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Chesapeake Bay News


By the Numbers: 54

Last year, the National Park Service celebrated a century of preserving natural and cultural resources across the United States. With parks, preserves, monuments, memorials, footpaths, parkways and more in every state and four U.S. territories, the agency connects millions of visitors each year with outdoor places. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed alone, the National Park Service operates 54 sites. Learn about six sites that each have a different distinction below.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. Image by the National Park Service Cultural Landscapes Project.

1. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens (Washington, D.C.). Established in 1938, the natural wetlands and manmade ponds in this park along the Anacostia River were once owned by a Civil War veteran named Walter Shaw. In the late nineteenth century, Shaw turned a personal interest in raising waterlilies into a booming business that was later assumed by his daughter, Helen. When efforts to remove excess silt from the Anacostia threatened the gardens, Helen fought to safeguard the land. The U.S. Department of the Interior stepped in to purchase and protect eight acres. Today, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. Thousands of waterlilies and lotuses in more than 40 ponds bloom in June and July, and an annual festival celebrates the flowers.

Jones Point Park is home to the last remaining riverine lighthouse in Virginia. Image by Mr.TinDC/Flickr.

2. Jones Point Park (McLean, Virginia). Established in 1964, the freshwater marsh in this park on the Potomac River was once a bustling hub of transportation and recreation. In 1856, the Jones Point Lighthouse became a navigational aid to merchant, passenger and fishing vessels traveling along the Potomac River and naval ships approaching Washington Navy Yard. Its beam of light could be seen for nine miles, and it operated for 70 years. In 1926, a light tower replaced the lighthouse and the historic structure was given to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to maintain as a museum. While the 1936 construction of a military facility closed the site to the public, it was reopened in 1953. Floods and vandals had eroded the shores and damaged the lighthouse, so the DAR transferred the property back to the federal government for its protection. Today, the Jones Point Lighthouse is the last remaining riverine lighthouse in Virginia. A cornerstone from an eighteenth-century survey of the District of Columbia’s borders remains in an adjacent seawall.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad completed the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Image by Jeffrey M. Frank/Shutterstock.

3. Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Cresson, Pennsylvania). Between 1834 and 1854, the Allegheny Portage Railroad carried boats moving along the Pennsylvania Canal over the Allegheny Mountains. Built to compete with the Erie Canal, the portage railroad supported continuous barge traffic between the Ohio and Susquehanna rivers, completed the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and included the first railroad tunnel (and third tunnel of any kind) in the United States. At 36 miles long, the portage railroad used a series of inclines to move railcars over the mountains. Stationary steam engines lifted and lowered railcars up and down the inclines, while horses pulled railcars along the flat sections of rail. Fully loaded canal boats could carry thousands of pounds of cargo and passengers and make a trip that once required a 23-day wagon ride in four days. While the portage railroad was technologically advanced for its time, it closed when the Pennsylvania Railroad completed a more advanced rail link over the mountains. Today, remains of the Allegheny Portage Railroad are preserved by the National Park Service on a 1,296-acre site.

4. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (Vienna, Virginia). Established in 1966, this park sits on former farmland donated to the government by a philanthropist named Catherine Filene Shouse. Between 1930 and 1956, Shouse acquired more than 150 acres of farmland on which she grew crops, hosted politicians, soldiers on leave and disadvantaged children, and found refuge from life in Washington, D.C. In 1966, she decided to donate 100 acres and the funds to build an amphitheater in order to protect the land from development and allow for the outdoor enjoyment of the arts. Today, the site is operated through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Wolf Trap Foundation. It remains the only National Park Service site dedicated to presenting the performing arts.

Fort McHenry is the only National Park Service site designated a national monument and historic shrine. Image by m01229/Flickr.

5. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (Baltimore, Maryland). Built at the turn of the nineteenth century, the star-shaped Fort McHenry sits on the Patapsco River and was constructed to protect the city of Baltimore. During the War of 1812, the fort successfully defended Baltimore from a British attack in a bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose The Star-Spangled Banner. While the fort served as a prison camp for Southern sympathizers and soldiers during the Civil War, it had lost its military value by the late nineteenth century. Following a brief service as a World War I military hospital, Fort McHenry was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Six years later, it was designated a national monument and historic shrine—the only such distinction in the national park system.

Catoctin Mountain Park was the site of the nation’s first Job Corps Center. Image by TrailVoice/Flickr.

