The long, hot, lazy days of summer are here, and being on or near the water is the perfect way to spend them. Whether you feel like taking a dip, launching your boat — be it a kayak or pontoon — or simply taking a walk, there are new places throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed for you to explore each year.
When we signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014, our partnership not only committed to meet several goals to restore and clean up the Bay, but also to increase access to the water for the people who live, work and recreate throughout the region. Specifically, we agreed to create 300 new sites by 2025 where the public can either get on, in or near the water.
Creating a new site for the public to access the water is the very definition of the role the Bay Program plays in watershed restoration and protection. Like the makeup of the Bay Program, public access sites are created and maintained by a variety of partners, including local, state and federal agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations. That’s why it is vital to establish strong partnerships and initiatives among all partners to provide more opportunities for water access.
These partnerships are thriving, and since 2014, we have opened 176 new sites across the Chesapeake watershed for boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities. As you are making your plans to get out on the water this summer, check out the new sites that opened in 2018.
≈ Discovery Village, Anne Arundel County: There is one more boat ramp for the public to launch from in Anne Arundel County. Motorized boats, canoes and kayaks can access Parrish Creek, a tributary of the South River, from this site.
≈ Downs Park, Anne Arundel County: A soft launch area has been added to Locust Cove for kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders to access the Magothy River. Beware: This area is heavily impacted by the tides — so there may or may not be the same amount of water on the launch when you return.
≈ Hallowing Point, Calvert County: A soft launch access point has been added to accompany an existing paved ramp for boaters, canoeists and kayakers to enter the Patuxent River. Hallowing Point is a site along the Patuxent River Water Trail, which spans multiple counties as it connects boaters to different points of interest.
≈ Unicorn Lake Fisheries Management Area, Queen Anne’s County: With the addition of a new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-approved fishing pier, anyone can fish for largemouth bass and bluegill on Unicorn Lake, a tributary of the Chester River. While there, be sure to check out the manmade structures built from discarded Christmas trees to attract fish, as well as the fish ladder that allows migratory fish to pass upstream.
≈ Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area, Queen Anne’s County: Launching kayaks, canoes and paddleboards onto the Wye East River just got a whole lot easier with the addition of a new access area that includes a slide. This valuable ecological site is prized habitat for wintering waterfowl on the Eastern Shore.
≈ Newtowne Neck State Park, St. Mary’s County: Take in views of Breton Bay, St. Clements Bay and the Potomac River when you try out the expanded paddle-in camping sites along this peninsula. These sites are more on the primitive side but offer miles of sandy beaches and hiking trails through the park’s forests and meadows. Newtowne Neck is on the National Register of Historic Places as it was once home to the Piscataway Tribe and the site of the first European settlement in Maryland.
≈ Point Lookout State Park, St. Mary’s County: Improvements were made to 15 existing campsites at the park, which included an infrastructure upgrade and the addition of some amenities. These upgraded campsites can be reached by land or water and have access to launch kayaks, canoes or paddleboards onto Lake Conoy near floating docks.
≈ Snow Hill Farm Park, St. Mary’s County: In addition to an unsupervised public beach area, kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders now have a soft access point in which to launch onto the Patuxent River.
≈ Fifth Street Boat Launch, Clinton County: A paved launch has been added in Renovo Borough for all types of boaters to access the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. This rural borough was recently designated a Susquehanna Greenway River Town — a systemwide network of vibrant towns along the Susquehanna River actively connected to the water and each other.
≈ Mapleton Riverside Memorial Park, Huntington County: Visitors have a whole host of new recreation options. Fishing is now available to all through an ADA-accessible pier, non-motorized boats can be launched from a floating dock, campers can take advantage of new tent sites and the park offers rustic pavilions and restrooms. This area along the Juniata River is one bookend to Jack’s Narrows, the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania at nearly one-third of a mile deep.
≈ Mount Union Riverside Park, Huntington County: Visitors can now get on the water, in addition to just viewing it from the trails running alongside, using new motorized and unmotorized boat launches. The park added tent sites for those traveling along the Juniata River Water Trail. Mount Union Riverside Park is the other bookend to Jack’s Narrows.
≈ Dutch Gap Relic River Trail, Chesterfield County: In 2017, a floating boardwalk and viewing platform opened to allow visitors access to the James River, and this last year, an ADA-accessible platform was added to allow paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists to launch into the water. Paddlers can take advantage of the 2.5-mile Lagoon Water Trail, which passes by a blue heron rookery and a “graveyard” of submerged barges.
≈ Waterwalk at Central Park, Hampton: A new boardwalk allows visitors access to a quiet observation deck to soak up the sights of Back River. Lucky people may spy herons, egrets, red-winged blackbirds and different crab species.
≈ Thalia Creek Kayak Launch, Virginia Beach: Virginia Beach has actively been working for several years to create a greenway around Thalia Creek, a tributary of the Lynnhaven River in proximity to the Town Center. Ample pedestrian trails have been added to access the water. Now, visitors can launch their canoes, kayaks or paddleboards as well.
≈ Mason Neck State Park, Prince William County: Mason Neck State Park has long been a respite for those living in the Washington, DC, metro area. Now with the addition of a new canoe, kayak and paddleboard launch, water enthusiasts can access Belmont Bay. Rangers provide several guided programs and tours. Be sure to keep your eyes open for bald eagles!
≈ Lake Anna State Park, Spotsylvania County: Long one of Virginia’s most popular vacation destinations, Lake Anna has even more canoe, kayak and paddleboard launches to help you get onto the water.
≈ Widewater State Park, Stafford County: Widewater, which opened in 2018, is Virginia’s newest state park and offers access for canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders to the point at which Aquia Creek and the Potomac River meet. The park also offers paddle-in campsites. Check out one of the many ranger-led programs or try your hand at fishing — this area is known for its largemouth bass.
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, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to increasing public access as part of a larger effort to engage communities in our conservation work.
As originally posted, this article misnamed Widewater State Park. The Bay Journal regrets the error.
Rachel Felver is Chesapeake Bay Program communications director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.