Back to School Doesn't Have to Mean Back Inside

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Students from Dunloggin Middle School in Howard County learn about water-filtering oysters before releasing them into the Bay. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It's "that time of year" again. Students, teachers, and parents are preparing to go back to school. Over the next few weeks, millions of What I did on my summer vacation essays will be written by students describing the camp they joined, the river they swam in, the beach they visited, the neighborhoods they explored with friends. But all of that is over now, it's time for back to school. Time to go back inside and learn important things from adults, and books, and the Internet.

As I watch my own kids (ages 8, 12, and 14) reluctantly get ready, it raises some questions for me: Which learning is more valuable? Why is 98+ percent of all of our instruction done indoors? Why aren't more teachers and students learning outside?

Certainly, there are a lot of challenges to leaving the four walls of the school building for learning: lack of transportation, physical safety concerns, lack of teacher experience, lack of time due to testing schedules. But there are amazing benefits to using the outdoors for learning.  Learners of almost every type are more engaged and active when they are outside. There are more opportunities for practicing life-relevant learning. And we need the next generation to understand the value of a healthy environment and the impact of our choices on it.

Based on my experience as a classroom teacher and an environmental educator, we don't give our teachers support to utilize the environment or to create the expectation that students should ever learn outside beyond their PE classes. Education is a very traditional field with massive cultural inertia. We teach the way that we are taught, and the systems have grown to perpetuate the tradition of the teacher at the front of the classroom and students in rows of desks with books. (Replacing those books with iPads isn't all that revolutionary.)

There are many forward-thinking teachers, schools, and schools systems that are making strides to change their practice to a learner centered approach, but even many of these cutting-edge educators fail to challenge the basic assumption that school has to happen inside. When you think about it, we call it "school," not "learning." If we were designing a truly learner-centered approach, I would propose that we look to how students choose to learn when adults aren't structuring the experience. If your kids are anything like mine, that learning looks like outdoor exploration.

So what can you do? You can change that expectation. If you are a teacher, you can commit to trying your first outdoor lesson or challenging yourself to modify a lesson per quarter to use the outdoors, even if it's just on your own schoolyard. If you are a parent, ask the question of your teachers and principals: "Will my children have an opportunity to learn outside this year?" (And offer to support your school by chaperoning outdoor experiences.) Or incentivize your children to learn on their own. My sons are currently researching why their dad won't let them swim in our local river until at least 48 hours after a rainstorm, hoping to get me to slack up on the rules.

If you are a student, give your teacher some feedback on how you learn best, and if your school can't accommodate learning outside, find or create your own learning opportunities. Join or create an outdoors or environmental club. If you are a school leader and need other ideasget in touch with CBF or another environmental education organization, and we can share hundreds of ways to make your school greener.

I hope you get to learn outside this year with CBFor on your own. And to all CBF teachers and students, best of luck in starting what we hope will be another great year. We can't Save the Bay without you.

—Tom Ackerman, CBF's Vice President for Education

 


Part One: From Sandbags to Black-Eyed Susans at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church

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Polluted runoff from storms is a major source of water pollution in Harford County.

In all of Maryland's political fights over stormwater runoff pollution (remember the "rain tax"?), there was precious little conversation about the local benefits that county programs would bring. Nor did opponents ever admit that most of those programs included significant incentives for local people to join with their county governments to help solve issues like flooding. Here's the story of one of those local projects that benefited both a local waterway and its people.

Harford County, between Baltimore and the Susquehanna River, was one of the jurisdictions that objected to polluted runoff fees. Despite its long and proud history of agriculture, including preservation of close to 50,000 acres through state easements that protect that land from commercial and residential development, its relative proximity to Baltimore is driving up suburban population growth. The agricultural easements have actually concentrated most of the county's growth in the I-95 corridor and along Route 24, which crosses the interstate in the watersheds of Bynum Run and Winters Run to serve the county seat of Bel Air.

