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The Little Engine that Can

Annapolis Maritime Museum fits big stuff in little package

Annapolis Middle School sixth graders Carter Brianas and Autumn Langlois, teacher Nan Henry and student Kennedy Hall visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum. “We learned how to measure water quality,” Hall reported.

Like the Little Engine that Could, the Annapolis Maritime Museum has to do everything its bigger counterparts do, just in a smaller package.
    Measured by how many people it touches each year, the little museum grows in stature, with 10,000 tourists visiting in a year plus 5,000 locals stopping by for visits and events and 3,000 students coming for education programs.
    A good museum is more than a building with exhibits. Success is measured by people touched and the knowledge they gain. Because of its size — one-third acre — the museum has evolved a full set of offerings with a nautical vibe to extend its four walls.

Making the Most of What You’ve Got
    This museum has waterfront, giving visitors a share in one of the rarest of commodities in Anne Arundel County, public waterfront access including docks. You can come to crab, fish or launch your kayak.
    Its home is the historic McNasby Oyster Company, the last operating oyster-packing house in Annapolis.
    Permanent exhibits showcase its theme. Here it’s a large exhibit on oyster harvesting and processing, including original McNasby equipment.
    Miss Lonesome, the kind of Chesapeake workboat that would have delivered to McNasby’s, fits inside. The boat was damaged, so bad sections were cut out, saving precious floor space while showing vital internal parts not usually visible. The 45-foot Bay-built is part of our local history, built in the mid 1930s and in service until the late 1970s.
    Traveling exhibits complement the collection. Showing through December is a small but interesting exhibit on NOAA at work.

Reaching Out to Teach
    Annapolis Maritime Museum goes beyond allowing students to wander past displays. It supports hands-on education programs for three age groups. By the time students move from preschool through sixth grade, they know the Bay as the threatened treasure in their own back yards.
    The flagship Oyster Education Program, supported by a $40,000 grant from NOAA, fulfills Maryland’s unique environmental literacy requirement for sixth graders.
    “The program provides lots of touching and feeling of critters, counting spat on the oyster shell and testing water quality with instruments,” said executive director Alice Estrada.
    “We’re here to learn about oysters and why we need to take care of them,” said Annapolis Middle School sixth-grader Carter Brianas.
    The lesson on counting oyster babies is led by Joey Gukanovich of Arnold, who takes time off from full-time studies at Towson University to volunteer. “The Bay is near and dear to my heart,” said the fourth-generation waterman.
    One hundred fifty volunteers like Gukanovich extend the daily reach of a staff of only six.
    Sixth-grade science teacher Nan Henry is impressed by how much her class is learning and how much help they’re getting. “I think it’s awesome the kids get out and see what’s happening in the Bay,” she said.
    Their learning spells a success for museum staff. “The goal is to establish a sense of environmental stewardship in the children,” Estrada said.
    The Chesapeake Champions program for second graders, funded with a grant from PNC Financial, uses science, social studies and art to help the students explore their connection to the Bay. Museum staff visit pre-K classrooms and teach Bay lessons tailored for tykes in the Little Skipjacks program, funded by the Sisco Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Extending the Reach
    Grown-ups come too, for fun as well as learning. Over 500 members come each year to hear authors, historians, archaeologists and other Bay experts. A monthly year-round concert series attracts 2,000 listeners in a typical year. During winter, the museum offers a maritime lecture series.
    Thomas Point Lighthouse tours take over 500 people out on the water for a close-up look at this landmark.
    The Annapolis Oyster Roast and the Boatyard Beach Bash are not only fund-raisers but also raisers of awareness about the museum. The Oyster Roast includes the Eastport tradition of the burning of the socks on vernal equinox to kick off the boating season.

What’s Next?
    “Even with the small space we have, we can deliver more,” said museum manager Caitlin Swaim. She has plans to catalog all the museum assets and try to make them more accessible. A year into the job, executive director Estrada is focusing on new ways of bringing greater numbers of people to better know the Bay.

Open Thursday to Sunday noon to 4pm at 723 Second St., Eastport. Free: