Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 3

We have just three days left to stand up and fight for one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the Chesapeake watershed. Fones Cliffs is an idyllic and dramatic spot in Richmond County on Virginia's Northern Neck. The extensive forest and high white cliffs rising above the Rappahannock River provide an ideal hunting perch for the hundreds of eagles that migrate through the area, as well as numerous nesting pairs.  

But a large part of this remarkable place and the wildlife that depend on it is at risk.* A short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhouses. 

Perhaps there's no one who knows this extraordinary part of the world better than Bill Portlock—educator, naturalist, photographer. With the lens of his camera below, Portlock shows us just how much is at stake if we were to lose this jewel of the Rappahannock. 

Adult bald eagle. Our national bird inhabits Fones Cliffs in unusually large numbers. There are breeding pairs, sub-adult (eagles that do not reproduce until four or five years old), and non-breeding pairs, including bald eagles from the Canadian Maritimes (in winter) and Florida (during the summer). Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Fones Cliffs at Luke’s Island with adjacent wetlands. This brackish (a mix of fresh and salt water) marsh leads to the headwaters of Garland Creek where there is a bald eagle communal roost. These roost sites are comprised of non-breeding birds that gather closely together in what is called a larger "concentration zone" of eagles—just one reason Fones Cliffs are so important. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Drake's marsh, a brackish marsh six miles upstream from Fones Cliffs. The cliffs may be seen on the distant left horizon. The dominant wetland plant here is Spartina cynosuroides or Tall Cordgrass. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Caspian Terns have a conversation while resting on a submerged log. Caspian Terns are the largest terns in the world and are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are usually only present on the Rappahannock during their spring and fall migration. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Aerial view of Luke's Island with expansive miles-long view of Fones Cliffs at the top of the photo. Beverly Marsh across the Rappahannock is home to freshwater wetland plants like wild rice, pickerel weed, arrow arum, smartweeds, and many more important wetland plants. It is considered by wildlife biologists to be among the best black duck marshes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Canada Geese fly over the Rappahanock River in front of Fones Cliffs on a December day. More than 15,000 wild, migratory Canada Geese like these are regularly observed in annual waterfowl surveys and Christmas Bird Count data from the Rappahannock. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


A great blue heron stalks prey along a marsh on the Rappahannock. Great blues feed on fish, crustaceans, and even small mammals. The birds nest colonially and are considered partially migratory along the East Coast. It is not unusual to see great blue herons on rivers in the Bay region every month of the year. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


A view of Fones Cliffs from Carter's Wharf in Richmond County. The public boat launch ramp once served as a stop on the 18th-century steamboat route. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Sub adult bald eagle flying along Fones Cliffs. Juvenile, immature bald eagles have brown plumage during their first year. In the second and third years they remain with brown feathers but have irregular white feathers as well, giving a mottled appearance. They attain their unique white head and tail with brown body feathers during their fourth or fifth year. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock. Click here to sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs before the rezoning hearing this Thursday, October 8!

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

Photo of the Week: It Could Be Lost Forever

Cliff and river by Bill Portlock

All photos by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff. 

Roughly halfway between Port Royal and Tappahannock, along Virginia's Northern Neck in remote Richmond County, an incredible thing happens. Stunning white and yellow bluffs rise up out of the Rappahannock toward piercing blue sky. High above these cliffs bald eagles glide through the air, their extraordinary wings stretched long and strong. In the river below, striped bass, white perch, and other fish spawn each spring. And there in a 17-foot Whaler I stare up, mouth agape.    

EagleBut a large part of this remarkable place, this jewel of the Rappahannock called Fones Cliffs, is at risk. A short-sighted, Miami-based developer is petitioning to rezone the land so he can turn this unique and fragile site into parking lots, commercial development, and townhouses. In fact, the proposed development includes 718 homes, 18 guest cottages, an 18-hole golf course and driving range, 116-room lodge with spa, 150-seat restaurant, a commercial center, a skeet and trap range, an equestrian center with stables for 90 horses, a 10,000-square-foot community barn, and seven piers along the river.

I don't have to tell you that rezoning this site would destroy this unspoiled stretch of the Rappahannock and all the wildlife that call it home. 

Join with us to tell the Richmond County Board of Supervisors we can't let this happen. Sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


This Week in the Watershed

PC in Harris Creek
CBF oyster restoration staff in Harris Creek.

Walking across a stage to receive a diploma at any level of education is a milestone achievement. While the accomplishment should be celebrated, in reality, graduation is announcing an individual's ambition and preparedness to make a difference in his or her field of interest. In much the same way, there are points in time when we celebrate success of Bay restoration efforts while looking toward what the future holds.

