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Lower Chickahominy’s fish, wildlife lure visitors

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The broad marshes along the wooded banks of the Chickahominy River in Virginia still evoke the landscape that English explorer Capt. John Smith first saw when he visited this area in 1607.

And it is the same mix of forest, river and marsh that made my paddle down Morris Creek — a tributary of the Chickahominy — so compelling on an early spring morning.

I launched my kayak with Jack Snell, a member of the River Rat volunteers who keep watch on area waterways for the James River Association. A thin mist rose from the creek as we slipped silently onto the dark water just after sunrise.

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Catoctin adventures invoke the (inner) child in visitors

In the 1980s and 1990s, my family and I lived at the very edge of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a mere five miles from the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In Walkersville, MD, just outside Frederick, we were close enough to a portion of the Blue Ridge — Catoctin Mountain — that we could see it in gaps between the neighbors’ houses across the street. And from the roof of our house, where the occasional whiffle ball or Frisbee would get stuck, I’d get an even better view of that long forested wall to the west, stretching north toward Pennsylvania.

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

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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