As the days shorten, the last of the leaves fall and temperatures start to drop, we often find ourselves spending more time huddled indoors than discovering the landscape. But the Chesapeake region still has plenty to offer in the winter months—whether you decide to brave the outdoors or explore from the warmth of your own home.
1. Watch for winter wildlife. Chilly temperatures may send many critters into hibernation, but there’s still plenty of activity outdoors—including some animals that are only found in the region during the winter months. Waterfowl like tundra swans are part of the approximately one million ducks, geese and swans that overwinter in the Chesapeake. Other critters like the shy Delmarva fox squirrel are active in the region year-round. Plan a wildlife hike or bird walk through one of the many parks in the region and see how many critters you can spot!
2. Take a hike. Many of the area’s parks are open year-round—and with fewer crowds in the winter months, you might have these picturesque views all to yourself. If there’s snow on the ground, activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can help you glide through the still, snow-covered landscape.
3. Go ice fishing. Below-freezing temperatures might only last for a few weeks in some parts of the watershed, but their arrival means a tradition beloved by some and puzzling to others: ice-fishing. While this activity takes plenty of patience and lots of warm clothing, enthusiasts can be rewarded with catch like yellow perch, bluegill and even the occasional walleye.
4. Visit a museum. Can't convince yourself to brave the cold? That shouldn’t stop you from learning more about the Bay! The watershed is full of museums where you can learn more about all aspects of the watershed. The Great Valley Nature Center in Devault, Pennsylvania; the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News; and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum are just a few of the places where you can learn about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and history.
5. Snuggle up with a book. On those days when the wind and snow is too much to bear, you can stay indoors and learn about the Chesapeake while curled up on your favorite chair. From the travels of Captain John Smith to the life of a waterman, our suggested reading list offers dozens of options for books that will let you explore the Chesapeake from your own home.
6. Take a virtual tour. Winter weather can often make it difficult or dangerous to get on the water. But with virtual tours of the region’s waterways, you can explore the beauty of the watershed on your computer or smartphone! The Chesapeake Conservancy offers several virtual tours—including the Susquehanna River, Nanticoke River and Mallows Bay—to connect you with these waterways and help you plan for your visit when warmer weather arrives.
Do you have a favorite way to enjoy the Bay in the winter? Let us know in the comments!
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads and parking lots, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. But urban farms may offer an innovative way to manage that polluted runoff, according to a report from American Rivers.
Green infrastructure—such as rain gardens, green roofs and porous pavement—uses soil and vegetation to help slow the flow of runoff and manage rainwater where it falls. These projects can also offer benefits like cleaner air, reduced energy use and a boost in property values. According to the report, urban farms can offer not only the typical benefits of green infrastructure projects, but also benefits like improved nutrition and increased access to green space.
The report includes a list of ten recommendations for promoting the use of urban farms to manage stormwater runoff, such as providing training and funding opportunities for farmers, identifying vacant lots that could be converted to farms and updating city zoning codes to allow for urban agriculture.
The report, Urban Farms: A Green Infrastructure Tool for the Chesapeake Bay, is available online.
On a fall morning, a lot is happening on the 120-by-32-foot steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Dominion Virginia Power Learning Barge. A stream of fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School follows Robin Dunbar, the Elizabeth River Project’s deputy director of education, onto the vessel via a narrow boardwalk at the Grandy Village Learning Center in Norfolk, Virginia. After splitting into groups, they measure oyster shells, they listen to osprey calls, they find periwinkles in the wetland observation pool and they make traditional mud art in a small classroom onboard. With solar panels above their heads, and captured rainwater below their feet, students on the Learning Barge get excited about their local river—and how they can impact it—in a space that is smaller than a basketball court.
The Learning Barge launched in 2009 and has seen almost 60,000 students—about 10,000 a year—according to Dunbar. She floats from group to group as staff guide lessons on how to build a nest like an osprey or how to use buckets to collect water samples.
