It’s easy to reach the home of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States. Just follow the John Tyler Memorial Highway in Charles City County, VA.
The Sherwood Forest plantation, where members of the Tyler family have lived since the former president purchased it in 1842, doesn’t see the traffic of nearby attractions. It’s hard to stand out in a state with so much presidential history. Virginia offers the birthplaces and ancestral homes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, to name just a few. And Tyler, a one-termer whose biggest accomplishment was annexing the Republic of Texas, may not be our most memorable commander in chief.
As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year, we are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of a national park we have right here in our collective backyard, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
Winding through much of the Chesapeake region, I believe the nation’s first all-water national historic trail is as beautiful and precious to our nation as the national parks that more readily come to mind, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite.
If Capt. John Smith could come back to retrace his Chesapeake journeys in the early 1600s, he might find portions of Foreman Creek much as he saw it four centuries ago.
On this murky tributary of the Sassafras River, trees hug the shores, and lush green beds of wild rice blanket the shallows. While paddling it recently on a kayak excursion organized and guided by the Sultana Education Foundation, I saw blue herons take wing as we glided toward them. Deer drinking at the water’s edge raised their heads before retreating into the woods. Bald eagles and ospreys patrolled the mostly blue sky overhead.
Five fragmented stones, with shallow carvings made by American Indians, were given a new home this spring at Susquehanna State Park in Havre de Grace, MD.
The fragments, or petroglyphs, were once part of a large set of carvings on massive boulders in the lower Susquehanna River, at a site known as Bald Friar. They were literally blasted from their original setting in the 1920s — creating about 90 separate pieces — to save them from being submerged in the river by the Conowingo Dam.
This particular set of fragments has traveled together for nearly 100 years. They spent time along the Maryland Academy of Sciences walkway in Baltimore and then in a forgotten heap, overgrown with poison ivy, at the edge of a maintenance area in the city’s Druid Hill Park. More recently, they were stored in an archeology lab in southern Maryland. Until now, the stones and their carvings have remained far from the river that inspired them.
Hundreds of visitors come to Berkeley Springs, WV, every year with empty water jugs, rolled-up pant legs and plans for relaxation. Here, they “take the waters” by drinking or dipping in the 74-degree springs that drew George Washington here for quiet colonial era retreats.
Highway signs near the Bay Bridge in Maryland are plentiful, steering you toward the ocean or away from it, marking traffic lanes and luring people to local businesses. Among the signs on this busy corridor is a simple one for the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center. Is it worth the stop? Yes, it is.
“We don’t want to be a hidden gem, but we sort of still are,” said assistant director Vicki Paulas.
Mid-morning, mid-April. Traffic’s crawling as we depart from Annapolis near U.S. 50. We can count on the Orioles home game later today to snarl roads as we pass through Baltimore. North of the city, homebound commuters will reliably choke Interstate 83 as we continue to our destination in York, PA.
At least, that would be the experience if we were going by car. But we’re two-wheeling it, pedaling the East Coast Greenway. The greenway is a glorious, public, work-in-progress, a hopeful counterweight to the interstate highway system that began transforming transportation in the United States 60 years ago.