"The idea of the Captain John Smith Trail is really hard to wrap your head around," said Jill Bieri, as her kayak glided downwind on Powhatan Creek through fields of arrow arum, a wash of emerald green leaves against the deep blue afternoon sky.
Powhatan Creek is part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, an ambitious and ongoing project launched by 2006 legislation in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown in 1607. It was the first time that Congress designated a water trail as a national historic trail. Its creation has helped to revive waterfront communities throughout Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
If you see the American lotus in bloom, with petals spread wide to the sun, you might also be seeing a gift from the past.
Each pale yellow flower hovers above Chesapeake waters for just a few days each summer, but the seed from which it grew may have been dropped centuries ago.
"Lotus seeds lie dormant for a very long time," said Doug Rowley of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC. "There are accounts of seeds in a dried-out lake bed in India that were 800 or 900 hundred years old, and the seeds were still viable."
If you live in St. Michaels, MD, you've probably heard the story of the lanterns. If you visit, you'll probably hear it, too. In fact, if you arrive by road, you'll pass a sign that welcomes you to "The Town that Fooled the British."
It's a good tale, and it goes like this: In 1813, Americans were at war with the British. Again.
It was the second year in the War of 1812. The British Navy had launched an aggressive campaign on the Chesapeake. They aimed to intimidate its towns, destroy ship-building centers and crush maritime trade. In August, they arrived at St. Michaels.
For the last few weeks, a little osprey chick has been the center of attention for a growing crowd of admirers. He's the third chick to hatch to a pair of osprey, Tom and Audrey, who make their home on a nesting platform at the end of a dock on Kent Island.
It's an osprey home like many others with one exception: It has a hi-definition video camera attached. So Tom and Audrey's busy nest-hold is being beamed out to the world via www.chesapeakeconservancy.org, a real reality TV show. Thousands of folks check in daily to see whether Tom has brought home the fish, whether Audrey is tending the nest and — maybe most of all — whether that little chick is getting enough to eat.
Lefty Kreh made it look so easy. The legendary fly fisherman stood on the lawn of the Prospect Bay Country Club on a chilly March morning, teaching a group of fishing enthusiasts how to perfect the art of casting. His orange line whipsawed back and forth, in perfect symmetry, and his wrist didn't look like it was moving at all.
"I'm 88 years old," he reminded the group several times. Fly-fishing doesn't require major muscles or a lot of experience, Kreh told the group assembled for Tiefest, a yearly event that honors him. It just requires patience and concentration.
I've paddled the length and breadth of the Chesapeake for days on end, the ocean coasts of Maryland and Virginia too. But sometimes all one wants is an easy day trip, no worries about wind or tide, just a few hours to meander by canoe or kayak.
The uppermost five or six miles of the Chester River, between the Maryland Eastern Shore villages of Crumpton and Millington, filled the bill dandily on a recent morning. "A pastoral scene of rich bottom lands, patches of intensely green woods, an occasional village," Hulbert Footner described the Chester region of Kent and Queen Anne's counties 70 years ago in his classic, "Rivers of the Eastern Shore."
It began as a small event to mark the end of the schooner Sultana's sailing season; now Downrigging Weekend has grown to become one of the largest tall ship and wooden boat festivals on the East Coast, complete with activities for the whole family spaced over a long weekend in Chestertown, MD. One highlight is the opportunity to sail on one of the ships.
Now in its 13th year, Downrigging Weekend, Nov. 1–4, includes performances by world-class musicians; lectures by nationally recognized authors and filmmakers on topics ranging from the history of rum to the America's Cup; photography classes; art shows; pot-luck dinners; and ghost walks. Many events are free. (Sail fees aboard a tall ship range from $25 to $55.)
This September, the Maryland Lighthouse Challenge will open the doors to lighthouses of all shapes and sizes — including one lightship — as hundreds of people flock to remember and explore maritime heritage on the Chesapeake Bay.
"There's an allure to lighthouses, a beauty and mystique," said Challenge coordinator Karen Rosage of the U.S. Lighthouse Society's Chesapeake Chapter. "And they sit at some of the most scenic spots in the state."
Every fall, a fleet of schooners — large and small, new and old — gather in Baltimore to celebrate Chesapeake Bay heritage and race down the Bay to Portsmouth. With a day of sail parade in Baltimore, a start off Annapolis, and events at the finish in Portsmouth, VA, the event is for anyone interested in schooners, Bay history or a spectacle reminiscent of the age of sail.
The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race has its roots in the rivalry between two great Bay ports, Baltimore and Portsmouth. In the day when trade on the Bay was sail-powered and schooners carried cargo throughout the region, the fastest boats were able to beat their competitors to the markets and often commanded the highest prices for the goods they carried. Today, the event raises money to support Chesapeake Bay education and restoration. Thirty-seven schooners participated in the 2012 event.
Both water and music soothe the soul, so combining the two is sure to make summer memories.
Opportunities to connect to the Bay through music during the long Chesapeake summer are abundant — and often in historic waterfront venues.
Janie Meneely has spent a lifetime of creating, performing and promoting the musical traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. She and her husband, Paul DiBlasi, form the duo, Calico Jack.
Star-Spangled Banner Weekend in Baltimore
Fort McHenry in Baltimore will host a three-day encampment with more than 100 War of 1812 re-enactors, parades, military bands, fireworks, a symbolic ship-to-shore bombardment and much more Sept. 13–15.
Events begin at 6 p.m. on Sept. 13 with a musket and cannon firing salute from Federal Hill. After the ceremony, the re-enactors will board sailing boats and return with a 30-by-42-foot replica flag to Fort McHenry.
In November 1863, Abraham Lincoln rode a five-car train along the Northern Central Railway through parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania. His destination was the battlefield at Gettysburg, where thousands had fallen just four months earlier.
Along the way, at least according to legend, he wrote one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history.
Today, tourists can ride in wooden coaches behind a faithful replica of the engine that pulled the 16th president's train through the Pennsylvania countryside.