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.
Fall brings with it cooler weather and a rainbow of red, orange and yellow foliage, making it the perfect time to get outside for a hike.
From the coastal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay to the rocky hills of the Appalachian Mountains, scenic vistas and mountaintops await.
Tip: To plan your outing, find out when "peak fall foliage" occurs in your region with this map from the Weather Channel.
Here are some of our favorite sites to take in the changing colors of fall:
1. Old Rag Mountain Hike, Shenandoah National Park, Va. (7 miles)
Image courtesy David Fulmer/Flickr
Be prepared for a challenging rock scramble and a crowd of tourists, but know that it will all be worth it in the end. Some consider this hike to have the best panoramic vistas in Northern Virginia, and it remains one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic.
2. Loudoun Heights Trails, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, W.Va. (7.5 miles)
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located along the C&O Canal—a hot spot for those looking to find fall foliage. But if you're tired of the canal's flat views as it runs along the Potomac River, check out the trails in Loudon Heights. It may be an uphill battle, but you'll find yourself overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from what seems to be the highest point around. This is certainly a good hike for a cool fall day (this blogger took to the trails in the heat of summer and was drained!). Be sure to grab ice cream in town afterwards!
3. Flat Top Hike, Peaks of Otter Trails, Bedford, Va. (3.5 miles)
Image courtesy Jim Liestman/Flickr
The Peaks of Otter are three mountain peaks that overlook the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While a hike to Sharp Top is an intriguing one with stunning views, a hike to Flat Top promises to be less crowded. Keep in mind, there are many other trails and lakes near the Peaks of Otter worth exploring!
4. Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock Loop, Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Md. (5 miles)
Image courtesy TrailVoice/Flickr
Give yourself plenty of time to take in the unique rock formations and two outstanding viewpoints found along this hardwood forest trail. If you're not up for a long hike, visit the park's more accessible viewpoints and make a stop at the nearby Cunningham Falls State Park to see a scenic waterfall just below the mountains.
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. (184 miles)
Image courtesy sandcastlematt/Flickr
This trail follows the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. While bikers and hikers often tackle the entire trail, the canal path can also be enjoyed as a leisurely day hike.
From Great Falls to Harpers Ferry to Green Ridge State Forest—the second largest in Maryland—a walk along this rustic trail traces our nation's transportation history with sightings of brick tunnels, lock houses and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it all.
If you plan on making a multi-day journey, watch the color of the leaves change as you move north along with peak foliage.
6. Pokomoke River State Forest (Snow Hill, Md.) (1 mile)
Image courtesy D.C. Glovier/Flickr
Whether you explore the 15,500 acres of this forest from land or from water, you are sure to find breath-taking scenes of fall—in stands of loblolly pine, in bald-cypress forests and swamps and even in a five-acre remnant of old growth forest. Take a one-mile self guided trail or opt for an afternoon fall colors paddle in the nearby Pocomoke River State Park, sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
7. Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch Hike, Cumberland County, Pa.
Image courtesy Audubon Pennsylvania
This rocky site is located along an autumn raptor migration flyway, making it popular among bird-watchers. During the fall, however, it is a must-visit for birders and non-birders alike. From the top of Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, you can see South Mountain and Cumberland, Perry, York and Franklin counties. The land is cared for by Audubon Pennsylvania.
8. Pole Steeple Trail, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cumberland County, Pa. (.75 mile)
Image courtesy Shawnee17241/Flickr
This trail offers a great view for a short climb. While the trail is less than one mile long, it is steep! From the top, you can see Laurel Lake in Pine Grove Furnace State Park and all 2,000 feet of South Mountain. Plan this hike around sunset to see fall colors in a different light.
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.
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/.
Finally – school’s out and warm weather is here! We know you’re eager to get away to your nearest beach and bury yourself in the sand with a new book. But did you know there are dozens of beautiful parks and natural areas on the way to major beaches such as Rehoboth Beach, Virginia Beach and Ocean City? Here are eight places you can enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers along the way to your summer destination. After all, some of life's greatest joys are in the journey, not in the destination!
1. Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve (Portsmouth, Va.)
Just 20 minutes west of Virginia Beach, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve provides urban wildlife in the Norfolk/Portsmouth metro region with 142 acres of tidal and non-tidal habitat. Expect to encounter foxes, river otters, oysters and crabs along the preserve's trails. Before you go, check out Hoffler Creek’s events listings for specialties like sunset kayak tours, night owl kayak paddles by moonlight, and early morning bird walks!
