Caring for the environment is a year-round activity. But as temperatures rise, flowers bloom and the natural world springs to life, it can be easier to get outside and get involved. In the Chesapeake Bay region, there are countless opportunities to volunteer, no matter your interests or age level. April is National Volunteer Month, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting a few ways you can help protect the environment that surrounds us.
1. Pick up trash
Litter is often one of the most visible forms of pollution we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Trash cleanups collect this litter—from plastic soda bottles to old tires—from sites across the Chesapeake Bay region, often along the shores of the watershed’s rivers and streams.
One of the area’s largest cleanup initiatives is the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream. In 2016, close to 3.3 million pounds of trash were collected at more than 3,700 Project Clean Stream sites. While the bulk of events take place on the first Saturday in April, cleanups continue to be held through the beginning of June.
Another event, held on the first Saturday in June each year, is Clean the Bay Day. Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the cleanup takes place in Virginia along the shores of the Bay and its rivers and streams. Since its start in 1989, close to 6.4 million pounds of trash have been removed from almost 6,900 miles of the state’s shorelines.
2. Plant a tree
By improving air quality, trapping water pollution and providing habitat for wildlife, trees play a critical role in a healthy ecosystem. Landowners can individually plant trees along their property, but many organizations also host tree planting events, during which volunteers can assist in planting large numbers of trees on both private and public lands.
Celebrations like Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 28) are particularly popular for tree plantings, but events can be found throughout the spring and fall. In the Chesapeake region, April, May and October tend to be the best times for plantings, both for tree survivability and for the comfort level of volunteers working outside. To find a tree planting opportunity near you, you can contact your local watershed organization or check the events calendar of organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
3. Be a citizen scientist
Gathering data about the natural world helps scientists and decision-makers detect changes over time and better understand the complex workings of the Bay ecosystem. But time and resources limit the number of sites and frequency of monitoring, especially in the smaller creeks and streams that thread through the region. Networks of trained volunteers can assist in activities like measuring water quality, tracking wildlife and identifying invasive species.
Organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay region engage citizen scientists in their efforts. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s RiverTrends program, for example, provides training to water quality monitoring volunteers in the Virginia portion of the Bay watershed. Other initiatives like Project Noah use mobile apps to track sightings of wildlife. Contact your local watershed organization to learn about citizen science opportunities in your area.
4. Support wildlife
Hundreds of species depend on the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding region, whether as seasonal visitors or as permanent residents. A variety of factors affect the ability of these critters to thrive, from the availability of sufficient food and habitat to surviving in a world of unfamiliar, man-made obstacles. Wildlife organizations and refuges provide support and sanctuary to thousands of animals each year, and they rely on volunteers to help carry out their mission.
Organizations like the Wildlife Center of Virginia assist in wildlife rehabilitation, using volunteers to transport, treat and care for injured wildlife. Volunteers help City Wildlife in D.C. care for urban wildlife, track injured migratory birds and monitor duck nests in the city.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is also home to fifteen national wildlife refuges, protecting the forests, fields, wetlands and shorelines that wildlife depend on. Many of these refuges have “Friends” groups—such as Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge—that provide volunteer opportunities like leading nature walks, helping with trail maintenance and staffing information desks.
5. Educate others
More than three million students in kindergarten through 12th grade live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—and soon, they’ll be the caretakers of its well-being. Teaching these students the knowledge and skills they need to care for the natural world builds the foundation for future environmental stewardship.
That’s why groups across the region are focused on providing meaningful outdoor experiences to students, connecting them with the environment that surrounds them. Audubon Naturalist Society near D.C., for example, uses volunteer teaching assistants to help lead lessons about planting trees or stream science. And volunteers can help the Sultana Education Foundation on the Bay’s Eastern Shore by both leading environmental education programs and working aboard the organization’s replica 1768 Royal Navy schooner.
Have another favorite way you like to volunteer? Let us know in the comments! Or if you’re looking for an opportunity near you, use our Join a Group page to find watershed organizations in your area.
Images by Will Parson
A healthy Chesapeake Bay brings with it a multitude of benefits, including cleaner water for swimming and boating and habitat to support more fish and wildlife. But when Chesapeake Bay Program partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014, they committed to a vision for a wholly sustainable Bay: not just environmentally, but economically as well. Spanning six states and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake Bay region contains more than 18 million people who are all connected to the Bay and its waterways, and many of whom, in whether directly or indirectly, rely on the Bay’s contribution to the region’s economy. Below are five industries tied to a healthy Bay.
Recreation and tourism
The Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding forests, mountains and outdoor sights are a huge draw to visitors, both watershed residents and those from out of the area. The region’s 55 National Park Service sites, scores of state parks, 15 wildlife refuges, 1,269 public access sites and hundreds of cultural areas draw millions of people to the outdoors each year to enjoy all these sites have to offer.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 16.5 million people in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia participated in wildlife-related recreation, such as hunting or bird-watching, in 2011. Furthermore, those people spent over $18 billion dollars on trip-related expenses, equipment and other needs.
Millions of visitors means a need for staff to operate the parks, guides to lead trips, outfitters to supply equipment, hotels to house visitors and so much more. Employers in recreation and tourism in the region support over 820,800 jobs and over $13 billion in income annually; another 20,000 self-employed participants also attribute to this industry.
While all of these parks and public access points are important, watershed residents don’t reap all the benefits if they are not healthy—which can in turn hurt local businesses. For example, chemical contaminants in the water can be ingested and carried by fish of all sizes, and subsequent fish consumption advisories can lead to fewer trips on the water and lost sales at gear shops. Similarly, a 2005 fish kill in the Shenandoah River, likely caused by poor water quality, led to an estimated $700,000 in lost retail sales and revenue.
Commercial fishing has long been associated with the Chesapeake Bay. The iconic image of the Bay is of watermen out on the water, putting down crab pots or tonging for oysters. These aren’t just images, but real people doing real—and often difficult—jobs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the fishing industry accounts for 7,952 jobs in the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Blue crabs are an important species that require clean water, abundant beds of underwater grasses and sufficient dissolved oxygen to survive. A healthy Bay not only supports the stability and growth of their population, but also supports a regional—and national—industry. In 2014, Maryland and Virginia accounted for over one-third of total blue crab landings revenue in the United States, totaling over $80 million.
Outside of the Bay itself are rivers and streams that are vital habitat to important species like striped bass. Also known as rockfish, striped bass return to the Bay each year to spawn in its freshwater tributaries, and are a prized up and down the East Coast for commercial and recreational fishing.
Along with oysters, blue crabs and striped bass, the Bay and its tributaries support fishing of scallops, black sea bass, menhaden, summer flounder and white perch—to name a few.
Aquaculture, or underwater farming, is the growing of fish and shellfish in a controlled environment. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 137 aquaculture farms in Maryland and Virginia generated nearly $62 million in sales in 2013. Two-thirds of those farms were raising shellfish like clams and oysters and likely used the Bay and its tributaries to grow their stock. A clean Bay means healthy oyster habitat: the water needs to be clean enough to keep so that their oysters aren’t buried in sediment or exposed to other things that could weaken and kill them.
Aquaculture is a particularly large industry in Virginia, where in 2013, it made up over 30 percent of hard clam and Eastern oyster aquaculture sales in the U.S.
Outside of the growing or catching of fish is an entire industry situated to support it. Distributors transport fish to supermarkets, canning facilities and restaurants that turn around and sell that food to consumers. Some fish is processed and turned into other products such as fish oils and pet food. From processors and dealers to wholesale and distributors, the seafood industry contributes to over 24,000 jobs in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
With more and more people wanting to buy local food, supermarkets and restaurants both on the Bay and throughout the region benefit from having an abundance of watermen and commercial fisheries nearby.
But the process doesn’t end at the table. Organizations like the Oyster Recovery Partnership collect oyster shells and return them to the Bay and its tributaries to help bolster and rebuild oyster reefs. While baby oysters can grow on a number of surfaces, they prefer to attach to oyster shells, so recycling old shell is the best way to promote reef growth. And since oysters are filter feeders—meaning they help clean the Bay’s water as they eat and grow—more oysters means a cleaner Bay and a stronger seafood industry.
Restoring the Bay’s health means reducing the amount of pollutants like nutrients and sediment in the rivers and streams that empty into the Bay. But sending cleaner water to the Bay also means sending cleaner water to utility companies and wastewater treatment plants. By reducing the amount of pollutants in the water, water utility companies reduce costs needed to bring water up to standards. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that for every $1 spent of source-water protection, $27 were saved in water treatment costs.
One of a utility’s biggest costs is removing coagulants—sediment—from the water. A Brooking’s Institute study found that a one percent decrease in sediment in the water can lead to a 0.05 percent decrease in treatment costs. If there is less sediment in the water, then companies can save money on treatment and focus it instead on infrastructure upgrades and other projects. Potentially, those savings will be passed down to consumers through a lower water bill.
The list of businesses and sectors that benefit from a healthy Bay does not end here. Watermen buy fishing equipment, charter boats require service and tourists who visit the area spend their money in hotels, shops and restaurants. Restoring the Chesapeake Bay is good for the critters that live in its watershed, but it’s also good for us.
Does your work benefit from a healthy Bay? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Will Parson and Steve Droter
Since our formation in 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program has been leading the effort to reduce pollution and restore ecosystem health across the Chesapeake Bay region. Whether through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed in 2014, or the Bay’s ‘pollution diet’—i.e., the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)—our partners have continued to work collaboratively toward our shared goal of a healthy Bay.
With decades-worth of environmental data, our scientists are able to study how the health of the nation’s largest estuary is changing over time. Below, learn about a few of the ways the Bay and its rivers have been showing signs of resilience.
Underwater grasses, also called submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV, grow in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. They provide food and habitat to wildlife, add oxygen to the water and trap and absorb pollution. Because of their sensitivity to pollution, the abundance of underwater grasses can serve as an indicator of restoration progress.
Between 2014 and 2015, more than 92,000 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the Chesapeake Bay. An increase of 21 percent from the previous year, it marked the highest amount ever recorded in the nearly 30 years the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has conducted their aerial survey. Part of this increase was due to the expansion of widgeon grass—often referred to as a “boom or bust” species because its abundance can rise and fall from year to year—but other species like wild celery and eelgrass also saw a recovery.
The blue crab is one of the most iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay, supporting commercial and recreational fisheries in the region. But vulnerability to pollution, loss of habitat and harvest pressure have led their abundance to fluctuate over time; in 2014, adult female blue crabs were considered depleted.
Joint management between Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission has helped maintain the Bay’s blue crab stock at sustainable levels. At the start of last year’s crabbing season, there were an estimated 194 million adult female blue crabs in the Bay—a 92 percent increase from the previous year. And according to the 2016 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, the blue crab stock was not depleted and overfishing was not occurring.
Just like humans, crabs, fish and other underwater animals that live in the Bay need oxygen to survive. Dissolved oxygen is a measurement of how much oxygen is present in the water; as dissolved oxygen levels decrease, it becomes more difficult for animals to get the oxygen they need.
As reported in the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s most recent Chesapeake Bay report card, dissolved oxygen levels in many regions of the Bay were frequently in “good condition” (scores of 60 percent or higher) in 2015, and no regions were below “moderately good” levels. Additionally, 2016 marked the second consecutive year that there were no measured anoxic areas—or areas with no dissolved oxygen—in the main portion of the Bay.
Organisms that live at the bottom of the Bay and its rivers and streams are known as “benthos.” Benthic communities are made up of worms, clams, oysters, shrimp-like crustaceans and other underwater invertebrates, and they provide food for crabs and bottom-feeding fish.
In 2015, almost two-thirds of the bottom habitat in the tidal Bay was home to a healthy community of benthic organisms, an increase from 59 percent in 2014. In addition, the area of degraded and severely degraded habitat—or areas that are home to more pollution-tolerant species, fewer species overall, fewer large organisms deep in the sediment and a lower total mass of organisms—was the lowest it has been since 1996. Scientists attributed this improvement to increases in dissolved oxygen.
