Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 2

BillPortlockAn aerial view of part of Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River in Virginia's Northern Neck. The Diatomite Corporation of America is threatening to develop part of this unspoiled place that is home to one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff. 

You've been hearing a lot about Fones Cliffs lately and the potential development that threatens it.* To better understand this untouched place along Virginia's Northern Neck and just how much is at stake, we talked with CBF's Senior Naturalist John Page Williams, who is no stranger to this stretch of the Rappahannock. Williams recounted an experience (originally published on that he had not so long ago on the river, in this special part of the world:

The combination of fresh and salt water, strong currents, marshes and deep water close to shore gives this part of the river a rich biological community of plants, fish, birds, and mammals. Combine that with fertile floodplain soils, and it is no surprise that this region has served humans well for several thousand years . . .

One element in the appeal of the Bay's upper tidal rivers is that there is something interesting going on at virtually every season of the year. Springtime brings spawning rockfish, white perch, American and hickory shad, catfish, and two species of river herring. In summer, the river's shallows teem with juvenile fish that make its great blue herons and ospreys fat and happy, while the marshes burst with seed-bearing plants like wild rice, rice cut-grass, smartweed, and tearthumb. Fall brings blackbirds and then waterfowl, while the hardwood trees along the river turn to blazing colors. Winter brings concentrations of Canada geese and bald eagles . . .

We rode First Light through the curves at Leedstown and Laytons Landing, which is a steamboat wharf site on the Essex County (south) side. Laytons Landing had been connected by ferry to Leedstown and stayed busy until the highway bridge at Tappahannock was built in the 1930s. Here the Rappahannock opens up into a long, straight reach that extends for four miles down to Fones Cliffs.

I told Jim [Rogers] about an afternoon 15 years earlier, when First Light and I had entered this reach on a clear, calm late-October day. With the sun low behind us, light streamed down the river, illuminating a corridor of blazing yellow, orange, scarlet, and purple colors in the sycamores, maples, sweet gums, and black gums before lighting up the tawny sandstone of the cliffs at the far end. I remember stopping the engine and drifting, drinking in the scene. Partway down the reach, I drifted past an empty osprey platform. As I watched, a mature eagle drifted down out of the sky and perched there. The view was the most stunning I have seen in all my years on the Chesapeake.

And yet for all this beauty and important biodiversity, 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 townhomes. On October 8, the Richmond County Board of Supervisors will consider the rezoning request, which means we have just one week to speak out loudly in opposition. Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock. Sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs. Because if lost, it will be lost forever.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

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

Learn more about Fones Cliffs and why it's important in our blog series here.

Polluted Runoff Fees Help Fight Local Issues

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

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Polluted runoff from agriculture and urban/suburban sources, are the first and third leading causes of impairment to roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Hampden Township is the latest Pennsylvania municipality to address its flooding and clean water problems by implementing a polluted runoff fee, and asking residents to be part of the solutions.

Hampden Township is not alone. There are over 1,550 municipalities in the United States with similar fees, and local governments across the Commonwealth are lining up to implement their own. Philadelphia, Lancaster, Hazleton, Mt. Lebanon and Radnor townships, and Jonestown Borough have already instituted polluted runoff fees.

Polluted runoff fees are also referred to as stormwater fees, or the silly "rain tax." The term is deceptive, and downright inaccurate. While "rain tax" makes for a catchy headline, the term obscures real problems and derails honest discussions about how to fix them.

By any name, the stormwater fee is not a tax on rain, but a fee based on the amount of polluted runoff that impervious surfaces like roofs, streets, and parking lots generate and then shuttle into municipally-owned storm sewers. From there, it's often sent directly to the nearest river or stream, carrying with it dirt, garbage, animal waste, oils, lawn chemicals and other pollutants into streams and rivers, threatening drinking water.

Regular flooding from uncontrolled runoff inflicts human, economic, and property damage, which affects hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth.

For municipalities, the revenue is a local solution to local problems.

Hampden Township has more than 75 miles of storm pipes and 250 outfalls that must be inspected and maintained. Stormwater pipes in the area are failing in six locations and causing erosion. The township hopes to remedy flooding issues in at least one area.

The Cumberland County municipality of 30,000 expects the fee to generate about $1.5 million annually. Funds will be used primarily to comply with clean water laws, for new and improved stormwater infrastructure, and to meet planning and reporting mandates.

Revenues from runoff fees are usually dedicated to the stormwater authority, and used only for polluted runoff issues within the municipality.

Polluted runoff fees also tend make management of runoff more equitable, in that they relieve taxpayers from bearing the entire burden. Because it is not a tax, the fee provides that tax-exempt properties pay their fair share. Hampden Township has $1 billion in tax exempt real estate. John V. Thomas, vice president of the Hampden Township Board of Commissioners, says taxes would have to be increased by 30 percent to offset potential income collected from the Navy base and West Shore Hospital alone.

Rates vary with the municipality and many, like Hampden Township, offer fee reductions if homeowners or businesses build rain gardens, plant trees, or install rain barrels on their property.

Each Hampden residence, for example, will pay a fee of $13.25 per quarter, based on the average amount of hard surface for area homes. The rate for larger, non-residential properties will be scaled upward relative to their amount of impervious surfaces and the amount of runoff they create.

Polluted runoff from agriculture and urban/suburban sources, are the first and third leading causes of impairment to roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth is perilously behind its clean water goals. Measures funded by polluted runoff fees are among those that can get us back on track.

Clean water counts. Polluted runoff fees are an investment in solving our own local problems. It makes sense that we kick-in our fair share to clean up polluted runoff and to reduce flooding of our streets, basements, and backyards.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

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

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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

Photo of the Week: Burgers and Brews for the Bay

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Fall on CBF's Clagett Farm. (Don't you want to be here right now?) Photo by CBF Staff.

In just a few short weeks, for many of you, this will be the incredible backdrop to your Sunday afternoon. On October 4, we're throwing a party celebrating fall, local food, clean water, and our sustainable Clagett Farm (hence the pretty pic above). And you're all invited!

Burgers and Brews for the Bay will feature delicious food created by area chefs using fresh, local ingredients and specially paired craft-brewed beers. Top that off with live bluegrass music, hay rides, and everything you ever wanted to know about how sustainable farming leads to healthier, cleaner waters, and you've got a fantastic fall afternoon on the farm. 

Tickets are selling fast. Click here to get yours!

Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


Burgers and Brews Flyer FINAL_Crop

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

Click here to continue the story on how Julia was able to tackle polluted runoff at her Bel Air Church.

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.


Susquehanna Odyssey Is Testament to a Struggling River

The following first appeared in the York Daily Record.

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!

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 

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.