The long, hot, lazy days of summer are here, and being on or near the water is the perfect way to spend them. Whether you feel like taking a dip, launching your boat—be it a kayak or pontoon—or simply taking a walk, there are new places throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed for you to explore each year.
When we signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014, our partnership not only committed to meet several different goals to restore and clean up the Bay, but also to increase access to the water for the people who live, work and recreate throughout the region. Specifically, we agreed to create 300 new sites across by 2025 where the public can either get on, in or near the water.
Creating a new site for the public to access the water is the very definition of the role the Chesapeake Bay Program plays in watershed restoration and protection. Like the make-up of the Bay Program, public access sites are created and maintained by a variety of partners, including local, state and federal agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations. That’s why it is vital to establish strong partnerships and initiatives among all partners to provide more opportunities for water access.
These partnerships are thriving, because since 2014, we have opened 176 new sites across the Chesapeake Bay watershed for boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities.
As you are making your plans to get out on the water this summer, check out the new sites that opened in 2018.
Anne Arundel County
Discovery Village: There is now one more boat ramp available for the public to launch from in Anne Arundel County. Motorized boats, canoes and kayaks can access Parrish Creek, a tributary of the South River, from this location.
Downs Park: A new soft launch area has been added to Locust Cove for kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders to access the Magothy River. But beware: this area is heavily impacted by the tides—so there may or may not be the same amount of water on the launch when you return.
Hallowing Point: A soft launch access point has been added to accompany an existing paved ramp for boaters, canoers and kayakers to access the Patuxent River. Hallowing Point is a site along the Patuxent River Water Trail, which spans multiple counties as it connects boaters to different points of interest.
Queen Anne’s County
Unicorn Lake Fisheries Management Area: With the addition of a new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-approved fishing pier, now anyone can fish for largemouth bass and bluegill on Unicorn Lake, a tributary of the Chester River. While there, make sure to check out the man-made structures built to attract fish from discarded Christmas trees, as well as the fish ladder that allows migratory fish to pass upstream.
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area: Launching kayaks, canoes and paddleboards onto the Wye East River just got a whole lot easier with the addition of a new access area that includes a slide. This valuable ecological site is prized habitat for wintering waterfowl on the Eastern Shore and you may catch a glimpse of waterfowl, wading birds, bald eagles, Delmarva Fox squirrels, deer and many other native species.
St. Mary’s County
Newtowne Neck State Park: Take in views of Breton Bay, St. Clements Bay and the Potomac River when you try out the expanded paddle-in camping sites along this peninsula. These sites are more on the primitive side but offer miles of sandy beaches and hiking trails through the park’s forests and meadows. Newtowne Neck is on the National Register of Historic Places as it was once home to the Piscataway Tribe and the site of the first European settlement in Maryland.
Point Lookout State Park: Improvements were made to 15 existing campsites at the park, which included an infrastructure upgrade and the addition of some amenities. These upgraded campsites can be reached by land or water, and have access to launch kayaks, canoes or paddleboards onto Lake Conoy by nearby floating docks. Leave some time to visit the museum on site to learn about the 52,264 Confederate soldiers who were imprisoned here during the Civil War.
Snow Hill Farm Park: In addition to a non-supervised public beach area, kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders now have a soft access point in which to launch onto the Patuxent River.
Fifth Street Boat Launch: A new, paved launch has been added in Renovo Borough for all types of boaters to access the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. This rural borough was recently designated a Susquehanna Greenway River Town—a system-wide network of vibrant towns along the Susquehanna River actively connected to the water and each other.
Mapleton Riverside Memorial Park: Visitors to Mapleton Riverside Memorial Park now have a whole host of new recreation options. Fishing is now available to all through an ADA-accessible pier, non-motorized boats can be launched from a floating dock, campers can take advantage of new tent camping sites and the park now offers rustic pavilions and restrooms for your comfort. This area along the Juniata River is one bookend to Jack’s Narrows, the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania at nearly one-third of a mile deep.
Mount Union Riverside Park: People visiting Riverside Park can now get on the water, in addition to viewing it from the trails running alongside, by new motorized and unmotorized boat launches. In addition, the park now offers tent camping sites for those traveling along the Juniata River Water Trail. Mount Union Riverside Park is the other bookend to Jack’s Narrows, the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania.
Dutch Gap Relic River Trail: In 2017, a floating boardwalk and viewing platform opened to allow visitors unique access to the James River, and this past year, an ADA-accessible platform was added off it to allow paddleboarders, kayakers and canoers to launch into the water. Paddlers can take advantage of the 2.5-mile Lagoon Water Trail, which passes by a blue heron rookery and a “graveyard” of submerged barges.
City of Hampton
Waterwalk at Central Park: A new boardwalk allows visitors access to a quiet observation deck to soak in the sights of Back River. If you are lucky, you may spy herons, egrets, red-winged blackbirds and different types of crabs.
City of Virginia Beach
Thalia Creek Kayak Launch: For the past several years, Virginia Beach has actively been working to create a greenway around Thalia Creek (a tributary of the Lynnhaven River) and its proximity to the Town Center. Ample pedestrian trails have been added to access the water, but now visitors can launch their canoe, kayak or paddleboard as well.
Prince William County
Mason Neck State Park: Mason Neck State Park has long been a respite for those living in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Now with the addition of a new canoe, kayak and paddleboard launch, water enthusiasts can access Belmont Bay as well. Rangers provide several guided programs and tours at the park, and make sure to keep your eyes open for bald eagles!
Lake Anna State Park: Long one of Virginia’s most popular vacation destinations, Lake Anna now has even more canoe, kayak and paddleboard launches available so you can get out onto the water. Make sure to check out the museum on-site to learn about what originally brought visitors to the area—gold mining—and then try your hand at it yourself.
Widewater State Park: Opened in October 2018, Wide Water is Virginia’s newest state park, and offers access for canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders to the point at which Aquia Creek and the Potomac River meet. In addition, the park also offers paddle-in campsites. Check out one of the many ranger-led programs or try your hand at fishing—this area is known for its largemouth bass.
Increasing public access to open space and waterways creates a shared sense of responsibility to protect these important natural environments. Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to increasing public access as part of a larger effort to engage communities in our conservation work. You can track our progress toward this goal on www.ChesapeakeProgress.com.
This article originally appeared in the July edition of the Bay Journal.