Ralph Heimlich is a kayaker and Chesapeake Bay enthusiast who hates to put down his paddle. So when the cold days of the new year stall his watery sojourns, Heimlich does the next best thing: He plans paddle trips for spring.
“We call it armchair paddling,” Heimlich said.
As coordinator of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, Heimlich has volumes of experience and advice to share. So do many of his cohorts, members of the paddling association who are organized into smaller paddling groups — called “paddling pirates” — in locations spread around the Bay region. They offer classes, organize day paddles for beginners, and plan longer, more-challenging trips for those who just can’t get enough.
Outside, the wind is rattling cold rain against my windows. But inside, I’m warm enough and thinking of my kayak, spring breezes, a serene stretch of river and the next section of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail that I want to explore.
But which section? I’m torn. Should I go south, to the James River, where Smith helped found the first permanent English settlement in what became the United States of America? Or, back to the Nanticoke, one of my favorite rivers, to soak in its quiet beauty? Or north, to the Susquehanna?
The stress of being president has driven our nation’s leaders to places of privacy and renewal since the earliest days of the nation — and in many cases, these places have been in the woods, or by fields and streams, where the land and vistas nourish and revive.
Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains, a retreat for presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, is close enough to Washington, DC, but far from its day-to-day pressures. Without a presidential invitation, though, private citizens can’t visit.
But other presidential retreats — no longer in use and open to the public — are within a few hours’ drive of DC. Visiting these once-private places offers glimpses into the private lives of the presidents who frequented them.
A century ago, when oysters were plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, skipjacks were, too. Hundreds sailed the Bay in fall and winter as watermen hauled their catch on deck and then to ravenous markets on shore.
Now, like the oysters they were designed to harvest, these iconic wooden boats survive at a fraction of their former numbers — and are championed by people devoted to their preservation.
This varied landscape is one of the reasons that the Chesapeake is at the heart of the Atlantic Flyway, one of nature’s superhighways for migrating birds. Millions of birds from 300 species live, migrate or breed here annually, and there are many terrific spots where you can find them. Here are some of my personal favorites. They are located throughout the watershed, include a variety of habitats and feature a range of species. You’ll find good winter bird spots in the list, as well as a few places to visit in the spring or summer. These 10 sites should provide hours of enjoyment for any experienced or would-be Chesapeake birder.
Spring is said to flow north up the East Coast about 15 miles a day — too slow for me after last winter; so on a chilly, rainy April weekend I drove to meet it in Norfolk, VA, where the Bay’s watershed nearly kisses North Carolina and the flora emulates Charleston more than Baltimore or Richmond.
I sought the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, where something’s blooming 12 months a year. Acres of azaleas were already past full blush, as dogwoods lit the forest understory and even reluctant oaks strained toward full leaf.
Such glory beckoned like cool water to a parched throat; but I almost didn’t get there. It was the live oaks’ fault.
After a long holiday with big meals and lots of lounging about, it is good to get out on a clear winter’s day and take a walk. One place you might not consider is along the Anacostia River and its many feeder streams. But you would be missing out.
There are few other places in the Chesapeake watershed where you can find dozens of miles of trails through parks along streams and a river, and almost nowhere else you can take the Metro to any number of starting points and walk or bicycle home. As difficult as it is to choose among the options, here are six of my favorite walks.