2. Dutch Gap Conservation Area (Chester Va.)
(Image courtesy John.Murden/Flickr)
Just south of Richmond, Dutch Gap Conservation Area surrounds Henricus, the second successful English settlement in Virginia. Bordered by the James River, the 810-acre area contains a blue heron rookery and has been described as a "birder's dream." A diversity of habitats attract a range of flying friends: in wetlands, look for pintails and kingfishers; in meadows, you'll find goldfinches, indigo buntings and kingbirds; and in forests, expect to see scarlet tanagers and red-eye vireo. Hike or bike the 4.5 mile Dutch Gap Trail, which circumnavigates a tidal lagoon. Kayak or canoe the Lagoon Water Trail (perfect for beginner paddlers), or schedule a night to camp under the stars at the area's primitive camp site.
3. Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge (Cape Charles, Va.)
(Image courtesy Xavier de Jauréguiberry/Flickr)
Drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Bay Tunnel near Virginia Beach to arrive at the southernmost tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Here, nearly 1,300 acres of tidal wetlands and hiking trails sport colorful views of sunsets and sunrises; enjoy being surrounded by water on three sides! The area is one of the most important avian migration funnels in the country, meaning it provides vital stopover habitat for birds and butterflies migrating south for the winter and north for the summer. Return in the winter for a trip to Fisherman Island, a remote island home to sensitive bird species and untouched shoreline.
4. Nassawango Creek Preserve of the Nature Conservancy and Furnace Town (Snow Hill, Md.)
Just south of Salisbury, Maryland, one of the northernmost stands of bald cypress trees leak tannins into the Nassawango Creek, giving this pristine Chesapeake Bay tributary a deceptive tea-like color. Bald cypress trees grow completely in the water, and are most abundant in swamps in the deep southeast United States. Visitors to the 15,000-acre Nassawango Creek Preserve can paddle among these green giants or explore upland forest habitat on the preserve's many trails. Expect to see rare plants like indian pipe and pink lady slipper, and migratory birds such as scarlet tanagers and prothonotary warblers.
Along the edge of the preserve, hidden in the Pocomoke State Forest, a brick structure stands tall among the trees. It is the remnants of an iron furnace that at one time attracted hundreds of people – miners, firemen, bargemen and sawyers – to the area. From 1831 to 1850, village residents gathered iron ore from the bogs surrounding Nassawango Creek and loaded iron bars onto barges that were floated down the creek to the Pocomoke River and the Chesapeake Bay. Today, you can get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1830s mining village by visiting the Living Heritage Museum.
5. Pickering Creek Audubon Center (Easton, Md.)
(Image courtesy Pickering Creek Audubon Center)
If you're driving to Ocean City or Assateague Island, you'll likely pass hundreds of cornfields, strawberry fields and trucks full of chickens. Farming is a significant part of the heritage of Maryland's Eastern Shore, but the agricultural industry is often blamed for polluting the Chesapeake Bay.
At Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, 270 acres are farmed according to "best management practices" that reduce the amount of animal bacteria, chemicals and pesticides that end up in the bay. Visitors can learn the past and future of farming in the region, or hike through hardwood forests, fresh and brackish marshes, meadows and wetlands. A Children's Imagination Garden will let your little ones connect to nature, and a display of live reptiles allows them to get up close and personal with our scaly friends!
6. Trap Pond State Park (Laurel, Del.)
Trap Pond was created in the late 1700s to power a sawmill during the harvesting of bald cypress trees from these southwestern Delaware freshwater wetlands. Fortunately, not all of the trees were harvested, and today, Trap Pond provides a home for the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees in the United States. The thick bald cypress marsh envelops visitors in a blanket of shade, making this park the perfect destination for a hot summer day.
Within the park, Trussum Pond is the best place to view the largest of these trees. Biking, camping, boating and disc golf are just some of the recreational opportunities available at the 2,700 acre park.
7. James Branch Nature Preserve and Water Trail (Laurel, Del.)
Unlike Trap Pond, which, as a state park, exists primarily for recreational purposes, James Branch Nature Preserve's first priority is protecting and enhancing a delicate ecosystem for future generations. As the largest of the state's nature preserves, James Branch's 685 acres are mostly composed of bald cypress trees – the oldest-growth in the state! Visitors can canoe and kayak the James Branch Water Trail. Since there is the chance of encountering downed trees, low-hanging branches, and floating and submerged logs, the trail is only recommended for intermediate to advanced paddlers.
8. Adkins Arboretum (Ridgely, Md.)
For some people, it's difficult to imagine your garden untouched by invasive, exotic weeds aggressively overtaking native vegetation. But at Adkins Arboretum, you can explore 400 acres of native plant gardens and wildflower meadows. Adkins is the only public garden or arboretum that focuses solely on plants native to the mid-Atlantic coastal plain. Located at the intersection of the piedmont and coastal plain, and the junction of the north and south, Adkins supports more than 600 species of native shrubs, trees, wildflowers and grasses. Visitors can understand nature through the lens of art and history; an ongoing art exhibit features natural themes by regional artists, and Adkins describes nature's relationship to the Underground Railroad throughout the region. Before you visit, be sure you check the arboretum’s list of programs and guided walks.
