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!
Beverly-Triton Beach Park in Edgewater, Maryland, is blanketed by snow on February 17, 2015. The park used to be a private beach open only to whites and gentiles until a civil rights lawsuit was filed in the 1960s. Now the park is managed by Anne Arundel County and is open to the public seven days a week, but its history calls to mind the fact that, for so long, ethnic and religious minorities were excluded from many outdoor spaces.
That history of exclusion has led in part to a perception that people of color aren’t welcome in nature. The most recent survey of visitors to national parks found that minorities made up just over 20 percent, even though they make up almost 40 percent of the population.
The National Park Service, seeing the disconnect between the demographics of its visitors and that of the country, is working to increase the number of minorities who visit national parks. At the same time, minority-led groups like Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro are working to increase engagement in outdoor activities by people of color, and create new leaders in conservation education.
One way states are encouraging everyone to visit park lands is through First Day Hikes. Now in its sixth year, this national initiative encourages outdoor exploration and recreation in the New Year. On January 1st, all 50 states will offer guided hikes with park rangers, naturalists and volunteers who can share knowledge about a park’s natural and cultural history. Along with hiking, activities include biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, strolling and more. These activities are a great opportunity for everyone to get outside in the New Year, from those who have never hiked before to those who are just looking for a good excuse to get outside.
Find a First Day Hike in your area.
Image by Will Parson
Joe Wright of Stafford, Virginia, fishes off the end of the Port Royal Landing in Caroline County, Virginia. Port Royal’s new 200-foot pier—just opened in 2015—features a soft launch for paddlers and was funded by grants from the National Park Service, Friends of the Rappahannock, the Chesapeake Conservancy and other organizations.
Nestled along the Rappahannock River, the small historic town of Port Royal 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. The refuge—one of the first of its kind—is actually a collection of 17 unconnected tracts of land. From the northernmost Port Royal Unit to the Laurel Grove tract nearly 40 miles downstream, the refuge makes up 8,720 acres of protected land. The goal is to one day protect 20,000 acres along the river and its tributaries.
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.
Image by Will Parson
On a June morning at Baltimore’s Middle Branch Park, a few steps from the Patapsco River, Molly Gallant addresses a group of eighth graders like a drill sergeant in a life vest.
“Hands up if this is your first time in a kayak, ever,” said Gallant, the high sun irradiating her tanned, freckled shoulders and red hair. Gallant, an Outdoor Recreation Programmer with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, counted aloud six raised hands.
“For those of you that have not been out before, the secret to kayaking is pressing your knees to the sides, okay?” Gallant said. “And you let your hips rock with the water and your upper body stay straight.”
The few dozen students had come that morning from Collington Square Elementary School, located roughly two miles northeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, for a program called Kids in Kayaks. In its first year, roughly 500 Baltimore students have taken part in the program, funded by the National Park Service and the Baltimore National Heritage Area. It has given many children their first experience on the water that has defined their hometown.
The program began with in-classroom orientation by staff from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office.
“We went out to the schools beforehand to talk to students about what was going to happen,” said Kate Marks of the National Park Service. Marks said the overview also included discussion of “the history of the region and human impact on the landscape over the past 400 years.”
Participating schools then made two trips—in fall and spring—to the 150-acre park for entry-level kayak lessons taught by Gallant and other Recreation and Parks staff as well as on-land activities hosted by various partners including the National Park Service, the Maryland Zoo, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
“Every organization has their own mission, their own reason why they’re doing this,” Gallant said. “I think the common interest for all of us is that it’s really, really important to start engaging urban populations in the natural resources that are available to them.”
During the primer on water safety and paddling, expressions on the students’ faces ranged from giggles to frightened anticipation. A boy asked if there were any animals in the water.
“There is nothing the water that is going to eat you,” Gallant said, sensing the boy’s concern.
Gallant first talked with the National Park Service about the idea for Kids in Kayaks as an outdoor recreation program in order to get Baltimore children engaged in the historical, cultural, and ecological heritage of their hometown.
She said the environmental aspect is the first one the children pick up on.
“It’s this secret way of developing stewardship where you cannot go out on the water and have a good time and not start forming those connections,” Gallant said. “It makes you think twice about throwing litter on the ground.”
“You get to look out there and see this big massive green area that is Ft. McHenry—you get to see the flag flying out there,” Gallant said. “You get to see why this is important to Baltimore, why Baltimore was developed as a port town, why we are where we are.”
That day, as half of the children took to the water, the other half followed Peter Martin, a Naturalist at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, for a guided nature walk to learn about some of the animals and insects living at Middle Branch Park.
“We’ll see those same things out on the water,” Gallant said. “So it’s really very complementary.”
The trips are intended to be entry-level kayaking lessons, but Gallant has also seen a lot of personal growth in the children—something that was never written into the program.
“One of the young ladies that had come to us this spring was extremely fearful,” Gallant said. “It took us about 20 minutes to even get her in the boat. Tears. Anxiety. She just did not think that she could do it. So by the end of the trip, not only was she able to do it, she was actually towards the front of the pack. So that second trip for her—no hesitation.”