“All this was going to be a big wetland,” Dunbar says, standing on the partially-covered deck, which was designed by the University of Virginia School of Architecture and is organized into six indoor and outdoor learning stations for the barge’s 2015-2016 fall and spring programs. “I had a different idea and worked with U.Va. to turn it into a classroom.”
Before there was a barge to build on, the Elizabeth River Project had to grapple with the financial realities of owning and operating such a sizable vessel.
“The [Elizabeth River Project’s] board was very concerned about maintenance in the beginning,” says Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, executive director of ERP. “But the ship repair community, and the tug boats—the maritime community—has adopted the barge.”
It takes about $200,000 a year to operate the Learning Barge, but the cost would be significantly higher without all of the volunteers involved. For example, Jackson says the Elizabeth River Project has never paid for transporting the barge, which is not self-propelled. Last summer, Colonna’s Shipyard donated a paint job for the hull—a value of $40,000. And every winter, BAE Industries takes the barge into their shipyard and asks what projects need to be done.
The sum of the Learning Barge’s parts, which are powered entirely by solar and wind power captured onboard, contribute to a meaningful watershed educational experience for students in the Norfolk area—including several low-income school districts—who may have never really spent time on a river despite living so close to one.
“It’s all science but it touches on different grade levels and they’re able to go back to the schoolhouse and apply some of that to what they’re learning the classroom,” says Marquita Fulford, standing at the Chesapeake Gold station, where students trace and measure oysters. A second-grade teacher at Camp Young in Norfolk, Fulford is in her third year working with students on the Learning Barge.
“Hands on activities, they love those,” Fulford says. “And they remember them—more so than somebody just talking to you.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and Text by Will Parson
This is the time of year we reflect back on what we have accomplished over the past year and look forward to what we can do to continually improve. For those of us who are planners, we often set measurable goals at the beginning of the year to see the progress we make—and we adjust those goals in our next round of resolutions to continually improve our lives. So too, we at the Chesapeake Bay Program took a step back in 2014 and re-envisioned our direction with the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, in which we set out ten goals and 31 outcomes to achieve our vision for the watershed, as well as the principles by which we would conduct ourselves as a partnership.
In 2015, our emphasis was on setting the stage to support the achievement of that vision. Many of you participated in the development of the 25 management strategies that identified the factors likely to affect the outcomes, recognized existing work and gaps, and outlined the partnership’s direction for meeting the outcomes of the Watershed Agreement. Public input and expert advice helped us improve each management strategy, which we adopted and delivered to the Chesapeake Executive Council in July.
These management strategies provide our overall direction for the next ten years—they focus on achieving our vision of clean water, abundant life, conserved lands and engaged communities, with an increased emphasis on expanding and diversifying our partnership and our outreach to citizens, strengthening the knowledge and capacity of our local governments, recognizing the need to adapt and find resiliency in the face of a changing climate, committing to continually improve our approaches as we learn, and increasing our emphasis on transparency and accountability.
Our next step was to develop detailed plans to guide our work toward meeting our goals. These short-term workplans include specific actions we as partners—and as individual agencies and organizations—will take over the next two years to get us jump-started in achieving the outcomes of the Watershed Agreement. Some of you are already participating in developing these workplans, and we will be seeking additional input this winter to make sure we are focusing on the right actions to help us achieve these outcomes.
In addition, we’ve been working on developing our “measuring sticks,” or indicators, so we can track not only whether we are doing what we said we would do, but whether we are getting the results we are hoping to get. We are organizing these measures in a way that will help us make better decisions, learn from our successes and our challenges, and improve our work. By developing a framework to organize these measures, we can more effectively communicate how we are doing.
As we move into 2016, we will continue to share the successes and challenges we face in our work. Early next year, our annual Bay Barometer report will give a quick but comprehensive glimpse at our progress, and our soon-to-be released ChesapeakeProgress website (part of the ChesapeakeStat suite of products) will allow you to dig more deeply into these achievements and the reasons behind the progress. Both products will allow you to be a part of our continual process of reflection and improvement, and your feedback during the public input process for the two-year workplans will help guide our path over the next two years.
Written by Carin Bisland, Associate Director for Partnerships and Accountability at the Chesapeake Bay Program