6. Catoctin Mountain Park (Thurmont, Maryland). Established as a park in 1954, this mixed hardwood forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains was originally purchased by the government in 1936 to connect city dwellers with the environment and show that rough terrain, eroded soil and an ecosystem suffering from extensive logging could become productive again. Under the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration built cabins and other facilities in the then-named Catoctin Recreation Area and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees and restored streams and meadows.

In 1942, one of the camps in the Catoctin Recreation Area became a presidential retreat. A decade later, President Truman approved a plan to return one portion of the park to the National Park Service and transfer the second portion to the Maryland State Forest and Park System. Twelve years after that, President Johnson drew inspiration from the Civilian Conservation Corps to establish a Job Corps to address rising unemployment and social unrest. A site within Catoctin Mountain Park became home to the nation’s first Job Corps Center. Today, visitors can rent historic cabins and hike through a regenerated “second growth” forest. The presidential retreat—named Camp David by President Eisenhower in 1953—remains closed to the public.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world. Image by Chiot’s Run/Flickr.

7. Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Established in 1968, this 2,180-mile long footpath runs from Katahdin Mountain in central Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia. Conceived in 1921 and completed by individual citizens in 1937, the 1968 signing of the National Trails System Act formally put the first national scenic trail in place. The trail continues to be used by day hikers, short-term hikers and thru-hikers, who travel along from start to finish in a single season. It is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and state agencies and volunteers, and almost all of the land along its course is protected by federal and state ownership. It remains one of the most biodiverse entities in the National Park System and one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Program’s work to foster environmental stewardship through access to open space and waterways or find your own Chesapeake Bay experience.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.


Photo of the Week: By any name, Chickies Rock provides spectacular views

The Susquehanna River flows past Chickies Rock County Park in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, at sunset on May 16. Visitors to the roughly 400-acre park can take a short, half-mile hike to Chickies Rock, an overlook that towers 100 feet above the river and offers extensive views both upstream and downstream.

Chickies Rock is named after Chiques Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna that flows through the park. Despite their different spellings, the names “Chickies” and “Chiques” are pronounced the same, refer to the same area and are both found on roads, buildings and natural features throughout the region (at times causing confusion for non-locals).

The names are believed to come from a Susquehannock word meaning “place of crayfish,” which French and English settlers spelled as chiquesalunga or chickiswalungo. French explorers are believed to have arrived first, using the Chiques spelling; later, English settlers would use the Chickies spelling.

Manmade features like roads and buildings have tended to use the Chiques spelling, following in the footsteps of Chiques Church of the Brethren, which was founded in 1856. Natural areas like Chickies Rock, on the other hand, tend to use the alternate spelling. Until recently, Chiques Creek and its tributary, Little Chiques Creek, used the Chickies spelling as well. But in 2002, the Chiques Creek Watershed Alliance petitioned the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Board on Geographic Names to change the creek’s official spelling, citing their belief that the Chiques spelling predates Chickies.

No matter how you spell it, the park and surrounding area offer plenty of recreational opportunities for visitors. In addition to the Chickies Rock overlook, the area provides numerous trails and is home to a collection of historical features, including remnants of iron furnaces, rolling mills and trolley lines. The park also provides access to the Northwest Lancaster River Trail, a fourteen-mile paved trail that follows the Susquehanna River.

Learn more about Chickies Rock County Park.

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.


Twenty-four new sites connect residents to the water

In 2016, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened a total of 24 boat ramps, fishing piers and other sites that grant public access to creeks, streams and rivers in the region. With fourteen sites opened in Virginia, four each in Pennsylvania and Maryland and two in West Virginia, there are now 1,271 places in the Chesapeake Bay region that are open to fishing, boating, swimming and other recreational activities.

Since 2010, Bay Program partners have opened 132 sites, meeting 44 percent of our goal to open 300 sites by 2025. Strong partnerships and public initiatives at all levels of government and with nongovernmental organizations have been critical to our progress, as illustrated by the varied ownership of the sites opened last year: 13 of the new sites are owned by local governments, 10 are owned by state governments and one is jointly owned by state and local government. Funding for these public access sites is also varied, coming from local and state governments, nonprofit organizations and federal funding.

This new fishing pier and kayak launch allow locals at Sleepy Hole Park in Suffolk, Va., to access the Nansemond River.

As development continues across the Chesapeake Bay region, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high. Public access to open space and waterways can improve health and quality of life, provide economic value through recreation and tourism and create citizen stewards who care for their local waterways.  