The newcomers from Collington Square struck a similar chord of confidence on the water.
“It happens in different variations on a lot of different levels with a lot of different kids,” Gallant said.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Video, photos and text by Will Parson
Nahshon Forde, an operations assistant with the Anacostia Watershed Society, steers his kayak to shore after helping with a free paddle night organized by the AWS in Washington, D.C. "By doing paddle nights and things like that we’re helping people develop a relationship with the river, and that’s kind of a conveyor belt to a lot of our other ways to be involved with AWS," said Lee Cain, former Director of Recreation at AWS.
Historically overrun with pollution, the Anacostia is still plagued by litter, toxics and stormwater runoff. But the river is also home to a wealth of wildlife: deer silently approaching the water’s edge, egrets congregating in the shallows and bald eagles defending their nests.
In June 2014, the Anacostia Water Trail officially opened. This nine-mile water trail runs from Bladensburg, Maryland, through Washington, D.C., to where the Anacostia meets the Potomac River, passing by natural areas and recreation sites like Kenilworth Park, the National Arboretum, Kingman Island and Yards Park.
Image by Will Parson
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.
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
In 2015, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 22 boat ramps, fishing piers and other sites that grant public access to creeks, streams and rivers in the region. Virginia opened 10 sites along eight waterways; Pennsylvania opened six sites along the Susquehanna River; Maryland opened five sites along three waterways; and the District of Columbia opened one site along the Anacostia River. There are now 1,247 public access sites in the watershed for boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities.
The varied ownership of the region’s public access sites demonstrates the importance of establishing strong partnerships and public access initiatives at all levels of government and with nongovernmental organizations: nine of the new sites are owned by local governments, nine are owned by state governments, two are owned by the federal government and two are owned by nongovernmental organizations.
“As the state with the most public water access points in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Maryland will continue to seek out innovative partnerships to create, enhance and improve water access so more of our citizens can enjoy the beauty and bounty of the Bay,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton in a media release. “Expanding public access, either through creating new access points or improving existing sites, is a worthwhile goal for Bay restoration, our citizens and the state.”
Increasing public access to open space and waterways creates a shared sense of responsibility to protect these important natural environments. Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, our partners have committed to increasing public access as part of a larger effort to engage communities in our conservation work. The number of public access sites in the watershed is on track to reach 1,439 by 2025. Since tracking began in 2010, our partners have opened 108 sites, meeting 36 percent of our goal to open 300 sites over the next decade.
In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the National Park Service—a Chesapeake Bay Program partner—encourages people to visit parks of all kinds to connect with history and culture and enjoy the natural world.
Unique among the exciting goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is the commitment to establish 300 new public access sites in the region by 2025—the only goal specifically aimed at physically connecting people with the Bay and its tributaries. This goal is important for two reasons.
First, people care for the places they love and enjoy. As they interact with the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, they develop an appreciation for this wonderful natural resource. This leads them to become stewards and caretakers who have a vested interest in the decisions affecting local waters.
Second, there is an increasingly high demand for additional public access to the waters of the Bay and its rivers. The six watershed states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia all noted a high need for additional public access in their State-wide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans, public access plans and boating infrastructure plans. Throughout the region, water-based activities—including fishing, boating, swimming and beach use—rank among the top twelve recreational activities. Wildlife observation and views from the water’s edge are also highly desirable.
The demand for water access is also affected by the region’s growing population—now nearly 18 million—and the increasing popularity of relatively new forms of water recreation, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, kite boarding and sail boarding. Unlike larger power craft, these paddle craft are relatively inexpensive, can be easily stored and transported by one person, and may not require much more than a good path to the water’s edge to launch. When you combine these with the more traditional activities of boating, fishing, sunbathing, swimming and enjoying views from the water’s edge, it is not surprising that regional residents and visitors increasingly seek opportunities to connect with the waters of the region.
To help track and implement the goal of 300 new public access sites, sites are lumped into four major categories: boating access, which includes access for all types of water craft; fishing access, which includes fishing piers or bank fishing locations; swimming access, which includes areas specifically designated for swimming; and view access, which includes sites developed at the water’s edge to provide views out over the water or of natural areas and waterfowl. In addition to sites that transition from the land to the water, there is also a need to provide access from the water to the land. This includes points of interest along water trails, campsites, restroom facilities and places where people can explore interesting environments or just stop to picnic.
Meeting this demand and reaching the 300 site goal requires collaboration among multiple partners. While the National Park Service has been assigned the lead role in coordinating the effort, partnerships between local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations have been essential in developing new access. One major project recently completed on the James River in Virginia involved a partnership between the local government, Dominion Power, the Chesapeake Conservancy and a state agency. On the Susquehanna River, a boat dock, wildlife viewing platform and fishing access were established at the Zimmerman Center for Heritage with support from Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, with additional funding from the National Park Service and local donors. National Park Service funding for public access projects serving local communities comes through the congressionally authorized Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. This partnership approach has been a continuing pattern throughout the watershed, and it will take this approach to continue to enhance public access opportunities.