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.
The tradition of making New Year's resolutions has existed since the ancient Babylonians. Each year, we challenge ourselves to improve some aspect of ourselves or our lives.
This year, we asked our Twitter followers how they will resolve to help the Chesapeake Bay in 2012. As individuals, we can do lots of things to protect the Bay and its rivers; not just for our own benefit, but for the good of everybody.
Here’s a list of eight great New Year’s resolutions that folks just like you are committing to in 2012!
(Image courtesy Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay/Flickr)
As the oldest of five siblings, my parents always made me clean up messes that I didn't make. When I was a kid, I argued that "this isn't fair." Perhaps this is the most difficult thing about trash pickups – it doesn't seem fair to clean up after other people when you weren't the one who did it. But as an adult, I realize that carelessly discarded trash all ends up in the same place: our waterways, where it damages ecosystems, harms wildlife and destroys the natural beauty of our region.
Stream cleanups are something we can participate in a few Saturday mornings a year. Volunteering for, or even organizing, regular cleanups in your neighborhood can bring your community together and make it more beautiful for everybody! To find a cleanup near you, contact your local watershed organization.
Sidewalks and driveways are typically paved, “impervious” surfaces that do not allow rainwater to soak into the ground. Instead, it runs off, picking up pollutants such as oil, fertilizer and dog waste on its way to the nearest stream or storm drain.
(Image courtesy reallyboring/Flickr)
Permeable surfaces, such as pavers, allow stormwater to slowly soak into the ground, reducing flooding and polluted runoff. Check with your local landscaping company; most offer porous paver options.
Remember, cleaning products go down the drain, too, eventually ending up in our streams and rivers. Of the 17,000 petroleum-based chemicals cleaners available for home use, only 30 percent have been tested for their effects on human health and the environment. Choosing a naturally based cleaner will lessen any potential risks to your health and our waterways. You can even make your own cleaning products (which would also help you achieve resolution #7!).
(Image courtesy scarlatti2004/Flickr)
If you paid attention to your neighborhood's curbside during the holiday season, you likely noticed a surprising amount of trash. (An extra million tons of waste is generated each week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the United States.) Sure, it's great to recycle all those boxes and bags, but recycling still takes energy and money. Why not consume less to begin with?
Fuel costs are soaring, you're weighed down by too many holiday treats, and you actually have to go back to work. Instead of hopping in your car, uncover that old Cannondale in the garage and get riding! Bike riding saves money and helps prevent pollution from vehicle exhaust from entering the Bay and its rivers.
(Image courtesy gzahnd/Flickr)
In some parts of the Bay region, like Baltimore and Washington, it may actually be quicker and more enjoyable to bike ride than to sit in traffic each day. In Washington, D.C., there’s even a Bikestation, where you can lock your bike and shower before heading into the office.
While they may be able to tell the difference between an iPod and an iPad, most children don't know how to identify the plants and animals in their own backyard. Growing up in a world of hand-held virtual realities, it’s no surprise that the younger generation has lost touch with the great outdoors.
(Image courtesy seemakk/Flickr)
Since Richard Louv's revolutionary book, Last Child in the Woods, concluded that children have developed social and physical health abnormalities as a result of "nature deficient disorder," a multitude of groups have formed to get kids outdoors. Join a nature play group near you to share your creative, kid-friendly outdoor adventures!
Why would you try to save something you didn’t care about it? From New York to West Virginia, there are thousands of opportunities to get outside and enjoy your piece of the Bay. Check out the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network for parks and natural areas near you. For water warriors, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Historic Trail will introduce you to historic and beautiful scenes only accessible via kayak, paddleboat or sailboat. Kids and adults alike enjoy geocaching, a fancy word for a treasure hunt using a GPS.
So, what’s your New Year’s resolution for the Bay? Tell us about it in the comments!
Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, it’s easy to use winter as an excuse for, say, drinking lattes, neglecting your exercise regimen and catching up on your favorite television show instead of getting outdoors. These indulgences provide me with some comfort in the face of frigid temperatures, high winds and slick road conditions.
But as my jeans get tighter and my skin gets paler, I’ve become inspired to conquer the season and all its hazards (realistically speaking, that is). Rather than hibernating like an animal, I’m putting my four-wheel-drive to use and showing winter who’s boss!
From cross country skiing to bird watching to doing donuts on frozen lakes, there are some outdoor experiences you can only have during our coldest season. We’ve compiled a list of six great places across the Bay watershed to experience winter. Just think how much better that hot cocoa will taste after you’ve felt the winter wind in your face!