Both streams flow to the Bush River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay's upper Western Shore. The Bush offers habitat for waterfowl, blue crabs, yellow perch, white perch, rockfish, largemouth bass, and juvenile menhaden, but sediment runoff from developed land is rapidly filling its tidal wetlands and channels.

The Bynum Run watershed is now heavily urbanized, becoming one of the most densely populated areas in Harford County. In fact, 70 percent of the total area is covered by impervious surfaces such as paved roads, driveways, and parking lots. The Maryland Department of the Environment has listed Bynum Run as a biologically impaired waterway, damaged by channelization and smothered by sediment.

As a lifelong Harford County resident, I have witnessed stormwater flowing off our rooftops, over our lawns and pavement, down storm drains, and directly into our nearest waterway. When rain events occur, water polluted with sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus, flows so fast that it disturbs both the bottom and the banks of the streambed, further eroding those banks and destroying habitat for the vegetation, macroinvertebrates (insect larvae), and fish that are native to the stream ecosystem.

As this year's Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I decided to focus my capstone project on protecting local stream health and working in my community to promote stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  My first thought was to work with my church, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church—a medium-sized congregation, straddling both the Bynum Run and Winters Run watersheds. Throughout the 16 years of attending Sunday school, youth group, vacation bible school, and regular services at Christ Our King, I have experienced first-hand the detrimental effects stormwater has on its property.

When founded 50 years ago, Christ Our King included a single building with a small parking lot. Jump to 2015: The parish has grown to more than 500 members and gone through two building expansions, significantly increasing the cumulative area of its rooftops and parking lot. The rest of the property is turf grass, broken by one grove of trees. During this growth, channeling the roof gutters directly into a stormwater management pond was the common practice to handle surface runoff, but it only intensified the volume and velocity of runoff entering the pond.

But for the past few years, the pond has not been able to handle the volume of an average rain event, frequently flooding the lower level classrooms and activity hall, and a neighbor's property. Like preparing for a hurricane, our only defense has been lining walkways with sandbags to protect the building against the overflowing pond. To combat the stormwater issues, some fellow Christ Our King members and I set about planning and installing a series of best management practice techniques to protect our church and lessen the pollution load entering the Bynum Run watershed.

The church is Bay-Wise-certified through the University of Maryland Master Gardeners' Program. Our Care of Creation Committee focuses on environmental stewardship, enhancing sustainable landscape practices, and raising awareness in the community of how local actions affect the Chesapeake Bay and the wider world.

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CBF's Doug Myers discusses how to support a healthy Chesapeake Bay with residents of Harford County.

The Care of Creation Committee holds an annual Earth Day Celebration, which this year featured an open discussion about local stream health and overall issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay. Doug Myers, senior scientist in the CBF's Maryland Office, led the session. Twenty local community members attended, including representatives from Christ Our King, the Master Gardener Program, the Senior Science Society of Harford Community College, and CBF members.

Many of the congregation's members live in single-family detached houses in suburban communities that lie along tributaries leading to the Gunpowder, Bush, and Susquehanna Rivers. Volunteers understand that polluted runoff from impervious surfaces and agricultural practices are responsible for the existing pollution problem in local waterways. They also have remarked that there is not a lot of public knowledge on how well local governments and individual citizens are fulfilling their responsibility for protecting water quality in the area. My goal was to provide the community with the necessary tools and hands-on experience needed to create rain gardens and other Bay-friendly practices in their own neighborhoods.

—Julia Poust, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how Julia was able to tackle polluted runoff at her Bel Air Church.


