Nearly 18 million people reside in the Chesapeake Bay region, with more moving to the area each year. Growing disputes over land use have conservationists working hard to protect the robust natural resources that can be found within the Bay region. A significant part of these efforts include developing and improving public access points as means for people to experience, explore and develop connections to the land, water and wildlife.
Nestled in between Accokeek Creek and Potomac Creek, Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia serves as one of the state’s highest land conservation priorities in the past 10 years. “This is a priority site because it’s such a large intact ecosystem. You have thousands of acres of mature hardwood forest on the coastal plain in Virginia,” explained Michael Lott, Crow’s Nest Manager and Northern Region Steward for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
In addition to around 2,200 acres of mature hardwood forest, the site boasts 750 acres of nearly pristine wetlands and more than 10 miles of hiking trails, and it acts as a safe haven for wildlife and countless viewing opportunities for critters such as migratory waterfowl, white-tailed deer, river otters and beavers.
The preserve and those who manage it have faced many obstacles over the past few decades, including population growth and development encroaching on the area. “In the 1970’s, there were around 30,000 people in Stafford County; a few of the subdivisions were vacation homes for people in D.C. Now, the population is about 130,000. This is the best remaining tidal marsh in Stafford County, so our priority here is conservation,” said Geoff Austin, Northern Region Operations Steward with DCR.
Despite the vastness of the preserve and the great potential it holds for environmental education and recreational opportunities, the property is largely closed to the public until further operational resources can be effectively implemented.
The dynamic duo of Lott and Austin dedicate 90 percent of their working hours toward maintaining the preserve and trying to make it accessible to the public, but one major hurdle stands in their way – a mile-and-a-half long access road. “The big obstacle is the access road to the [completed] parking lot. We need to raise the money to fix that road. That road has been there since the colonial era, it’s been dug down and needs a lot of work before it’s passable for cars,” explained Austin. The team – with help from volunteers - keeps the trails clear, maintains the parking lot and plans to install proper trail signage once the road is completed.
Lott and Austin measure their success one victory - no matter the size - at a time, their latest being the installation of a handicap-accessible boat ramp to be opened to the public within the next couple of months. The ramp overlooks acres of tidal marsh, provides access to Accokeek Creek and lays adjacent to a half-mile trail complete with benches for wildlife observers. “It’s a great birding spot,” said Austin. The launch is part of a larger plan to connect a water trail system along the Potomac River.
DCR wants the public to be able to experience the preserve’s natural wonder. “In the past, this landscape did not lend itself to farming very well, and so a lot of the soil we have out here is still very much intact. Researchers have said that throughout the mid-Atlantic and East Coast, you can’t find soil like this in very many places anymore, which is why the forest out here is so productive,“ explained Lott. “A lot of the forest, particularly in the ravines, hasn’t been logged intensively since the Civil War, so it’s trending back toward mature forest. [For this reason] we keep the trails clear and have been holding open houses twice a year for five years now, so people have had the opportunity to see it and enjoy the trails.”
Tending to nearly 3,000 acres of forest and wetlands is no simple task for two people, but the work is done out of a place of deep caring and passion for protecting and sharing the special places in life with the public. “I grew up in this area and it’s nice to have an intact piece of hardwood [forest] that is going to be preserved in the area for years to come. It’s great to be able to walk out there when I’m working or hunting and see the big trees; you don’t see that in many other places in this area. As stewards of the land year-round you spend a lot of time here – it means a lot to be able to take care of this place.” said Austin.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Many of us look forward to celebrations and gift-giving during the holiday season, but these festivities can be tough on the environment as households use more energy and throw out extra trash. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans send about one million additional tons of garbage to the landfill. Give a gift to the Chesapeake Bay this year with our guide to reducing the impact of your holiday gift exchange.
1. Give experiences. Research has shown that spending money on events – not material purchases – creates lasting memories and provides the most happiness. Give the gift of experiences this year with gifts like concert tickets, cooking classes, museum memberships or national park passes. You could also plan a trip for someone special to one of the many parks and public access sites across the Bay region.
2. Edible gifts. Homemade treats give your gift a personal touch, and by packaging them in a reusable container, you can help reduce the amount of trash going to the landfill. Bake a batch of your favorite cookies, pack a basket full of snacks or fill a mason jar with the dry ingredients needed to make muffins, soups, or hot cocoa. Monica from The Yummy Life shares her recipe for double chocolate hot cocoa mix, complete with printable labels to decorate the jars. For more ideas, check out this list from The Kitchn of 40 homemade edible gifts, from salted pistachio brittle to fruit-infused vinegars.
