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Bay Blog: National Park Service


Conservation partners convene in Shepherdstown for sixth annual meeting

For the last five years, non-profits, American Indian tribes, land trusts and federal and state agencies engaged in land conservation throughout the Chesapeake watershed have come together at the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership’s annual meeting. In the largest gathering to date, nearly 120 people convened at the National Conservation Training Center on October 5-6, 2015, for the sixth annual meeting. The spirit of the event—Growing the Partnership, Growing Our Impact—was reflected both in the increased attendance and the conversations around increasing diversity and inclusion.

Attendees of the sixth annual meeting of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W. Va., on October 5-6, 2015, discussed successes and new projects related to land conservation in the Chesapeake region. (Image courtesy Jeff Allenby/Chesapeake Conservancy)

New and returning attendees were invited to an overview of the history of the Conservation Partnership and information on the broader large landscape conservation movement. The Conservation Partnership’s co-conveners are Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, and Chuck Hunt, Superintendent of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. They addressed the growth of the Conservation Partnership over the previous year and recent progress of conservation in the Chesapeake region. Speakers were invited to share their successes and new projects in fast-paced presentations, highlighting the tremendous collective impact of the group over the previous year.

Updates included:

  • The recent submission of the Rivers of the Chesapeake Land and Water Conservation Fund proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, which requests funding for over 25,000 acres in conservation opportunities;
  • Preservation efforts on Tangier Island, Va., including the nomination of the site for designation as a historic district;
  • The successful acquisition of the historic Campbell Tract in the George Washington National Forest, led by the U.S. Forest Service; and
  • Improved safety and public access at Brookwood Point on Otsego Lake, the source of the Susquehanna River.

Other features included a session on impacts from linear infrastructure projects like roads and power lines, a discussion on strategies to engage with diverse audiences and breakout sessions on key conservation focus areas. The meeting set the stage for action in the coming year, including continuing progress toward achieving the protected lands outcome of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership was formed in 2009 and is jointly convened by the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office. Its mission is to foster collaborative action to conserve culturally and ecologically important landscapes to benefit people, economies and nature throughout the six-state watershed.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership.

Written by Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent, National Park Service Chesapeake Bay, and Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator.


How Green is Your Deen?

Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.

Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.

The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.

Participants and instructors make pinwheels while learning about wind and other renewable energy sources during the "Our Deen is Green!" program held at Peirce Mill in Washington, D.C., on April 25. Green Muslims is a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that engages communities in spiritually-inspired environmental education, reflection, and action.

With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.

Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.

Colin Christopher is Executive Director of Green Muslims, which was founded in 2007 and recently attained status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “Our mission at Green Muslims is Muslims living in the environmental spirit of Islam,” Christopher said.

The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.

The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.

Ailya Gillani, a high school student from Sterling, Va., and a participant in Green Muslims’ “Our Deen is Green!” program, poses at home with her mother, Nighat Nasim, and father, Syed Abid Gillani. “I could say that the environment does have a big influence in our religion, and vice-versa," Gillani said.

Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


From the Field: Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System

Warm weather is upon us, and that means people will be taking to the water to escape from the heat. Soon enough, the Chesapeake Bay will be dotted with bobbing watercrafts of all shapes and sizes. For those recreating on the Bay, the bright yellow Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) markers may be a familiar sight, but they serve as much more than eye-catching aquatic beacons: they provide key insights into the health and safety conditions of the Bay.

The first buoys were deployed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office in 2007—marking 10 locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Historic Trail—and have been collecting and transmitting real-time water quality and atmospheric data ever since. “It’s [the buoy system] interpretive because we work with the National Park Service as a partner to interpret John Smith’s trail, so there is a bit of a historical aspect to it,” said Katie Kirk, Senior Buoy Specialist at Earth Resources Technology, a contractor that supplies support staff and assistance to NOAA and other government agencies.

“Our main mission is to keep the 10 buoys that we have up and alive and transmitting as often as we can and deliver the data to as many users as we can,” said Kirk in reference to her and the field team’s work. Routine maintenance and repairs on the buoy fleet presents a swath of challenges that keeps the small team of CBIBS buoy technicians busy year-round.

Senior buoy specialist Katie Kirk works on buoy electronics inside a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) warehouse in Annapolis, Md., on March 31. Kirk helps maintain 10 buoys that comprise the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), which collects data and marks locations on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Historic Trail.

The life of a CBIBS buoy technician differs from day-to-day and can be a physically demanding profession. Some days are spent in their Annapolis, Md., warehouse—affectionately referred to as the ‘buoy spa’—calibrating instruments, cleaning buoys, swapping out parts and working with computer systems. Other times, the team braves the wind, waves and elements to do onsite repairs and buoy maintenance.

