The Disappearing Island


Tangier Island is disappearing. We’ve been hearing this for decades.

I can confirm that it’s true. I was there.

The small, still-inhabited island in the Chesapeake Bay is now 2.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide. That’s apparently half its size several years ago, based on local written accounts.

I went there to fill in a gap from The Great Loop, which I ended weeks ago. (I can’t say I “finished” it, as Skipper Jeff did, since I missed about 1,000 of the 6,000 miles.) I wanted so much to visit this island when we travelled up the bay a few months ago. It was my “must-do” on the Chesapeake. But we were too early in the season, and nothing on the island was open. Anyway, Jeff was focused on moving forward…and a stop-over at Tangier would have been “side-ways.” So I made a commitment to find another way.

I mean, how often can you visit a place that you know will disappear soon?

Sometimes I feel like I’m disappearing, too. I think it’s a phenomenon of post-retirement, growing older, and being a woman in this society. The good news is, I quickly recover from that feeling.

Tangier Island will, unfortunately, not recover. So if you plan to visit, you’d better make it soon. Photos and captions below.

Tangier Island is near the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. You can get there by ferry from either Maryland or Virginia. If you’re on The Great Loop, you can get there by personal boat.
We took the ferry from Crisfield, Md., which is about 3.5 hours’ drive from my home in Arlington Va. The ferry fits 90 people but less than 30 were on board this weekday in late July. Cost: $30 round trip. Duration: 1.25 hours.
Stacked crab traps create a colorful welcome as the ferry arrives.
Arrivals are met by locals who offer a golf cart tour for a nominal fee. (We were also greeted by evidence of ongoing political passions, even in this back-water. That flag carries a photo of the former president, “I’ll Be Back” printed underneath.)
The island isn’t the only thing that’s disappearing. The waterman’s way of life seems to be disappearing also…at least as a backbone of small fishing villages.
Most of the small restaurants and shops were closed, even in the middle of tourist season. Sad….
Generations have lived and died here. The Crockett name is one of the common surnames.
Local residents number just 300 now. A boat brings mail and supplies from the mainland six days/week, year-round. (However, residents must pay $30 or more to bring themselves to/from the mainland.) I got a chuckle and also a grimace about this “Freedom is Not Free” display. As a 30-year-veteran, I know this well! The phrase has become laden with political overtones, generally referring (these days) to individual freedoms, vs. other kinds…
It was too hot (heat index over 100) during our visit to walk the marsh trail, but some seabirds came to see us.
Crab pots have a variety of uses, other than threatening to entangle boat props! (We dodged a lot of these while doing The Loop.) Local residents find inventive ways to use them as decorations.
A depiction of the changing island in the local history museum.
Most houses on Tangier Island are modest. No wonder–there isn’t much evidence of a local economy.
Isn’t it interesting how a bold color can make an otherwise cluttered scene so cheery?
During our two-hour visit, a line of storms approached. Red = bad! It brought back memories of watching the weather for months on end, an essential task on The Great Loop. I was glad we were on a ferry, not a personal boat, to return to the mainland in front of this maelstrom.
Incoming storm clouds created dramatic skies as we left.
I doubt I will come back, but glad I went.
I spent the ride back mostly on deck. Gazing. I miss the daily view of skies and water. There’s other things about The Great Loop I don’t miss. But I miss this.
Thanks to my friend June for making this 15-hour day trip with me. We met with her friend Paul when we returned to Crisfield. Increased telecommuting has made it possible for people like Paul to live in these small out-of-the-way towns, where many people have moved from the cities.

6 thoughts on “The Disappearing Island

  1. Good Morning Mary !!! Diane and I have visited Tangier many times .. we have have several Methodist ministers that were born on the island and a few still have parents there. One of your pictures is of one such family. We have also taken De De over and stayed at the only Marina there. Mr. Milton Parks the owner just died a few months ago.. To hear his stories was priceless. You might download a news reporters multi year life on the Island. “Chesapeake Requiem”. On one such trip to the island we were there while a local funeral was conducted. Service in the main church, Swain Memorial, and the meal prepared and served in the other, both Methodist Churches. Travel between the two was by foot, golf cart and bicycle. Glad you got to visit this Island of history. Henry and Diane — Vessel De De 1.5 Great Loops

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  2. Good to see another post from you, Mary. I’ve been wondering if you were up at Lake Superior or in DC. This post was interesting as all your posts are.

    Things are good on the Redemption. We are leaving South Haven tomorrow for Hammond marina. We’re hoping to get to the closing lock near Joliet this week before that happens We took a 10 day leave of absence from the boat in July. Left her in St. Ignace. Lee and I went home; Tom and Joyce visited their daughter and her family in Wisconsin. We all enjoyed our time away but were happy to be on the move again.

    I’ll look forward to your next post. Fondly, Jan

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Hi guys! Nice to hear from you and to get your update. I wonder about you sometimes. And I still do intend to do that blog post about you guys. I still have my notes! I’m on my way back to the UP and perhaps will write it from my little waterfront camper

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  3. Hi Mary!
    Just catching up on your posts here—-we went to Tangier and Smith islands with Kittiwake. Absolutely fascinating and sadly we arrived in Tangier literally the day of the funeral of Milton Parks! I was bummed as I’d heard he was fascinating and wanted to ask lots of questions.
    We’re up on Swans island in Maine for the month, sans Kittiwake of course 😭 and we’re doing a talk on the Great Loop at the library here!
    Once we’re settled back in Philadelphia, we’d love to come visit you in DC. Actually we’d much prefer to visit you up north as that’s where our hearts seem to want to be…..
    Much love to you, Jeff and Boo!

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    1. So good to hear from you! I received an invitation from a friend in Maine that I met on the loop and would love to take him up on it as I also love Maine. So much like the UP. I remember seeing something about your visit to that island. Isn’t. Thank you so much for still reading my blog. I’ll be back on the East Coast in about a week. Would love to catch up in person!

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