While some nutrients and sediment are a natural part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, too much can be harmful to fish, shellfish and other underwater life. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can fuel the growth of algae blooms, which can lead to low-oxygen dead zones that suffocate marine life. Sediment can cloud the water, preventing sunlight from reaching underwater plants and smothering bottom-dwelling species.
According to data from the Bay Program and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads to the Bay were below the long-term average in 2015. Additionally, since 1985, long-term trends in nitrogen pollution have improved at six of the nine monitoring stations located along the biggest rivers that feed into the Bay, including at stations in the region’s four largest rivers: the Susquehanna, Potomac, James and Rappahannock.
Want to learn more about our work toward achieving the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement? Visit ChesapeakeProgress.
From its headwaters in Sussex County, Delaware, to its mouth at Tangier Sound in Dorchester County, Maryland, the Nanticoke River flows for close to 64 miles through one of the most pristine watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Significant portions of the Nanticoke’s watershed are protected by state parks, wildlife refuges and natural heritage sites, and the river is also home to an array of historical and cultural landmarks. Whether you’re a first-time traveler to the Nanticoke or a frequent visitor, discover the natural beauty and unique culture of the waterway by exploring these eight sites.
1. Nanticoke River Water Trail
One of the best ways to journey the Nanticoke’s landscape is on the water. Stretching 26 miles through Sussex County, Delaware, the Nanticoke River Water Trail follows the river to the Maryland state line. The trail overlaps in part with the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, allowing paddlers follow the historic voyages Captain John Smith made along the Nanticoke. Waterways also offer some of the only access to protected wildlife areas, such as the Nanticoke portions of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
2. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
The nearly 725,000 acres of land that flow into the Nanticoke River are home to a diverse range of wildlife, including more than 100 rare species. To protect some of that wildlife habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gradually been adding parcels of land along the Nanticoke to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge—the main portion of which is located near Cambridge, Maryland. Since 1993, close to 1,500 acres along the Nanticoke have been incorporated into the refuge, including the home of one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the northeastern United States.
3. Trap Pond State Park
One of Delaware’s first state parks, Trap Pond near Laurel, Delaware, sits along one of the upstream tributaries of the Nanticoke. The park is home to the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the United States, and nearby James Branch Nature Preserve and Trussum Pond are also home to bald cypress stands. Visitors can hike, kayak, canoe, fish and more throughout the park’s more than 2,600 acres.
4. Nanticoke Heritage Byway & Woodland Ferry
This driving route gives a tour of Sussex County, Delaware, passing through Seaford, Bethel and Laurel before ending at Trap Pond State Park. Visitors can enjoy both nature and culture as they drive through scenic farmland, forests and historic towns.
Part of the byway includes crossing over the Nanticoke River on the historic Woodland Ferry, a 200-year-old ferry boat that is one of the oldest continuously running ferries in the United States. But don’t worry, you won’t have to leave your car: the ferry can fit six vehicles at a time as it crosses the 500-foot river span.
5. Seaford Museum & Governor Ross Mansion
Operated by the Seaford Historical Society, the Seaford Museum is dedicated to commemorating the history of Seaford, Delaware, which sits on the banks of the Nanticoke. More than 60 exhibits portray the area’s history and culture, including the life of native tribes, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, the shipbuilding industry and the Nanticoke River’s connection to the Chesapeake Bay.
Just up the road from the museum is the Governor Ross Mansion & Plantation, also operated by the Seaford Historical Society. The estate was once owned by William Henry Harrison Ross, who was governor of Delaware from 1851 to 1855. Visitors can tour the restored Victorian Italianate mansion, see the only documented log slave quarters in Delaware and explore the 20 acres that remain of the original 1,400-acre plantation.
6. Handsell & Chicone Village
In 1665, Thomas Taylor received a land grant called “Handsell,” giving him 700 acres of land along the Nanticoke River, which he established as a trading post with the Nanticoke and Chicone tribes. Today, the Handsell plantation house—built on the site in 1837—is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the surrounding 1,400 acres are protected by a Rural Legacy Conservation Easement.
To honor the Eastern Woodland tribes who once lived on the land, Chicone Village was constructed: a replica longhouse—built using the materials and techniques that would have been available pre-1600—along with a waddle-fenced garden and lean-to work shelter. Both Handsell and the Chicone Village are open year-round during daylight hours. The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance also hosts an annual Chicone Village Day each spring, when native interpreters and tribal representatives come to Handsell to celebrate their history.
7. Adkins Historical & Museum Complex
Dozens of small, historic towns dot the landscape of the lower Eastern Shore. One such small town is Mardela Springs, Maryland, which sits along the shores of Barren Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. Many of the town’s less than 400 current residents can trace their ancestry back to the mid-1600s, when the town was first settled and known as Barren Creek Springs.
To preserve the town’s history, the Adkins Complex has preserved ten historical buildings, each furnished as closely as possible to the period it was built. The complex includes the Brattan- Young’s Purchase Farmhouse, built in 1724; Taylor Country Store, built in 1838; and the Cannery Warehouse, built in 1903. Tours are free and open to the public by appointment.
8. Sussex County Potato Houses
The mild climate and rich soil of Sussex County, Delaware, once made the area a hot spot for growing sweet potatoes. In 1868, the Delaware State Directory said, “the sweet potatoes of southern Delaware have a richness and a sweetness of flavor” not found in potatoes from other states. But a potato blight in the 1940s destroyed most of the crops, removing many farmers’ primary source of income.
Today, one of the only standing reminders of the area’s sweet potato industry are the potato houses: structures built to store and cure potatoes before they could be sold. Fewer than 15 of the houses have survived, most of them along the banks of the Nanticoke and its tributaries, and all are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What’s your favorite spot along the Nanticoke River? Tell us in the comments!
For many of us, cold weather means digging your coat out of the closet and turning up the thermostat. But for the animals that call the Bay home, it means adapting to spending winter outdoors: by hiding in hibernation, by growing their own warm winter coat or by traveling south to warmer weather. Below, learn how a few of these native critters spend their winters.
Many animals stay in the Chesapeake Bay region year-round—but others are quick to leave once temperatures cool. While some striped bass remain in the Bay throughout the winter months, many head south to the warmer waters of the Virginia and North Carolina capes. In spring and early summer, they’ll return to the Bay’s tidal tributaries to spawn.
As water temperatures in the Bay start to cool, blue crabs retreat from the shallow areas where they spend the summer into deeper waters. After burrowing into the mud or sand at the water bottom, the crustaceans lie dormant for the winter months. While not technically considered hibernation, dormant crabs remain inactive until water temperatures rise above around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the cold crabs are slow and sluggish, they’re easier to track down—which is why experts in Maryland and Virginia conduct their annual survey of blue crab population between December and March.
Blue crabs aren’t the only critters that spend winter in the mud. Typical residents of saltwater marshes and mudflats, diamondback terrapins bury themselves into river banks and at the bottom of creeks and rivers to hibernate. There, they remain completely submerged and inactive until temperatures begin to warm.
The wood frog can be found in forests throughout the Bay watershed, particularly in the northern reaches of Pennsylvania and New York. These tiny amphibians have garnered attention for their winter survival method: they freeze. Many frogs are known to survive winter by freezing a portion of the water that makes up their body and are able withstand being frozen for a couple of weeks at temperatures a little below freezing. But wood frogs are remarkable in the length of time—and extreme temperatures—they can tolerate. In the most frigid areas of their range, like Alaska, wood frogs have been known to stay frozen for up to seven months at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Delmarva Fox Squirrel
While many critters go dormant to endure the winter, others remain just as active as ever. With the help of its soft, fluffy coat, the Delmarva fox squirrel is able to keep warm nesting in tree hollows. Like other squirrels, the Delmarva fox squirrel buries nuts and acorns in the ground to feed on throughout the winter.
The Chesapeake Bay region may be too cold in the winter for some animals, but for the tundra swan and other waterfowl, it’s a warmer destination. As their name implies, tundra swans live for part of the year in the Arctic tundra. As temperatures drop, they migrate to the wetlands and marshes of Bay region in late October and early November, where they stay until returning to the Arctic in early spring to breed. The Bay’s underwater grasses provide much-needed food for tundra swans and other migrating waterfowl.
Curious about how other Bay critters spend the winter? Learn more in our Field Guide!
As 2016 draws to a close, we’re counting down some of our most-read articles of the year. Take a look back at our some of our most popular stories, from good news in Chesapeake Bay health to experts working on-the-ground to protect local waterways.
#10: Adult female blue crab abundance rises 92 percent in 2016
The Chesapeake Bay’s adult female blue crab population increased 92 percent since the population was surveyed last winter. While the current adult female blue crab abundance of 194 million is well above the overfishing threshold, it remains below the 215 million abundance target.
#9: By the Numbers: 458,000
When you imagine fish in the Chesapeake Bay, top predators like striped bass probably come to mind. But what some call the most important fish in the Bay measures no longer than the width of your hand. The bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) is “the single most abundant fish on the east coast of North America,” according to fisheries scientist Ed Houde, and an average of 458,000 tons of the tiny fish are produced in the Chesapeake Bay each year.
#8: Water quality improves, pollution falls in the Chesapeake Bay
The amount of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay fell significantly between 2014 and 2015, helping improve water quality in the nation’s largest estuary. While experts attribute this drop in pollution loads to dry weather and below-normal river flow, local efforts to reduce pollution—including upgrading wastewater treatment plants, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions, and reducing runoff from farmland—also played a role.
#7: Six free apps to help you explore the Chesapeake Bay region
From listening to music, ordering takeout, playing games or taking pictures of our pets, it seems like there’s a smartphone app for everything. Although our world is becoming much more digital, there are a multitude of apps that can help get you outside and introduce you to the natural world, including these six that can help you discover the Chesapeake Bay region.
#6: Data show drop in estimated nutrient, sediment loads entering Chesapeake Bay
Computer simulations show that pollution controls put in place between 2009 and 2015 have reduced the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Bay by eight, 20 and seven percent. During the 2014 to 2015 reporting period alone, these controls reduced nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads by three, three and four percent.
#5: Monitoring finds more than 91,000 acres of underwater grasses in Chesapeake Bay
Between 2014 and 2015, underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay rose 21 percent, bringing underwater grasses in the nation’s largest estuary to the highest amount ever recorded by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science aerial survey and surpassing the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target two years ahead of schedule.
#4: From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters
Follow Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, as she trawls the Chesapeake Bay, sampling for microplastics—degraded bits of waste less than five millimeters in size. Her research will help determine how much plastic—and what type—is in the Chesapeake Bay, helping to set a baseline to determine if the level of pollution is going up or down.
#3: Restoration Spotlight: Maryland farmer develops solution for agriculture runoff
As a farmer in Chestertown, Maryland, Sam Owings knew the challenges of controlling agricultural runoff, which makes up the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region. He combined his knowledge of farming and stormwater to develop his own solution: what he calls the “cascading system.”
#2: Photo Essay: The blue crab winter dredge survey completes its course
From December to March, assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population means long stints on the water for scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The data they collect helps provide a Bay-wide estimate of blue crab populations and determine how many can be harvested without hampering the recovery of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s defining resources.
#1: Fourteen reasons to love the Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay region is home to breathtaking natural beauty, rich culture and history and—of course—delicious food. From the first blue crab of the season to the last day out on the water, the Bay brings us so much joy that we had to share it.
Did you have a favorite Chesapeake Bay story from this year? Let us know in the comments!
The environmental field is full of jobs that are personally fulfilling and make a difference at every scale. While some—like wildlife biologist or clean water activist—seem obvious, there are some not-so-obvious green collar jobs that have a lasting impact. Here, we’ve pulled together a list of some of those uncommon and unique ways of working in the green sector.
Conservation Corps volunteer
In the spirit of AmeriCorps, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a program that prepares young adults looking to enter the environmental field. Volunteers gain leadership and job training through a year of service, for which they receive a stipend. They are assigned to an organization in the Chesapeake region ranging from county governments and museums, to environmental nonprofits and nature centers.