If a winter flu’s got you down, a dip in Berkeley Springs may save your health. George Washington himself frequented Berkeley Springs to bathe in the warm mineral waters that flow from five main sources in the town. The springs discharge 2,000 gallons of clear, sparkling water per minute. The water remains at 74.3 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It isn’t quite hot tub temperature, but it’s still warmer than a typical winter day.
The town even holds a Winter Festival of the Waters each year to celebrate the springs!
(Image courtesy @heylovedc/Flickr)
A drive through rolling hills, orchards and farmland will bring you to Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, located the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Rock climbing, trout fishing, cross country skiing, winter hiking and horseback riding are just a few of the activities these recreational areas offer.
(Image courtesy Compass Points Media/Flickr)
The forests covering the parks are known as “second growth.” The “first growth” forest was logged extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries to support local agriculture and produce charcoal for the nearby Catoctin Ironworks Furnace. In the 1930s, the land was set aside and reforested by President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration.
Hikers and cross country skiers will come across waterfalls and large, 500 million-year-old boulders. These rocks have been exposed as the Appalachian Mountains have flattened out over time. Trails at Cunningham Falls center around the waterfall for which the park is named. Known locally as McAfee Falls, it is the largest cascading waterfall in the state of Maryland.
Venture to Hills Creek State Park, near the Pennsylvania/New York border, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by nothing but forests. Four hundred acres of state park land are bordered by nearly 13,000 acres of state game lands, making the park an ideal destination for trappers and hunters. Winter sports fanatics will be in heaven – the park’s five and half miles of trails are open to hiking and cross country skiing in winter.
(Image courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)
Take the kids sledding on the hill near the seasonal beach; with adequate snow cover, you’ll be able to fly! If you’re lucky, you may be able to ice skate on the 137-acre Hill Creek Lake. (The park doesn’t monitor ice thickness, but does provide updates on winter conditions.)
In the winter, scenic mountain vistas are all the more impressive; without any greenery in the way, you can see for miles. For breathtaking winter views, visit Loyalsock State Forest, part of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountain region. The park’s elevation is relatively high for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which means you can count on winter conditions every year.
The park manages two trails specifically for cross country skiing, but skiers are welcome anywhere. Thirty-five miles of trails transverse the park, connecting visitors to a 130-mile regional trail system. Snowmobiling is also popular here.
(Image courtesy Richban/Flickr)
(Image courtesy Patuxent Research Refuge)
If winter travel isn’t in the cards for you, look no further than Patuxent Research Refuge, the 13,000-acre wildlife refuge halfway between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. You’ll be surprised by how secluded you’ll feel just 20 minutes off I-295 (Baltimore/Washington Parkway).
Borrow binoculars and birding guides from the visitor center and walk the family-friendly trails to catch a glimpse of cardinals, tundra swans and Canada geese. The visitor center also hosts public programs for kids and houses life-sized “stuffed” animals and interactive exhibits that explain the National Wildlife Refuge system.
Seasonal hunting is also popular on the refuges’ North Tract.
If you’re still itching to get a little snow, head to the southernmost selection on our list. During this time of year, Shenandoah’s weather is unpredictable – often 10-20 degrees cooler than temperatures in the valley. Leafless trees allow you to see for miles across the park’s nearly 200,000 acres. Portions of Skyline Drive and visitors’ services are closed through March, but hiking, backcountry camping and simple Sunday drives are still welcomed! Look for bobcat tracks in the snow along the trails. If you’re brave and fit, check out the magnificent view at the top of Old Rag.
(Image courtesy Brandon Feagon/Flickr)
Now you tell us: what’s your favorite Chesapeake Bay place to explore in winter?
Biologists with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) are mapping phragmites along the York River as part of a strategy to control the invasive marsh plant.
The agency will use the phragmites location data to develop a web-based mapping tool. Landowners along the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and York rivers can use the map to see if phragmites is growing on their property. The map should be available on DCR’s invasive species page by winter.
“DCR is developing an improved web-based phragmites mapping application that will allow landowners to assess phragmites invasions on their own land in order to make plans for its control,” said DCR Project Manager Rick Myers.
Phragmites is a tall, perennial grass that grows in marshes. The non-native form of phragmites dominates other plants, forming monocultures that do not provide good habitat for wildlife. Although Virginia has treated thousands of acres with approved herbicides, phragmites is spreading fast because too few landowners are controlling it.
For more information, visit DCR's website.
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!
To be honest, I was kicking myself a little bit after our latest photo trip. I realized how dumb I have been for not visiting Patapsco Valley State Park in the one and a half years I've lived here.
When living in an urban environment, you sometimes forget what clean, fresh air feels like. I definitely felt healthier the day of the trip, being surrounded by so many trees and other living things.
I wasn't the only one trying to get out and enjoy the nice weather. We saw a number of hikers, bikers, fisherman and families taking to the trails. The park has multiple waterfalls, picnic areas, and plenty of walkways to check out.