Six Ways to Celebrate the Last Gasp of Summer

SeanPelan_Kidswithnets_695There are only a few weeks left to soak up every last inch of summer, and we're here to help you do just that . . . Chesapeake style. While opportunities are endless when talking summer on the Bay, we know that unfortunate thing called "time" can be limiting. That's why we've compiled this quick list of last-minute summer musts:  

  1. Call it vanity, call it confidence, call it your love for the Bay . . . we want to see your #BaySelfie! Send us a selfie next time you're out enjoying these final summer days on the Bay and its rivers.
  2. Work on your tan while shaking shell at our Oyster Restoration Center, or talking clean water restoration at our booth at Norfolk's RIVERFest, or planting shrubs and wetland grasses along the Patuxent River. We don't care how, just get outside with us! Sign up to volunteer.
  3. There's still time to pick up that book you've been meaning to finish. Or if you're looking for a good Labor Day weekend read, check out this list of recs from notable CBFers.
  4. A particularly steamy day on the Bay? Take a break under the shade of a tree and watch Will Baker's inspiring TEDxTalk from your phone about the three little words that changed his life (and maybe yours, too).
  5. OK, this one you can (and should) do all throughout the year. Commit to saving the Bay and its rivers and streams by signing our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pledge. It's our best chance for a healthy Bay, economy, and quality of life. 
  6. Find a dock on the Bay or a cool bank along a river. Sit down, lean back, breathe in, stare out. 

Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


Photo of the Week: Paw Paw Sunset

PawPawTaken while my wife and I enjoyed the sunset from Paw Paw Cove after a full day of fishing and crabbing.

—Jim Kuhl

Ensure that Jim and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

 


This Week in the Watershed

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A crew of watermen on the Chesapeake work to bring in their catch in the light of early morning. Photo by Joseph Stallings.

Just as oysters, blue crabs, and rockfish are inextricably linked to the Chesapeake Bay, so are the watermen who make their living off the water. Indeed, the culture, history, and economy of the Bay are covered with their fingerprints. Look no further than historic skipjacks sailing across the water, oyster packing houses, and of course, tasting the bounty of the Bay.

This bounty, however, is a finite resource. And regulating this public resource can become contentious. Striking the balance between maintaining a healthy fishery without threatening the watermen's livelihood is a significant challenge. At times, government agencies responsible for the management of fisheries are accused of waging a war on watermen.

Upon further inspection, however, CBF's Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough reveals a telling truth, writing, "Watermen need to direct their anger at the real culprits. Attacking public servants only doing their jobs is shooting the messenger. The root cause of the watermen's culture crisis is the degradation of the Bay."

Pollution is harming our beloved Bay critters and the watermen's very livelihood. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is the key to reversing this trend. With the implementation of the Blueprint, we stand to provide a healthy fishery for generations to come—bringing with it clean water, a thriving economy, and a culture intricately woven together with the Chesapeake Bay.

This Week in the Watershed: Watermen's Real Culprit, Restoring Streams, and Preserving Captain Smith

  • No one wants to swim in dirty water. CBF is helping to expose the pollution levels of some Maryland swimming holes, revealing some alarming results. (Bay Journal)
  • As mentioned above, government agencies responsible for the management of fisheries are often accused of waging a war on watermen. As CBF's Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough points out however, the real culprit is pollution. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • We're big fans of stream restoration projects, helping improve the health of both local waters and all waters downstream, including the Chesapeake Bay. Beaver Creek in Maryland is the latest to see restoration. (Herald Mail—MD)
  • The Chesapeake Bay Captain John Smith first encountered in the 17th century looks much different than the Bay we see today. A recent victory, however, has ensured a portion of Captain Smith's Historic Water Trail will be preserved. (Virginia Gazette—VA)
  • The work to save the Bay has evolved over time and involved multiple players. CBF is glad to do its part in helping implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the best, and perhaps last chance to save the Bay. (Star Democrat—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

August 22

  • Richmond folks, come on out for a streamside clean-up. Prizes will go to the neatest finds! Contact Blair Blanchette, Virginia Grassroots Coordinator, at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804-780-1392 to participate.
  • Get an in-depth education of one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world by getting a tour of CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

August 26

  • You're invited to an exclusive open house for oyster gardeners and oyster restoration volunteers at Horn Point Oyster Hatchery. Tour the facility, learn about opportunities for further volunteering, and chat with the Horn Point oyster experts! Afterward, join us at the nearby Real Ale Revival Brewery in Cambridge for happy hour specials and even more mingling with fellow oyster enthusiasts and CBF staff. Space is limited! RSVP's are required to Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410-543-1999.