Look for similar opportunities with the Delaware Conservation Corps, Maryland Conservation Corps, New York’s Excelsior Conservation Corps, Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps and Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. Virginia has a similar program, the Service and Conservation Corps Veterans Crew, for military veterans.
Arborists are responsible for managing and maintaining trees in a given area. Some arborists consult with local governments, landowners and utility companies to plant trees that won’t eventually tangle with power lines or require more space than is available. Others take a more hands-on approach and focus on planting and pruning street trees or treating sick ones.
Working with trees is a great way to work in and with communities to create a more beautiful space. In recent years, organizations like Blue Water Baltimore and Washington Parks and People have used job programs centered around trees to help people who live in underserved areas or who were released from prison to gain skills and job experience while benefitting their communities.
LEED credentialed professional
Construction is a field that is full of careers that affect the environment. Beginning with the architect who designs the building and the forester who manages timber supplies, all the way to the client who maintains the building, each stage of the construction process holds an opportunity to be green. One way to set yourself apart and help the environment is to have LEED certification.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council to determine the environmental performance of a building and encourage more sustainable design. It is a system that covers almost the entire lifespan of a building, including citing, construction, materials and maintenance. Once construction is complete, a building can become LEED certified if it meets certain standards. When it opened in 2001, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center—the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland—was the first building in the world to receive a LEED Platinum rating.
Having LEED credentials not only helps the environment brick by brick, but can make you more marketable to employers, potentially leading to a higher overall salary. Jobs that benefit from LEED accreditation include: construction managers, architects, landscape designers, facility managers, contractors, tradesmen and engineers.
While some careers focus on how we create energy, such as solar panel installers or wind turbine engineers, energy auditors focus on how efficiently we use it. They consult with property owners about ways they could improve the efficiency of their home or building.
Energy auditors inspect buildings to determine where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently. After the visit, they provide property owners with advice on upgrades to make to improve the building’s efficiency. Most of the watershed’s jurisdictions—which include six states and the District of Columbia—have residential and commercial energy audit programs, with many of them offering free or discounted energy audits for qualifying residents.
Prescribed burn crew member
While it might seem counterintuitive, fire can be used in some places around the region to restore and maintain habitats. However, these aren’t any old fires, and they definitely are not wild. These fires are set and managed by professionals on prescribed fire burn crews. Fires can provide an ecosystem with a number of benefits by helping to return nutrients to the soil, open up dense areas and control invasive species. Being a member of a burn crew is a unique way to help restore important habitat. Programs like the Natural Lands Project in Chestertown, Maryland, use prescribed burns to create habitat for breeding grassland birds.
The green career field has many opportunities for involvement including starting off on your own path. There are opportunities for new and innovative businesses in growing fields like renewable energy, or to combat food deserts by starting an urban farm.
More broadly, green entrepreneurship doesn’t need to include only businesses with titles that include the word “energy” or “conservation.” Green entrepreneurs could do just about anything as long as they have a foundation of sustainability. From aquaculture companies to area chefs, entrepreneurs across the region are incorporating sustainability into their business models. Perhaps you open a restaurant that sources only local ingredients, a bike shop that refurbishes old bikes or a hair salon that uses natural haircare products. Reducing the environmental footprint of your business, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great way to work toward a better environment.
Want to get involved in the environmental field? Our weekly newsletter, Bay Brief, is full of current environmental job openings around the Chesapeake region.
Do you work in the environmental field? Let us know what you do in the comments!
Not all the animals who live in and along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are as cute as a playful river otter or as majestic as a soaring bald eagle. Whether hidden in cracks and crevices or buried deep in the mud, a multitude of scuttling, slithering and swarming critters call the Bay home. Celebrate the spookiest time of the year by learning about a few of these creepy-crawlies.
Common Spider Crab
Covered in spines and coated in algae, this slow-moving crustacean probably wouldn’t win any beauty contests. Also known as the portly spider crab or the nine-spined spider crab, the common spider crab belongs to a group known as “decorator crabs”: several species of crabs that use materials from their environment to hide from predators. For the common spider crab, this includes attaching algae, debris and small invertebrates to the hook-like hairs that cover its spiny shell.
Spider crabs eat mostly detritus—bits of dead plants and animals—which helps keep the ecosystem free of rotting materials. Their eyesight is poor, but they use the sensitive tips of their legs to identify food in the water or mud as they walk.
Slender, stick-like and mostly transparent, the alien-looking skeleton shrimp is an underwater resident of the mid- to lower-Bay. These tiny, gangly amphipods—a type of small crustacean—use their hooked, grasping rear legs to latch on to hydras, sponges and vegetation, leaving their folded front legs free to capture algae, plankton and detritus. Some species of skeleton shrimp can even change color to blend in with their surroundings.
Crawling, burrowing and covered in tiny appendages, bristle worms can be found along the shorelines, mudflats and shallow waters of the Bay and its rivers. More than 110 species of bristle worms—also known as polychaetes, which translates to “many hairs”—have been recorded in the Chesapeake Bay region, including the common clam worm and the creatively-named ice cream cone worm.
Some species of polychaetes crawl freely throughout the shoreline and shallow waters, while others prefer to tunnel deep into the mud, seldom leaving their tube-like burrows. By feeding on plankton, algae and detritus, and being eaten by fish and birds in turn, bristle worms play a key role in the Bay’s food web.
Although named for their similarity to common cockroaches, sea roaches or wharf roaches are not insects. They’re actually small isopods—a type of crustacean that often has a rigid, segmented outer shell instead of a skeleton. While sea roaches live mostly above water, they breathe through gills that must stay wet in order to work properly. This means these critters are most often found scurrying close to the water line—on rocks, piers and jetties—scavenging for decaying bits of plant and animal matter.
Experts aren’t sure where sea roaches are originally from, but the first record of one of these critters in the Chesapeake Bay region occurred in the early 1900s. While not a native species, scientists haven’t found a significant negative impact from sea roaches on the native species of the area.
The “devil” in this crayfish’s common name could refer to several of its characteristics: the red highlights that appear around its eyes and claws, its habit of spending most of its life in underground chambers or the painful pinch its claws can deliver. Resembling a miniature lobster, the devil crayfish is found primarily in freshwater rivers and streams, where it burrows deep underground and seldom emerges. Burrows can be recognized by their cone-shaped “mud chimney” entryways, formed by mud the crayfish carries from the burrow and places by the entrance.
Want to learn about more creepy-crawlies that live in the Bay? Check out our field guide!
The Chesapeake Bay, along with its rivers, streams and the lands that surround them form an extraordinary landscape that supports thousands of plant and animal species. But just as unique and inspiring as its natural beauty are the people and cultures that have called this region home for generations. Whether you’re a Bay native or a new visitor, check out these museums that showcase the distinctive cultures from throughout the area.
National Museum of the American Indian – Washington, D.C.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum is dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history and arts of Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere. A recent addition to the museum collections is an exhibit called Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake. Through photographs, maps and interactive displays, the exhibit provides an overview of the history of the Nanticoke, Powhatan and Piscataway tribes from the 1600s to the present.
Banneker-Douglass Museum – Annapolis, Maryland
As part of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, this site is the state’s official museum of African American heritage. Formerly known as Mt. Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, the building—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—served as the meeting hall for the First African Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly 100 years before opening as a museum in 1984. The museum serves to document, interpret and promote African American history and culture, particularly in Maryland.
Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum – Scranton, Pennsylvania
Part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, this museum highlights the state’s anthracite coal mining industry, featuring exhibits that focus on the lives of people who worked in the area’s mines, mills and factories. Its collection tells the story of European immigrants who came to northeastern Pennsylvania to work in coal mining and textile production, enduring harsh working conditions but building a rich culture and heritage.
Watermen’s Museum – Yorktown, Virginia
This museum, located on the banks of the York River, documents the history of Chesapeake Bay watermen from pre-colonial to modern times. The site offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including workboat displays and a boat building program. For a localized take on the stories and experiences of watermen, you can visit the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum in Tilghman, Maryland, which celebrates the unique traditions and culture of Tilghman Island watermen.
Jewish Museum of Maryland – Baltimore, Maryland
Through photographs, art, documents and everyday objects, this museum tells the story of the American Jewish experience in the city of Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland. The museum also includes two historic synagogues: Lloyd Street Synagogue, finished in 1845 and the third oldest synagogue in the United States, and B’nai Israel Synagogue, finished in 1876. Visitors to the synagogues can explore a matzoh oven, a hand-carved Torah Ark and an active archaeological site.
Landis Valley Museum – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Once a small settlement owned by German immigrants, this living history museum collects, conserves and interprets the history and heritage of the Pennsylvania German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, culture. Visitors can watch how Conestoga wagons—first created in Lancaster—are constructed, or stop in to the blacksmith shop, farmstead, one-room schoolhouse or other historic buildings.
Know another museum that highlights the life and culture of people in the Bay watershed? Let us know in the comments! And for even more ideas, check out our previous list of museums in the Bay region.
From Virginia to New York, the Chesapeake region is full of delicious food and drinks. Since summer is a popular time for vacationing, you might find yourself driving around the region. As you’re planning your summer fun, why not combine the two—food and travel—and try a few new places? Better yet, plan a whole day of culinary adventures by following along a food trail. We’ve compiled a list of eight regional favorites to get you started.
1. Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail
As you’re traveling through Maryland this hot summer, be sure to plan some of your route along Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail. Featuring nine of Maryland’s ice cream favorites, the trail is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped at each stop! You can submit your filled-out passport for a chance to be named Maryland’s Ice Cream Trail Blazer.
2. Virginia Oyster Trail
Choose your own adventure on the Virginia Oyster Trail. Check out the trail’s many local restaurants serving Virginia oysters as well as oyster farms that offer tours. Want to delve deeper into Virginian culture? The website also lists art venues, artisan stops and cultural opportunities along the way.
3. Sweet Treats & Salty Eats Tour
Get a taste of York County, Pennsylvania, by following along the Sweet Treats and Salty Eats Tour. Start off the day with the scents of fresh-brewed coffee and handmade soap at New Grounds Roasting Company and Sunrise Soap Co. Then begin mixing and matching sweet and salty activities. Tour two different potato chip facilities, taste ice cream on the Turkey Hill Experience, learn the twists and turns of pretzel making at Revonah Pretzels and stop into the century-old Central House Market for some sweets.
4. Blue Ridge Fruit Loop
After filling up on junk food, you might want to visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge Fruit Loop to add some fruit to your diet. The loop’s 11 farms offer a wide variety of fruits, from apples and berries to plums and jellies, and you can either buy pre-picked fruit or pick it yourself. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming events, as well as recommendations for nearby hiking paths.
5. Corning Chocolate Trail
Satisfy your sweet tooth in Corning, New York, with an afternoon of chocolate tasting. With almost 40 spots to choose from, the trail features a chocolate treat for everyone, including homemade chocolates, art glass chocolates, dark chocolate balsamic vinegar and even carob-coated treats for your four-legged friends.
6. Cooperstown Beverage Trail
Running over the course of 37 miles in Otsego County, New York, the Cooperstown Beverage Trail features eight different stops including breweries, wineries, an orchard and a distillery. Visit the baseball-themed Cooperstown Distillery and take a tour of Brewery Ommegang, or work on a masterpiece at Bear Pond Winery’s Paint-N-Sip night after a tasting at Pail Shop Vineyards—these are just a few of the ways to enjoy the Cooperstown Beverage Trail.
7. Central PA Tasting Trail
The Central PA Tasting Trail highlights 12 of the region’s best spots for wine, beer and spirits. Attend a tasting, or sit in the restaurant and enjoy a drink with a meal. With most stops located off of I-99 and US-322, the facilities are easy to reach by locals, visitors and travelers passing through.
8. Patuxent Wine Trail
Taste the best of what Maryland’s Western Shore wineries have to offer on the Patuxent Wine Trail. Featuring ten wineries, the trail offers tastings from Annapolis to Leonardtown. Many of the wineries also offer tours and have spots for picnicking. Looking for a wine trail closer to home? Maryland Wine Association has mapped out six other trails to try.
