Access to Chesapeake waters: We need it more than ever
By Rachel Felver
Bay Journal News Service
Our access to the outdoors has a new meaning these days. With the spread of the novel coronavirus and the stay-at-home orders that followed, our green spaces have become a havens, desperately needed places for us to breathe fresh air and forget about the unique stresses of life 2020.
When the most recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was signed in 2014, the many partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program, where I work, committed to increase the public’s access to the Bay and its tributaries by creating 300 new access sites by 2025.
These sites are developed, funded and maintained by a variety of partners, including local, state and federal agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations. Selecting a site takes into consideration a variety of factors, including looking at the way people generally use and access water resources. As the population of our watershed continues to grow and diversify, it is integral that our partners consider the culture, history and social concerns of local populations and communities and include them in the decision-making and planning process.
In 2019, we opened an additional 18 public access sites for boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities. Since 2014, we’ve added a total of 194 new sites, meeting 65% of our goal. What are you waiting for? Read on for highlights of the new sites that opened in 2019 and get out there and start exploring!
Hopewell Boardwalk (Hopewell, VA): Visitors to the waterway now have a fishing pier and an 8-foot-wide, 1,700-foot-long boardwalk on which they can stroll through a tidal cove and wetlands. When it is high tide, the boardwalk is surrounded by water, giving you the illusion that you are out in the middle of the river. During low tide, take in the marshes and sandy river bottom.
Lake Whitehurst (Norfolk, VA): Lake Whitehurst is one of eight freshwater reservoirs that delivers drinking water to Norfolk and the surrounding area. It drains into the Chesapeake Bay and allows for fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. The lake features a new and much-needed launch ramp for motorized boats. The previous one closed back in 2009.
Tylerton Harbor (Smith Island, MD): Folks looking to bring their canoes, kayaks or paddleboards with them to Smith Island now have a new soft launch site from which to access the Bay. Remember, this site is only reachable by water but offers a pier to take in the views.
Wellington Beach & Park (Crisfield, MD): This beach and park is a hidden gem along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A wide stretch of sandy beach allows for swimming and serves as a launch site canoes, paddleboards and kayaks, while the park offers parking and restrooms.
Ferry Point Park (Virginia Beach, VA): Off the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River, the Living River Restoration Trust acquired 9 acres of undeveloped land to permanently protect forested shorelines and wetlands. It is open to the public.
Paradise Creek (Portsmouth, VA): A handicapped-accessible kayak, canoe and paddleboard launch is open for visitors to get on the water and explore 11 acres of restored wetlands. Paradise Creek Nature Park is the outdoor field station for the Elizabeth River Project, and is used to teach how an urban river can be brought back to life.
Intervale River Access & Trailhead (Covington, VA): The trailhead of the Jackson River Scenic Trail features restrooms, a pavilion, parking and now, a launch for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. Either walk or bike the gravel trail, or traverse the river which runs parallel for over 14 miles.
Jackson River Sports Complex (Covington, VA): The City of Covington wanted to further expand the recreational activities for residents, so in 2019, they used their waterfront access to the Jackson River to create a launch for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
James River National Wildlife Refuge (Hopewell, VA): The refuge supports hundreds of native plant and animal species in its forests, wetlands and grasslands. With the addition of a new canoe, kayak and paddleboard launch, visitors can experience these wonders from the water as well.
Mardela Springs boat launch (Mardela Springs, MD): A new soft launch access point allows canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders to join motorized boat owners on Barron Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River.
Phillips Landing (Laurel, DE): Motorized boaters can launch from a new three-lane ramp, which features two floating docks and wing walls, allowing for an easier and safer experience. Additional revisions included the construction of a new canoe/kayak launch, as well as a repaved parking area, stone path for shoreline fishing, portable toilet enclosures and solar lighting.
Woodland Wharf (Laurel, DE): Located near the historic Woodland Ferry, this new facility features a boat dock with a canoe/kayak launch, six-space parking area, shoreline fishing access, benches and bike racks.
Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum (Calvert County, MD): Out for a leisurely boat ride and want to stop for some history and culture? The park now features a day-use docking facility. Dock up and take in the home of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory or spend the day exploring, hiking, biking or picnicking on the 560-acres of preserved land.
Lower Marlboro Wharf (Owings, MD): A soft launch access has been added to the existing fishing pier at Marlboro Wharf for canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders. This was one of 20 steamboat landing wharves in Calvert County, helping residents, businesses and farms access the Chesapeake Bay.
Solomons Island Fishing Pier (Solomons, MD): Canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders can join powerboaters on the Patuxent River, thanks to its new soft launch access point. The fishing pier features restrooms, a tackle-and-bait shop and parking.
Neabsco Creek Boardwalk (Woodbridge, VA): Visitors to Neabsco Creek just got another reason to hang out on the almost one-mile boardwalk — the addition of a viewing platform. Now people have a much better vantage point for seeing the great blue herons, mallards, wood ducks and red-winged blackbirds that live around the creek, while reading interpretative signs to learn more.
Upper Potomac Industrial Park (Cumberland, MD): A new boat ramp for all types of watercraft is available at this light industry park along the North Branch of the Potomac River. This is the last access point upstream of the Blue Bridge Dam near downtown Cumberland.
Seven Bends State Park (Woodstock, VA): Visitors to the park already have access to hiking, boating, restrooms and pavilions, but with the addition of a canoe slide, it is easier to get on the water.
Wormley Creek (Yorktown, VA): A new, handicapped-accessible launch for kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders is available at this unique intersection of the York-James peninsula. This is the only access point in York County that is accessible to those with disabilities. A new pier was built to accommodate the launch.
To learn even more and discover a public access site near you, visit ChesapeakeProgress.com.
Rachael Felver is the communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Program. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal. This article was originally published in the Bay Journal and was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.