For many people, the summer months are an ideal time to get outdoors and connect with nature. The 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed offers a wide range of recreational opportunities, but with the responsibilities of everyday life, some find it hard to set aside time to enjoy them. If getting outdoors is not an option, don’t fret! Here are eight ways to access the Bay from the comfort of your home or office.
Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1. NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) and Chesapeake Smart Buoy Application. The Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) is a network of observation buoys managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The buoys mark various locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, capturing real-time environmental and weather data such as temperature, wind speed and wave height. This information is available online and on the new “Smart Buoy” application for the iPhone and Android. It is also accessible over the phone: calling the toll-free “dial-a-buoy” number turns each buoy into a floating classroom, as a narrator offers up parcels of information about Captain John Smith’s adventures through the Bay.
We recommend: The data snapshot page for the most up to date data on all of the buoys.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Conservancy
2. Chesapeake Conservancy's Osprey Camera. Ospreys are one of the Bay’s most resilient creatures. After bouncing back from a nearly 90 percent population decline between 1950 and 1970, their growing numbers are now watched as an indicator of Chesapeake Bay health. They mate for life and always return to the same location come nesting season. This nesting habit inspired the Chesapeake Conservancy to place a camera in the nest of their “resident” ospreys, named Tom and Audrey, and stream a live feed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who is interested in getting a bird’s eye view of nature’s ultimate “reality show.
We recommend: The Osprey Camera Blog for all things Tom and Audrey. It's an informative and highly entertaining read!
3. Chesapeake Bay Program Website: The Chesapeake Bay Program website highlights the work of the Bay Program and its partners. News and feature stories shed light on our restoration efforts, while data tracks years of restoration work. The website also offers resources that are perfect for students and teachers, from a series of pages that offer an in-depth look at the issues restoration partners must face to a collection of photos and maps.
We recommend: Using our Field Guide to learn about the hundreds of critters that call the Bay watershed home!
4. From your phone! Chesapeake Explorer and National Wildlife Refuge Applications: In this age of innovation, technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we view the world. The widespread popularity of smart phones and tablets has inspired the National Park Service (NPS) and a small New York start-up called Network Organisms to create applications that allow people to explore the Bay from the palm of their hand. The National Wildlife Refuges: Chesapeake Bay application for iPhones encourages users to explore the 11 National Wildlife Refuges around the Bay, sharing wildlife sightings and connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts. Chesapeake Explorer is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices. It helps people find places around the watershed based on specific activities, trail names or types of sites. Both applications are free, so get your phone out and start exploring!
We recommend: Experiencing the region's beauty by planning a trip to one of the National Trails featured on Chesapeake Explorer.
Image courtesy National Geographic
5. National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope: National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope is a tool that promotes the exploration, sharing and analysis of the Bay. Users are presented with real-world data sets about rivers and streams, wetlands, elevation, water depth and more. The information on this site is collected from students and scientists that work directly with the Bay. The site also features a map layering tool, a set of student observations and real time data comparisons.
We recommend: Using Query Point to get instant information about any given point on a map.
6. Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network: The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network was created in 2000 by the National Park Service (NPS) as a resource to connect people to authentic Bay experiences, sights and places. Today, more than 160 parks, wildlife refuges, museums, sailing ships, historic communities, trails and more are part of the Gateways Network. The network allows visitors to search for sites, watch slideshows, make plans to visit and learn about the Bay.
We recommend: Listening to the Sounds of the Bay. These audio excerpts from Window on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People, and Places take listeners on a journey through the Bay.
7. Maryland Healthy Beaches: Plan on heading to a Maryland beach this summer? Be sure to check the Maryland Healthy Beaches' Beach Notification System before you go. This application is updated with the most current beach advisories, closures, and bacteria levels. The notification system also provides rainfall accumulation data for every beach location.
We recommend: Visiting the Healthy Beach Habitats page for helpful tips about how to enjoy the beach the healthy way.
8. National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now. Are you a history buff? National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now puts the Bay’s past and its present at a user’s fingertips. National Geographic launched the website alongside the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, with the intention that it would be used to compare the world that John Smith lived in to the present day. The site includes lesson plans for educators, links to stories about the Bay, travel guides, field trip suggestions and more.
We recommend: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay as if it were the 1600’s with the site's interactive mapping tool.