Do you have a favorite food or beverage trail? Tell us about it in the comments!
For more than a century, the United States has worked to protect the wilderness around us with parks, preserves and sanctuaries. While natural spaces of all shapes and sizes can benefit wildlife, only one government-designated wilderness program was established in order to build a network of wildlife habitat: the national wildlife refuge system.
The first national wildlife refuge was established in 1903. Today, there are more than 560 wildlife refuges in the nation, whose 150 million acres of land and water are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and marked with the emblem of a flying blue goose. Fifteen wildlife refuges are located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, protecting forests, fields, ponds, marshes, swamps and shorelines in Maryland and Virginia. Federally owned land—which includes wildlife refuges—accounts for about 26 percent of the 8.37 million protected acres in the region, and is integral to our work to safeguard wildlife habitat from development. Learn about five wildlife refuges in the watershed below.
1. Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Rock Hall, Md.). Established in December of 1962, this 2,285-acre island refuge is located where the Chester River meets the Chesapeake Bay. The island was among the first parts of Maryland to be settled by European colonists: between 1658 and 1680, two men acquired the entire island tract by tract. Today, the island’s forests, grasslands, ponds and tidal marshes offer critical feeding and resting grounds to hundreds of species of migratory birds. Ducks, swans and geese are particularly abundant in late fall and early winter, and refuge staff have documented peaks of more than 50,000 waterfowl at one time on or near the refuge. The refuge provides visitors with opportunities to walk and bike, view wildlife, boat, fish, crab and hunt for turkey and white-tailed deer.
2. Patuxent Research Refuge (Laurel, Md.). Established in December of 1936, this refuge has expanded from its original 2,670 acres to encompass more than 12,800 acres between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It is the only wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, whose staff specialize in research related to wildlife and natural resources science, from the status and trends of bird populations to the effects of chemical contaminants on wildlife. One of its most famous programs involves the captive breeding of whooping cranes: biological technicians raise more than 30 chicks each year, releasing most to a non-migratory flock in Louisiana and training the rest to migrate from Wisconsin to Florida. While the grounds that house the research center are not open to the public, the refuge’s North Tract and impressive National Wildlife Visitor Center provide visitors with opportunities to walk, view wildlife, fish and hunt.
3. Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge (Cape Charles, Va.). Established in 1984 to promote migratory and endangered species management, this 1,123-acre refuge located at the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula was once a military fort. During World War II, Fort John Custis protected naval bases in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. In 1950, the U.S. Air Force took ownership of the fort, renamed it the Cape Charles Air Force Station and occupied the area until 1981. Today, the refuge is valued as one of the most important stopover sites for migrating birds and butterflies in the nation. Each fall, songbirds, raptors and monarch butterflies gather at the refuge to feed and rest before resuming their migrations south. More than 400 bird species have been seen in and around the refuge, and on peak days, 100,000 monarch butterflies have been seen on refuge roosts. The refuge’s wood- and shrublands, fields, ponds and marshes are also valuable to insects (including the endangered northeastern beach tiger beetle), mammals and other critters. The refuge provides visitors with opportunities to walk, view wildlife, boat and hunt for white-tailed deer.
4. Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Lorton, Va.). Established in February of 1969, this 2,227-acre refuge sits on a boot-shaped peninsula between the Potomac and Occoquan rivers. While an airport and residential community were planned for the land in the early 1960s, local resident Elizabeth van Laer Speer Hartwell launched a campaign to halt the development and protect the bald eagles that called the Potomac River home. As a result, this refuge—located just 18 miles south of Washington, D.C.—became the first that was established for the explicit protection of the bald eagle and one of four named after women. It encompasses almost six miles of shoreline, 2,000 acres of mature hardwood forest and 207 acres of tidal freshwater marsh that is home to a large breeding colony of great blue herons. The refuge provides visitors with opportunities to walk, view wildlife and hunt for white-tailed deer.
5. Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Warsaw, Va.). Established in 1996, this refuge is the newest of four that compose the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. While it currently consists of 8,720 acres of forests, grassland, marshland and swamps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to protect 20,000 acres of habitat along the Rappahannock and its tributaries over time. The refuge is home to breeding bald eagles and migrating birds, and provides visitors with opportunities to walk, view wildlife, boat, fish and hunt for white-tailed deer.
May is National Biking Month, and the Chesapeake region has hundreds—if not thousands—of miles of bike paths and trails to explore. Biking can make for a fun afternoon and is a great way to explore an area while getting some exercise! From short loops to long regional trails, here’s a list of eight paths to explore by bike.
Originally serving as a way for horses to pull coal-filled barges down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the C&O towpath is now a multi-use trail stretching 185 miles from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. The trail runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River, is mostly wooded and offers sights of beautiful scenery and wildlife.
The trail has restrooms, camping areas, lookout points, historic sights and much more. While there are some paved sections, the path is mostly an even, hard-backed dirt trail. If 185 miles isn’t enough biking for you, once you reach Cumberland, you can continue another 150 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pine Creek Trail, located at the bottom of Pine Creek Gorge (also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon), is a 61-mile trail that runs along the river that gives the area its name. Running from Stokesdale to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, this paved, low grade trail has multiple restrooms and runs through several small towns, making it perfect for a quick ride or a multi-day tour through northcentral Pennsylvania. Almost the entire trail runs along Pine Creek, offering spectacular views of the water, rock outcroppings, waterfalls and wildlife like eagles, osprey, wild turkeys and otters.
Originally a railroad line, High Bridge Trail stretches over 30 miles from Burkeville to Pamplin, Virginia. The main attraction of the trail is its namesake, High Bridge, which stretches 2,400 feet across the Appomattox River, and is 125 feet high. Built in 1853, High Bridge is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and is among the longest in the U.S. It is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
High Bridge Trail is wide, generally flat and made of crushed limestone, with restrooms and picnic tables along the trail. The trail is over 30 miles long, but those who want a shorter ride can start off in nearby Farmville and bike the four and a half miles from downtown to the bridge. No matter the length, High Bridge Trail offers beautiful views of central Virginia’s woodlands and rural farmlands.
The Cross Island Trail offers views of woods, farmland, marshes and the Bay as you bike across Kent Island in Maryland. This flat, paved trail runs six miles, making it ideal for an easy afternoon bike ride. Start in the west at Terrapin Beach Park and take a break at one of the restaurants on the eastern side at Kent Narrows. Or, if you’re starting in the east, Terrapin Park is a great place for a picnic break or a short hike before biking back.
Located in Laurel, Delaware, Loblolly is a five mile trail in Trap Pond State Park. The trail loops around the pond and also takes riders through forests, across bridges, over dams and past the historic Bethesda Church’s cemetery. Visitors can access a hiking path via Loblolly Trail that takes them to Cypress Point where they can also get a view of bald cypress trees.
Jones Falls Trail is located in Baltimore, Maryland, and runs over nine miles from the Inner Harbor to northwestern Baltimore. While this trail is relatively hilly, it never exceeds a five percent grade and follows along the Jones Falls stream for much of its route
It begins in an urban setting, starting at the Inner Harbor and heading through downtown Baltimore up to Penn Station. For those who prefer more nature on their bike rides, the trail then runs past Penn Station along the Jones Falls stream and crosses into Druid Park, a 745-acre park which houses Druid Lake, the Maryland Zoo and the Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. The trail remains mostly nature until it ends at the Cylburn Arboretum and Cylburn Mansion.
Completed in 2015, the Virginia Capital Trails runs for 52 miles from Richmond to Jamestown, Virginia’s current and former capitals. This flat and paved path follows along the James River and offers scenic ride, going past several historic sites and properties. The trail is dotted with amenities—spots for bike rentals, repair stations, rest areas and even opportunities for geocaching.
8. Bacon Ridge
While still a new trail and undergoing a new phase of development, Bacon Ridge is a great place for those more interested in mountain biking. Located in Crownsville, Maryland, Bacon Ridge is ideal for families and beginning riders, due to its relatively few obstacles such as rocks and roots. The trail’s first two-and-a-half mile loop was completed in 2015, but the trail will ultimately extend up to 12 miles.
Where do you like to bike in the Chesapeake region? Let us know in the comments. If you want to find more bike paths close to home, check out Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, American Trails or SingleTracks.
With spring underway, people across the region are heading out on the water to fish, swim, boat and more. In 2015, 22 public access sites were opened in the Chesapeake Bay region, bringing the total number of boat ramps, fishing piers and other access sites to 1,247. Below, take a closer look at four of these new sites that are putting people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay.
1. Port Royal Landing in Port Royal, Virginia
Nestled along the Rappahannock River, Port Royal is located in Caroline County, Virginia.
The small historic town borders the Port Royal Unit of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where a 1.4-mile wildlife trail and two viewing platforms allow for visitors to hike and observe the river and surrounding land. In 2015, the Town of Port Royal worked with Friends of the Rappahannock to open a new fishing pier and soft launch, with a living shoreline installed alongside.
In the future, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Town of Port Royal will be working with the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to establish a water trail that will provide access to the Styer Bishop, Port Royal and Toby’s Point areas of the refuge.
2. Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia
For the nearly seven years since the creation of Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, Virginia, access to the land has been limited. Open houses and small events allowed some visitors to explore part of the nearly 3,000 acres of hardwood forest and wetlands, but an unfinished road prohibited access to the majority of the preserve. Good news came in April 2015, however, when an accessible canoe and kayak launch site was opened at the preserve’s Brooke Road access point, along with a shoreline nature trail along Accokeek Creek.
Further access to the preserve should come soon: plans are underway to improve the 1.6-mile access road from Raven Road, so visitors can reach hiking trails and interpretive exhibits on the history of Crow’s Nest.
3. Beachwood Park in Pasadena, Maryland
Just south of Magothy Bridge Road in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, lies a 100-acre park that for years was underutilized by nearby residents. Purchased by Anne Arundel County in 2002, a lack of funding left the property—which runs alongside the Magothy River—mostly untouched. But in recent years, the county and the Magothy River Association began cleaning up the park: picking up trash, opening a path through the woods to the riverbank, building a small nature trail and adding new park signs. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking access already existed in the park, but in 2015 a designated soft launch area gave visitors additional access to the waterway.
4. Kingman Island in Washington, D.C.
Walking along the crowded, developed streets of Washington, D.C., it might be surprising to think that just nearby, among the waters of the Anacostia River, is a lush, 45-acre oasis: Kingman Island. This manmade island is home to the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival—but aside from special events, the park remains one of the last “wild” spaces in the capital city. In October 2015, the Anacostia Watershed Society, National Park Service and District Department of Energy and Environment worked to open a new floating dock where visitors can launch canoes and kayaks, offering access to a portion of the Anacostia that’s restricted to motorized boats.
Do you have a favorite place where you boat, swim or fish? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to explore both new and existing public access sites to enjoy all the Chesapeake Bay has to offer.
Images by Will Parson
After a long, cold winter, spring’s arrival brings a vibrancy of life to the Chesapeake Bay region: critters are awakening from hibernation, birds and fish are migrating back to the area and countless animals are starting to raise their young.
For most of us, it would be difficult to see these critters in the wild. But a growing number of wildlife cameras are allowing us to get a glimpse into the lives of animals native to the region, from bald eagles to black bears. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the types of critters you can watch.
Also known as the fish hawk, the osprey is an unofficial sign of spring for the Bay region. The birds begin arrive to the Bay in early March and remain through the spring and summer. Since 2009, the Chesapeake Conservancy has been streaming live video of a platform on Kent Island, where “Tom” and “Audrey”—a pair of ospreys—build their nest each year.
2. Great Blue Heron
This tall, blue-gray wading bird can be found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Herons nest and breed in colonies—called “rookeries”—high in the treetops of isolated areas. With the help of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a camera was installed near the top of a 100-foot loblolly pine tree on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Live video of the rookery shows activity from multiple nests.
3. American Black Bear
One of the most common bears in North America, the American black bear can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2015, the Wildlife Center of Virginia rescued seven bear cubs who were separated from their mothers and possibly orphaned. Today, the Wildlife Center runs a wildlife camera showing the bear yearlings. But get your viewing in soon! The organization expects the bears will be ready for release in mid-April 2016.
