It is 1862 and the nation is in the midst of the Civil War. You are standing at the southernmost tip of the western shore of Maryland. To your left, the rising sun dances over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. To your right, a ship chugs up the Potomac River, making its way to Washington, D.C. The wind whips and there is a nip in the air; winter is coming and all you have to keep warm is one wool blanket and a small tent.
For many Civil War soldiers at what is now Point Lookout State Park, this scene was a reality. Once a popular summer resort, this tract of land became home to a hospital and prison camp in the 1860s. One hundred years later, the site became a state park. Today, it is a place where history and the environment meet.
Although the park’s picturesque surroundings make it an ideal spot for visitors, it faces a number of environmental challenges. During strong storms, the site can experience coastal flooding. At times, rising tides create a temporary island, cutting off the point from the rest of the park. To protect the land from the rising seas of climate change and to combat erosion, staff have placed riprap barriers along much of the park’s shoreline.
“It has been very interesting to see how the weather affects the park throughout the year,” said Melissa Boyle, assistant park manager at Point Lookout. “When it’s stormy or during a hurricane, I can see how rough the water is and I think about what kind of place this could have been one or 200 years ago, when we didn’t have all of the luxuries that we have today.”
But the park’s history began before the Civil War, with the construction of the Point Lookout Lighthouse.
Built in the 1830’s, the Point Lookout Lighthouse was a much-needed navigational beacon to ships travelling up the Potomac River and the Bay. While advances in technology mean the lighthouse is no longer in use, the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society continues to care for the structure. Once a month, the volunteer group even opens the building for guided tours to show visitors what it might have been like to be the lighthouse keeper that lived here.
Some visitors have reportedly experienced paranormal activity in the lighthouse and around the park. Although park staff cannot confirm these allegations, these experiences could be linked to the old age of the lighthouse and the rich war-related history of the park. Because of its haunted reputation, the site sees an increase in break-ins and vandalism around Halloween, forcing park police to step up their patrol.
After the Civil War began, Hammond Hospital was built at Point Lookout. At the time, the hospital was considered to be a state of the art facility: its wagon wheel shape kept different wards separate and created an advanced ventilation system to suppress fire.
In addition to the hospital, three forts were built. But, due to sea level rise and erosion, only one—a reconstructed Fort Lincoln—remains.
Point Lookout was also home to a Civil War prison camp that held Confederate soldiers. The camp was designed to hold 10,000 people, but it regularly held 20,000; over its lifetime, it held 52,000 prisoners. The prisoners would often eat off of the land and were known to scavenge for blue crabs, oysters and rats. At the end of the war, the prison was largely deconstructed. Most of its materials were recycled, but some remain underwater near the park’s fishing pier.
Aside from a handful of park staff and public citizens, the people who once lived at Point Lookout have been replaced with wildlife. Pelicans, eagles and osprey abound, and the park is even home to a great blue heron rookery. Point Lookout is also a popular resting spot for migratory birds and monarch butterflies.
Today, recreation is the primary use of the park. Point Lookout offers more than 100 campsites, a life-guarded beach, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing sites and more than 1,000 acres for visitors to explore. “People should visit Point Lookout State Park because it is where history and the environment meet,” Boyle said. “There is a lot to learn from the park, and fall is a good time to visit. It is a period of transition. Come learn about the Civil War history while taking in the marvelous views and imagining what it would be like to be a soldier that was issued only one wool blanket to sleep under through the winter.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Images by Steve Droter. Captions by Jenna Valente.
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.
As summer heats up and people head outdoors, many will turn to public access sites to meet their recreational needs. Boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails can put people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay. For watershed residents and visitors to the Bay's northwestern shore, Sandy Point State Park has been a treasured public access site for generations.
