Anglers at Mariner Point Park, MD

Fishermen gather at Mariner Point Park in Joppatowne, MD, in preparation for a largemouth bass fishing tournament that raises funds for a bass stocking program. (Ethan Weston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Chesapeake anglers and paddlers rejoice! In 2020, the Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners added 12 access points where the public can connect to the water. With these additions, the region has met 69% of the goal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to add 300 new public access sites by 2025. Here’s a look at the new offerings.

Gravelly Point (VA): This area along the Potomac River is known as one of the best places near Washington, DC, to watch planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport. Now, it is also an area for paddlers to find parking and launch their watercraft.

Leonardtown Wharf Park (MD): A floating dock has been added to serve transient boat traffic near Leonardtown. After you dock, glance around the park and imagine what it must have looked like in July 1814, when British troops attacked the town during the War of 1812 to distract attention from a plan to seize the nation’s capital.

Mariner Point Park (MD): Paddlers have a new launch area along Taylor Creek, a tributary of the Gunpowder River in Joppatowne. This park is located near a railroad line where, in 1864, Confederate troops seized two trains heading north. They captured supplies, set a train on fire, cut telegraph lines and partially destroyed the railroad trestle over the river.

Meems Bottom Covered Bridge (VA): This covered bridge that crosses the Shenandoah River has stood witness to some of the most significant events in Virginia’s history. The original bridge was burnt down by Stonewall Jackson’s troops in 1862 during the Civil War, and its replacement was washed away by floodwaters during The Great Virginia Flood of 1870. The current bridge — the fourth — was built in 1978 after vandals burned down its third iteration. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Now, visitors can find a small parking lot to access the river for kayaking, tubing and canoeing.

Old Dover Bridge (MD): The “old” Dover Bridge, near Tanyard, is one of the last three remaining swing bridges in Maryland. Built in 1932, it was decommissioned in 2018 and is now open for recreational use only. The center portion of the bridge will remain permanently open for boats to pass through and the spans will be used as public fishing areas. A small parking lot and shoreline fishing area are now available, too.

Paddlers at Leonardtown Wharf Park, MD

Paddlers launch into McIntosh Run from Leonardtown Wharf Park in Leonardtown, MD. (Ethan Weston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Phelps Mill Canoe Access (PA): For years, residents of Jersey Shore would sneak onto private property to access Pine Creek. When the property went up for sale two years ago, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy raised enough money, with the help of the town, to purchase the property and turn it over to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. The tract now provides a parking lot and launch site for paddlers.

Red Bank Road (VA): This site near Edinburg includes parking and an informal launch area to access the Shenandoah River for paddling and tubing.

Riverside Park (VA): Residents of Farmville typically frequent Riverside Park for annual events and wine festivals. Now, paddlers can launch onto the Appomattox River here as well.

Rose’s Mill Park (MD): Located on the site of the former Rose Mill, the half-acre park near Hagerstown now includes a launch site for paddlers to access Antietam Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. While paddling, be sure to check out the restored three span stone arch bridge constructed from local limestone, built in 1839. The park is also the access point for the Antietam Creek Water Trail.

Saxis Wildlife Management Area (VA): The Saxis Wildlife Management Area has added a soft launch area alongside the existing boat ramp at the end of Hammock Road, giving paddlers a third option in which to access the water in this pristine, protected marshland. Visitors to Buxom can find waterfowl hunting opportunities, primitive camping, boat ramps and excellent birding. The National Audubon Society has designated the area an Important Bird Area.

Seneca Landing Special Park (MD): This special place in Poolesville has added an ADA-accessible floating boat launch for paddlers. After coming off the Potomac River, check out the nearby Seneca Store, continuously operating since 1901.

Wilck’s Lake Park (VA): This scenic park in Farmville has long provided ample space for children to play and families to picnic. With the opening of a soft launch area, paddlers can more easily access the Farmville Blueway Paddle Trail, which runs four miles down the Appomattox River.

To find water access sites in the Bay region, visit

Rachel Felver is the Chesapeake Bay Program communications director at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The views expressed by opinion columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.

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