/Washington Avenue south through town, passing the Washington College campus on the right (west side of the road). Just past the Chestertown Town Hall on the right, turn right to go southwest on MD Route 289/North Cross Street. In three blocks, Route 289 (now South Cross Street) will make a 90⁰ turn to the left, and then in another block it will make a 90⁰ turn to the right. At this second bend, the old train station, Stepne Station, will be a large wood-sided building on the right, and immediately after passing Stepne Station, the entrance to Wilmer Park will be on the left, marked by a sign under tall trees. Turn left to the parking area.
To reach the Wayne Gilchrest Trail from Wilmer Park: On foot, from the parking lot at Wilmer Park, walk west across South Cross Street and through the parking lot of the Stepne Station Office Building, a large wooden-siding structure – originally a train station – located at a deep bend in South Cross Street. At the northwest corner of the Stepne Station parking lot, a paved path will take you to the southern terminus of the Wayne Gilchrist Trail. Walk northwest along the paved trail.
To reach the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant from Wilmer Park: In your car, exit the parking area and turn left to go south on South Cross Street/MD Route 289. Follow South Cross Street for 0.8 miles, crossing Radcliffe Creek (no place to pull over to check the creek and its marsh, unfortunately). Turn right to go northwest on John Hanson Road. (Be careful to turn onto the public roadway and not the private farm lane that lies parallel to John Hanson Road and just a little past it.) The Wastewater Treatment Plant will be on your right in just a couple blocks, beyond the houses. The settling pond is set off from the road and surrounded by fields. Pull your car entirely off the travel lane and onto the grassy shoulder and scope the settling pond and the fields from near your car.
Kent County: Buckingham Public Landing & Morgnec Road Public Landing ◾ Chesapeake Farms & St. Paul’s Millpond ◾ Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge ◾ Millington Wildlife Management Area ◾ Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area & Turner’s Creek Park
Queen Anne’s County: Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center – Horsehead ◾ Conquest Preserve ◾ Ferry Point Park ◾ Matapeake Clubhouse & Beach / Matapeake Fishing Pier & Boat Ramp ◾ Terrapin Nature Park ◾ Tuckahoe State Park (Queen Anne’s County) ◾ Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Sewage Treatment FacilityUrban or Small Town Landscape Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Chesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkCommunity and Urban ParksHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)The Rivers of the Eastern ShoreWater Trails