August 28

  • Get an in-depth education of one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world by getting a tour of CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

August 31

  • Break a sweat while saving the Bay! Come on out to the Maryland Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, MD for some shell shaking! This fun activity helps restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells (we call it "shell shaking") by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. RSVP to Pat Beall at pbeall@cbf.org or 443-482-2065. Learn more here.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


The "War on Watermen"

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been accused of waging a "war on watermen," and watermen are fighting back, seeking changes in the way the bay's fisheries are being managed. They say their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. They are right about that, but they are directing their anger at the wrong people.

Maryland's oyster restoration program is a focal point for this dispute. In 2010, as part of a comprehensive effort to turn around this important but depleted resource, DNR set aside 24 percent of Maryland's productive oyster grounds as "sanctuaries" where harvest was not allowed. The idea was to build up oyster numbers in these areas so they could provide "ecological" benefits, such as filtering the water and building reefs, and also reproduce prodigiously to boost the population.

Maryland watermen have always had access to all oyster grounds, and they want it to stay that way. However, this history of allowing harvest everywhere is well documented as one of the main reasons the Bay's oysters declined to 1 percent of their previous abundance by the 1980s.

In our view the sanctuaries are actually the best hope for watermen, because they promise to boost reproduction and help turn around the fishery. By leaving 76 percent of the resource open to harvest, DNR is actually deferring to watermen's concerns, considering that a recent University of Maryland study recommended completely closing the fishery.

But the question should not be whether to compromise the resource again to give the watermen a short-term windfall. It should be, why are watermen barely getting by on a body of water like Chesapeake Bay with a storied history of productive fisheries? No doubt overfishing has been a factor historically, but the fundamental reality is that today's degraded Chesapeake Bay cannot produce the fish and shellfish it once did. And DNR officials must, as responsible stewards of those resources, limit catches accordingly.

The bay is choking on an overload of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from a variety of pollution sources. The results of this over-enrichment are massive population explosions of algae that turn the water to pea soup from spring to fall. This cloudy water blocks sunlight from underwater grasses, reducing this critical habitat for crabs and juvenile fish to only 20 percent of historical coverage.

Furthermore, dead algal cells fall into deeper water where they decompose, burning up precious dissolved oxygen. The resultant "dead zone" can claim up to 40 percent of the Bay's volume where no fish or shellfish can long survive. Low dissolved oxygen has been implicated in a wide range of impacts to fish and shellfish, including diseases of both oysters and rockfish. It also crowds blue crabs into shallow water where there is no grass bed coverage, and predation, competition, and cannibalism take their toll.

This is the real "war on watermen." It's also a war on recreational fishermen and crabbers, as well as charterboat captains and anyone else who derives enjoyment from the fish and shellfish of the Bay. Pollution is not just an abstract concept. There are real human impacts, and watermen and their families are the poster children for those impacts. They are right that their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. That culture, from workboats on the Bay to seafood restaurants on shore, is the most compelling reason for saving the Bay.

Watermen need to direct their anger at the real culprits. Attacking public servants only doing their jobs is shooting the messenger. The root cause of the watermen's culture crisis is the degradation of the Bay.

The good news is it can be fixed. A formula exists for how to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution: the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Every state and jurisdiction in the Bay's watershed has a role to play under the Blueprint, because the cause is ultimately human activity throughout the watershed.

