When fans pile into Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 27 for the Military Bowl, they’ll be thinking of their teams, the University of North Carolina and Temple University.
They probably won’t be wondering about the proceeds of their ticket sales, which is too bad because in a small way, they are supporting a moment of tranquility and relaxation for an injured veteran or their families.
On a remote point along the shore the Chesapeake Bay, where Harriet Tubman was born and peregrine falcons and bald eagles soar over the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the Military Bowl Foundation has built a place for veterans and first responders to gather for fun, sun and healing.
Patriot Point, in Dorchester County west of Cambridge, is where they go to unwind, fish, hunt, crab, paddleboard, kayak and enjoy the great outdoors.
“I needed this weekend to help me unwind from all the stressful things going on and not have anxiety about who I was hunting with,” said Army First Sgt. Jeremiah Gorsuch, a explosive ordinance disposal technician who lost his right leg in Afghanistan and stayed at the retreat in late November.
“Having other warriors, both military and law enforcement, around allowed me to let my guard down and just relax,” he said.
Since opening in 2016, the 290-acre Patriot Point has hosted more than 1,000 guests. The retreat includes a 100-year-old luxury log home, guest house, welcome center and barn with a state-of-the-art fitness center and caretaker apartment.
“We’re a game with a cause," said Steve Beck, the Military Bowl’s president and executive director. "Having the ability to offer Patriot Point really ties us in with the wounded, ill and injured communities. It’s been very good.”
Guests are through various veterans organizations such as the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, Freedom Hunters, No Warrior Left Behind, Operation Second Chance, Bravo Zulu Outdoors and Gold Star Mothers, among others.
The groups conduct specialty programs for their visitors while Patriot Point provides the recreational opportunities — 15 activities that include water sports, hunting, crabbing, fishing, archery, skeet and more — managed by the facility’s only full-time staff member, Vietnam veteran and property manager Tim Mitchell.
“People love Tim and he’s an expert on the water, as well as hunting and taking care of the grounds. We are very fortunate with him,” Beck said.
Tom Deoudes, Maryland regional director for Freedom Hunters, has taken groups of about a dozen to Patriot Point for waterfowl hunting. He said he began volunteering to support veterans to ensure that none were forgotten, like acquaintances he knew who served in Vietnam.
He finds the camaraderie he sees among the participants at Patriot Point as “amazingly touching.”
“I don’t hunt with them — I am not a veteran. I go to facilitate. But I am so blessed to be able to take service members there. It’s not just a hunting place, it’s a healing place,” Deoudes said.
The main house on the property has six bedrooms, two of which are handicapped-accessible. It serves as the main gathering place, with a third floor art studio and 360-degree panorama waterfront view, a porch, patio and dining room. There also a six-bedroom guest house, outdoor BBQ area, dock and shooting ranges.
The place has a unique history, having first served as a retreat for a shipping magnate and purchased in 1926 by silent screen star Clara Bow, whose reputation as a party girl remains evident in the cellar, which retains a foot rail and fireplace from a Prohibition-era bar.
“That’s a dream, that we can someday rebuild the bar … I guess she was a wild one,” Beck said.
Once known as Locust Point and then Poverty Point, it was purchased by James Bugg, founder and chairman of the Yellow Ribbon Fund who often invited service members from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in the metropolitan Washington, D.C.-area for weekend getaways. The seed for a permanent retreat was planted.
When Bugg died in 2015, the Military Bowl Foundation moved to purchase the property, with help from partners Stuart Plank, a former Virginia Tech football player and property developer in the Washington, D.C.-area, as well as the Taishoff Family Foundation. The state of Maryland gave a $500,000 grant for capital improvements, including handicapped accessibility.
It’s expensive restoring a property so large, Beck said, but a cadre of volunteers has stepped forward and the organization is midway through a $3 million capital campaign.
“It’s the best thing I’ve been involved in, and I’ve been involved in a lot of things,” Beck said.
Stephanie Whiting spent a weekend in April at Patriot Point for caregivers of injured veterans sponsored by Operation Second Chance, taking an art class, walking on the beach, shooting skeet and gathering around the fire pit and, later, a bonfire.
“I had an amazing time,” Whiting said. “They really put a lot of effort to ensuring that guests would be able to relax and unwind. I hope to go back someday.”
She may get her chance. While individuals can’t make reservations, once they have gone with an organized group, they are welcome back during the week when its not being used as available.
“It’s an opportunity for people to just enjoy the outdoors. I love just walking back there in the woods. In the winter and fall and early spring, it’s really nice,” Beck said.
The Military Bowl Foundation also raises funds for the USO and other charitable events for veterans. More information on Patriot Point and its partners is available on the facility’s web site.