State, federal and local governments are generally the guardians of these opportunities, providing public sites where everyone can enjoy the natural and cultural bounty of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—relaxing, learning and reflecting in direct interaction with the region’s treasured waters. Some sites provide direct access to the Bay and its rivers for boating, sunbathing and swimming. Others provide spots where visitors without watercraft can fish, observe wildlife, walk trails and camp along the water’s edge. The Watershed Agreement’s public access goal reaffirms both the need for and benefits of providing citizens access to these resources.
Written by John Davy, National Park Service - Chesapeake Bay Office. John Davy is chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program's Public Access Planning Team.
Last year, our partners opened 17 boat ramps, fishing piers and other sites that grant public access to rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia opened 14 sites, while Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York each opened one. There are now 1,225 public places that allow people across the watershed to walk, play, swim, fish and launch their paddleboats, sailboats and powerboats into the water.
Partnerships between local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations have been essential in developing these sites: a soft launch for paddlecraft opened on the Chickahominy River with support from the James River Association. Walking trails, wildlife viewing platforms and interpretive signs were built on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land along Mount Landing Creek with support from the Virginia State Park Youth Conservation Corps. And a boat dock, wildlife viewing platform and public pavilion, as well as fishing access, were established at the Zimmerman Center for Heritage on the Susquehanna River with support from Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Department of Transportation, as well as the National Park Service and local donors.
As development continues across the watershed, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high. State, federal and local governments are often the guardians of these places, providing opportunities for everyone to enjoy the region’s natural and cultural bounty. Because physical access to the Bay and its tributaries remains limited—with real consequences for quality of life, the economy and long-term conservation—our partners set a goal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to bring the total number of access sites in the watershed to 1,439 by 2025. And because public access to open space and waterways can create citizen stewards who care for local resources and engage in conservation, we track public access as an indicator of our progress toward fostering environmental stewardship.
“As an avid kayaker, I know the importance of having access to rivers, creeks and streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “As we come to know the resource through access to it, we will understand its value. Once we know its value, we will be more inclined to take actions to protect it. Public access is critical to restoring this vital ecosystem.”
In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate 100 years of sharing America’s special places and helping people make meaningful connections to nature, history and culture. In honor of this centennial birthday, NPS is partnering with the National Park Foundation to launch a public awareness campaign called Find Your Park.
Through the Find Your Park initiative, the National Park Service is inviting everyone—and especially new audiences—to discover the special places that belong to us all. More than ever, it’s important that the national parks engage not only those who already know and love the parks, but also the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates who will ensure the preservation and critical relevancy of our nation’s majestic landscapes, rich history and vibrant culture for the next 100 years.
Find Your Park invites the public to see that a park can be more than just a place. It can be a feeling of inspiration; it can be a sense of community. Beyond vast landscapes, the campaign highlights historical, urban, and cultural parks, as well as National Park Service programs that protect, preserve and share nature, culture, and history in communities nationwide.
Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, there are close to 100 national park places and hundreds more community parks and state parks, public access sites, wildlife refuges, water trails, hiking and biking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and celebrations of cultural heritage. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail connects many special places where people can have new experiences, make meaningful connections to nature and be inspired.
On National Trails Day, June 6th, the NPS Chesapeake staff and partners will be helping young people have on-the-water experiences with kayak trips around the Chesapeake. You can participate with a John Smith Trail experience at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, or one of many other inspiring places, and paddle through settings that look much as they did 400 years ago.
To find Chesapeake experiences and parks near you, use “Chesapeake Explorer”—the official NPS mobile app—or check the Find Your Chesapeake website.
Written by Charles "Chuck" Hunt – Superintendent, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
Nearly 18 million people reside in the Chesapeake Bay region, with more moving to the area each year. Growing disputes over land use have conservationists working hard to protect the robust natural resources that can be found within the Bay region. A significant part of these efforts include developing and improving public access points as means for people to experience, explore and develop connections to the land, water and wildlife.
Nestled in between Accokeek Creek and Potomac Creek, Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia serves as one of the state’s highest land conservation priorities in the past 10 years. “This is a priority site because it’s such a large intact ecosystem. You have thousands of acres of mature hardwood forest on the coastal plain in Virginia,” explained Michael Lott, Crow’s Nest Manager and Northern Region Steward for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
In addition to around 2,200 acres of mature hardwood forest, the site boasts 750 acres of nearly pristine wetlands and more than 10 miles of hiking trails, and it acts as a safe haven for wildlife and countless viewing opportunities for critters such as migratory waterfowl, white-tailed deer, river otters and beavers.
The preserve and those who manage it have faced many obstacles over the past few decades, including population growth and development encroaching on the area. “In the 1970’s, there were around 30,000 people in Stafford County; a few of the subdivisions were vacation homes for people in D.C. Now, the population is about 130,000. This is the best remaining tidal marsh in Stafford County, so our priority here is conservation,” said Geoff Austin, Northern Region Operations Steward with DCR.