As the summer and fall wind down and cold weather approaches, the team removes the three northernmost buoys from the Patapsco, Susquehanna and Upper Potomac rivers before freezing conditions set in to prevent ice damage. But this winter, the southern buoys succumbed to the frigid conditions: wind gusts exceeding 50 miles-per-hour and below-freezing water temperatures caused ice from sea spray to accumulate on and topple over the buoys, something the CBIBS team had never seen before. “The buoys that were off location tipped over, cracked and no longer had power, so we couldn’t track them on the GPS to figure out where they were. That was a pretty intense time trying to figure out where the buoys had moved to and how we could get to them,” explained Kirk.

Kirk and buoy technical specialist Nikiforos Delatolas finish deploying a buoy in the mouth of the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, Md., on April 10.

After winter, the team’s short-term goals were to get all of the buoys repaired, online and transmitting data. With that completed, Kirk is now striving to see the data being analyzed and produced in scientific papers. “It’s been done before, but I want to get back to that and try to reach out to more teachers and researchers and see if they want more buoys or buoys in different locations,” Kirk said. “Then we can take the time and think about how our system reaches out to those users, what they need from us and what they would prefer.”

While many people accessing the data are local sailors and kayakers looking for information on the wind speed, currents, wave heights and local conditions before venturing out on the water, educators also integrate the data into their curriculum. Utilizing the data for educational purposes is of utmost importance to NOAA, so much so that they have an entire education team dedicated to reaching out to local schools to demonstrate how the CBIBS data can be used in the classroom.

A CBIBS buoy floats in the mouth of the Susquehanna River after Kirk and Delatolas finished deploying sensors on April 10.

In addition to live reporting of local water and weather conditions, the buoy data provides a snapshot into what is happening around the Bay, demonstrating in a quantitative way how each part of the ecosystem is interrelated. Information on water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen can help researchers uncover important linkages between water quality and blue crab stocks, fish populations, bay grass abundance and more.

Despite the many challenges that the buoy technicians face, Kirk and her team exude an air of passion and commitment to maintaining the instruments that provide the most up-to-date information about the state of the Bay, all in the name of presenting the best science. For those working to restore the estuary and those interested in learning about the issues the Bay faces, the data can serve as a useful tool.

“I think we have an amazing opportunity to protect this watershed and this bay,” said Kirk. “It goes back to resources and taking pride in where you live. This is your home, why wouldn’t you protect it?”

All of the data is free to the public and can be accessed online, by phone at (877) 286-9229 and via a mobile app

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Video and images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


Connecting communities to the Chesapeake Bay

Unique among the exciting goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is the commitment to establish 300 new public access sites in the region by 2025—the only goal specifically aimed at physically connecting people with the Bay and its tributaries. This goal is important for two reasons.

Image by Sheri Armstrong/Shutterstock

First, people care for the places they love and enjoy. As they interact with the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, they develop an appreciation for this wonderful natural resource. This leads them to become stewards and caretakers who have a vested interest in the decisions affecting local waters.

Second, there is an increasingly high demand for additional public access to the waters of the Bay and its rivers. The six watershed states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia all noted a high need for additional public access in their State-wide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans, public access plans and boating infrastructure plans. Throughout the region, water-based activities—including fishing, boating, swimming and beach use—rank among the top twelve recreational activities. Wildlife observation and views from the water’s edge are also highly desirable.

The demand for water access is also affected by the region’s growing population—now nearly 18 million—and the increasing popularity of relatively new forms of water recreation, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, kite boarding and sail boarding. Unlike larger power craft, these paddle craft are relatively inexpensive, can be easily stored and transported by one person, and may not require much more than a good path to the water’s edge to launch. When you combine these with the more traditional activities of boating, fishing, sunbathing, swimming and enjoying views from the water’s edge, it is not surprising that regional residents and visitors increasingly seek opportunities to connect with the waters of the region.

To help track and implement the goal of 300 new public access sites, sites are lumped into four major categories: boating access, which includes access for all types of water craft; fishing access, which includes fishing piers or bank fishing locations; swimming access, which includes areas specifically designated for swimming; and view access, which includes sites developed at the water’s edge to provide views out over the water or of natural areas and waterfowl. In addition to sites that transition from the land to the water, there is also a need to provide access from the water to the land. This includes points of interest along water trails, campsites, restroom facilities and places where people can explore interesting environments or just stop to picnic.

Image by Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock

Meeting this demand and reaching the 300 site goal requires collaboration among multiple partners. While the National Park Service has been assigned the lead role in coordinating the effort, partnerships between local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations have been essential in developing new access. One major project recently completed on the James River in Virginia involved a partnership between the local government, Dominion Power, the Chesapeake Conservancy and a state agency. On the Susquehanna River, a boat dock, wildlife viewing platform and fishing access were established at the Zimmerman Center for Heritage with support from Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, with additional funding from the National Park Service and local donors. National Park Service funding for public access projects serving local communities comes through the congressionally authorized Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. This partnership approach has been a continuing pattern throughout the watershed, and it will take this approach to continue to enhance public access opportunities.