I would strongly recommend visiting Patapsco Valley State Park if you live nearby. They are actually having a volunteer fair this Saturday (May 7th) from 10-1. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website, you will be able to “Explore all the volunteer opportunities available including volunteer rangers, photographers, camp hosts, trail workers, naturalists and much more!”
We want to hear from you! What are your favorite Chesapeake Bay-region parks to visit when the weather is nice?
Chesapeake Bay Program Acting Director Jim Edward has been appointed by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to a two-year term on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Advisory Council.
The 25-member council advises the National Park Service on matters related to the trail, including trail management, public access, recreational opportunities and indigenous cultural landscapes.
The council includes representatives from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations, and American Indian associations.
“The people appointed to service on the Advisory Council will contribute in many ways to the development of a rich educational and recreational trail experience for the public,” said John Reynolds, Advisory Council chair.
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows the routes of John Smith’s 1607-1609 voyages throughout the Bay and several tributaries. The 3,000-mile trail offers visitors recreational and educational experience both on land and water.
For more information about the trail, visit www.smithtrail.net.
We’re all hoping that spring is just around the corner, but for now, the Chesapeake Bay region is still in winter’s grip. But don’t let the cold weather stop you from experiencing the Bay! Check out our list of six great places where you can learn about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and history.
Located in Solomons, Maryland, the Calvert Marine Museum offers an array of different indoor activities to keep Chesapeake Bay education alive during the winter months. Explore the museum’s 29,000-square-foot indoor exhibit, which features fossils that date back 8-20 million years, a touch tank containing live Bay critters such as terrapins and horseshoe crabs, and rarely seen river otters playing in their tank!
Since tours are self-guided, you can take your time while you explore historic collections, including accounts of the region’s first settlers and artifacts from the War of 1812 pulled from a local creek.
In February the museum will hold a few special events, including conversations with Chesapeake authors featuring William Poe, a “How Animals Survive Winter” program for toddlers, and a “Slavery in Southern Maryland” exhibit.
Live in the Newport News, Virginia, area? Then you must check out the Virginia Living Museum!
The museum’s brand-new facility is equipped with five different galleries that highlight all of Virginia’s geographic regions. Walk through the “Coastal Plain Gallery” to view a 30,000 gallon tank that houses aquatic creatures native to the Chesapeake Bay. Step over to the “World of Darkness” gallery to learn a little bit about Virginia’s more mysterious critters, including pine voles, ghost crabs and moon jellyfish.
The museum also has four different Discovery Centers that display everything from working beehives to a Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank.
Located in what some consider the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, the Annapolis Maritime Museum is a piece of history itself. The museum is housed in what used to be the McNasby Oyster Company, the last remaining oyster shucking house in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Maritime Museum is known for its excellent education programs that get students out of the classroom and help them learn about Chesapeake Bay history.
Not a student? No problem. The Maritime Museum hosts a weekly lecture series that highlights topics ranging from the status of the Bay’s oyster population to discussions with authors of Bay-related books. In February, you can expect to hear from underwater archaeologist Susan B. Langley about the excavation of the ship the Scorpion from the Patuxent River.
The museum’s most popular events are photography exhibits that display iconic images of the Chesapeake Bay taken by locals who know it best. From February 5 through March 19, the Muddy Creek Artists’ Guild will display its “Chesapeake Bay Collection.”
The Great Valley Nature Center in Devault, Pennsylvania, is a great resource for teachers who are looking to bring their class to the environment or the environment into their classroom. The center offers a range of programs for varying age levels onsite during the winter. Have your class participate in the “Fur, Feathers and Fins” program to allow your students to learn about different types of animals. Or try the “Pollution Solutions” activity that not only explores the different types and sources of pollution, but how your students can help reduce it. The center even has a program on winter survival techniques of plants and animals.
Can’t get your class to the center? They will come to you! The center provides all the materials as well as a speaker; all you need to provide is the audience. Your students can learn about the animals living in their backyard without having to leave their own classroom. It’s the perfect way to bring the outdoors inside during the cold of winter.
Located on the banks of the Nanticoke River, the Seaford Museum was established to commemorate the history of the town of Seaford, Delaware. The museum is housed in a 1935 Post Office that the local community restored.
The museum includes more than 60 exhibits arranged in a timeline fashion. Topics range from the Nanticoke Indians to shipping and agriculture. You can even learn about one of the most notorious murderers in U.S. history, Seaford local Patty Cannon.
The Seaford Museum is located near the restored Governor Ross mansion and plantation. Here you can learn a little more about the lives of the people who lived in the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1850s and the mystery behind why their popular Governor Ross fled to England.
Want to experience what life on the Eastern Shore was really like 100 years ago? Then head to St. Michaels, Maryland, and visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The museum is known for its summer outdoor programs, but the winter exhibits are just as exciting and interesting.