Despite the vastness of the preserve and the great potential it holds for environmental education and recreational opportunities, the property is largely closed to the public until further operational resources can be effectively implemented.
The dynamic duo of Lott and Austin dedicate 90 percent of their working hours toward maintaining the preserve and trying to make it accessible to the public, but one major hurdle stands in their way – a mile-and-a-half long access road. “The big obstacle is the access road to the [completed] parking lot. We need to raise the money to fix that road. That road has been there since the colonial era, it’s been dug down and needs a lot of work before it’s passable for cars,” explained Austin. The team – with help from volunteers - keeps the trails clear, maintains the parking lot and plans to install proper trail signage once the road is completed.
Lott and Austin measure their success one victory - no matter the size - at a time, their latest being the installation of a handicap-accessible boat ramp to be opened to the public within the next couple of months. The ramp overlooks acres of tidal marsh, provides access to Accokeek Creek and lays adjacent to a half-mile trail complete with benches for wildlife observers. “It’s a great birding spot,” said Austin. The launch is part of a larger plan to connect a water trail system along the Potomac River.
DCR wants the public to be able to experience the preserve’s natural wonder. “In the past, this landscape did not lend itself to farming very well, and so a lot of the soil we have out here is still very much intact. Researchers have said that throughout the mid-Atlantic and East Coast, you can’t find soil like this in very many places anymore, which is why the forest out here is so productive," explained Lott. “A lot of the forest, particularly in the ravines, hasn’t been logged intensively since the Civil War, so it’s trending back toward mature forest. [For this reason] we keep the trails clear and have been holding open houses twice a year for five years now, so people have had the opportunity to see it and enjoy the trails.”
Tending to nearly 3,000 acres of forest and wetlands is no simple task for two people, but the work is done out of a place of deep caring and passion for protecting and sharing the special places in life with the public. “I grew up in this area and it’s nice to have an intact piece of hardwood [forest] that is going to be preserved in the area for years to come. It’s great to be able to walk out there when I’m working or hunting and see the big trees; you don’t see that in many other places in this area. As stewards of the land year-round you spend a lot of time here – it means a lot to be able to take care of this place.” said Austin.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
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.
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.
Last year, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 36 new public access sites along rivers and streams in the watershed, bringing the total number of access sites in the region to 1,208. In fact, more public access sites were opened in 2013 than in previously tracked years, as states work to meet the public’s high demand for ways to get on the water.
State, federal and local governments are often the guardians of public access sites, providing opportunities for people to swim, fish and launch their boats into the Bay. But because physical access to the Bay and its tributaries remains limited—with real consequences for quality of life, the economy and long-term conservation—Bay Program partners set a goal in 2010 to add 300 new public access sites to the watershed by 2025. As of 2013, partners have added 69 sites, meeting 23 percent of this goal.
From floating canoe launches to bank fishing opportunities, increasing public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards who are engaged in conservation efforts.
“Having public access to enjoy and learn about the value of nature is important,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “I believe that you value what you know, and you are motivated to protect what you value. Whether it’s a relaxing trip along a shoreline or a paddle on a pond or stream, when more people get to know and value the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, more people will be driven to protect it.”
It is 1862 and the nation is in the midst of the Civil War. You are standing at the southernmost tip of the western shore of Maryland. To your left, the rising sun dances over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. To your right, a ship chugs up the Potomac River, making its way to Washington, D.C. The wind whips and there is a nip in the air; winter is coming and all you have to keep warm is one wool blanket and a small tent.
For many Civil War soldiers at what is now Point Lookout State Park, this scene was a reality. Once a popular summer resort, this tract of land became home to a hospital and prison camp in the 1860s. One hundred years later, the site became a state park. Today, it is a place where history and the environment meet.
Although the park’s picturesque surroundings make it an ideal spot for visitors, it faces a number of environmental challenges. During strong storms, the site can experience coastal flooding. At times, rising tides create a temporary island, cutting off the point from the rest of the park. To protect the land from the rising seas of climate change and to combat erosion, staff have placed riprap barriers along much of the park’s shoreline.
“It has been very interesting to see how the weather affects the park throughout the year,” said Melissa Boyle, assistant park manager at Point Lookout. “When it’s stormy or during a hurricane, I can see how rough the water is and I think about what kind of place this could have been one or 200 years ago, when we didn’t have all of the luxuries that we have today.”
But the park’s history began before the Civil War, with the construction of the Point Lookout Lighthouse.
Built in the 1830’s, the Point Lookout Lighthouse was a much-needed navigational beacon to ships travelling up the Potomac River and the Bay. While advances in technology mean the lighthouse is no longer in use, the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society continues to care for the structure. Once a month, the volunteer group even opens the building for guided tours to show visitors what it might have been like to be the lighthouse keeper that lived here.
