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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: January 2012


Chesapeake Bay Program launches new, improved website

The Chesapeake Bay Program has launched a new, improved version of its website, www.chesapeakebay.net. The new Bay Program website provides students, educators and members of the public with the latest information about Bay science, wildlife, pollution pressures and restoration efforts.

Some of the new and improved features on ChesapeakeBay.net include:

  • More than 20 “issue” pages that detail the major topics and problems facing the Bay and its watershed. Each issue page includes background information, frequently asked questions, photos and videos, and the latest scientific data on that topic. The Learn the Issues section is alphabetized for easy browsing. Issues include agriculture, bay grasses, blue crabs, nutrients and population growth.
  • A Chesapeake Bay blog, updated every week with the latest Bay-related news. The blog also includes several features such as Tributary Tuesday, Watershed Wednesday and From the Field. These features aim to share restoration success stories and uncover special places throughout the Bay region.
  • An improved photo library with hundreds of high-resolution images of the Bay and its watershed, wildlife and pollution problems. All of the Bay Program’s images are free for use by students, educators and other non-commercial users.
  • A video library that contains dozens of short, informative videos on Bay science, restoration and ways people can help the Bay and its rivers.
  • An improved Bay Field Guide with more than 200 plants and animals that are found in the Bay region. Each species page includes photos, videos and life history information. The Bay Program adds a new species each month through its “Critter of the Month” feature.
  • A comprehensive frequently asked questions section that contains hundreds of popular questions and answers about the Bay.
  • A database of more than 600 local watershed groups that offer volunteer opportunities to help the Bay and its local streams. You can search the database by your location to find the group that’s closest to you.
  • A Chesapeake Bay history timeline that covers important historic geologic, cultural and political events dating from 35 million years ago to today.

Take some time to explore our new site, and let us know what you think! You can also connect with the Bay Program on Twitter and Facebook.


Watershed Wednesday: Elizabeth River Project (Portsmouth, Virginia)

The Elizabeth River, a 6-mile-long tributary of the James River in southeastern Virginia, was named after Princess Elizabeth Stuart. She was the daughter of England's King James I, Jamestown's namesake.

Today, Princess Elizabeth is still around – yes, you heard us right! She often speaks to students in the Hampton Roads community about how people can help restore her river to the way it looked when Captain John Smith first explored it in 1607. The princess's public speaking appointments are arranged by the Elizabeth River Project, a non-profit committed to improving the health of the Elizabeth River through restoration efforts and education programs that celebrate the river's history and natural resources.

sunrise over the Elizabeth River

(Image courtesy beachgirlvb/Flickr)

Royal advocacy is one of many ways the Elizabeth River Project is achieving its goal of making the river safe for swimming and eating oysters by 2020. Here are some of the Elizabeth River Project's other inspiring programs.

Learning by doing: The Learning Barge

You may have heard that saying, "Those that can't do, teach." But like the many excellent teachers out there, the Elizabeth River Project proves this old adage wrong with its wind-powered, solar-powered, floating environmental classroom, The Learning Barge.

The objective of The Learning Barge is not only to teach visitors how they can help restore the Elizabeth River, but to exemplify these actions on the barge itself. Live floating wetlands demonstrate how these habitats absorb polluted stormwater runoff, composting toilets offer an alternative to flushing, and a rainwater system collects water to reuse. Visitors to this “green barge” can see firsthand how these actions help improve the Elizabeth River’s health.

The Learning Barge's innovation has earned it the 2011 Sea World & Busch Gardens Environmental Excellence Award, which is presented to outstanding grassroots environmental education programs across the country.

boy volunteers on Learning Barge

(Image courtesy Elizabeth River Project/Facebook)

Since 2009, more than 10,000 students have visited the floating classroom. This year, up to 60 students can set to sea at once on the barge. Three new stations (sun, wind and rain) focus on renewable energy technology.

The barge's field trip education programs were designed by local educators to meet Virginia standards for most subjects (not just science). The Elizabeth River Project even provides pre-and post-field trip activities, including art projects (sending a message in a bottle), journaling exercises (writing a letter to Princess Elizabeth) and more.

Baby, you're a star! (A River Star, that is!)

The Elizabeth River Project also gets adults involved in stewardship efforts through its River Star brand, a certification that home and business owners can earn after they take seven easy river-friendly steps. Some of the steps are so easy that they actually require you not to do something (such as not feeding geese, not flushing medicines and not dumping grease down the sink). Take a peek at this short video to see some River Stars in action.

The River Star certification is also applied to schools. There are already 128 River Star schools – more than half of the total 200 public and private schools in the Elizabeth River watershed. Students at River Star schools create herb and butterfly gardens, plant marsh grasses, learn how to compost and more.

students at trash cleanup

(Image courtesy Elizabeth River Project/Facebook)

Although the River Star certification is available only to Hampton Roads area residents, the seven easy steps are a great idea for anyone to try.

