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Chesapeake Bay News: Chesapeake Bay Program

Jun
02
2017

Photo of the Week: Revisiting history at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Citizen scientists and volunteers sift for artifacts near the stabilized ruins of the Contee Farm House at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland, during its open house on May 20, 2017. Primarily known for its innovative research, SERC is home to more than 180 scientists working to understand environmental changes in the Chesapeake Bay and around the world. But the 2,650-acre campus is also full of opportunities to discover the natural world—with forests, wetlands, marshes and shorelines—and to explore remnants of the land’s history, like the Contee Farm House.

Today, only two chimneys from the original brick mansion, built in the early 1700s, still stand. Although named for John Contee, a Navy officer who purchased the land after the War of 1812, Contee was mostly an absentee owner and never actually lived on site. When he passed away, his two sons divided the farm into two sections: Contee and Java. Through the following decades, both farms fell into disuse and disrepair, transferred among a series of absentee owners.

In 1915, a businessman named Robert Lee Forrest took control of the Java Farm portion of the land. Forrest turned it into a dairy, delivering milk to much of the surrounding area. When his farmhands began leaving to fight in World War II, however, the farm again fell into disrepair. But in 1962, when Forrest passed away, a surprising discovery was made: Forrest, who had no prior connection to the Smithsonian Institution, had willed his 368-acre property to the organization.

Unsure at first about what to do with the land, the Smithsonian established it as a field collection site known as the Chesapeake Bay Center for Field Biology. As the years passed, the center grew and changed names, renamed the Chesapeake Bay Center for Environmental Studies in 1970 and earning its current name, SERC, in 1985. In 2008, SERC acquired the adjacent Contee Farm, uniting the Contee and Java portions for the first time in more than 150 years. The nearby Sellman Farm was also added to the property, bringing the campus to its current size.

Today, in addition to cutting-edge research facilities, SERC boasts the largest tract of contiguous preserved land and largest site of public access on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore. Visitors are welcome to explore the property Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Plan a visit to SERC or learn more about SERC’s history.

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.



May
31
2017

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.



May
26
2017

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.



May
25
2017

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



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