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Into the woods: Diversity of Tizzle Flats casts its spell on hikers

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High on the ridge of Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountain, I hunkered down to examine some toadstools when my eyes caught a series of regular hatch marks etched into the tree trunk just above me — the kind of marks made by large, chiseled claws, leaving rags of torn bark hanging down at about chest level.

I called back my hiking buddies, who were tramping on down the trail ahead, and we shared a hushed diagnosis: A large, male black bear had sharpened his claws and marked his territory here. It happened recently, judging from the tattered abrasions that were still bleeding sap.

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Rent a handcrafted boat at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

With more than 95 percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s shoreline in private ownership, getting out on the water can be a challenge. Recently, outfitters and nonprofit groups on both sides of the Bay have tried to scale that barrier by offering more rentals for boats and paddleboards and providing maps of trails and launch sites.

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Meander through Parkers Creek Preserve

Thirty years ago, a group of scientists and preservationists pooled their resources to save a pristine forest abutting the Chesapeake Bay from a future of golf courses, marinas and subdivisions.

The result is Parkers Creek Preserve, a 3,500-acre wonder in Calvert County on Maryland’s Western Shore. Just off MD Route 2/4, this expanse includes 22 miles of public hiking trails meandering through forested uplands and fragile marshes, past tall cordgrass and scrubby marsh flowers. There are majestic views of the ancient shoreline cliffs, which frame the winding creek as it spills across a narrow beach into the open Chesapeake Bay.

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Handsell braids stories of those who lived there

Along Indiantown Road, on the outskirts of Vienna, MD, there is a place called Handsell, where three histories come together to tell tales of Maryland’s earliest peoples.

Handsell is a tidy brick house that sits on two acres of land amid farm fields edged by forest. The woods border Chicone Creek, a pretty, burbling waterway that can accommodate kayaks at high tide. But Handsell is also the name of the whole property, which now includes a restored house, a re-created Indian dwelling, a path to the creek, and a view of farmland in all directions.

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Yorktown museum puts Revolution in context

Anyone who paid attention in school can probably recall at least a few names, places and maybe a date from the Revolutionary War: George Washington, Lexington, Valley Forge, the Declaration of Independence, 1776. Now, a newly enhanced museum at Yorktown, VA, the site of the final battle in that founding conflict, offers Americans a fresh look at the nation’s complicated — some might say messy — beginning and how it has reverberated through the centuries.

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Franklin Point’s beauty plain as the eye can see

In Walter Neitzey’s four decades as a flight instructor and operator of Deep Creek Airport on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay 10 miles south of Annapolis, he probably never once looked down from his cockpit at the bucolic airfield below and thought it might some day be part of a nice state park.

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Get on board for stand-up paddling

Stand-up paddle boarding came to the Chesapeake Bay region about seven years ago and shows no signs of waning. The sport is growing in popularity: There are paddle board races, paddle board team-building activities, paddle board yoga, paddle board youth camps and even a cool nickname for the sport — SUP.

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Steamboats engineered change along the Chesapeake

Inside the foyer of the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington, VA, 200 small white lights illuminate a map of the Chesapeake Bay. Together, they trace a constellation along the estuary’s shorelines, meandering up its rivers and marking ports of call for the large fleet of steamships that traversed these waters for nearly 150 years.

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Spring stroll along the Susquehanna

The gushing water of Mill Creek Falls, recharged by recent rain, announced the presence of the falls before I could see them. As the forest gave way to the streambed, I found a series of cascades tumbling through the woods along the lower Susquehanna River in York County, PA — an area known more for its quiet pastoral landscape than a tucked-away waterfall oasis.

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Dark skies shed light on Shenandoah stars

Astronomers say that the Milky Way — that thick swath of stars that stretches across the dark night sky — isn’t visible for 80 percent of the people who live in North America. For many, the bright city lights cause the beauty overhead to disappear.

If you live in a light-flooded landscape, consider leaving the lights behind, perhaps on a one-with-nature trip to a national park, to find out what you are missing. Shenandoah National Park, on the western end of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, offers some of the region’s most unadulterated views of night skies and has several programs to help visitors appreciate them.

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