Last year, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 18 new public access sites across the watershed, putting residents and visitors in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the nation’s largest estuary.
Image courtesy John Flinchbaugh/Flickr
New boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York bring the total public access sites in the watershed to 1,171. Built along the Bay’s tributaries, these locations allow people to walk, play, swim, fish and launch their paddleboats, sailboats and powerboats into the water.
Public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards engaged in conservation efforts. As development continues across the watershed, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high.
“Citizens demand additional access to waterfront experiences,” said Jonathan Doherty, acting superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake Bay Office, in a media release. “They want more places close to home where they can walk, play in the water, fish, paddle and launch a boat. And residents and our partners are excited about increasing the number of those places, because it increases our quality of life.”
Work to improve and establish public access sites is coordinated by NPS and the Bay Program’s Public Access Planning Action Team. Earlier this year, this team released a plan designed to assess barriers to access sites, identify opportunities for new access sites and to make funding for public access a priority. The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which in 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites in the watershed by 2025.
A new plan from the National Park Service (NPS) intends to put more people in touch with rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
Released in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which in 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites across the watershed, the plan calls on state and local partners to make funding for Bay access a priority and to better address the high demand for opportunities to connect with the outdoors.
While there are 1,150 documented public access sites in the watershed—or the parks, campsites and land and water trails that allow people to interact with the rivers, woods and open lands of the region—increasing urbanization has made improving access to the natural world a priority.
Indeed, public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards that are better engaged in conservation efforts. But across the watershed, significant stretches of shoreline along rivers and the Bay feature little or no access sites, and the public continues to clamor for more places that will allow them to launch boats and paddlecraft.
“Citizens want more places along the water where they can walk, play, swim, fish and launch their canoes and kayaks, sailboats and powerboats,” said John Maounis, superintendent of the NPS Chesapeake Bay office. “It is important to our quality of life.”
Read more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan.
The National Park Service (NPS) has launched a new mobile app to help users find and visit the countless attractions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from parks, trails and camp grounds to museums and historic sites.
Image courtesy alliecat1881/Flickr
Called Chesapeake Explorer, the app is a digital guide to sight-seeing in all six Bay states and the District of Columbia. Meant to connect users to the region’s beauty, history and heritage, the ever-expanding app places up-to-date visitor information—think hours, locations and fees—in the palm of your hand.
The app can use geo-location to map nearby parks and trails. It can tag favorites and take, store and send photos. And it can group together similar sites and build thematic tours so users can visit the places that interest them most, whether it is a scenic lighthouse, a series of sites linked to Bay boatbuilding or a brand new place to hike, bike or launch a canoe.
The app is now available for the iPhone and will soon be available for Android devices.
Learn more about Chesapeake Explorer.
The National Park Service (NPS) has given a financial boost to two dozen projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, putting $1.3 million toward education, employment and environmental access.
Image courtesy Accokeek Foundation/Flickr
The funding allowed 30 Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., teachers to spend one week learning about the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake region. It allowed high-school students in Baltimore to work for six weeks to remove invasive species, plant trees and improve parks along the Patapsco River. And it improved public access to rivers, streams and wetlands from the Chemung River in Elmira, New York, to the Potomac River in Accokeek, Maryland.
The 24 projects that span four Bay states and the District of Columbia will bolster three NPS trails: the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which connects more than 160 parks, museums, trails and more; the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail; and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The routes that form these latter trails offer teachers, students and families on-the-ground opportunities to experience the region’s land, water and history.
"Each of these projects has a positive impact in local communities,” said NPS Superintendent John Maounis. “Whether teaching the history of these places, introducing young people to possible career paths or providing a new place to get to the water, these are investments in quality of life.”
By funding trail development, NPS is advancing public access goals set forth in the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which calls for the addition of 300 new public access sites where people might boat, swim, fish, observe wildlife, walk trails and strengthen their connection with the outdoors.
For a full list of grant recipients, visit the Chesapeake Bay Gateways website.
American eel numbers are up in the headwater streams of Shenandoah National Park, following the 2004 removal of a large downstream dam.
Significant increases in upstream American eel populations began two years after the Rappahannock River's Embrey Dam was removed and have continued nearly every year since, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Park Service (NPS) researchers.
Image courtesy EricksonSmith/Flickr.
