Bay Journal


What’s that plant? A field test for Plant ID apps

The ability to identify plants and trees was once the sole province of experts such as naturalists, botanists and master gardeners. But with new technology just a download away, anyone can do it.

Well, mostly do it. So I learned during a recent hike through a soggy portion of the Nassawango Creek Preserve in Worcester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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Virginia riverside trails a rhapsody of bluebells

At Bull Run Regional Park in Northern Virginia, the staff starts fielding questions in February. “When will the bluebells peak?” “What if I come next Thursday morning?”

It’s impossible to predict that far out, said park manager Megan Schuster. But it’s safe to say that sometime in the last week of March or the first two weeks of April, millions of bluebells will be coming into full bloom at the park and paint the floodplains of its streams a luminescent blue.

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It’s a ‘capital’ trail between Richmond and Jamestown

Ephraim Seidman, a cyclist from Richmond, can be found on the Virginia Capital Trail several times a week. He’s not there just for fun and exercise. Seidman is one of more than 80 “trail ambassadors” coordinated by the Capital Trail Foundation.

The team of bicycle enthusiasts frequents the trail wearing bright orange vests, ready to answer questions, help cyclists with minor mechanical problems or report safety issues to the foundation.

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Enjoy new trails, old stomping grounds along the James River

In late summer, a sandy bank of the James River near downtown Richmond known as Texas Beach can get raucous with crowds anxious to stick their toes in the water. But on a midwinter afternoon, the river views feel both remote and peaceful.

It’s nice to set foot on a sandy shore — so close to a bustling urban center — even if it’s too cold to dip your toes.

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Birds and birders alike still flocking to Cox Creek

One of Maryland’s top birding sites is not as open to the public as it used to be — but no one told the birds.

From their vantage point, the Cox Creek dredged material placement site just southeast of Baltimore on the Patapsco River offers about 100 acres of shallow, brackish waters with easy eating for wintering ducks. In the summer, it functions as mud flats for shorebirds rarely seen this far from the beach.

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South Mountain battlefield not just for Civil War buffs

Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettsyburg, the Wilderness: After more than 150 years, the names of certain Civil War battles continue to vibrate with meaning and consequence in the public’s imagination.

Their names are often deployed as shorthand to conjure images of valor, sacrifice and slaughter.

South Mountain: not so much.

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Arlington Woods a living monument to forests of the past

Cemeteries are places of remembrance. 

Arlington National Cemetery is perhaps the most famous, the final resting place of more than 400,000 veterans of American conflicts and their spouses.

Virtually unnoticed among all of the headstones, there’s a different kind of memorial. It’s a 12-acre swath of trees tucked into a steep ravine downhill from Arlington House, the one-time home of the adopted grandson of the nation’s first president.

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Turkey Hill Trail stuffed with views of Susquehanna, birds

Where can you find the largest pawpaw patch north of Maryland, trace an old railroad bed along the Susquehanna River, hear the swoosh of wind turbines and meander through vast flowering meadows?

And where, on the same hike, can you get a bird’s-eye view of one of the most important migratory stops for shorebirds and take in two killer views of the Susquehanna at its widest point, one in the exact spot where the architect of the U.S. Capitol stood and took brush to canvas in 1802?

Well, surprisingly, on either end of Lancaster County’s landfill in Pennsylvania.

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Sinuous, woodsy Barren Creek is fit to be plied

A street lined with homes built in the early 1900s slopes downhill to the fraying edge of town. A two-lane bridge carries traffic across a ribbon of flat water. There’s a boat ramp on the opposite side with one of those newfangled kayak launches with rollers.

The ramp supplies the only public access to Barren Creek, so it is where most paddlers initially meet the waterway. It is not a breathtaking first impressio

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Paddle through past landscapes along remote Cat Point Creek

Early morning light beckoned me upstream into the green, marshy world of Cat Point Creek, a tributary of Virginia’s Rappahannock River.

I paddled the creek’s narrow path through pastures of arrow arum, past tight fists of yellow pond lilies that had begun their spring unfurling. Blue flag irises were emerging from ferns that had found a toehold in boggy soil amongst the roots of a small, red maple.

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Ponder history, explore trails at Maryland’s Fort Frederick

I have formed three distinctly different impressions of Fort Frederick, the 1756 stone fort that is now the centerpiece of a 585-acre state park in Western Maryland.

There’s the Market Fair experience every year in late April, when acres and acres of white tents sprout in the fields around the fort and literally thousands of people — easily half of them dressed for the 1700s — spend four days buying and selling all manner of Colonial era products and demonstrating those ways of life.

Then there’s the spartan, Colonial-frontier feel inside the fort, where I can easily imagine how safe it must have felt to an English settler inside those massive, 18-foot-high walls during the French and Indian War.

And finally, there’s down the slope of the fort grounds into the woodsy Potomac River bottomland and what feels like the very bosom of nature. 

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Eastern Shore skipjack dredges up maritime past

A skipjack tacked up and down the Choptank River in Maryland for two hours on an azure afternoon in late spring. One of the last of its kind still cruising the Chesapeake Bay’s waters, the Nathan of Dorchester returned to its slip with a brimming haul.

Not of oysters, mind you. That’s so 19th century.

This boat was built in 1994 with a different purpose in mind. On this trip, it carried 19 people — not counting its captain and six crewmembers — out for an exploration of a heritage that is disappearing and this particular skipjack’s place in it.

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Travel: Archives

Snorkel, paddle or fish at RiverPalooza summer events

Taking a bridge across the Potomac River on the way to work isn’t the same as plunging a paddle into the water, seeing its beauty and benefits up close. But only a fraction of the more than 6 million people living in the District of...

Hole lot of fun: Natural swimming pools in the Blue Ridge

Many strategies for dealing with mid-Atlantic summer heat involve cool water: outdoor pools, ocean waves or slow-flowing rivers. But there’s nothing quite like plunging into a boulder-strewn, tree-lined swimming hole for that special...

Old Wye Grist Mill still grinding after all these years

It was 1682, the year that Delaware and Philadelphia were founded, and the year that French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle canoed into the lower Mississippi River basin, claimed the land for his king (Louis XIV), named it accordingly...

Tiptoe through the trilliums at Thompson WMA

It was late spring last year when I got the tip: For a spectacular showcase of wildflowers, head to the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Fauquier County, VA. And so I did, hoping to glimpse the blooms that make this tract of...

Snow geese extravaganza hits home

When birdwatchers flock to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this winter, they are likely to witness one of the most dramatic sights nature has to offer in the Chesapeake Bay region. Snow geese will gather...

A cabin waits for you along the Appalachian Trail

For years, my friend Alison has been telling me, “You’ve gotta rent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin! You’ll love it!” So here we were, my husband and I, on a late winter afternoon so dank and foggy we could...


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