Some visitors have reportedly experienced paranormal activity in the lighthouse and around the park. Although park staff cannot confirm these allegations, these experiences could be linked to the old age of the lighthouse and the rich war-related history of the park. Because of its haunted reputation, the site sees an increase in break-ins and vandalism around Halloween, forcing park police to step up their patrol.
After the Civil War began, Hammond Hospital was built at Point Lookout. At the time, the hospital was considered to be a state of the art facility: its wagon wheel shape kept different wards separate and created an advanced ventilation system to suppress fire.
In addition to the hospital, three forts were built. But, due to sea level rise and erosion, only one—a reconstructed Fort Lincoln—remains.
Point Lookout was also home to a Civil War prison camp that held Confederate soldiers. The camp was designed to hold 10,000 people, but it regularly held 20,000; over its lifetime, it held 52,000 prisoners. The prisoners would often eat off of the land and were known to scavenge for blue crabs, oysters and rats. At the end of the war, the prison was largely deconstructed. Most of its materials were recycled, but some remain underwater near the park’s fishing pier.
Aside from a handful of park staff and public citizens, the people who once lived at Point Lookout have been replaced with wildlife. Pelicans, eagles and osprey abound, and the park is even home to a great blue heron rookery. Point Lookout is also a popular resting spot for migratory birds and monarch butterflies.
Today, recreation is the primary use of the park. Point Lookout offers more than 100 campsites, a life-guarded beach, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing sites and more than 1,000 acres for visitors to explore. “People should visit Point Lookout State Park because it is where history and the environment meet,” Boyle said. “There is a lot to learn from the park, and fall is a good time to visit. It is a period of transition. Come learn about the Civil War history while taking in the marvelous views and imagining what it would be like to be a soldier that was issued only one wool blanket to sleep under through the winter.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Images by Steve Droter. Captions by Jenna Valente.
For many people, the summer months are an ideal time to get outdoors and connect with nature. The 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed offers a wide range of recreational opportunities, but with the responsibilities of everyday life, some find it hard to set aside time to enjoy them. If getting outdoors is not an option, don’t fret! Here are eight ways to access the Bay from the comfort of your home or office.
Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1. NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) and Chesapeake Smart Buoy Application. The Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) is a network of observation buoys managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The buoys mark various locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, capturing real-time environmental and weather data such as temperature, wind speed and wave height. This information is available online and on the new “Smart Buoy” application for the iPhone and Android. It is also accessible over the phone: calling the toll-free “dial-a-buoy” number turns each buoy into a floating classroom, as a narrator offers up parcels of information about Captain John Smith’s adventures through the Bay.
We recommend: The data snapshot page for the most up to date data on all of the buoys.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Conservancy
2. Chesapeake Conservancy's Osprey Camera. Ospreys are one of the Bay’s most resilient creatures. After bouncing back from a nearly 90 percent population decline between 1950 and 1970, their growing numbers are now watched as an indicator of Chesapeake Bay health. They mate for life and always return to the same location come nesting season. This nesting habit inspired the Chesapeake Conservancy to place a camera in the nest of their “resident” ospreys, named Tom and Audrey, and stream a live feed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who is interested in getting a bird’s eye view of nature’s ultimate “reality show.
We recommend: The Osprey Camera Blog for all things Tom and Audrey. It's an informative and highly entertaining read!
3. Chesapeake Bay Program Website: The Chesapeake Bay Program website highlights the work of the Bay Program and its partners. News and feature stories shed light on our restoration efforts, while data tracks years of restoration work. The website also offers resources that are perfect for students and teachers, from a series of pages that offer an in-depth look at the issues restoration partners must face to a collection of photos and maps.
We recommend: Using our Field Guide to learn about the hundreds of critters that call the Bay watershed home!
4. From your phone! Chesapeake Explorer and National Wildlife Refuge Applications: In this age of innovation, technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we view the world. The widespread popularity of smart phones and tablets has inspired the National Park Service (NPS) and a small New York start-up called Network Organisms to create applications that allow people to explore the Bay from the palm of their hand. The National Wildlife Refuges: Chesapeake Bay application for iPhones encourages users to explore the 11 National Wildlife Refuges around the Bay, sharing wildlife sightings and connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts. Chesapeake Explorer is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices. It helps people find places around the watershed based on specific activities, trail names or types of sites. Both applications are free, so get your phone out and start exploring!
We recommend: Experiencing the region's beauty by planning a trip to one of the National Trails featured on Chesapeake Explorer.
Image courtesy National Geographic
5. National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope: National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope is a tool that promotes the exploration, sharing and analysis of the Bay. Users are presented with real-world data sets about rivers and streams, wetlands, elevation, water depth and more. The information on this site is collected from students and scientists that work directly with the Bay. The site also features a map layering tool, a set of student observations and real time data comparisons.
We recommend: Using Query Point to get instant information about any given point on a map.
6. Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network: The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network was created in 2000 by the National Park Service (NPS) as a resource to connect people to authentic Bay experiences, sights and places. Today, more than 160 parks, wildlife refuges, museums, sailing ships, historic communities, trails and more are part of the Gateways Network. The network allows visitors to search for sites, watch slideshows, make plans to visit and learn about the Bay.