Dams can act as travel barriers to American eels, which undertake long-distance migrations from their ocean spawning grounds to freshwater streams along the Atlantic coast. While American eels can surpass substantial natural barriers--like the rapids of the Potomac River's Great Falls, for instance--dams pose a more difficult obstacle and have contributed to the widespread decline in American eel populations. Dam removal, therefore, could have long-term benefits for eel conservation.
"Our study shows that the benefits of dam removal can extend far upstream," said USGS biologist Nathanial Hitt. "American eels have been in decline for decades and so we're delighted to see them begin to return in abundance to their native streams."
Embrey Dam, which once provided hydroelectric power to Fredericksburg, Va., was breached in 2004 following years of work by nonprofit organizations and city, state and federal government agencies. Its removal was intended to benefit more than the American eel, however, as dams can impact a number of fish that must migrate up rivers to spawn.
"Shad, herring and striped bass are also using reopened habitat on the Rappahannock River," said Alan Weaver, fish passage coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "It's exciting to see a growing number of species benefiting from dam removal in Virginia."
Learn more about American eel abundance in Shenandoah National Park.
The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is open and ready for visitors. The 560-mile land and water route connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia while telling the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region.
One of 19 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail allows visitors to explore the region's unique landscapes and waterways while experiencing the places that bring to life the nation's Second War of Independence. Part of the nation's bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812, the trail traces American and British troop movements and introduces visitors to regional communities--Bladensburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.--affected by war.
Visitor centers, wayside signs and road markers connect the hundreds of sites located along the trail, some of which are accessible by bike or even boat. There is the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House in Havre de Grace, Md., where British raids in 1813 destroyed close to three-quarters of the town. There is the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, which houses the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. And there is the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which the British burned along with the White House before a storm managed to put out the flames.
The trail's launch was celebrated in Fell's Point, Baltimore, by more than 100 partners, friends and tourism professionals.
Update (August 21, 2012): The public review and comment period for the draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan has been extended until September 14, 2012. Comments can be submitted via email or an online mapping tool.
The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams remain just out of reach for many watershed residents. Physical barriers and unsafe conditions, a lack of awareness as to what might be nearby or an absence of available access sites can pose problems for those who want to explore the Bay and its tributaries.
A new draft plan published this week by the National Park Service (NPS) strives to improve public access to local and regional waters, forests, and open lands.
The draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan, developed by a team of NPS staff and public access planning professionals from across the Bay Program partnership, acts as a roadmap that offers new avenues for the public to connect with the Bay.
As public access to the Bay expands, residents and visitors will find more opportunities to boat and swim; to fish, observe wildlife, and walk trails; and to reconnect with the watershed. Building personal connections with the places that have shaped life in the Bay region can benefit public health, regional tourism economies and watershed conservation and stewardship efforts.
A product of the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which in May 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites in the region by 2025, the draft plan identifies current and potential access sites and outlines the planning and policy considerations that must be taken into account before new sites are created. The plan will serve as a guide to federal, state, and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations, in prioritizing and allocating funding for the development of access sites throughout the watershed.
Currently, there are just over 1,100 existing public access sites within the Bay watershed. While this number has steadily increased over the past decade, it remains low for a watershed that spans 64,000 square miles. Often, these sites are miles apart--and less than half of existing access sites provide visitors with the facilities needed to put boats, canoes, or kayaks into the water.
Public demand for improved access to the Bay greatly informed the formation of the draft plan, generating in the last year more than 400 suggestions for specific public access points. Hoping to continue its collaboration with the public, the NPS encourages citizens to submit comments on this draft plan via email or its online mapping tool by August 24.
The National Park Service launched a website for its Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, a 560-mile land and water route that tells the story of the War of 1812 in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
The trail commemorates the events and legacy of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake leading up to the successful American defense of Fort McHenry, the aftermath of which inspired Francis Scott Key to write what would become the national anthem. Trail visitors can follow American and British troop movements, learn about how communities were affected by the war, and visit the Chesapeake region's unique landscapes and waterways.
(Image courtesy National Park Service)
Website users can plan their trail visits with MyAdventure Planner, a tool that saves places and activities of interest as they browse. In July 2012, the Chesapeake Explorer App will become available for smartphone users who prefer to plan their trip on the go.
