Fall ushers in the oysters, and oyster lovers can celebrate at two signature festivals in the Chesapeake region.
Push on the pedals for one last rise. After that it’ll be downhill delight for the last 20 miles. For two days we’ve been gently climbing for 75 miles from the gritty old western Pennsylvania coal town of Connellsville, which in more prosperous days claimed more millionaires for its size than any U.S. town.
We glide through a short tunnel marking the Eastern Continental Divide. For a few seconds we are suspended — if our dusty touring bicycles were drops of rain we would be poised between trickling back north to Pittsburgh, to the Ohio River, to the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico; or south to Cumberland, MD, to the Potomac, to the Chesapeake, to the Atlantic.
At first glance, not much seems remarkable about the blackpoll warbler, a black and white songbird that measures 5–6 inches long and weighs little more than an ink pen.
But it’s what you don’t see that makes blackpolls remarkable. Beginning late each summer, the birds start moving southward from their boreal forest breeding grounds, which range from northern Pennsylvania through much of Alaska.
Bit by bit, they make their way to the Atlantic Coast between New England and the Delmarva Peninsula. Then, in one giant leap, they head south over the Atlantic Ocean, not stopping until they reach the Caribbean Islands or northern South America.
When Ranae Tibbens angles her blue kayak through the broad waters of the lower Susquehanna River, rocks are strewn across her path. Quite often, she aims right for them.
Tibbens, a professional river guide, is in the midst of a self-confessed love affair — with rocks. And the lower Susquehanna River is a great place to be.
Below the city and suburbs of Harrisburg, PA, the river takes a deep green breath before sweeping into the Chesapeake Bay just south of the Maryland line. It cuts through thousands of forested acres, its progress punctuated by dams and a few riverside towns.
Want to take your children on their first camping trip? Good luck to you. Camping can be a lot of fun. The frogs. The s’mores. The great outdoors.
But it can also be fraught with trouble. What if it storms and you’re six hours from home? What if you forgot your daughter’s favorite teddy bear and she won’t sleep without it? What if mosquitoes and chiggers attack and you forgot the bug spray? What if your children decide that, after all that begging to go, it’s just not for them?
If you are looking for a great tidal river to paddle, choose the Nanticoke. It’s exceptional for two reasons.
First, along its 64-mile trek from Sussex County, DE, to the Chesapeake in Maryland, it passes through miles and miles of conserved forests and wetlands that provide rich habitat for the region’s plants and animals, including some of the Delmarva Peninsula’s rarest. It’s beautiful tidewater country.
It’s hard to imagine what 23,110 looks like. Make that the number of soldiers wounded, killed or missing after the bloodiest one-day battle in U.S. history, and it’s nearly impossible to fathom from our modern-day perspectives.
That’s why, on the first Saturday evening in December, volunteers set Antietam National Battlefield’s rolling hills ablaze with 23,110 candles in brown paper bags. The image — which visitors say makes the casualties far more than a statistic — is burned into the minds of those who’ve seen it during the event’s 25-year history.
Up to 3,000 visitors view the annual event by car, winding through the five-mile path that traverses the battlefield, said Keith Snyder, park ranger and chief of resource education at Antietam. (He recommends that visitors use the rest room before getting in the line, which can run up to two hours long.) The event starts at 6 p.m. and allows the last cars through at midnight.
When the teeth of the oyster tongs open, a small mound of oysters tumble onto the worn wooden surface of the Bay Quest’s culling board. They are fresh from the floor of the Coan River, on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Their shells are slick with gray silt and dotted with barnacles.
On another day, Capt. David Rowe might take these oysters to market. Today, he’s using them to tell stories of the Chesapeake and the decades he’s spent working its waters.
Rowe is among the working watermen taking part in a heritage tourism program that gives visitors an authentic look at a traditional way of life along the Chesapeake Bay.