Few people realize they are complicit in this war on watermen, but that's the bottom line. Watermen can help them understand that by becoming strong advocates for the Blueprint. If all fisheries stakeholders worked together and helped create a greater sense of urgency for reducing pollution, this war could be won, and the Bay could again support productive fisheries.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries

Sign our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pledge showing your support for a healthy, restored Bay, rivers, and streams that support our watermen, our communities, and our quality of life.

 


Susquehanna Odyssey Is Testament to a Struggling River

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

Andrew Phillips grew up a block from the Susquehanna River, in Selinsgrove. He watched bald eaglets in a nest that hung over the river and never got tired of exploring the "huge, magnificent vein" of water in his own backyard. In his senior year of high school, he and a friend kayaked the 120 miles from his home to the Chesapeake Bay.

But Andrew wanted to know more about the river he loves. So earlier this summer, he and a buddy, Mauricio Martinez, kayaked the entire 464 miles of the Susquehanna, from Cooperstown, New York, to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Bay. It was the steamiest and stormiest two weeks of the season.

It was not an unusual feat for the adventurous, compassionate young man who says he'd "already drained the worry out of my family." When he's not studying environmental health at West Chester University or disappearing for days with his backpack, Andrew manages a community garden on campus.

The 20-year-old's odyssey down the living laboratory that is the Susquehanna River provides a true perspective of the problems, pleasures, and promises of a river in peril.

They found wildlife to be plentiful along the way, noting river otters, and more eagles than ducks. They were amazed that an American shad had gotten as far upriver as Harrisburg, although it was dead when they found it.

Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek.

The kindness of others provided fresh, clean water and portaging help around some of the more difficult dams. Andrew and Mauricio were awed at how the pristine trickle in New York became the mighty Susquehanna and almost a mile wide at Harrisburg. It even flowed northward at the Pennsylvania-New York border. Both remember the joy of reaching the wide expanse of the bay at Havre de Grace.

In the downstream transformation of the initial, crystalline stream they also saw firsthand the problems that plague the river that flows 20 miles per day, 18 million gallons per minute at Havre de Grace, and provides half of the freshwater to the Bay.

Andrew noted that the river seems burdened by pollutants, especially sediment. He noticed the effects of streambank erosion while still in New York waters.

Once into agricultural areas of Pennsylvania, they stopped using small portable filters and switched to bottled drinking water. "We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river, and the water is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through," Andrew says. "The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks, and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed."

Agriculture is the largest source of water pollution in Pennsylvania and the cheapest to fix.

The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track.

Andrew and Mauricio also found that kayaking near dams like Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo was brutal for the lack of current. They also took note of the water quality at the impoundments. "You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it," Andrew remembers. "Sediment builds up, and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Millions of shad historically swam hundreds of miles up the Susquehanna, which once boasted the largest shad spawning area on the East Coast. But because of dams, the shad's ability to reach spawning habitats has dropped 98 percent in the river basin. Fish ladders exist to try to relieve this problem, but fisheries managers admit they haven't been nearly as successful as hoped. Yet there is some good news: For 12 straight years Pennsylvania has led the nation in the number of dams removed from rivers and streams.

Andrew's adventure down the Susquehanna left him with a greater appreciation for that and all rivers. "They are living bodies themselves because of all the life that relies on them, is immersed in them, and revolves around them. This is our sacred space and deserves so much respect."

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

The Susquehanna River is sick. Urge Governor Wolf and DEP to push for the Lower Susquehanna River to be on EPA's Impaired Waters list!


Photo of the Week: Hole in the Wall Sunrise


IMG_2008This photo was taken in February on Gwynn's Island looking at the "Hole in the Wall" and the Chesapeake Bay. My husband and I woke up to this beautiful orange light blazing through the window. We just stood there for a moment stunned and then scrambled for our phones to capture this amazing sunrise.

—Elizabeth Vining

Ensure that Elizabeth and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!



 


Conservation in the Face of Change

DSC_0091Joseph Stallings
Photo by Joseph Stallings.