4. Bald Eagle
Many of these iconic birds can be found year-round throughout the Bay region, but the area is also an important stop for eagles migrating from other parts of North America. One pair of the raptors, “Mr. President” and “The First Lady,” can be seen raising two fledglings at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. A live stream from the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, shows another pair of eagles (nicked named “Belle” and “Shep” by fans) caring for their eaglets.
5. Peregrine Falcon
Widespread pesticide use in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s led to a drastic decline in the number of peregrine falcons: by 1975, only 324 known pairs of the raptors were nesting in North America. But a robust recovery allowed the birds to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999, and the Chesapeake Bay has again become an important region for nesting and migrating peregrine falcons. Watch the Chesapeake Conservancy’s falcon camera to see “Boh” and “Barb” nesting on a skyscraper in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; tune in to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries’ falcon webcam to watch a pair of peregrines nesting in downtown Richmond, Virginia; or check out the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s falcon cam to watch a nest in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
6. American Shad
Birds and bears aren’t the only types of critters you can watch online: the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries runs a shad cam at Bosher Dam along the James River. Beginning in late March, you can catch a glimpse of American shad and other fish as they travel upstream to spawn.
Have a favorite wildlife camera you love to watch? Let us know in the comments!
From authors to world leaders, inventors to entrepreneurs, the Chesapeake region has been home to some pretty remarkable people. Men such as George Washington, Thurgood Marshall and Edgar Allan Poe are well known for being from the region—but for Women’s History Month, we wanted to celebrate a few of the historic women who have lived and worked in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
1. Harriet Tubman (1822 – March 10, 1913)
Harriet Tubman, the most famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, was born in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Born into slavery, she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Tubman eventually set up a home in Auburn, New York, but returned Maryland not once but 13 times to free family, friends and other slaves, earning her the moniker “Moses.”
During the Civil War, Tubman served as cook, scout, spy and nurse to black Union soldiers. In June of 1863, she guided Colonel James Montgomery and his Second South Carolina regiment, becoming the first woman to command an armed military raid. They destroyed several important Confederate sites and freed over seven hundred slaves. After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn and continued her career as an activist, humanitarian and suffragist. In 1903, she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, where she later died in 1913.
2. Euphemia Lofton Haynes (September 11, 1890 – July 25, 1980)
Euphemia Lofton Haynes was a lifelong educator and the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Born into a prominent family in Washington, D.C., Haynes received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1914. She then began what would turn into a 47-year teaching career, which included elementary, high school and college classes.
In 1930, after receiving her master’s from the University of Chicago, Haynes began teaching at Miner Teachers College (later the University of the District of Columbia), a school dedicated to training African American teachers. She founded the college’s mathematics department and remained its head until she retired. In 1943, she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from the Catholic University of America, becoming the first black woman to do so. Haynes was appointed to the D.C. Board of Education in 1960 and spent her eight years there fighting racial segregation.
3. Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)
Rachel Carson is famous for Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book outlining the dangers of pesticides. After receiving her bachelor’s in biology from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) and her master’s in zoology from Johns Hopkins University, Carson went on to work first as a professor at the University of Maryland and then as an aquatic biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Writing was always an important part of Carson’s work, and she found early success when she began publishing her own work. Her first three books, released between 1941 and 1955, were all well-received. The third, The Edge of the Sea, became a best seller, won many awards and allowed Carson to retire from the Bureau of Fisheries to concentrate on researching pesticides.
The resulting 1962 book was the wildly successful—and controversial—Silent Spring. In it, Carson describes the effects of large-scale pesticide use, particularly DDT. While Carson never called for an outright ban of pesticides, the book caused a firestorm nonetheless. President John F. Kennedy established a committee to investigate pesticides, and Carson was asked to testify before a Congressional committee in 1963. She died a year later, but is remembered by many as someone who ignited the environmental movement.
4. Frances Payne Bolton (March 29, 1885 – March 9, 1977)
Frances Payne Bolton had a lasting impact on the Chesapeake Bay as the founder of the Accokeek Foundation. Born into a wealthy Ohio family, she attended schools in Cleveland, Ohio, New York and France. It was after her husband Charles’ death in 1940 that Bolton’s political career began, when she was appointed to serve out his term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bolton was heavily involved in issues of healthcare and foreign policy, becoming the first woman delegate to the United Nations. She continued to serve in the House until she was defeated for reelection in 1968.
Outside of politics, Bolton was involved in philanthropic work and was particularly fond of Mount Vernon. It was her love of the estate that led her to buy a 500-acre farm in 1955 just across the Potomac River, in order to prevent development that would spoil the view from Mount Vernon. Bolton then founded a land trust, the Accokeek Foundation, in order to preserve and protect the land forever. She served as the foundation’s president until her death in 1977.
5. Vera Rubin (July 23, 1928 – December 25, 2016)
Vera Rubin is a trailblazing astronomer who first proved the existence of dark matter. Although born in Philadelphia, her family moved to Washington, D.C., when she was young, and it was there that her fascination with stars flourished. She attended amateur astronomy meetings and, with her father’s help, built a telescope when she was only 14. In 1948, Rubin graduated from Vassar College as the only astronomy major. Rejected by Princeton because of her gender, she received her master’s degree from Cornell, then returned to D.C. to complete her Ph.D. at Georgetown. From there, Rubin taught at Montgomery County Junior College in Maryland, then worked at Georgetown as a research assistant and later as assistant professor. In 1965, Rubin joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., where she remains today.
In the 1970s, Rubin began researching galactic movement and found that stars on the edges of galaxies moved just as quickly as those in the center. This was unexpected, because from what she could see, there was not enough gravitational pull to keep fast-moving outer stars in orbit. Rubin’s calculations showed that galaxies must contain invisible dark matter that keeps those outer stars in orbit. In recognition of her accomplishments, Rubin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1993 received the National Medal of Science, the highest American award in science. Being all-too familiar with the challenges women face in the sciences, Rubin makes it a point to be a mentor to other women, saying once that “it is well known that I am available 24 hours a day to women astronomers.”
What other remarkable women have ties to the Chesapeake? Let us know in the comments.
Smartphones are becoming a normal—if not essential—part of our everyday lives. From listening to music, ordering takeout, playing games or taking pictures of our pets, it seems like we’ve developed an app for everything. Even though our world is becoming much more digital, there are apps that can help get you outside and introduce you to the natural world. We’ve put together a list of six apps that can help you discover the Chesapeake Bay region.
The Chesapeake Bay region is huge—over 64,000 square miles—and teeming with beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and a rich cultural heritage. There’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot to do within it, and that’s where the Chesapeake Explorer app comes in handy. Created by the National Park Service, Chesapeake Explorer allows you to easily find something to do no matter your interest. You can search by activity, such as hiking, biking or kayaking, or if you want to visit a museum or state park, you can search by place. If you want to stay local, you can use Chesapeake Explorer’s map feature to find out which sites are nearby. The app makes vacation planning easy as well, offering pre-set driving, biking and walking tours, and even allows you to create your own route. Whether you’re trying to fill an hour or a whole weekend, Chesapeake Explorer has something for you to do.
Audubon’s field guide to North American birds is the perfect one-stop app for birders of all feathers, from beginners to expert. This app is full of information for 821 bird species, including their appearances, behaviors, calls and ranges. It has a detailed search feature, allowing you to describe characteristics of the bird you see—plus, you can include your location to narrow your results to include only regional birds. You can even separate your search results into common and rare species, if you’re torn between the two. For those new to birding, or those who’d like a refresher, the app contains a lot of supplemental information about birding, bird families, bird anatomy and conservation.
The Merlin Bird ID app is another great choice for birdwatching. By answering five simple questions, Merlin helps you identify which bird you are likely looking at. Containing thousands of photographs and audio recordings, as well as identification tips and range maps for each bird, Merlin is a clear and simple app that makes bird identification easy.
Project Noah is a great way to get outside and involved in citizen science. With this app you can photograph wildlife in your area, tag the photos and upload them to the Noah website, where they’re combined with other sightings from around the world. One of the things that makes Project Noah so fun is that you can join missions—such as documenting squirrels—and earn patches as you contribute. Don’t worry if you don’t know the name of a species you see; you can always upload the photo and whatever information you have so that the rest of the Project Noah community can identify it (or you can check your field guide app!).
SkyView is a simple tool to introduce you to the stars. As you move your phone along the night sky, information about stars and planets will show up on your screen, including outlines of the constellations. You can also switch the display to night vision with red light, so the screen’s light doesn’t hurt your eyes.
Looking for real-time, on-the-water observations from across the Bay? The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office’s Smart Buoys app allows users to track data from the ten buoys that make up the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). Get a snapshot of safety conditions in the Bay before heading out on the water, explore the science behind the health of the estuary or track how storms and weather events are affecting water conditions.
What apps do you use to explore the Chesapeake Bay? Tell us your favorite in the comments!
February is a month to think about the ones you love, and there’s nothing we love more than the Chesapeake Bay. From the first blue crab of the season to the last day out on the water, the Bay brings us so much joy that we have to share it. Here’s a list of fourteen reasons why we love the Chesapeake Bay.
1. Blue Crabs
No list about the Chesapeake Bay is complete without blue crabs. Not just iconic in commercial and recreational fisheries, blue crabs are a keystone species in the Bay, acting as both predator and prey to many underwater creatures. And while harvest pressure and habitat loss affect the crustacean’s continued health, blue crab populations were on the rise in 2015.
3. Smith Island Cake
Smith Island, located in the middle of the Bay on the border between Maryland and Virginia, is famous in part for the delicious cake that originated there. Consisting of eight to 15 layers, Smith Island Cake not only looks beautiful but tastes great, too. Want to make your own? The Smith Island Cultural Center has a recipe you can follow. You’ll need a lot of cake pans, but the taste is worth the clean-up!
4. The food
The Bay has too many fantastic food traditions to be bound to only one entry. From oysters and crab cakes to fried chicken and anything you can put Old Bay on, the area has a specialty for every taste. They say the best way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs, right?
5. Natural spaces
Did you know the Chesapeake Bay region has over 130 state and national parks? And that number doesn’t even include the many other community parks, trails and nature preserves. No matter if you’re on the Bay itself or elsewhere in the area, there’s somewhere nearby to visit and get in touch with nature.
6. Something for everyone
One reason to love the Bay is that it has something for everyone—mountains, beaches, countryside and large cities are all nearby. For those who like being outdoors, there are ample hiking paths and public access points. For water-lovers, there’s boating, kayaking and swimming. History buffs can visit the many historical sites dotted throughout the area, while museumgoers have their pick of art, history, science and cultural museums.
7. Year-round activities
The Bay doesn’t give you any excuses for not enjoying all it has to offer. Even when it’s too cold for lounging on the beach, there are ample opportunities to love the Bay. When you can brave the elements, there are plenty of hikes to go on and museums to visit—and when it’s just too cold to go outside, there’s birdwatching and virtual tours that make you feel like you’re out on the water. Some might even say winter is a great time for a swim!
The Bay has a long maritime history and is home to boats of all types. For generations, watermen have taken their boats out on the Bay to gather the day’s catch of crabs and oysters. Annapolis—known as “America’s sailing capital”—sits on the Bay’s western shore and is home to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Bay is not just for work, though; each year there are countless boat races, sailing competitions and boat shows where all manner of crafts glide through the water. Outside of official events, people enjoy the Bay in personal boats, canoes and kayaks.
9. The beauty
You can’t beat waking up early to see the sunrise over the Bay, or watching a fog roll in over the water. They may say that love is blind, but looks are just another reason why we love the Chesapeake Bay.
10. The Atlantic Flyway
One example of the Bay’s rich diversity of wildlife is the Atlantic Flyway, a migration route that many birds follow up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The Bay’s prime location in the middle of the route gives us the chance to see birds at the beginning, middle or end of their migration. Birds such as the Canada goose begin their journeys up north in Canada and make their way south to the Bay-area for winter; other birds, such as the osprey, spend their summer months in the Bay and continue further south for winter.