State, federal and local governments are generally the guardians of these opportunities, providing public sites where everyone can enjoy the natural and cultural bounty of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—relaxing, learning and reflecting in direct interaction with the region’s treasured waters. Some sites provide direct access to the Bay and its rivers for boating, sunbathing and swimming. Others provide spots where visitors without watercraft can fish, observe wildlife, walk trails and camp along the water’s edge. The Watershed Agreement’s public access goal reaffirms both the need for and benefits of providing citizens access to these resources.


Written by John Davy, National Park Service - Chesapeake Bay Office. John Davy is chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program's Public Access Planning Team.


National Park Service wants to help you 'Find Your Park'

In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate 100 years of sharing America’s special places and helping people make meaningful connections to nature, history and culture. In honor of this centennial birthday, NPS is partnering with the National Park Foundation to launch a public awareness campaign called Find Your Park.

Image by aradaphotography/Shutterstock.com

Through the Find Your Park initiative, the National Park Service is inviting everyone—and especially new audiences—to discover the special places that belong to us all. More than ever, it’s important that the national parks engage not only those who already know and love the parks, but also the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates who will ensure the preservation and critical relevancy of our nation’s majestic landscapes, rich history and vibrant culture for the next 100 years.

Find Your Park invites the public to see that a park can be more than just a place. It can be a feeling of inspiration; it can be a sense of community. Beyond vast landscapes, the campaign highlights historical, urban, and cultural parks, as well as National Park Service programs that protect, preserve and share nature, culture, and history in communities nationwide.

Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, there are close to 100 national park places and hundreds more community parks and state parks, public access sites, wildlife refuges, water trails, hiking and biking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and celebrations of cultural heritage. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail connects many special places where people can have new experiences, make meaningful connections to nature and be inspired.

On National Trails Day, June 6th, the NPS Chesapeake staff and partners will be helping young people have on-the-water experiences with kayak trips around the Chesapeake. You can participate with a John Smith Trail experience at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, or one of many other inspiring places, and paddle through settings that look much as they did 400 years ago.

To find Chesapeake experiences and parks near you, use “Chesapeake Explorer”—the official NPS mobile app—or check the Find Your Chesapeake website.

Written by Charles "Chuck" Hunt – Superintendent, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail


Thirty-six access sites open along Chesapeake rivers and streams in 2013

Last year, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 36 new public access sites along rivers and streams in the watershed, bringing the total number of access sites in the region to 1,208. In fact, more public access sites were opened in 2013 than in previously tracked years, as states work to meet the public’s high demand for ways to get on the water.

State, federal and local governments are often the guardians of public access sites, providing opportunities for people to swim, fish and launch their boats into the Bay. But because physical access to the Bay and its tributaries remains limited—with real consequences for quality of life, the economy and long-term conservation—Bay Program partners set a goal in 2010 to add 300 new public access sites to the watershed by 2025. As of 2013, partners have added 69 sites, meeting 23 percent of this goal.

From floating canoe launches to bank fishing opportunities, increasing public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards who are engaged in conservation efforts.

“Having public access to enjoy and learn about the value of nature is important,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “I believe that you value what you know, and you are motivated to protect what you value. Whether it’s a relaxing trip along a shoreline or a paddle on a pond or stream, when more people get to know and value the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, more people will be driven to protect it.”

Learn more.


Eight ways to access the Chesapeake Bay from your desk

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.

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


Eighteen Chesapeake Bay access sites open in 2012

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.

You can find public access sites near you with this interactive map, or use the Chesapeake Explorer mobile app to connect to the region’s beauty, history and heritage in the palm of your hand.


National Park Service writes plan to improve public access to rivers, streams, Chesapeake Bay

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.


New mobile app helps users find, visit hundreds of Bay attractions

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.


National Park Service funds education, employment and environmental access

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 rise after dam removal

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.


Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail now open

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 website offers a number of services to help visitors explore the trail, from an adventure planner to a Junior Ranger activity book

The trail's launch was celebrated in Fell's Point, Baltimore, by more than 100 partners, friends and tourism professionals. 


National Park Service writes new plan to improve access to Bay watershed

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. 

Kayakers paddle near a marsh at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

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.

Learn more about the draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan at the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network website.


NPS launches Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and website

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.

Aerial view of Fort McHenry, part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.(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 TrailPotomac 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/.


Four new rivers join Captain John Smith Chesapeake Trail

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.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley talks about the Captain John Smith 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.


Photo Tour: Geocaching at Piscataway Park with the Accokeek Foundation

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!

Matt Rath's avatar
About Matt Rath - Matt was the multimedia specialist for the Bay Program.


Chesapeake Bay featured in National Park Service teaching tool

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.

Visit the National Park Service’s website to explore the Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks.

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