Recently, the oyster restoration project in Harris Creek, a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River, reached a milestone by completing the construction phase. While it's inaccurate to say the creek is "restored," the oyster restoration project has made significant progress, and the creek's oysters are now prepared to make a difference both in the water quality and the oyster levels in surrounding waterways.

CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) also celebrated a major milestone, marking its 25th anniversary. With Pennsylvania second only to Alaska in the number of miles of waterways flowing through the state, it is critical that future leaders are motivated to improve their local water quality. The work to improve environmental literacy and cultivate a reverence for clean water throughout the watershed is ongoing. But with accomplishments such as the Harris Creek milestone and the SWEP anniversary, there are times to celebrate our success.

This Week in the Watershed: Oyster Milestones, Education Anniversaries, and Tiny Trash

  • The endeavor to restore the oyster population in Harris Creek, a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River, is celebrating a major milestone. (CBF Statement—MD)
  • It's the 25th year of the CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program, where students get in touch with their local waterways. (Public News Service—VA)
  • The results are crystal clear—getting students outside improves learning and strengthens interest and respect for the environment. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • Finding bags, bottles, cans, and other visible signs of trash in our waterways is disturbing. But to grasp the bigger picture, you need to look closer. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Oyster restoration is tough work, but ultimately very fulfilling. CBF's Jackie Shannon can certainly testify to that. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • Two Hampton Roads area principals are bringing their experience with CBF this summer on Tangier Island back to the classroom. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

September 19

  • Gambrills, MD: Help CBF and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm. This 800-acre farm is the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was the old manure pond back when the farm was a dairy. Click here for more information.

September 22

  • Melfa, VA: The Eastern Shore of Virginia VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class on Tuesdays, starts September 22! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

September 26

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us in making the Choptank River cleaner and safer through a stream cleanup at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park. Click here to register!
  • Baltimore, MD: A vacant lot in West Baltimore is getting a facelift, with 4,000 shrubs, wild flowers, and grasses planted. Volunteers are needed for this urban restoration project that will reduce polluted runoff and beautify the neighborhood. Click here to register!
  • Solomons, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Solomon's Island September 26. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

September 27

  • Baltimore, MD: CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

September 30

  • York, PA: A good time is to be had by all at BrewVino. Residents can meet neighbors looking to protect local waterways and learn about new opportunities to get involved in ensuring clean water, healthy communities, and a thriving economy for York County. Oh, and there will be good food! Click here to register!

October 2

  • Annapolis, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Annapolis October 2. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

October 3

  • Easton, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Easton October 3. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

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

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.

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

The "War on Watermen"

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.


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

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.

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 . . . 

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."

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.]

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."

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."

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 

Photo of the Week: Low Tide at Hughlett Point

GregWinterI took an early morning sunrise hike on the trails of Hughlett Park Natural Area Preserve in Northumberland County, Virginia, with my friend, Claire Forsyth. [We walked] to the undeveloped shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay.  

At the early morning sunrise during low tide on this June 18 morning, Claire took advantage of the serene, natural, and peaceful vista on display to meditate with a little yoga.

—Spence Winter

Ensure that Spence, Claire, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe federal/state plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite summertime Bay 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], 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!




We're Halfway There: Holy Cross Abbey, Cool Spring Farm

Holy Cross Abbey June 2015 (Clarke Co CD10)This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Father James Orthmann is a monk at the Holy Cross Abbey, a 1,200-acre farm with nearly three miles of river frontage on the main stem of the Shenandoah River.

"In order for us to be spiritually sustainable, it is necessary for us to take care of the place where we live," he explains. The monks' "place" is Cool Spring Farm, located along the west bank of the river where the American Civil War Battle of Cool Spring occurred in the summer of 1864.

The Trappist monks of Cool Spring began their natural resources pilgrimage with a sustainability study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2009-2010.

"One of the first recommendations from the study was to get our cows out of the Shenandoah River and all the tributaries on the farm," Orthmann says. "How could we be true to our guiding principal of loving our 'place' with cows in the river and streams? The cows were polluting the water and ruining the streambanks.

"To achieve this, we first removed the cattle from the flood plain and leased that land to an 'all natural' produce farm. Next we contacted the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for assistance with fencing and watering troughs for the rest of the streams on the farm.

"With the help from these dedicated public servants, we were able to protect almost four and a half miles of streambanks, including the Shenandoah River and the historic Cool Spring itself."

The community of monks continued their sustainability journey by diversifying their operation. Not only do they produce cattle, fruits, vegetables, and timber, they also now have a "natural cemetery," a retreat house, gift shop, and the Monastery Bakery—the one that produces those famous Trappist fruitcakes.

"Sustainability works," Orthmann continued. "It's paying off economically, environmentally, and spiritually. As Trappist monks committed to this community and land for life, fencing the cows out of the stream was an easy first step toward a more holistic lifestyle."

—Bobby Whitescarver  
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.