The following first appeared in Save the Bay magazine

The fisheries of the Chesapeake give identity to the region, and maintaining them in the face of various stresses remains our biggest obligation and challenge. Loss of habitat, degraded water quality, and overharvest have been vexing to sort out and address, and climate change potentially shifts the landscape entirely.

As a temperate estuary, the Chesapeake faces change regularly. Water temperature can change 50 degrees over a year. Salinity, a key determinant of where fish can live, ranges from zero (freshwater) at the head of the Bay to ocean saltiness at its mouth. From year to year this "salinity gradient" can shift dramatically depending on the amount of rainfall in the watershed. Certain species have adapted well to this changing environment. These are the ones the early settlers found in unbelievable numbers. And these "resilient" species are the ones that have supported our valuable fisheries: blue crabs, oysters, and rockfish

The abundance of life in the Bay seemed limitless early in our history, but with hindsight we have learned there are limits to what we can take out sustainably. Add to that the historically reckless attitude toward the environment including denuding the land and damming the rivers, and the Bay's living resources faced new changes to which they were not adapted. American shad and oysters are two good examples. Both were harvested relentlessly, and both lost habitat quantity and quality. 

Now climate change is adding a new layer of complication to this picture. Increasing temperature, rising sea level, and more variable precipitation present new challenges for Bay life. Species at the southern end of their range, like soft-shelled clams and eelgrass, already seem to be retreating northward up the Atlantic Coast. Atlantic menhaden haven't produced strong year classes in the Bay in 20 years. Might this be due to climate-related shifts in ocean currents interrupting their life cycle? Rockfish (striped bass) prefer young menhaden as food but may be shifting more to blue crabs as a result and suffering nutritional consequences. And crabs may also be facing new predators like red drum, which are expanding their range northward into the Bay.

There are no simple answers to addressing climate change or any of the other changes facing the Chesapeake Bay. Monitoring Bay conditions and adapting our strategies, much like fish and shellfish have to do, is the basic response. Managing our fisheries sustainably also requires being attentive and nimble. Ensuring there are enough fish to spawn and sufficient habitat for them to survive are fundamental principles. Science provides the basis for these assessments. Most importantly, when the science is incomplete, err on the side of the resource. Being conservative is the best course for both fish and fisherman in the face of change.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries


The Incredible Journey

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Andrew Phillips (left) with friend and fellow adventurer Mauricio Martinez.

Andrew Phillips grew up with a love of adventure and the Susquehanna River.

The 20-year-old environmental health major at West Chester University disappears for days with his backpack, wants to join the Peace Corps, and has a mission trip to Guatemala under his belt.

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Andrew Phillips, finds there’s nowhere to go but down river during yet another downpour, at Great Bend, New York.

Phillips' lifelong interest in water was piqued in high school on a paddling trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, where students tested water quality and surveyed aquatic life in nearby Walker Lake.

His senior year of high school at Selinsgrove High School, Phillips and a friend kayaked 120 miles of the Susquehanna from Selinsgrove to the Chesapeake Bay. It left him wanting more.

So earlier this summer, Phillips and buddy Mauricio Martinez stepped into a crystalline stream at the southern point of Otsego Lake, New York, and began their trip down the entire length of the mighty Susquehanna. The 464 miles would take them from Cooperstown, New York, to where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland, during the most steamy and stormy two weeks of the season.

Phillips describes his extraordinary experience below in a series of observations . . . 

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There were memorable sunrises during the journey. This one was along Towanda Creek, Pennsylvania.

River runs north: "It was kind of disorienting to be kayaking downstream and yet, due north. [The river enters Susquehanna County then curves back northward toward Binghamton, New York.] When we saw the sun setting, it was on the wrong side of us. The river is so winding, you really only see a quarter mile at a time."

Changes: "The murkier water as we headed downstream was so different from the pristine clear water that was at the headwaters. The river seems burdened by the pollutant load, especially the sedimentation. We passed through miles and miles of cornfields on both sides of the river and it is greener, less transparent, and more difficult to see through. The agricultural lands were obvious from the river, as the steeply-eroded, muddy banks and lack of trees create the feeling of being exposed. We could see so tangibly the problems we know exist."