The Elizabeth River Project offers even more creative ways to help and enjoy the river:

  • Adopt a wetland or simply participate in a one-day cleanup. Many sites in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake are in need of weeding, planting and litter cleanup. These visits also provide a great service-learning opportunity.
  • Visit Paradise Creek Park, slated to open later this year. The area surrounding Paradise Creek – an Elizabeth River tributary – was once nicknamed "Paradise Lost" because of its close proximity to the former New Gosport landfill, a Superfund site. Now the creek has become a model for urban waterway restoration. The park will provide the public with access to the Elizabeth River for boating, hiking and other outdoor activities.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


Tributary Tuesday: Tunkhannock Creek (Wyoming and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania)

A few miles outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, stands the 240-foot-tall Tunkhannock Viaduct, a railroad bridge that held the record for the largest concrete bridge in the United States for more than half a century. Today, the structure still draws ooos and ahhs from passersby. But many of them don’t pay mind to the creek that runs below the bridge.

Tunkhannock Viaduct

(Image courtesy jasonb42882/Flickr)

That waterway is Tunkhannock Creek, a 40-mile-long tributary of the North Branch Susquehanna River that runs parallel to Pennsylvania Route 92 in Wyoming and Monroe counties. Like many of the streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, "Tunkhannock" has Native American origins. The Lenni-Lenape translations include "wilderness stream" and "meeting of the waters."

Although the industrial coal towns the creek bypasses may not fit a typical expectation of "wilderness," there are places where the Tunkhannock seems relatively remote. The creek is even becoming a whitewater rafting destination. Classified as a Class I-III by American Whitewater, Tunkhannock Creek offers the perfect experience for beginners.

If fishing is your thing, you'll want to check out the creek's East Branch (in Herrick Township) and South Branch (in Scott Township).

Rumors of a swimming hole on the creek near Factoryville sound like trip back in time. But be careful – we're not convinced this recreation area is on public property.

Hikers can sneak views of the creek on Choke Creek Trail, a 6-mile trek through blueberry bushes and the Lackawanna State Forest. The nearby Endless Mountain region is overflowing with recreational opportunities.

Tunkhannock Creek and Susquehanna River

(Image courtesy katecav/Flickr)

The health of Tunkhannock Creek, however, remains questionable. Efforts to manage polluted stormwater runoff are attempting to keep up with the effects of sprawling development throughout the South Branch's 100-square-mile watershed.

More to see around Tunkhannock Creek:

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


Watershed Wednesday: Cacapon Institute (High View, West Virginia)

West Virginia may be far from the sailboats and blue crabs that we normally associate with the Chesapeake Bay. But folks at the Cacapon Institute in the state’s eastern panhandle are helping students install rain gardens, speaking with local farmers about reducing pollution, and spearheading community education initiatives – all in the name of helping the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Potomac River

(Image courtesy mdmarkus66/Flickr)

Founded by a husband and wife team in 1985, the Cacapon Institute was originally known as the Pine Cabin Run Ecological Laboratory. PCREL was established to research and teach Appalachian natural history and water quality issues around the Cacapon River, an 80-mile-long Potomac tributary that is designated by the EPA as an American Heritage River.

The Cacapon Institute’s dual mission of scientific research and education makes it stand out from organizations that emphasize one over the other. Today, the Cacapon Institute continues to balance community education and outreach with science “experiments” such as deer fencing and trout restoration.

Be a Stream Cleaner

Ever get sick of all this environmental talk? Do you think you could stop pollution if you were a county land manager or decision maker? The Cacapon Institute gives K-12 students that opportunity through its interactive Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum.

Stream Cleaner allows users to decide how land is used and see the effects of those decisions on natural resources. It’s an interactive, engaging way for students to learn about water and pollution issues.

The program is part of the greater Potomac Highlands Water School, a website that provides resources for teachers and students seeking to learn about their local environment. Slideshows, interactive games and vocabulary lists make it a hybrid of “old school” and digital learning. No matter what generation you belong to, it's worth a visit.

Training the next generation in real-world collaboration

The Cacapon Institute isn’t just teaching students vocabulary words; it’s challenging them to collaborate on water quality projects.

Students along a stream

(Image courtesy Cacapon Institute/Facebook)

Each spring, Cacapon sponsors the Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum, a program in which classes work together to develop solutions to specific, real-world pressures on the Potomac and the Bay.

Participating students learn from the best; collaborators range from local farmers and businesses to state and federal agencies. Projects such as Farmers as Producers of Clean Water hinge on input from local farmers about which best management practices they’d most likely adopt. By understanding the needs of different stakeholders and working with them to develop mutually beneficial solutions, Cacapon is creating a community that’s strengthened by cooperation, rather than oppressed by regulation.

Students first

The Cacapon Institute hopes that by starting with the younger generation, it can engage the wider community. This statement on its website says it all:

As educators, we work to create a future where a stream without a buffer looks as out of place as a smoker in a conference room looks today. To foster that vision, our environmental education efforts focus on students first and, through them, the larger community.

Student volunteers

(Image courtesy Cacapon Institute/Facebook)

Other highlights from the Cacapon Institute:

  • CommuniTree: Cacapon partners with the West Virginia Conservation Agency and West Virginia Potomac Tributary Team on this all-volunteer run forestry initiative.
  • An aerial slideshow of the Cacapon River in 1990 and 2005. Notice a difference?
  • The “Oh Deer!” Forum allows students to explore social and environmental consequences of deer overpopulation.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.

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