Explore the Ghost Ships in This Southern Maryland Park

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on April 12, 2018

In the shallow waters of the Potomac, the Ghost Ships wait for their visitors.

Most who inhabit these decaying ships have scales and feathers, but some come in colorful kayaks and canoes, silently cutting through the water amongst the wrecks.

Welcome to Mallows Bay, home to almost 200 shipwrecks that date back to the Revolutionary War. Currently a Charles County-run park, the bay has been nominated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to become a National Marine Sanctuary.

You see, while the humans gaze in awe at the shipwrecks and bows sticking out of the water, the animals have made this place home. A wide variety of water life lives here, and you’ll find osprey, bald eagles, and other birds here, too.

And what of the Ghost Ships? The old ships that have become a reef are part of the largest ship graveyard in the northern hemisphere. The ships date to varying points of American history, but most come from World War I, when thousands of wooden steamships were built for the war. Designed to cross the Atlantic, the ships were never used in the war. Instead, some were sold off for other purposes, and the ones in Mallows Bay – more than 100 of them – were purchased for parts by Western Marine & Salvage Company. The company stripped the ships of their valuable metals and other parts before burning and sinking what was left. When the company went bankrupt during the Great Depression, the ships remained in place.

Mallows Bay is a small bay on the Charles County side of the Potomac River. The park’s boat ramps give kayakers and canoers access to the ship graveyard, and a short hike lets you explore the park while learning from informational signs along the way. Fishing is available, and the park is a haven for birdwatchers.

(Image via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Photo by Don Shomette.)

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