Researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) conduct the 2015-2016 blue crab winter dredge survey in the lower portion of the Chesapeake Bay on March 8, 2016.
From December through March of each year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and VIMS conduct the winter dredge survey in the Maryland and Virginia portions of the Bay, respectively. Between the two agencies, 1,500 sites are visited over the course of three and a half months. Dormant blue crabs are hauled out of the mud to be weighed, measured and have their sex determined before getting tossed back into the water.
At the conclusion of the survey, researchers have an estimate of the number of blue crabs living in the Chesapeake Bay. The data helps fisheries managers determine how many of the crustaceans can be harvested without hampering the crab’s recovery.
Each summer, the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) releases its Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, providing guidance to support blue crab management. As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program, CBSAC—which includes representatives from state agencies, academic institutions and federal fisheries experts—supports the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team. Last year, numbers from the winter dredge survey helped these experts determine the blue crab stock was sustainable.
Learn more about the winter dredge survey.
From its headwaters in Sussex County, Delaware, to its mouth at Tangier Sound in Dorchester County, Maryland, the Nanticoke River flows for close to 64 miles through one of the most pristine watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Significant portions of the Nanticoke’s watershed are protected by state parks, wildlife refuges and natural heritage sites, and the river is also home to an array of historical and cultural landmarks. Whether you’re a first-time traveler to the Nanticoke or a frequent visitor, discover the natural beauty and unique culture of the waterway by exploring these eight sites.
1. Nanticoke River Water Trail
One of the best ways to journey the Nanticoke’s landscape is on the water. Stretching 26 miles through Sussex County, Delaware, the Nanticoke River Water Trail follows the river to the Maryland state line. The trail overlaps in part with the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, allowing paddlers follow the historic voyages Captain John Smith made along the Nanticoke. Waterways also offer some of the only access to protected wildlife areas, such as the Nanticoke portions of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
2. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
The nearly 725,000 acres of land that flow into the Nanticoke River are home to a diverse range of wildlife, including more than 100 rare species. To protect some of that wildlife habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gradually been adding parcels of land along the Nanticoke to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge—the main portion of which is located near Cambridge, Maryland. Since 1993, close to 1,500 acres along the Nanticoke have been incorporated into the refuge, including the home of one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the northeastern United States.
3. Trap Pond State Park
One of Delaware’s first state parks, Trap Pond near Laurel, Delaware, sits along one of the upstream tributaries of the Nanticoke. The park is home to the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the United States, and nearby James Branch Nature Preserve and Trussum Pond are also home to bald cypress stands. Visitors can hike, kayak, canoe, fish and more throughout the park’s more than 2,600 acres.
4. Nanticoke Heritage Byway & Woodland Ferry
This driving route gives a tour of Sussex County, Delaware, passing through Seaford, Bethel and Laurel before ending at Trap Pond State Park. Visitors can enjoy both nature and culture as they drive through scenic farmland, forests and historic towns.
Part of the byway includes crossing over the Nanticoke River on the historic Woodland Ferry, a 200-year-old ferry boat that is one of the oldest continuously running ferries in the United States. But don’t worry, you won’t have to leave your car: the ferry can fit six vehicles at a time as it crosses the 500-foot river span.
5. Seaford Museum & Governor Ross Mansion
Operated by the Seaford Historical Society, the Seaford Museum is dedicated to commemorating the history of Seaford, Delaware, which sits on the banks of the Nanticoke. More than 60 exhibits portray the area’s history and culture, including the life of native tribes, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, the shipbuilding industry and the Nanticoke River’s connection to the Chesapeake Bay.
Just up the road from the museum is the Governor Ross Mansion & Plantation, also operated by the Seaford Historical Society. The estate was once owned by William Henry Harrison Ross, who was governor of Delaware from 1851 to 1855. Visitors can tour the restored Victorian Italianate mansion, see the only documented log slave quarters in Delaware and explore the 20 acres that remain of the original 1,400-acre plantation.
6. Handsell & Chicone Village
In 1665, Thomas Taylor received a land grant called “Handsell,” giving him 700 acres of land along the Nanticoke River, which he established as a trading post with the Nanticoke and Chicone tribes. Today, the Handsell plantation house—built on the site in 1837—is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the surrounding 1,400 acres are protected by a Rural Legacy Conservation Easement.
To honor the Eastern Woodland tribes who once lived on the land, Chicone Village was constructed: a replica longhouse—built using the materials and techniques that would have been available pre-1600—along with a waddle-fenced garden and lean-to work shelter. Both Handsell and the Chicone Village are open year-round during daylight hours. The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance also hosts an annual Chicone Village Day each spring, when native interpreters and tribal representatives come to Handsell to celebrate their history.
7. Adkins Historical & Museum Complex
Dozens of small, historic towns dot the landscape of the lower Eastern Shore. One such small town is Mardela Springs, Maryland, which sits along the shores of Barren Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. Many of the town’s less than 400 current residents can trace their ancestry back to the mid-1600s, when the town was first settled and known as Barren Creek Springs.
To preserve the town’s history, the Adkins Complex has preserved ten historical buildings, each furnished as closely as possible to the period it was built. The complex includes the Brattan- Young’s Purchase Farmhouse, built in 1724; Taylor Country Store, built in 1838; and the Cannery Warehouse, built in 1903. Tours are free and open to the public by appointment.
8. Sussex County Potato Houses
The mild climate and rich soil of Sussex County, Delaware, once made the area a hot spot for growing sweet potatoes. In 1868, the Delaware State Directory said, “the sweet potatoes of southern Delaware have a richness and a sweetness of flavor” not found in potatoes from other states. But a potato blight in the 1940s destroyed most of the crops, removing many farmers’ primary source of income.