Lighthouses have been a part of the Bay since the first one was built in 1792. But these beautiful structures are more than iconic landmarks: of the 74 lighthouses that originally aided sailors, over 30 are still standing and 23 are still in use. The Bay’s lighthouses stand as a symbol of the area’s maritime history and serve both a functional and aesthetic purpose.
12. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
Not only do these dogs make adorable puppies, but they can grow up to be valuable companions. Named for the region in which they were bred, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever—or Chessie—is said to be descended from two Newfoundland dogs that survived a shipwreck off the coast of Maryland and were bred with local retrievers. Perhaps due to their maritime history (but mainly their genetics) these dogs are excellent swimmers. They are prized waterfowl hunters and have been known to retrieve hundreds of birds from icy waters in a single day. These dogs are more than workers, though, and make great family pets.
13. The history
The Bay has a rich and full history going back hundreds—even thousands—of years. There is evidence of people living here at least three thousand years ago. Today, historical sites are dotted throughout the region, from the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway to the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. No matter what period of history captures your interest, there is somewhere in the area for you to visit.
14. The people
What would the Bay be without the people who live here? The Bay’s prime location and many resources attract people of all types; farmers, artists, fishers and politicians all call the Bay home and make it what it is today. We might not all talk the same, but no matter how you say it: we love the Chesapeake Bay!
Why do you love the Chesapeake? Let us know in the comments!
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!
Spanning 64,000 miles and six states, the Chesapeake Bay region encompasses a diverse array of backgrounds, cultures and local flavors. As you plan your holiday feast this year, celebrate the Chesapeake with recipes that represent the traditions of each state.
Image courtesy jeffreyw/Flickr
Delaware: Dilly crab dip
For an easy to make, crowd-pleasing snack to munch on while the turkey cooks, try out a Delaware favorite – dilly crab dip. While there are hot, baked varieties of the dip, this version is served cold and combines flaked crabmeat with mayonnaise, sour cream and plenty of dried dill. Try out this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens as a simple appetizer before your main course.
Maryland: Oyster stuffing
Whether you call it “stuffing” or “dressing,” no Thanksgiving menu would be complete without this traditional side. With the addition of Maryland oysters, the classic dish becomes a celebration of local seafood. Including oysters and their liquid in the mix of chopped vegetables and crusty bread gives the stuffing a rich, salty flavor. Ree Drummond from The Pioneer Woman Cooks shares her recipe for cornbread oyster dressing.
Image courtesy Edward Kimber/Flickr
New York: Apple pie
While pumpkin and pecan pies may be the top desserts that come to mind at Thanksgiving, apple pies are plentiful on holiday dinner tables across the country. As one of the top apple producing states in the U.S., New York has plenty of the crisp, tart apples needed to make the perfect pie. Check out this recipe from Serious Eats to learn about the science behind a foolproof apple pie.
Pennsylvania: Shoofly pie
No one is quite sure where the name of this Pennsylvania Dutch dessert originated. One generally accepted explanation is that, as the pies cooled, bakers would have to “shoo” away numerous flies drawn to the sticky-sweet molasses filling. Regardless of its name, the dessert makes an appearance on many Pennsylvania tables during the holidays. As the pie bakes, the brown sugar crumb topping sinks into the molasses custard base and creates a cake-like middle layer. Bon Appetit magazine published this recipe used by Wendy Jo’s Homemade in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Image courtesy J. Hendron/Flickr
Turkey may be the main course at most Thanksgiving dinners, but in Virginia, the bird often shares the spotlight – or it may be missing from the table completely. Instead, a Virginia ham is served, glazed with honey, brown sugar, or even Coca-Cola. Check out this post at The Kitchn for tips on buying, glazing, and baking a holiday ham.
West Virginia: Squash casserole
This creamy, cheesy dish appears at Sunday dinners and holiday celebrations across the southern United States and is a favorite in the Mountain State. A simple base of squash, onion, and cheese is topped with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs and baked until bubbly. Sommer Collier from A Spicy Perspective shares her recipe for a cornbread-topped version of the classic side.
Have your own favorite Chesapeake recipe? Let us know in the comments!
For more than 11,000 years, humans have lived in the Chesapeake Bay region. And for more than two hundred years, lighthouses have helped them navigate the waters of the Bay. Since the first lighthouse was placed at Cape Henry in 1792, 74 lighthouses have dotted the shores of the watershed, guiding wooden vessels, steam-powered boats and cargo ships through the Bay’s channels and around its obstacles. Today, more than 30 of these lighthouses still stand—and 23 still aid navigation. To whet your appetite for the region’s maritime history, here are 11 lighthouses in the watershed today.
1. Turkey Point. Located in Cecil County, Maryland, the Turkey Point lighthouse marks the point where the Elk and Northeast rivers enter the Chesapeake Bay. At 38 feet high, the conical structure was built by Havre de Grace resident John Donohoo in 1833. Between 1928 and 1947, the light was maintained by Fannie Salter, America’s last civilian female lighthouse keeper. The light was automated in 1947, deactivated in 2000 and re-lit two years later as a private aid to navigation. In 2006, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took ownership of the light, and it is estimated that 40,000 tourists visit the signature landmark of Elk Neck State Park each year. The lighthouse is open to visitors from April through November.
2. Sandy Point Shoal. The first lighthouse to stand in this location—an onshore brick tower built in 1858—was replaced in 1883 with the structure that stands today. Located offshore of Sandy Point State Park and about 1.5 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the eight-sided, red brick tower is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Standing in 5 to 7 feet of water, the structure marks the shoals at Sandy Point. It was electrified in 1929 and automated in 1963.
3. Sharps Island. The 900-acre island that gave this lighthouse its name in 1838 disappeared shortly after the structure was built, succumbing to wind, waves and erosion. In 1866, the original light was replaced with a screwpile structure, which was pulled from its foundation by floating ice fields just 15 years later. A caisson structure was placed on the site in 1882, and while it still stands today, it did suffer an ice-induced tilt in 1976. Located offshore of Tilghman Island, the light marks the entrance to the Choptank River and the shoals off Poplar Island and Black Walnut Point.
4. Bloody Point Bar. Located off the southern tip of Kent Island, this rust brown, iron structure was built in 1882 and marks the entrance to Eastern Bay. Just one year after its construction, severe storms pulled sand out from under the structure’s northwest side, causing a severe tilt. In 1885, 760 tons of stone were piled at the lighthouse’s base, which have kept it upright to this day. In 1960, an electrical fire destroyed the keeper’s quarters and the lens. Ever since, the light has been automated.
5. Cove Point. Built in 1828 by John Donohoo, the Cove Point lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland. The conical brick tower marks the entrance to the Patuxent River, and in October of 2000 it and its keeper’s house were transferred to the Calvert Marine Museum. Here, visitors can tour the light from May through September and rent out the renovated dwelling for vacations and special events. Because the light is still an active aid to navigation, the U.S. Coast Guard remains responsible for its operation.
6. Drum Point. Like Cove Point, the Drum Point lighthouse sits at the Calvert Marine Museum, where it is open to the public year-round. Built in 1883, the light was decommissioned in 1962; in 1975, it was moved from the mouth of the Patuxent River to its present spot along the museum’s waterfront. The hexagonal wooden structure on top of a wrought-iron screwpile base is one of three remaining lighthouses built in this style, from the 45 that once served the Chesapeake Bay.
7. Point Lookout. Built by John Donohoo in 1830, the Point Lookout lighthouse marks the north entrance to the Potomac River. Just three decades after the light’s construction, the point was transformed by the Civil War. In 1862, the point became home to a Civil War hospital; soon after, a camp was built that would come to hold 20,000 prisoners of war. Deactivated in 1965, the light was turned over to the U.S. Navy before becoming part of Point Lookout State Park in 2006. Said to be one of the most haunted lighthouses in America, members of the Point Lookout Preservation Society hold paranormal investigations to raise funds and offer tours of the light from April through November.
8. Point No Point. The Point No Point lighthouse sits six miles north of the Point Lookout lighthouse and the entrance of the Potomac River. While construction began in 1901, it was not completed until 1904. During a storm in 1903, a temporary construction pier collapsed and winds pushed the caisson structure 40 miles south to the Rappahannock River. In 1904, ice floes dislodged a second construction pier, delaying progress once again. Today, a two-story white tower sits atop a red, cast-iron base. Automated in 1938 and converted to unmanned operation in 1962, the light remains an active aid to navigation.
9. Cape Charles. Marking the northern side of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, the original Cape Charles lighthouse was built in 1828, but destroyed during the Civil War. A 150-foot brick replacement was built in 1864, but succumbed to floods and shoreline erosion about three decades later. The fully automated, 191-foot, cast-iron skeleton tower that stands today was erected in 1895, and is the second tallest lighthouse in the United States.
10. Wolf Trap. The first lighthouse to mark the shoals of Wolf Trap near the mouth of the Rappahannock River was built in 1870 to replace the lightships that had been in service here since 1821. In 1893, ice floes dislodged the light from its foundation. A replacement was built in 1894; its red, octagonal tower stands 52 feet tall.
11. Chesapeake Light. Built in 1965 to replace the lightship Chesapeake, the Chesapeake Light Station marks the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, which has been lighted for mariners since 1933. The blue “Texas tower” sits on steel piles and resembles an oil drilling platform; a rooftop landing pad allows for helicopter access. Automated in 1980, the U.S. Coast Guard considered demolishing the station in 2004, but because it was still structurally sound, it remains an active aid to navigation.
With a bright yellow can and a distinct, delicious taste, Old Bay seasoning is a fixture on spice racks around the Chesapeake Bay. Named after a steamship that traveled between Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia, the seasoning was purchased from creator Gustav Brunn’s company by McCormick & Co. in 1990. While it’s most often used to season crabs, shrimp and other seafood, adventurous eaters have added the spice to a range of dishes over the years. Looking past that classic steamed crab, here are eight Old Bay recipes we adore.
Image courtesy The Dog Mom
1. Old Bay potato chips. While some snack companies sell Old Bay-flavored potato chips pre-made and in a bag, it’s possible to make your own! Cut russet potatoes into thin slices, use a paper towel to dry the slices out and deep fry them in your choice of oil. Cook them, drain them and season liberally. Toss to coat. Check out this recipe from Kayla Black at The Dog Mom.
2. Old Bay popcorn. Or, as Courtney from Sweet C’s Designs calls it, crab corn. Let’s face it: salt doesn’t always cut it when you’re seasoning your popcorn. So ditch the traditional seasoning—and the pre-packaged products—in favor of sugar, garlic powder and Old Bay to create a summertime snack.
Image courtesy donhomer/Flickr
3. Old Bay beer. The Chesapeake has inspired a range of beers, from the Striped Bass Pale Ale by Devils Backbone Brewing Company to the Rosie Parks Oyster Stout by Fordham. This summer, the Flying Dog Brewery released the first beer (to our knowledge) that tastes like Old Bay: Dead Rise ale, which uses citrus hop notes and a tart finish to complement the region’s signature spice. We don’t have access to their recipe, but we do know the seasonal beverage is available from May through September in bars, restaurants and stores across the mid-Atlantic.
4. Old Bay biscuits. Butter, cheese and bread are three key ingredients to any good snack. Add Old Bay, and you get a knock-off of the cheddar biscuits passed out by the basketful at seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster. Shawn from I Wash You Dry has created a 20-minute recipe that yields a dozen biscuits. She dares you to stop at just one.
Image courtesy light_seeker/Flickr
5. Old Bay Bloody Marys. The Bloody Mary is a classic cocktail. Served at brunches across the region, it contains vodka, tomato and lemon juice, and a range of other condiments, from Tabasco to crushed horseradish. To serve the drink Chesapeake-style, rim the glass with Old Bay seasoning and consider replacing the traditional celery stalk garnish with a shrimp or crab claw. Saveur magazine has published the recipe used by Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C.