Wildlife: "Peregrine falcons, snapping turtles, otters, a fox on the shoreline. Many species use the river so you are going to see a lot. I've seldom seen river otters so it was cool to see seven or eight. We saw more eagles than ducks."

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Andrew Phillips paddles the first few, narrow miles of the Susquehanna and past streambank erosion and farm fields.

A night like no other: "With only 100 miles to go, we were south of Selinsgrove in yet another storm--the straw that broke the camel's back. We took shelter in a duck blind and it had bees. We moved to under a tree that turned out to be poison ivy."

Flipped for Harrisburg: "I'd gone through that riffle before. It's kind of dangly and didn't leave much of an impression. It was the lowhead effect; you can't see it until you are on top of it. This drop was so abrupt that the nose of my 10-foot, 10-year-old recreational kayak went straight down. I wasn't embarrassed, 350 miles of brutal water tears that out of you. There were fishermen nearby and they were laughing."

Eats: "Spartan provisions. We anticipated catching fish but didn't due mostly to a lack of time. Mauricio caught a 42-inch muskellunge in Towanda Creek. Uncooked Ramen noodles was our chief staple. Every night [we feasted on] a stew made of beans, Ramen noodles, coconut oil, and some adobo. Paddling for 12-14 hours a day you need a lot of fuel." [They also found their favorite mulberries along the way.]

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The area below the dam at Goodyear Lake, New York, provided one of the journey’s toughest portages.

Shad: "We saw a dead American shad on the shore below the small lowhead dam at Harrisburg. For the shad to have made it upstream through those dams is incredible."

Smallmouth bass: "With strange growths found on fish [recently], especially in my area [Selinsgrove], which was the smallmouth capital of the world, it's a huge tragedy. Mauricio still catches smallmouth occasionally near Danville."

Under cover: "Campsites are hard to plan for. The bridges were a lifesaver with all the storms we had. It was arid until we left, and then it was heavy storm after storm. [We had] maybe four nights when it didn't rain. It was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity."

Drinking water: "At the river's headwaters, a small portable filter is sufficient. As you move downstream it's recommended that you not use them after passing agricultural land. So we bought gallon jugs of water and refilled them along the way."

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A small cannon and plaque on a boulder near Cooperstown, New York, are the monument marking the official headwaters of the Susquehanna River.

Trip of the dammed: "The dams are a real threat to the [Susquehanna]. You take this pristine river and build a wall in front of it. Sediment builds up and you end up with this shallow, hot, stagnant reservoir that's really not conducive to any life."

Kindness of others: "We met interesting people along the way. When you are out on this trip and lacking human contact, it's easy to ask for help with portaging, water, and food."

Still waters: "Near the Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo Dams, the kayaking is brutal. [The river becomes] essentially lakes where there's no help from the current. In the headwaters and open areas we covered 40-50 miles a day, easily. At the dam, 30 miles is a stretch."

Grand finale: "It didn't dawn on me until we unpacked. At Havre de Grace, it's incredible. It was the promised land of sorts. The sky opens up and you see this huge, open Chesapeake Bay after being closed by mountains and cliffs for almost 500 miles. It's a really incredible sight."

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Andrew Phillips paddles near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg.

The Bay: "Everybody is downstream. The Bay acts like the dipstick for the whole region. There are so many different threats from so many different angles. We were kind of like flotsam going down the river and saw how this system impacts the Bay itself."

Lasting impression: "Rivers are conveyor belts that show the health of the entire land. [The Susquehanna] is more than a cause that you reluctantly write a check for. This is our sacred space. There are settlements along the way, and they are fixed, but this river runs through them and refreshes itself. You really get a feel for it, like it's an old friend instead of a body of moving water."

— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator