If I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a wilderness oasis, devoid of the drone of highway interstate traffic and the ever-present hum of electricity, where you can run your fingers along the rigid surface of billion year old exposed granite and relish in your escapism from modern development knowing you’re surrounded by 80,000 acres of protected and never-to-be-destroyed-for-any-reason forests, would you believe me?
I wouldn’t believe myself had I not touched the rocks with my own fingers, experienced the almost overpowering silence with my own ears and sighed in relief when I learned that the beauty I was completely encompassed by was actually safe. Really safe. Like I can bring my own children here someday and they will see with their eyes exactly what I saw through mine, safe. Of course, I’m speaking about Shenandoah National Park and the misty Blue Ridge Mountains of the great state of Virginia.
As I began my 35 mile trek along Skyline Drive, the signature route through the Shenandoahs, I travelled through a 700 foot tunnel in the belly of Mary’s Rock Mountain where I was reminded by a quirky sign that, ‘only 1,300,000,000 years ago this rock was still molten magma’. . . lest I forget, of course. I occasionally pass the wayward backpacker, no doubt following the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that transect the park, and I’m offered a casual wave and a glance that I can’t help but interpret as, “You get it, too . . . this place is special”. Although I’m visiting the park in the winter, I honestly feel a bit like a peeping tom but in the best way possible. With the trees having shed the last of the autumn leaves, I can see deep into the woods and eavesdrop on the inner workings of a forest from squirrels climbing tall knobby chestnut trees to white-tailed deer nuzzling through the fallen leaves in search of food.
At the tallest point of my journey, I pulled over at Thorofare Mountain Overlook which is approximately 3570 feet higher than my cubicle on the third floor of the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, MD (not that I’m measuring). It was here that I experienced the deepest silence of the journey. Sitting on a segment of a stone wall that runs almost the length of Skyline Drive built with hard work and sweat by the boys and men of the Civilian Conservation Corps early last century, my feet seemed to dangle on the edge of the world. To my right, vast, open farming segments nestled comfortably within the valley. To my left, row after row of misty near-ethereal Blue Mountains, each succeeding into a fainter shade of blue until the last mountain blends almost artistically into the horizon. Yeah, I get it. This place is special.
So, if I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a place 75 miles from our nation’s capital where the mountains are enchantingly blue, the silence is deafening, and you could experience true, unspoiled nature the way nature is intended to be, would you believe me? Well, I guess you’ll just have to go and found out for yourself.
Despite increased restoration efforts throughout the watershed, the Chesapeake’s health did not improve in 2008, according to the Bay Program’s annual report, Bay Barometer: A Health and Restoration Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay and Watershed in 2008.
Due to its polluted waters, degraded habitats and low populations of key fish and shellfish species, the Bay’s health averaged 38 percent. 100 percent represents a fully restored ecosystem.
Some statistics on the health of the Bay in 2008 include:
“While there are small successes in certain parts of the ecosystem and specific geographic areas, the sobering data in this report reflect only marginal shifts from last year’s results,” said Bay Program Director Jeffrey Lape.
Bay Barometer also reviews restoration efforts that took place across the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed. As of 2008, Bay Program partners had put into place 61 percent of efforts needed for a restored Bay.
One restoration goal that was met in 2008 was land preservation. Bay Program partners have exceeded their goal to permanently protect from development 7.3 million acres of land – which is 20 percent of the combined watershed land area in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
“Preserving more than 7 million acres of land is a tremendous success for the partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program and the citizens of the region,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council.
Other restoration highlights from 2008 included:
One of the Bay’s greatest challenges is population growth and development, which destroys forests, wetlands and other natural areas. The impacts of human activity are offsetting efforts to clean up the Bay.
Because of the influence of the Bay watershed’s 17 million residents, Bay Barometer includes a section that shows seven simple actions people can take to help restore the Bay and its local waterways:
For more information about the data included in Bay Barometer, view a PDF of the full report or see additional details on each indicator in our Bay Barometer section.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has named J. Charles Fox as senior advisor on the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River.
Fox has an extensive and distinguished career as a champion for the environment:
Fox’s appointment is another signal that the EPA is renewing and deepening its mission to protect America’s environment under President Obama. The decision to name Fox as a senior advisor continues the EPA’s long-standing commitment to restoring the Bay and its rivers, such as the Anacostia.
“I look forward to working closely with Bay Program Director Jeff Lape and the talented and hard-working staff in Annapolis and EPA’s regional office in Philadelphia, who share my deep dedication to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Fox. “I also value the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Bay Program’s many federal and state partners to make great progress in restoring our nation’s largest estuary.”
The South River Federation released its 2009 annual scorecard last night. The river received a score of 33, one point lower than last year. The federation scores the river on 10 key indicators, including nutrients, dissolved oxygen and the abundance of underwater life. Some of the individual scores include a dismal 1 for water clarity and zero for underwater grasses, and a more encouraging 7 for bacteria levels.
In the scorecard, South River Federation Executive Director Erik Michelsen gives people a few quick tips on how they can help improve the health of the South River:"Everyone living in the South River Watershed can do their own part by trying to keep the rain that falls on their property in their yard, upgrading septic systems to the best available technology, and minimizing or eliminating the use of fertilizers on their yards."
Want some more tips to help the South River and the entire Bay? Check out the Bay Program's comprehensive list of ways people can make a difference.
This is the second river report card to be released in recent weeks. The Magothy River released its annual Magothy River Index in February, and it also reflected a decrease in overall river health. Stay tuned for more river report cards in the coming weeks.