Bay Journal


Cross markers show extent of John Smith’s voyages

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Ed Haile and Connie Lapallo, authors and historians who specialize in English explorer John Smith and the colonial settlement at Jamestown, VA, are following in Smith’s footsteps. Where Smith traveled with American Indian guides and a few fellow colonists, Haile and Lapallo arrive with concrete mix, a heavy granite marker and a water pail.

They are visiting 24 sites — as precisely as possible — where Smith marked the extent of his explorations with a Maltese cross. And they are replacing those lost markers with new ones. Eleven have been installed so far, with eight in Virginia and three in Maryland. Delaware will join the list soon.

“I like to think of it as restoring John Smith’s waypoints around the Chesapeake Bay,” Haile said.

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Herds of visitors love Pennsylvania’s Elk Country

On many days each year, Rawley Cogan can gaze out his Pennsylvania office window and see something that would have been impossible a little more than a century ago — grazing elk sauntering through the meadow and along the tree line in groups small and large, some with huge antlers that can measure 4 feet across.

“We have elk up close and personal lots of the time,” said Cogan, president of the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance. “It is a unique experience.”

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Spot waterfowl from a warm car at Merkle sanctuary

Nothing says winter like a V-shaped formation of Canada geese winging across a steely sky, their honking carried on a chilly breeze. Cold weather brings tens of thousands of geese, migratory ducks and other waterfowl to the Chesapeake Bay region as the birds seek warmer (or at least less frigid) places to await the return of spring.

The Bay is a relatively balmy refuge from the ice and snow that buries all food sources in their Canadian nesting grounds during the coldest months of the year.

There are many places around the Chesapeake region to view wintering waterfowl, and one — the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary — is just a short drive from populous Baltimore and Washington, DC.

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Skunk cabbage rules the winter wetlands

The annual “swamp stomp” at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is a wet, midwinter hike along the forested edge of the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel County, MD. For hike leader and sanctuary volunteer Siobhan Percey, it’s a pilgrimage of love — for the quirky, cunning and sometimes malodorous wetland plant known as Eastern skunk cabbage.

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Patuxent Research Refuge serves humans, flora and fauna

The Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD, is a wonderful surprise, a 12,841-acre nature preserve tucked between two major cities that is a world unto itself.

A turn or two off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway puts visitors on Scarlet Tanager Loop, a tree-lined winding road that leads through mature trees and ends in about two miles at a beautiful, interactive visitor and conference center.

Miles of trails meander around several lakes, where lilies bloom and Canada geese feed.

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Loudoun County state park new but not unknown

Robert and Dee Leggett wanted to buy a little natural land in Virginia, to preserve it and provide a local campground for Boy Scouts. But, in 1998, they ended up with closer to 900 acres of deep woods, babbling brooks, wildflower meadows and historic farmsteads after finding land that might be developed without their intervention.

And, this year, that property became the first state park in Virginia’s Loudoun County.

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First Day hikes

Expect a rustling in the woods across the Chesapeake Bay region on Jan. 1. Along with shuffling in the sand and, depending on the weather, some sloshing in the snow. That’s because more than 10,000 people will likely be out for a First Day Hike at state parks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia alone.

First Day Hikes are a nationwide program sponsored by America’s State Parks, an association of state park directors. “The new year is a great opportunity to invite people to our state parks, whether they want to get a new start for their lifestyle or an environmental understanding of the great outdoors,” said executive director Lewis Ledford.

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Magothy River map, videos reveal ‘hidden gems’ for paddlers

If your spring plans involve finding new places to kayak along the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, the Magothy River Association has some suggestions. They have a new map highlighting 30 points of interest, and 8 “hidden gems” along the water. To find them, they’ll hand you a copy of their new water trail map. Then, they’ll suggest you find a computer or smart phone.

That’s because the Magothy River Association has taken a unique approach to creating their map, released in honor of the group’s 70th anniversary with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The printed map is artsy, with a hand-touched feel, but it’s paired with a series of short YouTube videos that use drone technology to provide a fast and effective aerial view of the routes you want to travel.

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Theodore Roosevelt Island, a forested DC memorial hidden in plain sight

From the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, it’s hard to tell that the swath of trees blocking a view of Virginia across the Potomac River is an island. It’s even harder to figure out how to get there, unless you’re leaving the Georgetown waterfront in a kayak — and ready to fight often-swift currents.

That’s because Theodore Roosevelt Island, a national park and fitting memorial to the country’s conservation-minded president, is located off the central tourism hub of Washington’s National Mall. In fact, visitors can only reach the island by foot from the Virginia side of the river.

“Most people don’t even realize this is here. But once they get here — wow,” Jennifer Epolito, a park ranger, said as we walked to the island across a footbridge from a small (but free) parking lot along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

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Getting to know Michaux Forest will rock your world

The boulders of Hammonds Rocks, in Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest, are literally ancient history. But they explain a good bit about the present, too.

Michaux State Forest, and the South Mountain ridges on which it rests, is a landscape first formed by shifting continents, later by the blaze of iron furnaces and then the stewardship of state foresters. It’s an epic chain of custody, linked by the movement of rocks and minerals, that gave birth to a forest, which was in turn pillaged, then restored.

Geologist Sean Cornell, a professor at nearby Shippensburg University, uses Hammonds Rocks as an outdoor classroom of environmental change. “You can go back 540 million years and see that record here on the mountain,” Cornell said.

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Museums, trails, river lure visitors to Port Royal, VA

Looking out over the Rappahannock River from a new 100-foot fishing pier in Port Royal, VA, Cleo Coleman sees more than a good place to cast a line. She sees the town’s past, present and future. “You are looking at the primary fact that the town is here,” Coleman said.

The Rappahannock River was once essential for commerce and transportation, and Port Royal boomed because of it. Although that’s no longer the case, Coleman said that opportunities for recreation on and near the river are drawing visitors to this sleepy town at the crossroads of VA Route 301 and Route 17.

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Love of ducks, geese extends from table to tableau

To get extremely close to geese and ducks of the Chesapeake Bay, hunters of a bygone era had a solution: a sinkbox. The coffin-shaped box, wooden with an open top and wide upper rim, was floated in the marsh.

Specially weighted decoys were placed on the rim to submerge the box so that its opening was nearly flush with the water’s surface. The hunter would lower himself into the sinkbox and wait, well hidden. Passing waterfowl, attracted by the decoys, would land at close range.

Sinkboxes, along with commercial hunting and the infamous punt gun, were banned on the Chesapeake in the early 20th century — but a widespread love for Chesapeake waterfowl has preserved opportunities to view wintering waterfowl, learn about or participate in the region’s hunting heritage, and appreciate an abundance of art that the species have inspired.

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Travel: Archives


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