The multi-use park offers year round recreational opportunities. There are piers and jetties for fishing, beaches for swimming and lounging, four miles of forested trails for hiking, 22 ramps for launching motor boats and paddlecraft, and six finger piers that participate in Maryland’s Clean Marina Initiative. The park is also home to picnicking areas and a store that sells picnic supplies, a concession stand, a handful of basketball courts and youth group camping grounds.
David Powell of Glen Bernie, Md., frequents Sandy Point with his family in order to fish and soak up some sun on the beach—things that he believes can build character, strengthen family bonds and create lasting memories.
“It’s all about the next generation,” Powell said. “You have got to teach the next generation all of the things that we grew up with and this is the way to do it. This is heaven right now. For someone who works 70 hours a week, this is great for morale. I don’t own waterfront property, so having access to the Bay is so important.”
Father and son duo Moses and Darius Gilliam of Catonsville, Md., visit the park four or five times each summer. On this particular day, the Gilliams were accompanied by family members from France who were eager to spend some time on the Bay during their visit.
Fishing is the Gilliams’ favorite activity at Sandy Point, but Darius also enjoys the time and space that it gives him to play with his brother and sister. Moses explains: “I’ve lived around the Bay since 1986. To me, Sandy Point State Park provides a safe atmosphere. I feel relaxed here, like nothing [bad] is going to happen. This is a good thing for the family. It’s a good environment. It takes the stress away just to relax and soak up the sun.”
James and Vanessa Jones of Pikesville, Md., are also self-proclaimed “fish-aholics.” The husband and wife try to visit Sandy Point at least once a week, donating whatever they catch to families and friends that do not have the opportunity fish on the Bay.
“It’s important to have places like this,” Vanessa Jones said. “[This park offers] so many things that we would have never taken advantage of [otherwise], like the seafood festival and the lights at Christmas and you see deer all the time down here. It’s just a beautiful setting. ”
Luis Diaz of El Salvador and Maria Shemiakina of Russia fish right off of the rock jetties almost every weekend. “I mean look,” Luis said. “We’ve got our fishing rods, we’ve got our watermelon and we are going to stay here on the Bay for maybe three hours or longer. We do this almost every other day! Where else can you go in Maryland if you like sport fishing and hanging out by the water? This is the best.”
As development continues across the watershed, demand for public access remains high. With help from the National Park Service (NPS) and the Public Access Planning Action Team, the Chesapeake Bay Program tracks public access as a measure of Bay restoration. These sites can bolster public health. They can improve our quality of life. And—perhaps most importantly—they can inspire their visitors to become a part of Bay conservation.
View more photos on the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Captions by Jenna Valente
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.
I enjoy kayaking—a lot. In fact, I like kayaking more than any other outdoor activity. And a recent weekend spent entirely on the water—first on the South River, and later on a tributary to the Nanticoke—felt like heaven.
The weekend started with the South River Days Kayak, Wade-In and Picnic. More than 60 people participated in the celebration of the South River, connecting with the waterway on kayaks, a canoe and a stand-up paddleboard. The colorful regatta and community spirit reminded us that we must continue our work to ensure we have clean water for fishing, swimming and public health and well-being.
Then, I joined a host of Chesapeake Bay professionals—from Nikki Tinsley, former chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, to Al Todd and Lou Etgen from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—on Chicone Creek, which flows into the Nanticoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tom Horton was also on board. The former Baltimore Sun reporter and current Salisbury University professor is an encyclopedia of facts and stories about the Bay. He spoke about the area’s history, its early settlements, its local characters, its plant and animal life and the current state of its environment.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in Vienna, Md., and enjoyed the hospitality of Mayor Russ Brinsfield, who let us use his front lawn and shade tree. In addition to being Vienna’s mayor, Russ is also a farmer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center and a member of the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. Russ has a long and deep history with the Bay.
Later that afternoon, we watched a large barge being pushed downriver by a tug and were reminded that the Nanticoke is a working river. Our waters can serve a variety of purposes—but can do so only as long as we protect them.
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.