We recommend: Listening to the Sounds of the Bay. These audio excerpts from Window on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People, and Places take listeners on a journey through the Bay.
7. Maryland Healthy Beaches: Plan on heading to a Maryland beach this summer? Be sure to check the Maryland Healthy Beaches' Beach Notification System before you go. This application is updated with the most current beach advisories, closures, and bacteria levels. The notification system also provides rainfall accumulation data for every beach location.
We recommend: Visiting the Healthy Beach Habitats page for helpful tips about how to enjoy the beach the healthy way.
8. National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now. Are you a history buff? National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now puts the Bay’s past and its present at a user’s fingertips. National Geographic launched the website alongside the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, with the intention that it would be used to compare the world that John Smith lived in to the present day. The site includes lesson plans for educators, links to stories about the Bay, travel guides, field trip suggestions and more.
We recommend: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay as if it were the 1600’s with the site's interactive mapping tool.
As summer heats up and people head outdoors, many will turn to public access sites to meet their recreational needs. Boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails can put people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay. For watershed residents and visitors to the Bay's northwestern shore, Sandy Point State Park has been a treasured public access site for generations.
The multi-use park offers year round recreational opportunities. There are piers and jetties for fishing, beaches for swimming and lounging, four miles of forested trails for hiking, 22 ramps for launching motor boats and paddlecraft, and six finger piers that participate in Maryland’s Clean Marina Initiative. The park is also home to picnicking areas and a store that sells picnic supplies, a concession stand, a handful of basketball courts and youth group camping grounds.
David Powell of Glen Bernie, Md., frequents Sandy Point with his family in order to fish and soak up some sun on the beach—things that he believes can build character, strengthen family bonds and create lasting memories.
“It’s all about the next generation,” Powell said. “You have got to teach the next generation all of the things that we grew up with and this is the way to do it. This is heaven right now. For someone who works 70 hours a week, this is great for morale. I don’t own waterfront property, so having access to the Bay is so important.”
Father and son duo Moses and Darius Gilliam of Catonsville, Md., visit the park four or five times each summer. On this particular day, the Gilliams were accompanied by family members from France who were eager to spend some time on the Bay during their visit.
Fishing is the Gilliams’ favorite activity at Sandy Point, but Darius also enjoys the time and space that it gives him to play with his brother and sister. Moses explains: “I’ve lived around the Bay since 1986. To me, Sandy Point State Park provides a safe atmosphere. I feel relaxed here, like nothing [bad] is going to happen. This is a good thing for the family. It’s a good environment. It takes the stress away just to relax and soak up the sun.”
James and Vanessa Jones of Pikesville, Md., are also self-proclaimed “fish-aholics.” The husband and wife try to visit Sandy Point at least once a week, donating whatever they catch to families and friends that do not have the opportunity fish on the Bay.
“It’s important to have places like this,” Vanessa Jones said. “[This park offers] so many things that we would have never taken advantage of [otherwise], like the seafood festival and the lights at Christmas and you see deer all the time down here. It’s just a beautiful setting. ”
Luis Diaz of El Salvador and Maria Shemiakina of Russia fish right off of the rock jetties almost every weekend. “I mean look,” Luis said. “We’ve got our fishing rods, we’ve got our watermelon and we are going to stay here on the Bay for maybe three hours or longer. We do this almost every other day! Where else can you go in Maryland if you like sport fishing and hanging out by the water? This is the best.”
As development continues across the watershed, demand for public access remains high. With help from the National Park Service (NPS) and the Public Access Planning Action Team, the Chesapeake Bay Program tracks public access as a measure of Bay restoration. These sites can bolster public health. They can improve our quality of life. And—perhaps most importantly—they can inspire their visitors to become a part of Bay conservation.
View more photos on the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Captions by Jenna Valente
Last year, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 18 new public access sites across the watershed, putting residents and visitors in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the nation’s largest estuary.
Image courtesy John Flinchbaugh/Flickr
New boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York bring the total public access sites in the watershed to 1,171. Built along the Bay’s tributaries, these locations allow people to walk, play, swim, fish and launch their paddleboats, sailboats and powerboats into the water.
Public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards engaged in conservation efforts. As development continues across the watershed, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high.
“Citizens demand additional access to waterfront experiences,” said Jonathan Doherty, acting superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake Bay Office, in a media release. “They want more places close to home where they can walk, play in the water, fish, paddle and launch a boat. And residents and our partners are excited about increasing the number of those places, because it increases our quality of life.”
Work to improve and establish public access sites is coordinated by NPS and the Bay Program’s Public Access Planning Action Team. Earlier this year, this team released a plan designed to assess barriers to access sites, identify opportunities for new access sites and to make funding for public access a priority. The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which in 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites in the watershed by 2025.