6. Old Bay deviled eggs. Deviled eggs are so named because they are made with a bit of spice: mustard, pepper or paprika are mixed with the yolks of halved, hard-boiled eggs and spooned back into each egg “cup.” Old Bay can add an extra kick, whether incorporated into the yolk mixture or sprinkled on top. Check out this recipe from Martha Stewart.
Image courtesy Kid Can Eat!
7. Old Bay edamame. Edamame, or immature soybeans, are served boiled or steamed and sprinkled with salt. Popular in Japanese cuisine, the pods can often be found in the frozen food section of U.S. grocery stores. Rich in protein, fiber and folic acid, the beans pack a nutritional punch. Adding Old Bay ensures the beans pack a punch to your taste buds, too. Check out this recipe from Terita at Kid Can Eat!.
8. Old Bay ice cream. In 2012, Alonso’s Restaurant won bragging rights and 70 pounds of Old Bay seasoning in the spice company’s Taste of Baytriotism promotion. It was selected because it served, among other things, Old Bay ice cream. If you can’t make it to the Baltimore eatery, you can make your own! Regan at The Tasty Kitchen created a recipe that contrasts candied potato chips—crushed and coated with brown sugar and Old Bay—with smooth vanilla ice cream.
Looking for more Chesapeake recipes? Find them on our Pinterest board!
Have you ever found yourself looking out at the boats dotting the Chesapeake Bay and wondering, “What kind of ship is that?” So have we! Below is a list of 10 iconic watercraft visible on the Bay today.
1. Log Canoe. Recognized as the Bay’s first workboat, log canoes once filled the region’s waterways as watermen sailed about in search of fish and shellfish. They are usually made from three to five hollowed out logs that are fastened together and shaped into a hull. One or two large masts jut out from the center of the boat, and sails capture the wind and use it as a propellant. Most log canoes that exist today have retired from their working lives and are sailed in races; in fact, fewer than two dozen log canoes remain in the Bay region and, out of those, less than half race.
2. Skipjack. In the late nineteenth century, the skipjack—a popular work boat for watermen—saw a production boom as the Maryland oyster harvest reached an all-time peak of 15 million bushels. But as the Bay’s oyster population steadily declined, so did its skipjack fleet. There are 35 skipjacks left in the Bay region, many of them used for educational purposes (like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s skipjack, Stanley Norman). Like oysters, the boats that harvested them are culturally significant to this region—so much so that the state of Maryland named the skipjack its official state boat.
3. Skiff. Skiffs are shallow, flat-bottomed boats recognizable by their sharp bow and square stern. These watercraft are made to move through the tributaries and along the coastal areas of the Bay. While they can be used as workboats, skiffs are typically used for recreational fishing and other leisurely outings.
4. Deadrise. The official boat of Virginia, the deadrise is a traditional work boat used by watermen to catch blue crabs, fish and oysters. The vessel is marked by a sharp bow that expands down the hull into a large V shape and a square stern.
5. Research vessel. Restoring the health of the Bay is as complex as the Bay ecosystem itself. Research vessels like the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s (UMCES) R/V Rachel Carson travel the Bay, collecting data about water quality, flora and fauna to help scientists gain a better understanding about what should be done to improve our restoration efforts.
6. Kayak. These small, human-powered boats are propelled by a double-bladed paddle. Kayaks are believed to be more than 4,000 years old, and originated as a hunting craft used on lakes, rivers and coastal waters. Modern kayaks vary in size and shape depending upon the paddler’s intended use. Whether it is racing through whitewater rapids or fishing in placid waters, kayaks are a sound choice for many recreational boater’s needs.
7. Schooner. Schooners are sailing ships with two or more masts. They have a long history in the mid-Atlantic as workboats for the watermen who made their living harvesting oysters, blue crabs and fish from the Bay. Every October, schooners can be seen racing 146 miles down the Bay from Annapolis, Maryland, to Hampton Roads, Virginia, as a part of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. This race was started to draw attention to the Bay’s heritage and to support environmental education and restoration work.
8. Racing shell. The sport of rowing is often referred to as crew, and is a popular pastime for many who live in the watershed. While its origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt, competitive rowing did not evolve until the early eighteenth century in London. It is one of the oldest Olympic sports. While racing, athletes sit with their backs to the bow of the racing shell and face the stern, using oars to propel the boat forward.
9. Shipping tanker. The shipping industry has been critical to the mid-Atlantic economy since the colonial era because the region serves as a bridge between the north and the south. In fact, the Bay is home to two of the United States’ five major North Atlantic ports: Baltimore, Maryland, and Hampton Roads, Virginia. Shipping tankers were created to transport large amounts of commodities and can range in size and capacity from several hundred tons to several hundred thousand tons.
10. Canoe. Canoes are lightweight, human-propelled water craft that are pointed at each end and open on top. Typically, one or more people paddle the boat with an oar while seated or kneeling. Like kayaks, canoes are multifaceted watercraft that can be used for anything from recreational fishing and paddling to moving through whitewater.
Over the Chesapeake Bay Program’s long history, its leaders have learned that collaboration is key to restoration success. In June, the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission came together to sign the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Written with input from individuals, organizations and other partners, this document contains goals and outcomes that will restore and protect the nation’s largest and most productive estuary. But what will the Agreement mean for the residents of this massive watershed? Read our list to find out.
10. Improved access to the water. From fishing piers to boat launches, people in the watershed want more access to rivers, streams and the Bay. And while partners have opened 69 new access sites over the last three years, access remains limited, with consequences for tourism economies and environmental conservation. Bay Program partners have set a goal to open 300 new public access sites across the watershed by 2025. Learn more.
9. New opportunities to fish in headwater streams. Our increasing need for land and resources has fragmented our rivers and streams, harming the health of those fish that must migrate through unobstructed waters to reach their spawning grounds each spring. Bay Program partners plan to improve stream health and restore fish passage to the Bay’s headwaters, opening up habitat to migratory fish like alewife, American shad and brook trout. More habitat can mean more fish, and more fish can mean more fishing opportunities. Learn more.
Image courtesy theloushe/Flickr
8. Cleaner waters. Nutrient and sediment pollution are behind the Bay’s biggest health problems. Nutrients fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms, which create low-oxygen dead zones that suffocate marine life. Suspended sediment blocks sunlight from reaching underwater plants. Bay Program partners plan to work under the Bay’s existing “pollution diet” to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution, improve water quality, and support the living resources of the Bay, its rivers and its streams. Learn more.
7. Safer waters. Almost three-quarters of the Bay’s tidal waters are considered impaired by chemical contaminants. These substances can harm the health of humans and wildlife, and have been linked to tumor growth in fish, eggshell thinning in birds and intersex conditions in amphibians. Bay Program partners are committed to reducing toxic contaminants in our waters, with a focus on mercury, PCBs and contaminants of emerging and widespread concern. Learn more.
6. Healthy waters that remain that way. Healthy watersheds provide us with clean water, critical habitat and economic benefits. While there are a number of healthy watersheds in the region, development poses a constant threat. Bay Program partners want 100 percent of state-identified healthy waters and watersheds to remain that way. Learn more.
5. A larger community of citizen stewards. The success of our restoration work will depend on local action, and local action will depend on local stewards. Bay Program partners hope to build a larger, broader and more diverse community of citizen stewards who will carry out the conservation and restoration activities that will benefit their local communities and the Bay. Learn more.
Image courtesy peterwalshprojects/Flickr
4. Sustainable seafood. Habitat loss, invasive species, poor water quality and harvest pressure threaten the sustainability of the Bay’s recreational and commercial fisheries. But Bay Program partners have committed to using sound science and responsible management to increase fish and shellfish habitat and populations, leading to more striped bass, blue crabs and oysters in the Bay and on the market. Learn more.
3. Smarter growth. With the largest land-to-water ratio of any estuary in the world, it is clear that what happens on land has a direct impact on water quality in the Bay. But stormwater runoff continues to push polluted rainwater over streets and sidewalks and into storm drains, rivers and streams. Bay Program partners plan to help local governments control polluted runoff, conserve valuable wetlands, farms and forests, and reduce the rate of land that is lost to paved roads and parking lots. Learn more.
Image courtesy Indiana.dunes/Flickr
2. More knowledge and skills to help save our watershed. It is often said that people value what they know and protect what they value. This means that a boost in environmental education now could create a vital foundation for environmental stewards of the future. Bay Program partners will work to enable area students to graduate with the knowledge, skills and meaningful experience needed to protect and restore their local watershed. Learn more.
1. Communities that are resilient to climate change. The impacts of climate change—rising seas, warming waters, extreme weather, ocean acidification—are happening now. To withstand these impacts, we must improve our natural and built infrastructure. Bay Program partners have set a goal to increase the climate resiliency of the watershed’s resources, habitats and communities using monitoring, assessment and adaptation. Learn more.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
If sixty-degree days weren’t enough to convince you that winter has bid us farewell and spring is just around the corner, these harbingers of the changing seasons surely will! Take a look around your backyard, community or local park for these five telltale signs of spring in the Chesapeake Bay region.
If you happen to live near a pond or wetland, you may be accustomed to hearing a chorus of “peeps” in early spring. The northern spring peeper is one of the first to breed in spring. This small amphibian’s mating call is described as a “peep,” but it can be almost deafening when hundreds of frogs sing in one location.
These yellow beauties are the first bulb plants to pop up each March, sometimes emerging through melting snow and always signaling warmer weather ahead. Any gardener will tell you there’s no way to tell exactly when daffodils will bloom, but they seem to pop up almost overnight. A website tracks photos and reports of the first daffodil sightings each year around the world.
If you can’t get enough of these buttercup blooms, head over to the American Daffodil Society’s National Convention in April in Baltimore.
Where there are flowers, bees should follow – but native bee populations have fallen rapidly in recent years. Find out how you can make your yard a bee haven and help give bees a home! (Don’t worry – most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s native bees don’t sting!)
A bee-friendly backyard will benefit you and your garden: bees pollinate plants and crops, a service that’s worth millions each year to our economy.
“PEENT! PEENT!” The mating call of the American woodcock may be a familiar sound if you stroll through in open forests this time of year. Males put on an elaborate show most evenings in early spring. After repeated “peents,” he flies upward in a spiral, reaching a height of about 300 feet. Then he begins chirping as he dives back down in a zig-zag pattern, landing right next to his chosen female.
Read how renowned nature writer Aldo Leopold described the woodcock mating ritual in A Sand County Almanac.
This bright green, large-leaved wetland plant that appears in early spring may actually help melt leftover snowfall. Skunk cabbage generates temperatures up to 59-95 degrees above the air temperature, allowing the plant to literally break through frozen ground and sprout when temperatures are still too cold for other plants to sprout.
The plant’s foul odor attracts pollinators, including flies and bees, and discourages predators.
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!
The sky is gray, the wind blows cold, and all the earth seems devoid of life. It’s winter in the Chesapeake Bay region. But if you venture outside, you’ll likely catch a glimpse of many critters that are most common during the coldest months. Some of these animals only visit our region this time of year. (That’s right – they actually like our winters!)
Get your winter critter-fix by learning about these six beautiful Bay animals. Then leave us a comment letting us know about your favorite wintering Chesapeake Bay critter!
Chesapeake Bay locals experience their fair share of sea nettle stings during summer swims. But very few of us have been stung by a lion's mane jellyfish: the largest known jellyfish species in the world! Thank goodness that these jellyfish only visit the Bay from January to April. But if you're doing a Polar Bear Plunge, be careful!
Lion’s mane jellyfish prefer to hang out in the northern latitudes, and travel to the Bay in the winter because the water is cold. The further north you travel, the larger the lion’s mane jellyfish becomes! The largest recorded specimen washed up along a beach in Massachusetts in 1870, had a bell (body) with a diameter of 7.5 feet and tentacles 120 feet long.
(Image courtesy Vermin Inc/Flickr)
Sure it gets cold here in the winter, but it’s even colder in the Arctic! That’s why these beautiful white waterfowl take refuge in the Chesapeake Bay from late October to March. Tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, breed in the Arctic and subarctic tundra's pools, lakes and rivers. They fly in a V formation at altitudes as high as 27,000 feet before arriving at their wintering habitat, which is usually coastal marshland and grassland.
