Time 1.5 hrs. to 2 hr depending on traffic.
Directions: I-97 to Md. 50 East. About two miles and get off on Md. 2 south. For about 30 miles. Left on Calvert Beach Road and then you’ll see the driveway with a sign for Matoaka Cabins on the Left. A day pass costs $4 per person. $2 per kid. 410-586-0269
When it comes to day-trips there lingers the urge to go back in time, but truly it’s gettig harder to do, mainly because we can’t help but mess with the few diminishing remains that we can still visit. We turn them in into museums or we build a gleaming visitors’ center in the middle of a bucolic enclave. We mess with the old ways, always updating and congratulating ourselves that changes have been camouflaged as historic preservation.
Thankfully time, developers or a tourist onslaught hasn’t done a thing to Matoaka Cabins in St. Leonard down in Calvert County. Named after Pocahontas real name, Matoaka looks very much as it did back in 1960 when Larry and Connie Smith bought the waterfront bluff. Back then it was camp that dated to the 1930s. The place still has that vibe with its slapsided-planked cabins with the bowed screen porches, the dirt basketball court with the makeshift nets.
The rutted entrance itself evokes a charm as you notice the homemade maintainance, an open lots cut away in the brush, a rustic shed overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, perfect for the aspiring water colorist. A simple sign asks you to pay at the house got to by a curved shell path. $4 per adult, $2 per child and the third of a mile beach front is all yours. Making the turn from the house lies the best view from a cut lawn that rolls out towards a steep drop i.e. Calvert Cliffs. The beach holds promise of fossils from Miocine epoch, 15 million years old. Sometimes there’s pieces of old boats washed up on the shore, inspiring my daughters, Ellie and Lilah to play shipwrecked for the afternoon, ducking hostile natives and searching for food before nightfall. After a good hour I was praying for rescue. Back to reality, sharks teeth is a top find and a pretty tough score and the searching, an afternoon spent in an old man’s stooping position turns into a kind of meditative act. Last year I did swim in the Bay, but I’d wear some surf shoes when otherwise on a clear bottom I came across something big and metal. Clunk. No damage
There isn’t any restrooms along the beach, perhaps an outhouse stands back up the long climb to the Matoaka Camp. Hey like I said it’s rustic. Despite the raw look of the cabins, the proprietors know they offer a rare opportunity to wake up under a wooded canopy overlooking the Bay. Cabins run about $240 per weekend.
We haven’t taken the plunge. Besides we get a kick from paying $12 for some beach experience and zooming home missing the bay bridge traffic.
I had a chance for a quick interview of the Smith’s daughter, Becky Barney now 50ish. She grew up in Matoaka with her four brothers and sisters, meaning there was no need to go to camp. The camp came to her. Each week would bring a new set of kids to play with.
“We go to know a lot of the people,” she said. “They came back because us kids were here.”
She also saw the demise of the Bay, the decline in fish and crabs and the runoff is on dramatic display on these cliffs as mature trees miraculous hang to nothing but topsoil jutting over the edge, before joining the woodpile that has since fallen over. Luckily Matoaka still offers a chance of what an old Chesapeake excursion felt like.