3. Handmade items. Crafting handmade items from recycled materials can give new life to things you might otherwise throw out. Try using an old teacup as the base for a decorative candle with these instructions from Little House Living, or turn an old sweater into a cozy pillow cover with these instructions from Pop Sugar. Simple crafts like these salt dough ornaments from The Artful Parent are perfect for young kids to make for family and friends.
4. Upcycled materials. If crafting isn’t your specialty, find a store that repurposes recycled materials to make their products. Store such as UncommonGoods sell a variety of “upcycled” merchandise, ranging from a wallet made from an old fire hose to cufflinks made from railroad nails. For kids’ toys, many companies like Green Toys use recycled plastic from milk jugs to make their products.
5. Waste-reducing gadgets. Look for devices that help reduce waste of all kinds – from wasted energy to household trash – for gifts that can help save money and the environment. For the tech-lover, try gadgets like “smart” light switches or learning thermostats that adjust to your schedule to reduce the energy you use. To reduce the amount of waste that goes into the trash bin, consider gifts like reusable lunch bags, grocery bags, water bottles, or coffee thermoses.
6. Creative gift wrapping. Wrapping paper is often used once and thrown away, and much of the shiny, metallic paper is not recyclable. By packaging gifts in creative coverings like colorful shopping bags, old newspapers or decorative cloth instead of paper, you can reduce the amount of wrapping paper that goes in the garbage. With reusable tins or baskets, you can even eliminate the need to wrap presents at all! As a finishing touch, decorate gifts with reusable cloth ribbon or even try making your own bows from recycled paper instead of using plastic ribbon.
7. Rechargeable batteries. According to the EPA, nearly 40% of battery sales occur during the holidays. But depleted batteries can be difficult to dispose of and harmful to the environment. If you’re giving a device that uses batteries, consider including rechargeable batteries and a charger with your gift to help reduce waste and prevent harmful chemicals from entering the environment.
What Bay-friendly gifts are you giving this year? Let us know in the comments!
Note: Any references to commercial entities, products or services included in this post are provided solely for informational purposes and do not constitute an endorsement by the Chesapeake Bay Program or the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Increasing air temperatures have led to warming waters in the majority of streams in the Chesapeake Bay region, according to research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published in Climatic Change.
Analyzing fifty-one years of records, scientists found an overall increase of 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit in air temperature and 2.52 degrees in water temperature from 1960 to 2010. The study evaluated measurements from 85 air temperature sites and 129 stream temperature sites of varying size, depth, and land covers.
"Although this may not seem like much, even small increases in water temperatures can have an effect on water quality, affecting the animals that rely on the bay's streams, as well as the estuary itself," said Karen Rice, lead author of the study.
Warming streams can lead to higher nutrient concentrations and decreased dissolved oxygen, resulting in “dead zones” where underwater life is unable to survive. Increased water temperatures may also cause native plants and animals, such as bay grasses and brook trout, to move to different areas as waters no longer fit their habitat needs.
Rising air and water temperatures are just some of the climate change effects that are expected to impact local waters. Results of the study are expected to help inform adaptation strategies to increase climate resiliency across the region.
The article, “Rising air and stream-water temperatures in Chesapeake Bay region, USA,” is available for purchase online.
For many of the people living upstream of the Chesapeake Bay, daily life doesn’t involve crab pots or oyster dredges. A group of such Bay novices — including one member who had never been on a boat — assembled in Crisfield, Md., this fall to take a ferry to Smith Island, one of the last two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Actually a small cluster of low-lying stretches of land, Smith Island and its Virginia neighbor Tangier Island carry a rich cultural history dating back to the 1600s. Over the years, they have been subjected to the extreme weather conditions in the open Chesapeake Bay and forces of sea level rise and land subsidence that have already claimed surrounding islands. The trip, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Forestry Workgroup, gave the foresters the chance to experience the unique life of a Chesapeake waterman.
“These participants are engaged in work throughout the watershed that directly benefits the quality of the Bay, but often they have very little experience on the Bay itself,” said Craig Highfield of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Forests for the Bay initiative, who has facilitated the excursion for the past two years. “This trip is a way to connect their work with a community that relies so intimately with a healthy Bay.”
Over the course of two and a half days, the group of foresters followed educators from Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Smith Island environmental education center, taking in the unique culture, exploring the changing environment and finding new connections that bring the Bay closer to home.
“I think this group was able to draw similarities between the rural communities they work with — who rely on the natural resources on the land — with this rural community that relies on the natural resources of the Bay,” said Highfield.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.