Looking for a place to view tundra swans? The coast is best (I've seen them near Salisbury as well as Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, Maryland), but if you're inland, you may be in luck, too! Last winter, I was lucky enough to see a flock at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland.
(Image courtesy oakwood/Flickr)
The bald eagle is not only the national emblem of the United States, but also the face of an environmental movement born out of its near extinction. Pesticides (particularly DDT) and increased development left this beautiful raptor on the brink in the mid-20th century. But bald eagles have since made a remarkable comeback, enough so that the federal government removed them from the "threatened" species list in 2007.
Winter provides an excellent opportunity to view bald eagles. They are often found perched on the highest branch in loblolly pine forests, scouting for prey in nearby fields and wetlands. Although these birds prefer areas that are not human-heavy, one bald eagle family moved into Harlem in New York City last February. Closer to the Chesapeake, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland, and the Conowingo Dam near Port Deposit, Maryland, are excellent places to view bald eagles in big numbers.
(Image courtesy InspiredinDesMoines/Flickr)
If you see large, reddish-brown heads out on the Bay this winter, they may be canvasbacks! These diving ducks spend winter in the Chesapeake Bay before returning to the Prairie Pothole region to breed. Why do they fly across the Mississippi River Valley to splash around in the Chesapeake all winter? One reason may be food: the canvasback (Aythya valisineria) was named for its fondness of wild celery (Vallisneria americana).
However, diminished populations of wild celery and other bay grasses has meant decline in "can" populations, too. In the 1950s, the Chesapeake Bay was home to 250,000 wintering canvasbacks – about half of the entire North American population. Today, only about 50,000 winter in the Bay. But these numbers seem to be increasing.
(Image courtesy Dominic Sherony/Flickr)
Unlike most mammals, bobcats don't hibernate during the winter. In fact, female bobcats increase their home range during the coldest time of year, meaning there's a greater chance one will end up near you! These cats start breeding between January and March, when males begin travelling to visit females. These winter warriors also have padded paws, which act like snow boots to protect them from the cold weather. They are excellent hunters and are most active during dusk (before sunset) and dawn (before the sunrises), often travelling between 2 and 7 miles in one night!
Bobcats may be found in Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and other natural areas in the northern and western portions of the watershed.
(Image courtesy dbarronoss/Flickr)
A brilliant flash of red can brighten up any dreary winter scene. The northern cardinal is a permanent resident of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and its plumage never dulls like some birds. The female cardinal is one of the only female birds that sings, although it is usually during spring, when she tells the male what to bring back to the nest for their young. In the winter, cardinals can be seen foraging for seeds in dense shrubs near the ground, usually in pairs.
(Image courtesy Bill Lynch/Flickr)
Look around the Chesapeake Bay watershed this time of year, and you'll find ghost tours all over the place: Annapolis, Gettysburg and Richmond, to name a few.
And why wouldn't there be ghosts here? The Chesapeake region was among the first areas in the United States settled by English colonists. Since that time, the Bay has experienced land-altering and life-taking hurricanes, mysterious shipwrecks and bloody battles during the nation's early wars.
Just in time for Halloween, we've compiled an eclectic list of hauntings, sightings and purely strange spooks from throughout the Bay watershed. Many of these places would make a perfect outdoor escape this weekend – if you’re brave enough, that is!
"All of a sudden, the room turned bitter cold - even though the thermometer still read 100 degrees." –Eyewitness encounter at Point Lookout lighthouse
The most consistently haunted feature of Point Lookout is the lighthouse, which was first constructed in 1830. It has been featured on shows such as the Travel Channel’s Weird Travels and TLC's Haunted Lighthouses for paranormal activity ranging from strange odors that come only at night to spirits that have saved the lives of park employees living in the house.
After years of reported sightings, smells and sounds, the famous pioneer paranormal researcher Hans Holzer investigated. He recorded 24 different sounds and voices in and around the lighthouse using electric voice phenomena (EVPs).
One of these voices – heard saying, "This is my home" – is suspected to be Ann Davis, wife of the lighthouse's first keeper. Ann maintained the lighthouse long after her husband died. She has been seen standing at the top of the staircase, wearing a white blouse and blue skirt. But she is far from the only apparition people have experienced at the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is now maintained by the state of Maryland and is open only a few times a year. But if you’re really fearless, you can sign up for a Paranormal Night, when small groups can investigate the lighthouse after dark.
It’s true: Point Lookout is so haunted that it earned two spots on our list of spooky places.
Point Lookout's location – a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Potomac River – made it an ideal watch post for spotting British ships during the War of 1812.
Its isolation from the mainland offered little chance of escape for the 50,000 Confederate prisoners held here during the Civil War.
The prisoners of war lived year-round with nothing but canvas tents to protect themselves from mosquito-infested summers and freezing cold winters.
Between 3,000 and 8,000 men died in the camp and were buried in mass graves – many of which are now underwater.
As if that isn't enough, a Civil War hospital was also on the peninsula and housed wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg.
One of the most frequently seen ghosts at the park is a man in ragged, homespun Civil War clothing, reeking of mildew and gunpowder, and stumbling away from what was once the camp's quarantined smallpox unit. It's thought that the man feigned illness to escape from prison – but it seems he never did...
Brave enough to visit? The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lists information about Point Lookout's hours, trails, fishing opportunities and more.
Many people on the streets of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park have seen the ghost of abolitionist John Brown. He’s sometimes so realistic that tourists, thinking he is a historic re-enactor, ask him to pose for a photograph with him – only to find later that their camera has not captured him. Those who have seen Brown say they recognize him by “those piercing fire and brimstone eyes that would put the fear of God in anybody he looked at.”
Brown led an uprising at Harpers Ferry in 1859, raiding the armory in the hope of freeing the South (and Brown’s wife and children) one plantation at a time.
But when he heard about Brown’s rebellion, Confederate General Robert E. Lee left for Harpers Ferry so quickly that he didn’t even have time to put on his uniform. Lee and his one hundred troops sent Brown to the gallows; however, his proposed revolution would become a catalyst for the Civil War.
But perhaps a more frightening paranormal experience surrounds one of John Brown's opponents, John Wilkes Booth, who visited Harpers Ferry to witness the his nemesis’s hanging. Booth stayed in a house known as the "Haunted Cottage."
According to an article in the Martinsburg Journal-News, the house has been the site of 12 deaths. Many have witnessed objects disappearing and then re-appearing. The house is now the office of the Harpers Ferry Society for Paranormal Research.
Another haunted spot in Harpers Ferry is St. Peter's Catholic Church, where a priest can be seen walking down the aisle and a wounded Civil War soldier whispers his dying words, "Thank God I'm Saved," as he reaches the church doors.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed states were home to the greatest number of battles in the country's early history. Spanning the border of the North and South, the region was particularly hard-hit during the Civil War.
But public access to these locations also means that there are thousands of reports of wandering soldiers, loud booms in the night, broken cameras and even entire battles being fought in plain view.
In one alleged incident at Little Round Top in Gettysburg, re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg were visited by a man dressed as a Union soldier, who they assumed was also in the movie. He passed them ammunition, which was later discovered to be pristine musket rounds that dated back to the exact time of the famous Civil War battle.
At Antietam – where 23,000 troops were lost during some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – a famous creepy spot is Bloody Lane. This old farm road got its nickname after one particularly deadly battle, when thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and their blood flowed down the road like a river.
Have you visited one of these battlefields? Which one do you think is the most haunted?
Perhaps paranormal activity is expected at a military base that has been inhabited since 1608. But one would be hard-pressed to find a line-up of big named spirits anywhere else but Fort Monroe.
Reported sightings at the base include a young soldier named Edgar Allen Poe, President Abraham Lincoln, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Chief Black Hawk and Ulysses S. Grant. Other, lesser known personalities have also been spotted, such as a spirit that hates roses, and even something dubbed the "moat monster," rumored to be a relative of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster.
Orbs, lights and temperature changes are other creepy phenomena experienced so often and with such intensity that the U.S. Army has featured a story about "haunted" Fort Monroe on its website.
Sitting at the mouth of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay, the military base was a “freedom fortress” where fugitive slaves took refuge during the Civil War.
Just across the Potomac River from Quantico Marine Base lies the greatest concentration of sunken ships in North America. Mallows Bay is a graveyard of half-submerged steamships, some of them poking out from the water’s surface.
This steamship fleet, which cost the government $1 billion, was intended to be used in World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless.
More than 200 steamship vessels were towed to Mallows Bay on the Potomac River. The ships were packed together so tightly that you could reportedly walk for a mile without touching the water.
Watermen protested; they were certain such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.
Today, the giant steamships are still there, but now they are home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust.
Thankfully, the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem has found a way to use these vessels for their benefit. (For proof, check out these great photos from kayakers who ventured through the wreckage.) Perhaps the "haunting" nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.
Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Explore the old boats by kayak or canoe, which you can launch from the nearest boat ramp.
Even when he was alive, people thought Blackbeard was a sort of devil re-incarnate. And it's no wonder: the pirate arranged lit torches in his beard before he ran into battle.
When Blackbeard – real name Captain Edward Teach – moved his operations north, Virginia Governor Spotswood ordered an expedition to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew.
One big, bad, bloody sea battle later, Blackbeard was killed. The governor demanded that Blackbeard's head be placed on a stake at the entrance to the Hampton River as a warning to other pirates.
According to some Hampton locals, Blackbeard's spirit haunts this area, which is still known today as Blackbeard’s Point.
Approximately one hundred years ago, Holland Island was a five-mile-long, 300-person fishing community, with more than 60 homes, a church and a doctor.
But then sea level rose – and rose fast. Residents abandoned the island in the 1920s, some of them bringing their homes with them.
Stephen White, a former minister and waterman who first visited Holland Island as a young boy, was inspired to save the island after visiting one of the island's three cemeteries, where he saw a gravestone that read, "Forget me not, is all I ask."
White was taking a photograph of the gravestone when he noticed a ghostly girl standing nearby.
Inspired to honor the gravestone inscription, and not let the world forget about this little girl and her home, White launched a massive campaign to save the island, hoping that a donor or the government would assist him. But they didn’t.
Still, White and his wife made it their personal mission, spending hours distributing sandbags to try and stop erosion along the island’s edges.
But last October, the island's final house fell into the Bay, despite White's best efforts. Today, two of the island's three graveyards are reportedly underwater.
More vanished islands: Captain John Smith first described and mapped Sharps Island, once located at the mouth of the Choptank River. A lighthouse built here in the 1880s is now surrounded by more than 10 feet of water. And that’s not nearly the only one: pick up a copy of The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake to learn about the dozens of islands that have vanished beneath the Bay’s waters.
Experts say that Smith and Tangier islands – both still inhabited – may be next. Sea level in the Bay is rising faster than the world average due to a warming climate and natural sinking of the land. In Maryland alone, 260 acres of tidal shoreline erode into the Bay each year, drowning these vulnerable islands under more water and burying any historic artifacts (or graves!) that may remain.
"This is a thin place, where the veil between this world and the next is transparent." - Mindie Buroyne, author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake
1665. That is the year the Old White Marsh Episcopal Church in Talbot County, Maryland first opened. In the 1720s, the church’s Reverend Daniel Maynadier’s wife, Hanna, died. Upon her request, she was buried with her favorite ring on her finger. But the graverobbers, or “ringrobbers,” were ready. When they couldn’t get the ring off her finger, they began to slice away…
And Hanna arose.
The Reverend’s wife was not dead, but in a coma She gathered her shroud around her and walked home to greet her grieving husband.
Hanna went on to have several children, but the bloodmarks on her hand would never wash away. Rumor has it that she can still be seen walking home from the cemetery, her shroud around her and her hand leaving a trail of blood.
For more Eastern Shore hauntings, visit some of these scary places listed in Haunted Eastern Shore.
Now it's your turn to scare us! Do you know of a creepy, spooky Chesapeake story or place we didn't include here? Share it in the comments!
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!