Increasing public access to open space and waterways not only allows for recreation, it also creates a shared sense of responsibility to protect these important natural environments. Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, our partners committed to increasing public access as part of a larger effort to engage communities in conservation work.

“Having access to waterways and woodlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed and understanding the importance of this natural resource is essential to its protection and continued enjoyment,” said Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “We don’t value what we don’t know, and we won’t protect what we don’t value. There is much about the natural world that we don’t understand, yet it is vital to our well-being and survival.”

Get a closer look at four of the new sites, or learn more about our work to connect residents to their local waterways.

Photo by Will Parson


Five endangered species that live in the Chesapeake Bay region

Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act has served as a way to protect plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. More than 2,300 species are listed as endangered or threatened on the Endangered Species List, several of which depend on the unique habitats found in the Chesapeake Bay region to survive. In honor of Endangered Species Month, we’re highlighting a few of the local critters currently listed as endangered.

Image by Shenandoah National Park/Flickr

Shenandoah Salamander
This small, woodland amphibian is known to inhabit just three mountains, all of which—as evidenced by the salamander’s name—lie within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Once more widely distributed, competition with redback salamanders has confined the Shenandoah salamander to the steep, rocky, north-facing slopes of Hawksbill Mountain, The Pinnacles and Stony Man Mountain. The species’ small range and limited habitat led it to be federally listed as endangered in 1987. Experts are working to monitor the abundance of Shenandoah salamanders, minimize the effects park activities have on the amphibians and understand the potential impacts of warming temperatures on this high-elevation species.

Illustration by Dave Neely/Wikimedia Commons

Maryland Darter
Originally discovered in 1912, the Maryland darter has only ever been recorded in three streams in Harford County, Maryland: Swan Creek, Deer Creek and Gashey’s Run. The species’ scarcity led it to be federally listed as endangered in 1967. Through the late 1980s, the darter continued to be sighted in Deer Creek at irregular intervals, but the last recorded sighting of the Maryland darter was in 1988. Rapid development is thought to have degraded local water quality, decreasing the amount of habitat suitable for darters, which are dependent on clean, well-oxygenated, swiftly-flowing streams. Despite fears that the Maryland darter may be extinct, scientists have continued to search for the fish, although none have been found so far.

Image by Larisa Bishop-Boros/Flickr

Virginia Big-Eared Bat
Named for their distinctive ears, Virginia big-eared bats are found in small populations in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. Beginning in the early 1950s, the number of Virginia big-eared bats began to drop dramatically, falling to an estimated 3,500 bats when the species was federally listed as endangered in 1979. Their decline has been primarily attributed to human disturbance; however, protection of cave roosts has helped big-eared bat numbers to increase. Today, the total population is estimated at around 20,000 bats. However, white nose syndrome—a disease estimated to have killed nearly six million bats since 2007—poses an emerging threat: in 2010, cases of white nose syndrome were found in West Virginia’s Hellhole Cave, which is home to almost half of all Virginia big-eared bats.

Image by Ethan Nedeau/Flickr

Dwarf Wedge Mussel
This small freshwater mussel lives along the bottoms of rivers and creeks ranging from New Hampshire to North Carolina. To survive, dwarf wedge mussels rely on healthy freshwater streams: minimal sediment, a stable stream bed and plenty of dissolved oxygen. However, rapid land development has led to degraded water quality in areas where the mussels live, causing populations to decline. Dwarf wedge mussels also rely on just a handful of host fish species for dispersal, which has limited their ability to relocate to healthier waterways. In 1990, the species was federally listed as endangered. Scientists continue to monitor populations of the mussels and their changing habitat conditions to aid in the species’ recovery.

Image by jack perks/Shutterstock

Both the Atlantic sturgeon and the smaller shortnose sturgeon are native to the Chesapeake Bay, and both are federally listed as endangered species. Experts estimate these prehistoric fish have existed for more than 120 million years and have lived in the Bay region for at least 70 million years. Once an abundant source of food for local residents, harvest pressures, barriers to migration and poor water quality caused this sensitive species to become increasingly more rare. In recent years, however, researchers have observed more of the elusive fish in the Bay and are working to boost their knowledge of sturgeon behavior and habitat needs.


Despite the uncertain future that faces these and other endangered species, much work has been done to aid in the recovery of plants and animals on the Endangered Species List. The iconic bald eagle, for instance, recovered enough to be removed from the federal list of endangered species in 2007, and the reclusive Delmarva fox squirrel was removed from the list in 2015. Scientists and experts continue to work toward protecting and supporting these irreplaceable species.

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.

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