May is National Biking Month, and the Chesapeake region has hundreds—if not thousands—of miles of bike paths and trails to explore. Biking can make for a fun afternoon and is a great way to explore an area while getting some exercise! From short loops to long regional trails, here’s a list of eight paths to explore by bike.
Originally serving as a way for horses to pull coal-filled barges down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the C&O towpath is now a multi-use trail stretching 185 miles from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. The trail runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River, is mostly wooded and offers sights of beautiful scenery and wildlife.
The trail has restrooms, camping areas, lookout points, historic sights and much more. While there are some paved sections, the path is mostly an even, hard-backed dirt trail. If 185 miles isn’t enough biking for you, once you reach Cumberland, you can continue another 150 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pine Creek Trail, located at the bottom of Pine Creek Gorge (also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon), is a 61-mile trail that runs along the river that gives the area its name. Running from Stokesdale to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, this paved, low grade trail has multiple restrooms and runs through several small towns, making it perfect for a quick ride or a multi-day tour through northcentral Pennsylvania. Almost the entire trail runs along Pine Creek, offering spectacular views of the water, rock outcroppings, waterfalls and wildlife like eagles, osprey, wild turkeys and otters.
Originally a railroad line, High Bridge Trail stretches over 30 miles from Burkeville to Pamplin, Virginia. The main attraction of the trail is its namesake, High Bridge, which stretches 2,400 feet across the Appomattox River, and is 125 feet high. Built in 1853, High Bridge is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and is among the longest in the U.S. It is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
High Bridge Trail is wide, generally flat and made of crushed limestone, with restrooms and picnic tables along the trail. The trail is over 30 miles long, but those who want a shorter ride can start off in nearby Farmville and bike the four and a half miles from downtown to the bridge. No matter the length, High Bridge Trail offers beautiful views of central Virginia’s woodlands and rural farmlands.
The Cross Island Trail offers views of woods, farmland, marshes and the Bay as you bike across Kent Island in Maryland. This flat, paved trail runs six miles, making it ideal for an easy afternoon bike ride. Start in the west at Terrapin Beach Park and take a break at one of the restaurants on the eastern side at Kent Narrows. Or, if you’re starting in the east, Terrapin Park is a great place for a picnic break or a short hike before biking back.
Located in Laurel, Delaware, Loblolly is a five mile trail in Trap Pond State Park. The trail loops around the pond and also takes riders through forests, across bridges, over dams and past the historic Bethesda Church’s cemetery. Visitors can access a hiking path via Loblolly Trail that takes them to Cypress Point where they can also get a view of bald cypress trees.
Jones Falls Trail is located in Baltimore, Maryland, and runs over nine miles from the Inner Harbor to northwestern Baltimore. While this trail is relatively hilly, it never exceeds a five percent grade and follows along the Jones Falls stream for much of its route
It begins in an urban setting, starting at the Inner Harbor and heading through downtown Baltimore up to Penn Station. For those who prefer more nature on their bike rides, the trail then runs past Penn Station along the Jones Falls stream and crosses into Druid Park, a 745-acre park which houses Druid Lake, the Maryland Zoo and the Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. The trail remains mostly nature until it ends at the Cylburn Arboretum and Cylburn Mansion.
Completed in 2015, the Virginia Capital Trails runs for 52 miles from Richmond to Jamestown, Virginia’s current and former capitals. This flat and paved path follows along the James River and offers scenic ride, going past several historic sites and properties. The trail is dotted with amenities—spots for bike rentals, repair stations, rest areas and even opportunities for geocaching.
8. Bacon Ridge
While still a new trail and undergoing a new phase of development, Bacon Ridge is a great place for those more interested in mountain biking. Located in Crownsville, Maryland, Bacon Ridge is ideal for families and beginning riders, due to its relatively few obstacles such as rocks and roots. The trail’s first two-and-a-half mile loop was completed in 2015, but the trail will ultimately extend up to 12 miles.
Where do you like to bike in the Chesapeake region? Let us know in the comments. If you want to find more bike paths close to home, check out Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, American Trails or SingleTracks.
Marsh periwinkles cling to saltmarsh cordgrass at Money Point in Chesapeake, Virginia. The periwinkle is a small snail that lives in tidal marshes and wetlands near the mid- and lower Chesapeake Bay. Periwinkles rise and fall with each tide, feeding on algae growing on the blades of grass. The small snails are also known to practice “fungiculture” by chewing holes in the cordgrass and spreading waste across the cuts, allowing them to “farm” fungus.
Previously a 35-acre “dead zone,” Money Point is located along the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. It was once so polluted that the river bottom was nearly lifeless. Recent restoration projects led by the Elizabeth River Project and others have significantly improved the health of the waterway.
Learn more about the recovery of the Elizabeth River.
Image by Will Parson
As humans have shaped the world around us, we have ensured that lakes, rivers, oceans and even Arctic sea ice have something in common: these waters now contain microscopic pieces of plastic from our cosmetics, cleaners and synthetic clothing capable of harming the growth, development and behavior of marine life.
Known as microplastics, these debris are smaller than the width of a common drinking straw and are appearing in more regions and in bigger quantities around the world. In 2014, scientists reported the presence of microplastics in four Chesapeake Bay rivers: the Patapsco, Rhode, Corsica and Magothy. In 2015, scientists used a manta trawl to skim the surface of waters across the Bay and visually observed microplastics in many of the 60 samples that were taken.
The danger of microplastics is in their size, their makeup and the things that can happen to them once they are in the water. Microplastics are incredibly small and can be absorbed or ingested by a wide range of animals up and down the food chain. Microplastics are made from synthetic polymers that contain chemicals that can leach into the environment. And microplastics can “pick up” exotic organisms, pathogens and toxic contaminants and carry them over long distances. Research shows that microplastics have been ingested by hundreds of species—including some that we consume as food—and can affect the reproduction rate of zooplankton, the weight of benthic worms and the behavior of fish.
One kind of microplastic that has been the focus of media attention—as well as a successful movement to ban the item from personal care products—is the microbead: synthetic polymers that have replaced pumice, oatmeal and other natural exfoliants as abrasive scrubbers. Their fate is inherent in their design: many microbeads are meant to be washed down the drain, moving through wastewater treatment plants and into rivers and streams as direct effluent or as so-called “biosolids” applied to farm fields and pushed by rain or wind back into the water. In the United States alone, an estimated eight billion microbeads are released into aquatic habitats every day. Assuming these beads are 100 micrometer spheres—close to the diameter of a human hair—you can wrap them around the earth more than seven times.
Because microbeads are a significant source of microplastics, any effort to eliminate them removes a significant source of microplastics from the environment. In a technical review of microbeads and microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay, our Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) called federal legislation to ban microbeads from rinse-off personal care products “laudable,” but found the regulations’ scope is too limited to address the whole microplastics—and even the whole microbead—problem.
As experts noted in the STAC report, a focus on rinse-off personal care products does not eliminate all sources of microbeads from the environment. Cosmetics, deodorants, lotions and non-personal care products like industrial and household cleaners aren’t addressed. So this legislation could be seen as the beginning of a suite of management strategies for microbeads and microplastics. To maintain momentum in the fight against microplastics, experts recommend improving techniques to detect the presence, composition and quantities of microplastics in the environment; initiating a long-term study on the amount, sources and sinks of microplastics in the Bay; improving waste management and promoting sustainable product design; and leading educational outreach and legislation on the topic.
As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program's work toward its Toxic Contaminants Research Outcome, partners have committed to gathering more information on microplastics and other issues of emerging concern. Learn about our efforts to combat microplastics and how you can help.
With spring underway, people across the region are heading out on the water to fish, swim, boat and more. In 2015, 22 public access sites were opened in the Chesapeake Bay region, bringing the total number of boat ramps, fishing piers and other access sites to 1,247. Below, take a closer look at four of these new sites that are putting people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay.
1. Port Royal Landing in Port Royal, Virginia
Nestled along the Rappahannock River, Port Royal is located in Caroline County, Virginia.
The small historic town borders the Port Royal Unit of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where a 1.4-mile wildlife trail and two viewing platforms allow for visitors to hike and observe the river and surrounding land. In 2015, the Town of Port Royal worked with Friends of the Rappahannock to open a new fishing pier and soft launch, with a living shoreline installed alongside.
In the future, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Town of Port Royal will be working with the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to establish a water trail that will provide access to the Styer Bishop, Port Royal and Toby’s Point areas of the refuge.
2. Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia
For the nearly seven years since the creation of Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, Virginia, access to the land has been limited. Open houses and small events allowed some visitors to explore part of the nearly 3,000 acres of hardwood forest and wetlands, but an unfinished road prohibited access to the majority of the preserve. Good news came in April 2015, however, when an accessible canoe and kayak launch site was opened at the preserve’s Brooke Road access point, along with a shoreline nature trail along Accokeek Creek.
Further access to the preserve should come soon: plans are underway to improve the 1.6-mile access road from Raven Road, so visitors can reach hiking trails and interpretive exhibits on the history of Crow’s Nest.
3. Beachwood Park in Pasadena, Maryland
Just south of Magothy Bridge Road in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, lies a 100-acre park that for years was underutilized by nearby residents. Purchased by Anne Arundel County in 2002, a lack of funding left the property—which runs alongside the Magothy River—mostly untouched. But in recent years, the county and the Magothy River Association began cleaning up the park: picking up trash, opening a path through the woods to the riverbank, building a small nature trail and adding new park signs. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking access already existed in the park, but in 2015 a designated soft launch area gave visitors additional access to the waterway.
4. Kingman Island in Washington, D.C.
Walking along the crowded, developed streets of Washington, D.C., it might be surprising to think that just nearby, among the waters of the Anacostia River, is a lush, 45-acre oasis: Kingman Island. This manmade island is home to the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival—but aside from special events, the park remains one of the last “wild” spaces in the capital city. In October 2015, the Anacostia Watershed Society, National Park Service and District Department of Energy and Environment worked to open a new floating dock where visitors can launch canoes and kayaks, offering access to a portion of the Anacostia that’s restricted to motorized boats.
Do you have a favorite place where you boat, swim or fish? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to explore both new and existing public access sites to enjoy all the Chesapeake Bay has to offer.
Images by Will Parson