I enjoy kayaking—a lot. In fact, I like kayaking more than any other outdoor activity. And a recent weekend spent entirely on the water—first on the South River, and later on a tributary to the Nanticoke—felt like heaven.
The weekend started with the South River Days Kayak, Wade-In and Picnic. More than 60 people participated in the celebration of the South River, connecting with the waterway on kayaks, a canoe and a stand-up paddleboard. The colorful regatta and community spirit reminded us that we must continue our work to ensure we have clean water for fishing, swimming and public health and well-being.
Then, I joined a host of Chesapeake Bay professionals—from Nikki Tinsley, former chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, to Al Todd and Lou Etgen from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—on Chicone Creek, which flows into the Nanticoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tom Horton was also on board. The former Baltimore Sun reporter and current Salisbury University professor is an encyclopedia of facts and stories about the Bay. He spoke about the area’s history, its early settlements, its local characters, its plant and animal life and the current state of its environment.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in Vienna, Md., and enjoyed the hospitality of Mayor Russ Brinsfield, who let us use his front lawn and shade tree. In addition to being Vienna’s mayor, Russ is also a farmer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center and a member of the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. Russ has a long and deep history with the Bay.
Later that afternoon, we watched a large barge being pushed downriver by a tug and were reminded that the Nanticoke is a working river. Our waters can serve a variety of purposes—but can do so only as long as we protect them.
A new plan from the National Park Service (NPS) intends to put more people in touch with rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
Released in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which in 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites across the watershed, the plan calls on state and local partners to make funding for Bay access a priority and to better address the high demand for opportunities to connect with the outdoors.
While there are 1,150 documented public access sites in the watershed—or the parks, campsites and land and water trails that allow people to interact with the rivers, woods and open lands of the region—increasing urbanization has made improving access to the natural world a priority.
Indeed, public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards that are better engaged in conservation efforts. But across the watershed, significant stretches of shoreline along rivers and the Bay feature little or no access sites, and the public continues to clamor for more places that will allow them to launch boats and paddlecraft.
“Citizens want more places along the water where they can walk, play, swim, fish and launch their canoes and kayaks, sailboats and powerboats,” said John Maounis, superintendent of the NPS Chesapeake Bay office. “It is important to our quality of life.”
Read more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan.
The National Park Service (NPS) has launched a new mobile app to help users find and visit the countless attractions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from parks, trails and camp grounds to museums and historic sites.
Image courtesy alliecat1881/Flickr
Called Chesapeake Explorer, the app is a digital guide to sight-seeing in all six Bay states and the District of Columbia. Meant to connect users to the region’s beauty, history and heritage, the ever-expanding app places up-to-date visitor information—think hours, locations and fees—in the palm of your hand.
The app can use geo-location to map nearby parks and trails. It can tag favorites and take, store and send photos. And it can group together similar sites and build thematic tours so users can visit the places that interest them most, whether it is a scenic lighthouse, a series of sites linked to Bay boatbuilding or a brand new place to hike, bike or launch a canoe.
The app is now available for the iPhone and will soon be available for Android devices.
Learn more about Chesapeake Explorer.
Charity walks, charity marathons—and charity paddles? From a nine-day paddle that spotlights the Potomac River to an 11-stop float plan from northeast Maryland to southeast Virginia, more organizations are getting out on the water to fundraise for the Chesapeake Bay.
In one effort to garner grassroots support, the District of Columbia-based Potomac Riverkeeper sent two paddlers down a stretch of the Potomac and documented the nine-day, 150-mile trip online. Joe Hage and Whit Overstreet—one the caretaker of the Sycamore Island Canoe Club, the other a member of the Potomac Riverkeeper staff—used Twitter, Facebook and regular blog posts to publicize their paddle and solicit mile-by-mile donations, raising more than $3,000 for a project that will create a Potomac River water trail designed for people in self-powered crafts.
Image courtesy Potomac Riverkeeper
Hage and Overstreet made their trip along Virginia's shore in red and orange sea kayaks, which held their camping gear, provisions and a couple of good luck charms: for Joe, a stuffed dog, and for Whit, a rubber duck, both found in piles of onshore trash. The trip, started each morning before sunrise, solidified the two paddlers' connection with the Potomac. But, as Overstreet said, it also opened a window for others to experience the river "from the comfort of their PCs."
Image courtesy Potomac Riverkeeper
As Hage and Overstreet paddled down the Potomac, travelers-in-spirit stuck at their desks could also check in with a third paddler: Lou Etgen, making an 11-day charity paddle down the entire length of the Bay. And just as the Internet helped Hage and Overstreet share their stories—a Tweet about the waves and water, a Facebook post signaling their arrival at a campsite—the Internet allowed Etgen to show his friends, colleagues and even complete strangers the sights and sounds of the watershed.
