With eight generations planted in the roots of Dorchester County, the Meredith family of Blackwater Adventures not only revel in the area’s history — they are part of it.
Written by Katie Riley
Photography by Coty Jones Photography
For as long as he can remember, Jay Meredith dreamed of owning a company that would rent kayaks for visitors to explore the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. His grandfather had operated a lunch counter and rented small boats on nearby Hooper’s Island, and Jay hoped to follow in his footsteps. In 2002, that dream became a reality, when Jay and his wife, Susan, founded Blackwater Pedal and Paddle just a few miles up the road from the entrance to Blackwater NWR.
“We started with just a handful of kayaks and a few bikes and rented them to weekenders who would visit to explore the refuge.” In 2004, their small business grew when the Hyatt Cambridge Resort was built, ramping up tourism to the area. Within a year, the Merediths were asked to open a second location, on the grounds of the resort. At the Hyatt, Blackwater Adventures expanded to include Jet Ski and boat rentals, in addition to bikes and kayaks.
The company’s main headquarters, just outside the gates of the refuge, offers twice-daily biking and kayaking tours, as well as hourly and daily kayak and bike rentals. The business remains a family affair. All three kids and their spouses are involved in Blackwater Adventures, something Jay says is a dream come true.
“It was always our vision to have a business that all of our kids could be involved in,” he says.
Jay still works as an engineer for the Maryland Department of Transportation and lends a hand on the weekends, while Susan conducts tours. Their daughter Kacey manages the facilities and headquarters, and son Wesley helps out on the weekends when not managing his own company. Matt Meredith is the company’s operations manager, and he acknowledges the rarity of their setup.
“As you get older, you definitely realize what a lucky thing it is that we can all live and work together in such a beautiful place,” he says.
Living and working in Dorchester County is nothing new for the Meredith family. For eight generations, their family has resided in this bucolic county on the same land as their ancestors. Jay and Susan live on their family homestead, in a 1790 farmhouse, and all three children and their spouses live within a few miles’ radius.
The family is not only committed to honoring their heritage but to preserving it, too. In the 1980s Jay and Susan bought back the historic Bucktown General Store, which had been in their family for more than a hundred years. The store plays a significant role in the life of Harriet Tubman, and the Meredith family have preserved the store exactly as it was in the 1830s. They operate the Bucktown General Store as a nonprofit and give periodic tours to visitors and educational groups.
“We do feel tied to this land, and I have always tried to instill a sense of pride in our children about Dorchester County and their heritage,” Jay says.
That sense of pride is what many say sets their tours apart from the average tourist experience.
“We aim to give visitors an authentic experience of the Blackwater,” Jay says. “Our family has lived and worked in these marshes since 1668, so when share its history, we feel like we are sharing our personal history, too.”