When Don Baugh and Tom Horton decided to circumnavigate the Delmarva Peninsula on kayaks a decade ago, they considered the trip as a birthday present to themselves. Horton, a veteran Bay writer and Bay Journal columnist, had just turned 60. Baugh, a longtime outdoor educator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was a spry 51, and wanted a closer look at the Bay grasses and migratory birds his organization was so invested in protecting.
Ten years later, the longtime environmental leaders are doing the trip again. But this time, it’s intended to be a gift for others. Baugh left the CBF and started his own nonprofit, the Upstream Alliance, which seeks to educate the next generation of leaders. So when the kayak expedition leaves Sandy Point State Park on Sept. 9, Baugh and Horton will be there. But so will Alex Crooks, an environmental educator, and Stephen Eren, manager of a bike-powered urban compost company. Both 25, they are recent Virginia Tech graduates.
“Looking at my age, my career, I figured that I have one last chapter left,” Baugh said. “I wondered, ‘how do we take the richness of opportunities and experiences and the wisdom of what we have and bestow it on a new generation of leaders?’”
On land, Bay restoration brings a lot of doom and gloom. More people continue to move into the watershed, creating more impervious surfaces; more cars on the road; more nitrogen spewing from tailpipes and power plants; and more sewage to treat and deposit into rivers. Eastern Shore soils remain high in phosphorus from decades of overapplying manure. Crab populations are not as high as scientists or crabbers would like, and oysters are at just 1 percent of historic levels. But on the water, Baugh said, it’s hard not to be optimistic, at least a little bit. Our living habits may squash nature, but it returns, triumphant — a shiny rockfish that becomes a delicious dinner, a prehistoric-looking heron sunning himself next to a rookery, a colony of skimmers or a view of great open spaces where you’d least expect it.
The expedition, which will also include philanthropists and conservationists Walter Brown, Mike Tannen and Turney McKnight in a chase boat, is not for the faint of heart. Participants will paddle 15–25 miles a day, some of it in the open Bay and the Atlantic, and will camp out for 26 of the 30 nights.
Baugh said that when Horton and he did the paddle 10 years ago they trespassed and could camp each night. But this time, he wants to highlight the continuing struggle with lack of access to the Chesapeake. More than 90 percent of the shoreline is still privately owned. And while Chesapeake Conservancy and others have worked to improve access, it’s still hard to reach the shores of the Bay.
After the trip, Baugh will continue his work with the Upstream Alliance trying to encourage emerging leaders. It’s similar to the work for which he was well-known at the Bay Foundation, but instead of working with schoolchildren, he’ll be working with adults with leadership abilities that others point out, or who identify themselves, as interested in conservation and possess.
“We’re taking the expedition part and combining it with leadership training and problem solving,” Baugh said. “Our gang of people is not just old retiring people, but young people…it’s passing the baton so they become the leaders.”
The team will be blogging and putting up posts on Facebook throughout the journey. For details on the expedition, visit http://upstreamalliance.org/events.