Maryland's Upper Eastern Shore grew rapidly during the 1980s, mainly because of highway improvements and fewer red lights. A motorist now can travel from the Baltimore beltway to Easton in 90 minutes. The region seems well on its way to becoming a not-too-distant suburb of the Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington triangle.
Will this trend surmount the recession, or will it stagnate until money and jobs are more secure? Heavy traffic moves down I-97 through Anne Arundel County and across the bay bridge along Route 50 to the middle and northern shore communities. Census figures indicate many people are moving to the area permanently. New ex-urbanites are settling from Grasonville to Easton, becoming new and distant suburbanites.
Unless Maryland suffers from a longer-than-expected recession, the Upper Shore could be home of the next satellite communities surrounding metropolitan Baltimore. That might not be as far off as it sounds. Extending the MARC commuter-rail line to Perryville in Cecil County this spring could spur additional residential growth. Many new shore residents already commute to jobs in Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Baltimore. The proximity to the Atlantic beaches is a key incentive.
Census figures support a growing shore profile. Queen Anne's County population remained virtually stagnant until 1970 when it was 18,422. In the last 20 years, however, it has increased to 33,953. Talbot County, its neighboring subdivision to the south, has grown in proportion to Queen Anne's, from 19,450 in 1950 to 30,549 in 1990. Farther south in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties, the population is increasing more slowly but at a higher rate than in previous years.
The shore was once a place where vacationers passed through miles of corn fields on trips to Ocean City. That is changing. The once-small city of Salisbury now depends on suburbs of its own to house the local work force. Smaller towns such as Denton and Berlin are adopting urban practices of rehabilitation to accommodate, much to their pleasure, the trend toward re-gentrification.
The Eastern Shore may never become an urban -- or even suburban -- society as most of us know it. But much of the shore may never return to the bucolic life it has known for centuries.