Charity walks, charity marathons—and charity paddles? From a nine-day paddle that spotlights the Potomac River to an 11-stop float plan from northeast Maryland to southeast Virginia, more organizations are getting out on the water to fundraise for the Chesapeake Bay.
In one effort to garner grassroots support, the District of Columbia-based Potomac Riverkeeper sent two paddlers down a stretch of the Potomac and documented the nine-day, 150-mile trip online. Joe Hage and Whit Overstreet—one the caretaker of the Sycamore Island Canoe Club, the other a member of the Potomac Riverkeeper staff—used Twitter, Facebook and regular blog posts to publicize their paddle and solicit mile-by-mile donations, raising more than $3,000 for a project that will create a Potomac River water trail designed for people in self-powered crafts.
Image courtesy Potomac Riverkeeper
Hage and Overstreet made their trip along Virginia's shore in red and orange sea kayaks, which held their camping gear, provisions and a couple of good luck charms: for Joe, a stuffed dog, and for Whit, a rubber duck, both found in piles of onshore trash. The trip, started each morning before sunrise, solidified the two paddlers' connection with the Potomac. But, as Overstreet said, it also opened a window for others to experience the river "from the comfort of their PCs."
Image courtesy Potomac Riverkeeper
As Hage and Overstreet paddled down the Potomac, travelers-in-spirit stuck at their desks could also check in with a third paddler: Lou Etgen, making an 11-day charity paddle down the entire length of the Bay. And just as the Internet helped Hage and Overstreet share their stories—a Tweet about the waves and water, a Facebook post signaling their arrival at a campsite—the Internet allowed Etgen to show his friends, colleagues and even complete strangers the sights and sounds of the watershed.
Image courtesy Lou Etgen
The Associate Director of Programs with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay made the sojourn from Havre de Grace, Md., to Cedar View, Va., for a number of reasons: to celebrate his 50th birthday, to reconnect with the water and to fundraise, first for the Alliance and second for Autism Speaks. Joined by a gear boat and an ever-changing group of fellow paddlers, each day Etgen spent on the water was a memorable one, whether he was marveling at underwater grasses on the Susquehanna flats or paddling alongside blue crabs and bald eagles. Throughout the trip, Etgen remained impressed with the water's health, while his readers remained engrossed in his writing.
"I spoke with many folks on my return who told me of waking up and going to their computer to check in on the blog from the night before," Etgen wrote in an online epilogue. "The blog comments from friends and folks I did not know were tremendous and helped to spur us on."
For Etgen, this show-and-tell turned out to be an integral part—even his favorite part—of the trip.
"This wasn't my trip," Etgen said. "This was our trip. It became so much bigger than my journey."
Image courtesy Lou Etgen
Overstreet and Hage also garnered online support, amassing countless "likes" and comments on the hundreds of photos taken with a smart phone and posted to their Facebook page from the water.
"We were able to show people that this is a feasible trip, rather than a challenging odyssey," Overstreet said. "People really seemed to enjoy it."
To read more, visit the Potomac Riverkeeper and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay websites. To get out of cyberspace and into the water, find a public access site near you. Or, join the Waterkeeper Alliance on September 15 for the Rally for Clean Water, where a morning paddle on the Potomac will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
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.
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.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question is one people ask at least every few weeks, especially in the summertime when they're itching to get out on the Bay: “Where are public access points to the Chesapeake Bay?”
We have a map on our website that allows you to select your region to see all available public access points. If you click on a point on the map, it will give you information such as the name, location and amenities available at that spot, such as boat ramps, parking, fishing, swimming, trails and restrooms. You can also request a printed copy of this map to be mailed to you.
As of the 2009 Bay Barometer, the Bay Program had reached 98 percent of its goal of for public access. There are currently 761 public access sites, 166 Chesapeake Bay Gateways and more than 2,000 miles of water trails in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Be sure to check out the public access points and Gateways locations near your home or vacation spots this summer for your chance to enjoy all Chesapeake Bay has to offer.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events!