With summer in full swing, most of us are making travel plans and spending more time outdoors. Even if you're not on the water, the health of the Chesapeake Bay and all of the streams and rivers that are tributaries to the Bay are directly affected by the trips you take this season, as well as your actions around the house and in the yard.

Trips

Instead of heading to faraway locations this summer, why not enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay watershed through locations found close to your community? I encourage you to discover Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, (Visit www.baygateways.net.) which includes more than 150 parks, museums, water trails, wildlife refuges and historic landmarks throughout the watershed. Given the high price of gasoline, Gateways are affordable alternatives to traveling long distances for vacations.

The Gateways Network includes a diverse array of locations that help to strengthen the connections between our local rivers, marshes and forests and the Chesapeake Bay.

Gateways show that you don't have to live close to the Bay to experience it. From the Appalachian Province to the Coastal Plain, Gateways are located throughout the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake watershed, meaning there is sure to be a site close to your home.

In New York and Pennsylvania, eight water trails beckon paddlers to explore the quiet backwaters and streamside forests of the Susquehanna.

Farther south, dozens of sites around the Baltimore, Washington and Hampton Roads areas offer visitors slices of Chesapeake history and nature-from popular attractions like Baltimore's Fells Point to hidden gems like Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge in Fairfax County, VA, or Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Portsmouth, VA.

If you do live near the Bay's shores, pay particular attention to the lighthouses, symbols of the history and culture of the Chesapeake. Seventy-four lighthouses used to illuminate the Chesapeake; only 30 are still standing.

Some, such as Point Lookout, at the mouth of the Potomac River in Maryland, have interesting stories connected to them. Dating back to 1830, Point Lookout doubled as a prison camp for the Union Army during the Civil War. Many visitors to the park claim to have seen ghosts, and the lighthouse at Point Lookout was named one of the top 10 haunted lighthouses in the United States.

Another historically significant site of interest is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first National Historic Trail to follow a water route. With about 3,000 miles of water trails, you can access this unique resource though hundreds of public access points in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. The trail commemorates and retraces Captain John Smith's historic Chesapeake explorations from 1607-1608.

Many of the sites along the trail, such as the Nanticoke River, have been added to the Bay Gateways Network.

Volunteering is a free, family-friendly summer activity. Organizations throughout the watershed, including state natural resource agencies and nonprofits such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, sponsor summer events that get people involved with Bay restoration.

From tree plantings and trash cleanups to rain barrel and rain garden workshops to invasive species removal workdays, there is bound to be something of interest to everyone. Many groups are always looking for people to lend a helping hand, so check with your local watershed organization for opportunities.

Tips

Along with taking Bay-friendly summer trips, I ask you to adopt the following tips to reduce your impact on the Chesapeake and its many rivers, creeks and streams. Simple changes in the actions we perform everyday can make a difference.

Summer ushers in the season of car washing. You can prevent soapy, polluted water from entering our local waterways and the Bay by simply changing where you wash your car. Instead of soaping up your car on the street or in the driveway, switch to grass or gravel. The soapy water will seep slowly into the ground, rather than run directly down the street and into a stream or storm drain.

Summer also reminds us of green, manicured lawns. But excess water and fertilizer used to achieve that perfect green grass is harmful to the Bay and its rivers. If you decide to water your lawn, be sure to do it in the early morning or late evening, avoiding peak afternoon temperatures that cause much of the water-and your money-to evaporate.

When it comes to fertilizer, more is not necessarily better. Excess fertilizer can weaken grass roots and send runoff into the Bay, harming fish and crabs. If you feel compelled to fertilize your lawn, do it in the fall and closely follow the manufacturer's instructions.

A better alternative to fertilizing is to leave your grass clippings on the lawn after mowing. These clippings will decompose and add nitrogen to the soil, nourishing it naturally. Many watershed-conscious residents are taking the step to eliminate the use of all fertilizers and pesticides. More and more, residents are replacing lawns with "natural landscapes" that do not require mowing.

Avid gardeners might consider actions that help the Bay. The simplest thing to do is plant trees and shrubs, which act like sponges, holding excess rainwater and prevent polluted runoff.

Also, using native plants will add color to a garden while providing wildlife habitat and requiring less water than non-native annuals. You can find a listing of native species in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping" (Visit www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake).

Stormwater runoff from our driveways and roofs carries pollutants on these surfaces right to the Chesapeake Bay. There are many things you can do in your yard to prevent this runoff from running off your property and entering a storm drain system.

In increasing numbers, homeowners are taking steps to reduce or even eliminate runoff from their property. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Capture and use rainwater with rain barrels. The water you collect in a rain barrel will not only reduce the amount of runoff that leaves your property, but it will also give you a free source of water for your garden.
  • Install rain gardens that are designed to capture rainwater and allow the plants in the rain garden to absorb and use pollutants like nitrogen.
  • Install infiltration basins and other means that allow rainwater to percolate into the ground as it did before the land was developed.

All of the nearly 17 million watershed residents have an impact on the Chesapeake Bay and watershed. These simple summer tips can contribute to the health of our local waters and the Chesapeake.

So keep the Bay in mind this summer by staying local and reducing your impact, so future generations can experience all the Chesapeake and its watershed have to offer.