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Eastern Shore skipjack dredges up maritime past

A skipjack tacked up and down the Choptank River in Maryland for two hours on an azure afternoon in late spring. One of the last of its kind still cruising the Chesapeake Bay’s waters, the Nathan of Dorchester returned to its slip with a brimming haul.

Not of oysters, mind you. That’s so 19th century.

This boat was built in 1994 with a different purpose in mind. On this trip, it carried 19 people — not counting its captain and six crewmembers — out for an exploration of a heritage that is disappearing and this particular skipjack’s place in it.

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Snorkel, paddle or fish at RiverPalooza summer events

Taking a bridge across the Potomac River on the way to work isn’t the same as plunging a paddle into the water, seeing its beauty and benefits up close. But only a fraction of the more than 6 million people living in the District of Columbia’s metro area get onto the water each year.

That’s why the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, with the help of partners like the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, started hosting RiverPalooza, an annual series of events spanning the summer that prioritize paddling, rafting, snorkeling and learning about the so-called Nation’s River and its tributaries, including the more rural Shenandoah River.

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Water Ways exhibit brings impact of local rivers to light

When the Smithsonian Institution looked for a first stop in Maryland for its traveling exhibit Water/Ways, it wisely chose Baltimore County.

From the very beginning, water has shaped the area’s economy, transportation network and culture. And it still does — the Loch Raven, Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs in the county provide drinking water to millions. Dam tailwaters are a mecca for trout fly fishers and whitewater tubers and paddlers. There are more than 100 roads in the county with “mill” in their names. The county has both freshwater and saltwater within its borders.

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Hole lot of fun: Natural swimming pools in the Blue Ridge

Many strategies for dealing with mid-Atlantic summer heat involve cool water: outdoor pools, ocean waves or slow-flowing rivers.

But there’s nothing quite like plunging into a boulder-strewn, tree-lined swimming hole for that special respite that only a mountain stream can provide — and the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia have plenty of offerings.

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Old Wye Grist Mill still grinding after all these years

It was 1682, the year that Delaware and Philadelphia were founded, and the year that French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle canoed into the lower Mississippi River basin, claimed the land for his king (Louis XIV), named it accordingly (Louisiana).

It was also the year that a new grist mill was built at the end of a 50-acre pond on what is now the upper Wye East River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And that is where I found myself on a mild, late winter day for a preseason tour of that very mill — a mere 337 years later.

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White Horse Mountain worth the millions paid to protect it

Hugging the slow s-curves of road winding into a mountainous sliver of West Virginia’s Hampshire County, I remembered why they call this portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed “wild” — and why clean water advocates were desperate to keep it that way.

I was headed to White Horse Mountain, an almost entirely tree-covered heap of rocky hills hugging and draining into the South Branch of the Potomac River. It’s one of the largest undeveloped forestlands remaining in the region, home to rare wildflowers and habitats, hike-worthy vistas and the occasional bobcat or black bear. 

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Tiptoe through the trilliums at Thompson WMA

It was late spring last year when I got the tip: For a spectacular showcase of wildflowers, head to the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Fauquier County, VA.

And so I did, hoping to glimpse the blooms that make this tract of land a prime springtime destination for native plant lovers.

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Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse illuminates life in a screwpile

For a number of reasons, all of which are profoundly uninteresting, in 30-some years of exploring and writing about the Chesapeake, I had until recently visited only three of Maryland’s four surviving “screwpile” lighthouses:

Thomas Point Light near Annapolis, check; Drum Point Light on Solomons Island, check; Hooper Straight Light in St. Michaels, check.

But the oldest of them all, the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse now residing at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor? Nope.

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Snow geese extravaganza hits home

When birdwatchers flock to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this winter, they are likely to witness one of the most dramatic sights nature has to offer in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Snow geese will gather by the thousands in marshes and farm fields and on the water. Then, it will happen: an explosion of noise and color as the birds honk in unison and dart into the air at once.

“If you’ve seen them in a large flock in an agricultural field, they fly in unison like blackbirds do. When they’re swirling and shimmering on a field, it’s an amazing sight to see, a pretty large group of birds working together like that,” said Josh Homyack, waterfowl program manager for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

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A cabin waits for you along the Appalachian Trail

For years, my friend Alison has been telling me, “You’ve gotta rent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin! You’ll love it!”

So here we were, my husband and I, on a late winter afternoon so dank and foggy we could have driven into the side of a mountain without knowing it. We were following the west branch of the Naked River, a tributary of the Shenandoah, traveling up a dirt road in what seemed like the Middle of Nowhere, VA, until we rounded a slight bend, and there in the woods was the unmistakable outline of a small, old log cabin.

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Otsego Lake only a glimmer of great Susquehanna to come

The Susquehanna River starts its 444-mile journey as a lazy creek in Cooperstown, NY. It begins as an outflow from Otsego Lake, where its southern tip abuts the town.

It then flows slowly under the Main Street Bridge before rounding a bend toward downstream destinations — farms, towns and cities in central New York and Pennsylvania — and ultimately reaching the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Looking eastward from the bridge — minutes away from the world-famous National Baseball Hall of Fame — you can see the first few 100 feet of that narrow slip of water with the lake and distant mountains as backdrop. It’s a lovely postcard scene.

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Travel: Archives

‘Dig a little deeper’ at the Norfolk Botanical Garden

At Norfolk Botanical Garden, everything is just so. Horticulturalists deadhead roses in the summer to ensure visitors encounter a perfume-filled, technicolor display in the fall. Azaleas are arrayed for maximum visual pop in the spring. Even...

Western Maryland railroad turns on charm at every bend

I’ve always been fascinated by the influence of topography on where humans have decided to set up camp over the millennia. Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, as recently as a few centuries ago, settlements in coastal areas were all...

Devil’s Marbleyard tempts hikers with rocky challenge

After a mile of increasingly pitched hiking through a dense forest, a strange scene unfolded. Quartzite boulders, ranging in size from La-Z-Boy recliners to school buses, reared up, blazing away in the sun. The absence of green was matched...

C&D museum sure to float the boat of any canal lover

The year was 1829, and the news was big — big enough to be trumpeted on a broadside that exercised all of the exaggerated fonts and eye-grabbing capitalization of the day: “Notice is hereby given,” it stated, “that...

Pleasant Grove Park a connection to nature, the past

In the small central Virginia county of Fluvanna, a triangle of historic farm and forest is wedged between the Rivanna River and Virginia Highway 53, just 20 miles southeast of Charlottesville. At the western end stands a three-story story...

Onancock paddle weaves nature, history with every stroke

Four and a half miles from its mouth at the Chesapeake Bay, Onancock Creek diverges in three directions. In 1680, settlers transformed the banks of this branching stream into the town of Onancock. The community on Virginia’s Eastern...

Thomas Point a beacon for mariners, historians alike

I once heard the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse described as a Victorian rendition of a lunar landing module. It’s an absurd image that stuck with me, not just for its succinct visual depiction of the structure — a white,...

Montpelier’s ‘Landmark Forest’ rooted in history

Horticulturist Sandy Mudrinich paused at the edge of the forest that rises behind Montpelier, the historic home of President James Madison, nestled in Orange, VA. Before leading a group of visitors farther up the hill, Mudrinich invited them...

London Town and Gardens rising from its roots

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I worked in Annapolis for nearly 20 years — and lived there much of that time — but never once visited Historic London Town and Gardens in nearby Edgewater, about three miles away on the...

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