Explore the museum’s famous Maryland lighthouse, which has been restored to resemble what it would have looked like while fully operational in 1879. Or take a self-guided tour of the museum’s 10 exhibit buildings, which feature displays on the life of Native Americans, early waterman, and animals that live in the Bay.
On Saturdays from January until the end of February, the museum hosts a two-hour Kids Club, where 4 to 9 year olds participate in hands-on games, arts and crafts, and storytelling.
The museum also has special exhibitions on artwork and artifacts from private collections. One recent special exhibition featured aerial photographs of the Bay area to demonstrating how land use has changed over time in the watershed.
What are some of your favorite indoor places to learn about the Chesapeake Bay or the environment? Let us know in the comments!
Summer may be over, but there are still a number of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the splendor of the outdoors. In autumn and winter, millions of migratory birds visit the Chesapeake Bay region as they follow the Atlantic Flyway during their seasonal flights.
The Chesapeake, which sits along the Atlantic Flyway, has always been a favored winter residence and stopover for many waterfowl – ducks, geese and swans – on their way to and from their northern breeding grounds. The wetlands, fields, shallows and open waters of the Bay offer a fertile environment for waterfowl to feed and rest.
There are countless great places in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – which stretches from upstate New York to southern Virginia – to catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds on a fall or winter day. From national wildlife refuges (NWR) to state parks and wildlife management areas, the options are plentiful no matter where you live.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the top places to spend a day enjoying the beautiful waterfowl that call the Chesapeake region their winter home.
Located about an hour northwest of Salisbury, Blackwater NWR is one of the premier spots in the Bay region to see wintering waterfowl. Each autumn, thousands of Canada geese flock to the 27,000-acre refuge during their annual migration. Tundra swans, snow geese and a variety of ducks are also abundant at Blackwater.
The refuge is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. There is an entry fee of $3 per vehicle, $1 per pedestrian or bicyclist (those under 16 are free).
Elk Neck State Park is situated on the Susquehanna Flats, a unique portion of the Bay that is less than 5 feet deep. In the past, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl used to migrate to this area in massive quantities. While there are fewer birds there these days, the park is still a great spot to watch dabblers like teal and mallards as they feed in the shallow waters of the Flats.
The park is open year-round and cabins are available for rental. On weekdays, the park charges an entry fee of $3 per vehicle; on weekends and holidays, that changes to $3 per person. Out of state residents will have to add $1 to these fees.
With 2,800 acres of land maintained specifically to attract waterfowl, this 30-mile-long island is a sure bet for bird-watching. Wander along inlets and beaches to see thousands of ducks, geese and swans, possibly even close enough to appreciate the intricate differences of each species.
The island is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year with no entry fees.
The 2,285-acre refuge is home to approximately 243 species of birds. Waterfowl include pintails, goldeneyes, ruddy ducks, oldsquaw, canvasbacks and buffleheads. Also found in the area is the tundra swan, which can be seen in groups of as many as one thousand.
The refuge is open from 7:30 a.m. until one half hour after sunset with no entry fees.
At the end of the last Ice Age, as the last glacier retreated, two masses of ice were left behind and eventually melted, creating the Chenango and Lily lakes in New York. During the migration seasons, birdwatchers can find ducks as well as herons and kingfishers by the lakes. Along the trails, woodpeckers, nut hatches, warblers and thrushes abound.
The park is open year-round for day use, and campsites are available May through October.
Susquehannock State Park offers several river overlooks, which give visitors a unique panoramic view of the lower Susquehanna River. With such a major stop on the Atlantic Flyway nearby, the park is a haven for migratory birds on their journeys. Visitors will inevitably see large numbers of Canada geese, mallards, lesser scaup and several other species. The park also has the world’s first bald eagle sanctuary, where two nesting bald eagles have lived for many years. Several other eagles have nested on the island in recent years as well. The eagle sanctuary can be viewed through binoculars or the on-site optical viewer.
Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area is mostly an oak-hickory forest covering 3,500 acres. While this portion of the Bay watershed is a bit too far west to draw many migratory waterfowl from the Atlantic Flyway, the 205-acre lake does attract limited numbers of ducks and geese. Mallards, Canada geese, wood ducks and several species of diving ducks can been seen on the lake.
The Nanticoke Wildlife Area contains 4,415 acres of forests, fields and wetlands bordering the Nanticoke River. Along the river, visitors will be treated to the brilliant fall plumage of the drake wood duck and also be able to see American widgeon, gadwall and American black ducks. A multitude of herons, grebes, songbirds and egrets also inhabit Nanticoke Wildlife Area.
For more information, please contact the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife at (302) 539-3160.