Today, one of the only standing reminders of the area’s sweet potato industry are the potato houses: structures built to store and cure potatoes before they could be sold. Fewer than 15 of the houses have survived, most of them along the banks of the Nanticoke and its tributaries, and all are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What’s your favorite spot along the Nanticoke River? Tell us in the comments!
Bill Anderson, President of the Little Juniata River Association, catches a 15-inch wild brown trout in the Little Juniata River in Blair County, Pennsylvania, on May 19, 2015.
The Little Juniata River—often called the “Little J”—is a tributary of the Juniata River, which flows into the Susquehanna. It’s well-known to fly fishermen on the East Coast who hope to catch brown trout in its cool, clear waters. But its popularity is a relatively recent development: just a few decades ago, the Little J was what Anderson describes as “literally an open sewer.”
Years of pollution from nearby tanneries, a local paper mill and municipal sources degraded the health of the Little J until the brown trout were barely able to survive. But with the help of the Little Juniata River Association, the river has recently been declared by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as a wild Class A trout fishery. This means the waterway can support a large enough natural population of trout to sustain a sport fishery, with no stocking needed.
Various partners have helped the Little Juniata River Association in its work, in particular the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. In 2011, a project between the agency and the nonprofit received more than $57,000 through the Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants program, which is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and primarily funded by the U.S. EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. Through the grant, the partners were able to plant forest buffers, restore eroded stream banks and remove invasive plants along the Little J.
Learn more about the Little Juniata River Association’s work to restore their waterway.
Image by Will Parson
The “green sector” is the part of the economy that includes jobs aimed at reducing energy, protecting ecosystems, managing natural resources, increasing efficiency and much more. It’s a growing part of the economy that includes a wide range of jobs, but will always be in need of people with the support and training to fill those positions. As the Chesapeake Bay Program takes steps to increase the inclusion of diverse communities in our environmental efforts, here are a few of the groups working to support and build skills among those who are entering, or are already part of, the green workforce.
Green 2.0 is an effort to increase racial and ethnic diversity within the environmental field. The group’s 2014 report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations, found that the minority composition in environmental groups has not broken through the “green ceiling” of 12 to 16 percent, despite the country’s overall increase in diversity. Members of Green 2.0 aim to change that statistic within the field by advocating for transparency and accountability, which includes tracking progress toward increased diversity.
Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences
Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) is one of many organizations working to break the “green ceiling” identified by Green 2.0. The national organization—with chapters at nine colleges in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.—promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in the environmental sciences. With both student and professional members, MANRRS serves as a forum for professional development, networking and mentorship for students as well as a source of prospective and qualified employees for professionals.
Chesapeake Bay Trust
The Chesapeake Bay Trust supports engagement in restoration activities its many grant programs. One of those, the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) grant program, helps support the green sector by funding projects that require those services. The grant funds projects that increase green spaces and incorporate practices that help control stormwater runoff.
The G3 grant focuses on green streets, because by doing so—as its name implies—it also supports green jobs and creating green towns. Addressing stormwater runoff issues enhances local water quality and increases a community’s livability. Building and maintaining these projects can help support the green jobs market, and enhance economic vitality.
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
In January 2017, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay formally pledged to foster diversity and inclusion in its structure, policy, goals, and staff and leadership. This commitment formally stated what the organization has been working toward in many of its projects and programs.
One of those programs is the Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth (READY) Program, which the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay began in 2012 in partnership with local organizations in Howard County, Maryland. The program has the explicit goal of developing job skills in young adults, while also helping the county meet stormwater needs. However, READY particularly focus on engaging communities that are traditionally underserved when it comes to environmental activities.
Aimed at residents between the ages of 16 and 24, the program is designed to provide jobs for young adults with limited or no access to environmental jobs, allowing them to develop the skills necessary for a future in stormwater management. Over the course of a summer, participants learn to install rain gardens, assist in tree plantings and engage with the community around improving local water quality. They come out of the program with the experience, knowledge and skills to continue down the path toward a career in the environmental field.
Washington Parks and People
Like READY, Washington Parks and People’s Green Corps program has two goals: increase employment among the residents of Washington, D.C.’s underserved Seventh and Eighth Wards while also addressing the city’s urban forestry needs.
This eight-week program provides trainees—many of whom are ex-offenders—with entry-level training in fields such as urban forestry, stormwater management and green infrastructure. Along with learning job skills, trainees build self-confidence, gain experience working on a team and work to improve their community. Upon completion of the program, trainees receive a certificate as well as help with referrals and finding job opportunities.
Civic Works is a Baltimore-based organization that aims to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods through education, skill development and service. They operate a number of programs with a particular focus on creating jobs, growing and promoting healthy food, reducing and conserving energy and creating a more livable city.
One program in particular, the Baltimore Center for Green Careers (BCGC), trains participants to enter emerging green industries including solar installation, weatherization and brownfield remediation. Participants complete classroom training, a practicum and, in most cases, paid on-the-job training. Through the program, trainees receive industry-recognized certifications.
Along with learning the skills and techniques necessary for these career paths, participants learn skills such as financial literacy and conflict management to help them make the most of their placement after the program. BCGC partners with almost a dozen companies that have committed to hire exclusively BCGC graduates and pay “family-sustaining” wages.
Are you looking for an environmental job or to fund a green project? Our weekly newsletter, Bay Brief, is full of current job openings and grants available around the Chesapeake region.
What other groups provide job training or support in the environmental field? Let us know in the comments!
Image by Will Parson; READY video by Steve Droter