Younger users can earn their Junior Ranger Badge by completing games and activities about the War of 1812 and the history of the Chesapeake region.
An educator resource guide allows students and teachers to explore the trail and its history through innovative curriculum suggestions.
The trail is one of 19 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service and one of 30 trails in the National Trails System, which includes the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and Appalachian Trail.
For more information on the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, be sure to visit http://starspangledtrail.net/.
The National Park Service, with support of five states, has designated four rivers – the Susquehanna, Chester, upper Nanticoke and upper James – as new sections of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
(Image courtesy Michael Land/National Park Service)
Recognition of these connecting waterways adds 841 miles to the 3,000-mile-long trail and underscores their significance to the history, cultural heritage and natural resources of the Chesapeake region.
Joel Dunn, executive director of Chesapeake Conservancy said, “These [connecting] trails provide a focus around which communities can engage in efforts to increase recreational use of the Chesapeake's great rivers and protect the river corridors and landscapes. This kind of conservation helps communities celebrate their history and culture, protect wildlife habitat, and protect lands that have unique ecological values.”
The designation comes after considerable collaboration between the National Park Service, the five states through which these rivers flow, numerous American Indian tribes and strong support of the conservation community. The National Park Service will work closely with these partners to provide technical and financial assistance, manage resources, enhance facilities, and mark and promote interpretive routes along the connecting trails.
Visit the Chesapeake Conservancy’s website to learn more about these new rivers and the entire Smith Trail.
Do you have any clue what geocaching is?
I’m guessing a lot of you said no. Well, no worries. I didn’t know either. That is, until I went for the first time this week. Luckily, I had some enthusiastic volunteers to teach me the ropes.
Geocaching is basically treasure hunting outdoors using a GPS-enabled device. There are actually more than a million geocaches hidden around the world to discover. We managed to find three of them at the Accokeek Foundation in Accokeek, Maryland.
Your quest to uncovering a cache starts online at www.geocaching.com. You can see a map that lists all the geocaches hidden worldwide and pick which ones you feel like hunting down. You then grab the coordinates of those points and plug them into your GPS-enabled device to start your journey.
The GPS will get you close to the cache, but then you need to do a little exploring to find where it is hidden. Once you find it, you take the prize hidden inside and leave your own prize of equal or lesser value for the next explorer to find.
Geocaching is a great way to get outdoors and explore different areas. It is also a great learning experience for kids. Many of the geocaches include riddles or puzzles that you must solve to find the hidden treasure.
The National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation are hosting a geocaching event this Saturday, June 4, as part of the Captain John Smith Geotrail. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I encourage you to get out and try a new activity!
Here’s more information about the Captain John Smith Geotrail launch event:
The Captain John Smith Geotrail officially launches on Saturday, June 4th, at the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park in Fort Washington, Maryland. The Maryland Geocaching Society, Northern Virginia Geocaching Society, and Magellan, manufacturer of GPS navigational devices will all be represented. Everyone will have a chance to win raffled door prizes, including a GPS device donated by Magellan. Geocaching volunteers will be on hand at the kick-off event to teach the basics to newcomers, and extra caches will be placed, including some just for kids. The event begins at 10:00 am and runs until 12:00.
A collectible, highly coveted, and trackable geocoin will be given to the first 400 geocachers who locate a minimum of 15 geocaches along the trail and record them on a special CJS Geotrail Passport. A sample of the coin and hard copies of the passport will be available at the launch event on June 4th. Coordinates for the CJS Geotrail cache sites will be released at approximately 11:30. Geocaching enthusiasts will download the coordinates, pick up their passport, and spend the rest of the weekend on the Captain John Smith Geotrail!
The National Park Service has developed a teaching tool about Chesapeake Bay history, geology, ecology and restoration as part of its online educational resource Views of the National Parks.
The Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks provides readers with a background on the Chesapeake’s natural world, from its geologic formation as an estuary to its diverse species and ecosystems. Chesapeake Views also describes the region’s human history and cultural environment, how it has changed over time, and how people can get involved restoring and protecting it.
A Visit section highlights some of the many places to experience the Chesapeake Bay. Other teaching tools include photographs, maps, a glossary and links to additional resources.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, the National Park Service administers the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Park Service is a Bay Program partner, helping to promote Chesapeake stewardship by connecting people to the region’s natural and cultural heritage.