Rappahannock River Valley NWR is the newest of four refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Established in 1996, the refuge protects 20,000 acres of wetlands and uplands along the river and its major tributaries. The vast stretches of wetlands and river frontage provide habitat for a multitude of species of waterfowl, including black ducks, widgeons, greater scaup, hooded mergansers, canvasbacks and ring-necked ducks.
This 146-acre preserve on a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay has three major natural habits: a tidal salt marsh, a maritime forest and a sandy beach. There is a boardwalk and observation deck over the salt marsh that offers great views of the habitat and wildlife, as well as a roadside between the forest and the marsh where you have a great opportunity to view waterfowl during spring and fall migrations. Shorebirds take their places in the tidal lagoons, while land birds roam the forested areas. Neo-tropical songbirds and other migratory birds are frequently seen here as they travel along the Atlantic Flyway.
The preserve is open daily from dawn ‘til dusk.
This salt marsh habitat separates the eastern side of Winter Harbor from the Chesapeake Bay. The habitat is constantly changing due to wind and water that move the sand on the narrow beach, but this doesn’t change how many species of birds and waterfowl are found. Bethel Beach boasts more than 185 species of birds, including 25 species of shorebirds.
Just a few miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Kiptopeke State Park is a 500-acre refuge for viewing fall migrations. The park includes a songbird banding station so that visitors of the park can view up-close songbirds like warblers and ovenbirds. There’s also a hawk-trapping station with species including sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcons and merlin. The nearby Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge has a migration display that’s also worth checking out.
The park is open year-round with a $3 entry fee Monday through Friday and $4 on weekends and holidays.
This 500-acre preserve, with its wooded trails and shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, is very appealing to migrating and wintering birds. Beginning in October, wintering waterfowl such as eiders, scoters and open-water ducks come along. The preserve is open to walkers and bikers.
For a different experience, you can observe waterfowl from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel’s four man-made islands. The man-made habitats are located in open waters, providing an inviting resting point for many migrating birds. Frequent avian visitors include northern gannet, pelican, brant, king eider, harlequin duck, red-breasted merganser, peregrine falcon, American oystercatcher, little gull and black-tailed gull.
For another list of great waterfowl-related places to visit around the Bay, check out the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network's compilation of waterfowling driving tours.
If you're looking for Chesapeake Bay-related day trips for you and your family, check out Chesapeake Trips and Tips, a new weekly e-mail from the Friends of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network with events taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the upcoming weekend. This week's edition of Chesapeake Trips and Tips includes a festival in Baltimore, an Eastern Shore bull and oyster roast, and a reenactment of the 1774 Yorktown Tea Party.
And remember,you can always visit baygateways.net for ideas for day trips and weekend getaways around the Chesapeake Bay region. The Gateways Network includes 160 parks, museums, water trails, historic sites and other spots that show the local area's connection to the Chesapeake's culture, history and environment. So get out there and explore the Bay!
If I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a wilderness oasis, devoid of the drone of highway interstate traffic and the ever-present hum of electricity, where you can run your fingers along the rigid surface of billion year old exposed granite and relish in your escapism from modern development knowing you’re surrounded by 80,000 acres of protected and never-to-be-destroyed-for-any-reason forests, would you believe me?
I wouldn’t believe myself had I not touched the rocks with my own fingers, experienced the almost overpowering silence with my own ears and sighed in relief when I learned that the beauty I was completely encompassed by was actually safe. Really safe. Like I can bring my own children here someday and they will see with their eyes exactly what I saw through mine, safe. Of course, I’m speaking about Shenandoah National Park and the misty Blue Ridge Mountains of the great state of Virginia.
As I began my 35 mile trek along Skyline Drive, the signature route through the Shenandoahs, I travelled through a 700 foot tunnel in the belly of Mary’s Rock Mountain where I was reminded by a quirky sign that, ‘only 1,300,000,000 years ago this rock was still molten magma’. . . lest I forget, of course. I occasionally pass the wayward backpacker, no doubt following the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that transect the park, and I’m offered a casual wave and a glance that I can’t help but interpret as, “You get it, too . . . this place is special”. Although I’m visiting the park in the winter, I honestly feel a bit like a peeping tom but in the best way possible. With the trees having shed the last of the autumn leaves, I can see deep into the woods and eavesdrop on the inner workings of a forest from squirrels climbing tall knobby chestnut trees to white-tailed deer nuzzling through the fallen leaves in search of food.
At the tallest point of my journey, I pulled over at Thorofare Mountain Overlook which is approximately 3570 feet higher than my cubicle on the third floor of the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, MD (not that I’m measuring). It was here that I experienced the deepest silence of the journey. Sitting on a segment of a stone wall that runs almost the length of Skyline Drive built with hard work and sweat by the boys and men of the Civilian Conservation Corps early last century, my feet seemed to dangle on the edge of the world. To my right, vast, open farming segments nestled comfortably within the valley. To my left, row after row of misty near-ethereal Blue Mountains, each succeeding into a fainter shade of blue until the last mountain blends almost artistically into the horizon. Yeah, I get it. This place is special.
