By Amanda Fenstermaker
As Maryland takes steps to safely reopen, many residents and visitors are relishing opportunities to connect with family and friends outdoors. With Blackwater Adventures recent reopening, I visited co-founder Susan Meredith to check in for our “Pioneering Women of Dorchester” series.
Launching a Dorchester Experience
As we were sitting at opposite ends of a picnic table overlooking the Little Blackwater River, two bald eagles began to dance overhead and call to one another. Susan Meredith points skyward and tells me to, “watch, that one is going to land.” As if on cue, the majestic bird settles less than 100 feet away. As we quietly watch, the eagles continue their distinct chatter.
Such seemingly rare moments are common experiences at Blackwater Adventures. For almost 20 years, this Cambridge native has operated Dorchester’s longest-serving outdoor outfitter and touring company with Jay Meredith, her husband of 39 years.
The two met when she was just 16. He shared his dreams to raise a family, restore an historic general store, and launch a kayak/bike rental company near his ancestral homestead in Bucktown. After marrying in 1981, having three children (Wesley, Matt and Kacey), and renovating both the home and Bucktown Village Store, the third part of that dream became a reality in 2002.
When the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort opened to great fanfare that same year, Dorchester’s profile as an ‘up and coming’ destination was catapulted onto a national stage. Then-tourism director Natalie Chabot told the Merediths about a program to help businesses serve the anticipated influx of visitors.
With a $5,000 grant in hand, Susan bought four hybrid bikes, four touring kayaks, and two canoes. Blackwater Adventures was born. She set up shop in a shed beside the Bucktown Village Store and watched the business grow.
Guiding Blackwater’s Growth
In 2006, they opened a second location at the Hyatt. By 2014, Blackwater had outgrown their Bucktown location so they purchased the former Manning Boat building on Key Wallace Drive where ‘the phragmites were so thick you couldn’t see the pond.’
Today, their fleet of nearly 200 outdoor toys includes Wilderness Systems single and double kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, Trek bikes, Sea-Doo jet skis, paddle boats, catamarans, tubes, wakeboards and three cruising boats.
While Blackwater’s Hyatt operation is currently closed (the resort is scheduled to reopen June 22), Susan believes that Dorchester’s abundant waterfront, open spaces and rural destinations will be a strong attraction for visitors this summer.
“Families and friends are seeking safe and fun ways to experience Dorchester’s beautiful land and water. Fortunately, we are able to meet physical distancing protocols thanks to our website booking system. Customers can submit release forms and pay online.”
‘If you can’t find me, you know where to find me’
Growing up across from what is now Sailwinds Park, the Choptank River was Susan’s playground. She is still drawn outside for regular paddles or pedals by herself or with friends, family and customers.
Fortunately, for this outdoors woman, every day brings a new adventure.
“One day, I’m guiding a kayak tour or hosting an event here. The next I’m taking a group skeet shooting or sailing with them on a skipjack.”
The one constant she points to is that the business has ‘made me smarter.’
“I’m always reading so I can offer our guests the best experience. When I guide a tour, I’m sharing stories about the history, environment and culture,” she says. “Being a business owner has made me more confident.”
Power of the Outdoors to Change Lives
Susan has witnessed countless stories of how a ‘Blackwater Adventure’ inspires women of every age.
“Twelve years ago, a psychiatrist in Easton referred a woman to me who was petrified of the water. I took her on a tour of the Transquaking River – just the two of us – and it was truly life changing. She’s still kayaking today.”
Her style of teaching paddling is warm and inviting. She prides herself on helping guests feel the experience and connect with nature.
“I rock the kayak side to side to demonstrate that you won’t tip over. I stand the paddle in the river bottom to show the depth and explain if you have to walk to shore you can. I try and figure out their fears to help them stop analyzing and start feeling.”
She shares another story of courage and inspiration on the same river.
“I was contacted by a family who told me their elderly mother had just one wish before she died. She wanted to kayak. To celebrate her 93rd birthday, they wanted a multi-generational outing. It was beautiful: Fourteen people helped fulfill her dream as we paddled the Transquaking.”
As we wind down our conversation, Susan explains that she believes women especially need to be outdoors.
“Woman are busier than ever – especially the past few months as they worked from home, ran ‘schools,’ and juggled personal and professional demands. Being outdoors is therapeutic for your health and your emotions. When you’re outdoors, you help yourself re-boot.”
Learn more about Blackwater Adventures or plan an outdoor adventure with Susan.
Susan’s Top Three Outdoor Activities
- Put a canoe in the Marshy Hope at Federalsburg and paddle North
- Get on a jet ski on the Choptank and enjoy an adrenaline rush
- Launch a kayak in the Transquaking at the Drawbridge Road boat ramp