Image courtesy Lou Etgen
The Associate Director of Programs with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay made the sojourn from Havre de Grace, Md., to Cedar View, Va., for a number of reasons: to celebrate his 50th birthday, to reconnect with the water and to fundraise, first for the Alliance and second for Autism Speaks. Joined by a gear boat and an ever-changing group of fellow paddlers, each day Etgen spent on the water was a memorable one, whether he was marveling at underwater grasses on the Susquehanna flats or paddling alongside blue crabs and bald eagles. Throughout the trip, Etgen remained impressed with the water's health, while his readers remained engrossed in his writing.
"I spoke with many folks on my return who told me of waking up and going to their computer to check in on the blog from the night before," Etgen wrote in an online epilogue. "The blog comments from friends and folks I did not know were tremendous and helped to spur us on."
For Etgen, this show-and-tell turned out to be an integral part—even his favorite part—of the trip.
"This wasn't my trip," Etgen said. "This was our trip. It became so much bigger than my journey."
Image courtesy Lou Etgen
Overstreet and Hage also garnered online support, amassing countless "likes" and comments on the hundreds of photos taken with a smart phone and posted to their Facebook page from the water.
"We were able to show people that this is a feasible trip, rather than a challenging odyssey," Overstreet said. "People really seemed to enjoy it."
To read more, visit the Potomac Riverkeeper and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay websites. To get out of cyberspace and into the water, find a public access site near you. Or, join the Waterkeeper Alliance on September 15 for the Rally for Clean Water, where a morning paddle on the Potomac will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
The National Park Service (NPS) has given a financial boost to two dozen projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, putting $1.3 million toward education, employment and environmental access.
Image courtesy Accokeek Foundation/Flickr
The funding allowed 30 Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., teachers to spend one week learning about the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake region. It allowed high-school students in Baltimore to work for six weeks to remove invasive species, plant trees and improve parks along the Patapsco River. And it improved public access to rivers, streams and wetlands from the Chemung River in Elmira, New York, to the Potomac River in Accokeek, Maryland.
The 24 projects that span four Bay states and the District of Columbia will bolster three NPS trails: the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which connects more than 160 parks, museums, trails and more; the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail; and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The routes that form these latter trails offer teachers, students and families on-the-ground opportunities to experience the region’s land, water and history.
"Each of these projects has a positive impact in local communities,” said NPS Superintendent John Maounis. “Whether teaching the history of these places, introducing young people to possible career paths or providing a new place to get to the water, these are investments in quality of life.”
By funding trail development, NPS is advancing public access goals set forth in the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which calls for the addition of 300 new public access sites where people might boat, swim, fish, observe wildlife, walk trails and strengthen their connection with the outdoors.
For a full list of grant recipients, visit the Chesapeake Bay Gateways website.
Update (August 21, 2012): The public review and comment period for the draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan has been extended until September 14, 2012. Comments can be submitted via email or an online mapping tool.
The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams remain just out of reach for many watershed residents. Physical barriers and unsafe conditions, a lack of awareness as to what might be nearby or an absence of available access sites can pose problems for those who want to explore the Bay and its tributaries.
A new draft plan published this week by the National Park Service (NPS) strives to improve public access to local and regional waters, forests, and open lands.
The draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan, developed by a team of NPS staff and public access planning professionals from across the Bay Program partnership, acts as a roadmap that offers new avenues for the public to connect with the Bay.
As public access to the Bay expands, residents and visitors will find more opportunities to boat and swim; to fish, observe wildlife, and walk trails; and to reconnect with the watershed. Building personal connections with the places that have shaped life in the Bay region can benefit public health, regional tourism economies and watershed conservation and stewardship efforts.
A product of the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which in May 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites in the region by 2025, the draft plan identifies current and potential access sites and outlines the planning and policy considerations that must be taken into account before new sites are created. The plan will serve as a guide to federal, state, and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations, in prioritizing and allocating funding for the development of access sites throughout the watershed.
Currently, there are just over 1,100 existing public access sites within the Bay watershed. While this number has steadily increased over the past decade, it remains low for a watershed that spans 64,000 square miles. Often, these sites are miles apart--and less than half of existing access sites provide visitors with the facilities needed to put boats, canoes, or kayaks into the water.
Public demand for improved access to the Bay greatly informed the formation of the draft plan, generating in the last year more than 400 suggestions for specific public access points. Hoping to continue its collaboration with the public, the NPS encourages citizens to submit comments on this draft plan via email or its online mapping tool by August 24.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question is one people ask at least every few weeks, especially in the summertime when they're itching to get out on the Bay: “Where are public access points to the Chesapeake Bay?”
We have a map on our website that allows you to select your region to see all available public access points. If you click on a point on the map, it will give you information such as the name, location and amenities available at that spot, such as boat ramps, parking, fishing, swimming, trails and restrooms. You can also request a printed copy of this map to be mailed to you.
As of the 2009 Bay Barometer, the Bay Program had reached 98 percent of its goal of for public access. There are currently 761 public access sites, 166 Chesapeake Bay Gateways and more than 2,000 miles of water trails in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Be sure to check out the public access points and Gateways locations near your home or vacation spots this summer for your chance to enjoy all Chesapeake Bay has to offer.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events!