So, if I told you that within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there was a place 75 miles from our nation’s capital where the mountains are enchantingly blue, the silence is deafening, and you could experience true, unspoiled nature the way nature is intended to be, would you believe me? Well, I guess you’ll just have to go and found out for yourself.
Yesterday I visited the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC), located in Grasonville on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's an excellent spot for an afternoon walk, with trails that wind through salt marshes and loblolly pine stands. According to its website, CBEC has four miles of trails, two observation towers and two observation blinds, which are great to take photos from. There's also a one-mile water trail, with canoes and kayaks on-site available to rent (though it was a little too chilly to be out on the water yesterday!).
CBEC is also part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a network of over 150 sites in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and New York. Gateways include water trails, parks, wildlife preserves, museums and more. If you're looking for a way to experience the Chesapeake Bay or your local river, the Gateways Network has lots of spots to offer.
CBEC is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. It's about a 20-minute drive from the Bay Bridge and there's a $5 per person admission charge. I hope you're able to go check it out!
Officials in Delaware and Maryland have signed on to a bi-state effort to ensure long-term stewardship of the Nanticoke River, a major component of the new Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and one of the newest sites in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
The Nanticoke River is the largest Bay tributary on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, flowing from southern Delaware to Tangier Sound. The Nanticoke region is revered for its landscape of maritime forests and bald cypress swamps, which is very similar to the time when Captain Smith explored the river 400 years ago.
Maryland officials plan to preserve more than 275 acres of farmland in Vienna, Md., to implement a “greenbelt” along the town’s western and southern edges. The greenbelt will protect the rural and historic character of this riverfront town by clearly defining where growth should occur.
Collaborative projects among the two states, the National Park Service, the Friends of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail and regional associations, businesses and citizens will include:
View the full Nanticoke Partnership Agreement and more information from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Angling is one of America's greatest pastimes, and on the Chesapeake Bay it is a borderline religion. Fishing the Bay's waters has existed since man first inhabited the shores of the Chesapeake. Centuries ago, Native Americans in the region used massive weirs to corral fish for easier harvesting. Captain John Smith, the first European to explore the Bay, described his fishing excursions when he wrote, “that abundance of fish, lying so thick with their heads above water, as for want of nets we attempted to catch them with a frying pan.”
Thankfully, technology has allowed us to move away from trying to snag a fish with Captain Smith's old standby skillet, and today the Bay's recreational fishing industry is booming. Last year, in Virginia alone, anglers took an estimated 3.6 million trips, supporting over 9,000 fishing-related jobs and contributing over $823 million to local economies.
While some of these anglers will catch only what they intend to keep and then head back to the dock to tell fish stories, others practice the art of “catch and release.” When done properly, catch and release fishing does no harm to the fisherman's quarry. However, if done improperly, mortality rates of fish can exceed eight percent.
Physical injury and stress are the two main factors influencing the survival of fish that are caught and then released. Hook wounds, mishandling during release and physiological exhaustion from the fight are primarily responsible for mortality rates.
Most mortality from hook wounds occurs when anglers use natural baits. Natural baits tend to be swallowed more frequently (deep hooking) than artificial lures, and the hooks used often puncture vital organs. The use of non-offset circle hooks can drastically reduce deep hooking. According to a Maryland Department of Natural Resources study, deep hooking rates for conventional hooks was 17.2 percent while rates using the non-offset circle hooks was 3.4 percent.
Anglers should handle fish that are to be released with care. Fish are covered in a mucosal film that protects them from parasites and bacteria. When too much of this film is removed, the fish can contract skin infections that can lead to death. Once caught and brought aboard, handling the fish with a wet glove or towel will minimize the amount of protective film that is lost. Fish should not be allowed to flop around or make contact with any surfaces inside the boat. If possible, keep all fish that are to be released in the water while removing the hook and avoid at all costs handling the gills and soft underbelly.
By its very nature, the lure of catch and release fishing is the thrill of fighting a fish to the surface. While this practice is exhilarating to the angler, it can be devastating to the fish. Fighting a fish to the point of its exhaustion contributes dramatically to mortality rates. High water temperatures and low salinity levels also contribute to higher mortality rates among fish that are caught and released. “Playing” the fish should be avoided at all costs and fish should be retrieved using steady, deliberate retrieval techniques. During periods of extreme environmental conditions, catch and release fishing should be minimized.
All responsible anglers should practice proper catch and release techniques. Not only do these techniques help protect fish stocks, but they also present a great opportunity to teach younger anglers stewardship of their natural resources. Employing the practices mentioned above is easy and allows both the fish and the fisherman to come away no more worse for wear.