11. Become a Bay Naturalist
Touch it. Taste it. Swim in it. Enjoy it. Explore it. Become a Bay naturalist this summer. Theres so much to learn and do and so many ways to do it.
Get your bearings. Look at a map of the Chesapeake Bay. It doesnt stretch just from Baltimore City to the Atlantic Ocean. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is the largest estuary in North America. It begins north of Cooperstown, New York, swoops down through Pennsylvania, Maryland and D.C. and parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware, on its way to the Atlantic.
Glacial waters formed the Bay more than 10,000 years ago when they flooded the Susquehanna River Valley. Native Algonquins called the Bay Chesepiook, meaning great shellfish bay, for its abundance of crabs and shellfish. Today the Bay supports 2,700 species of plants and animals.
You can canoe it, sail it, walk in it, swim it, fish it, crab it.
Want to learn more? Start at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons (410/326-2042) and work your way up the Bay to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater (443/482-2200), Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary on the Patuxent (410/741-9330), Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis (888/SAVEBAY) and Patuxent Refuge in Laurel (301/497-5887). All offer field trips, exhibits and programs for would-be Bay naturalists.
For more hands-on science opportunities, volunteer. Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Jug Bay and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offer plenty of opportunities, like Bay cleanups, ecology surveys, mapping grasses and planting oyster bars.
Get out there and get to know your Bay.
As usual, well keep you informed with weekly updates of any ecological happenings. Watch 8 Days a Week for the latest.
12. Ogle the Fireworks
With so many patriotic small towns and historic landmarks, Chesapeake Country is the place to be for Independence Day especially if youre a fireworks fanatic. There are nearly a dozen displays to choose from.
Getting a head start on July 3 is Rod n Reel Restaurants always ambitious show, fired off from Chesapeake Beachs twin jetties. The boardwalk offers great views, as does the boardwalk in North Beach (301/855-8351).
Come July 4, fireworks from the U.S. Naval Academy light up the mouth of the Severn River. Boaters get a great view from Annapolis harbor; landlubbing alternatives are Dewey Field and Hospital Point at the Academy or any street-end park facing Spa Creek (410/263-1183).
In Galesville, flip open your lawn chair and settle in along the West River waterfront (410/867-2648). But come early; Main Street closes to traffic starting 6pm. Parking is $5/car on the athletic field at Anchors Way. The spectacle is just as popular by boat, anchoring in the West River.
Solomons sends their fireworks up from a barge off the bulkhead. Stake out a spot on Our Lady Star of the Seas front lawn for the best view, though any spot along the Riverwalk is prime viewing (word is the blasts are visible from as far away as Lusby: 888/580-3856).
Bowies city celebration lights up Allen Pond Park (301/262-6200) and the Baysox set their stadium alight after an evening home game (301/805-6000).
Further afield, at Fort Meades McGlachlin Field, the 389th U.S. Army Band readies you for a display explosive enough to entertain the Armys experts (301/677-2988). In Largo, Six Flags America heats up the holiday with thousands of big blasts (301/249-1500).
For fireworks big city style, the rockets red glare lights up Baltimores Inner Harbor (410/837-4636 www.bop.org), and Washington, D.C., boasts the granddaddy of them all, coloring the skies over the National Mall in a patriotic climax with the Washington Monument as a backdrop (www.nps.gov/nama).
The Fourth doesnt stop yet. Herrington Harbour hosts a holiday hoedown on July 6 (raindate July 7), shooting off rockets from Rose Havens side of Herring Bay. Enjoy the show from Surfside Souths splashy pool party (800/213-9438).
All pyrotechnics start at dusk; most are preceded by parades, concerts or other fanfare. As always, 8 Days a Week supplies timely, detailed updates.
13. Dig History
Each year archaeologists uncover new evidence of Marylands past. Often they invite the public to watch or even join in. Here are four places in Chesapeake Country to dig history:
Historic St. Marys City:W-Su 10am-5pm: 800/762-1634
Explore Marylands first capital, a state historic park on the banks of the Patuxent River in St. Marys County. Watch archaeologists uncover historic buildings and artifacts dating as far back as 1634, as well as Indian artifacts thousands of years older. You can tour archaeological excavations through August 9. Any time you visit, you can chat with costumed interpreters, check out the reconstructed sailing ship the Maryland Dove, see a reconstructed 17th-century plantation, tavern and state house and walk through a reconstructed Indian village.
For hands-on archaeological activities, visit during Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, July 27-28 ($7.50 w/discounts).
Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, 10515 Mackall Rd., St. Leonard: 410/586-8501 www.jeffpat.org (W-Su 10am-5pm). The park encompasses scores of archaeological sites in nearly a square mile of fields and wooded shores along the Patuxent River in Calvert County, including Indian sites dating back millennia, plantations of the earliest colonists and house sites of enslaved and free Africans. The park staff and volunteers research these sites, as well as the naval engagement in the Patuxent River that preceded the British invasion and burning of Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812.
Activities at the park include tours of archaeological sites and viewing permanent exhibitions of the areas cultural and agricultural history. Opportunities, by arrangement, for archaeological fieldwork are available through July 6 (Tu-Sa 10am-3pm) and for laboratory work the year round (M-F 10am-4pm): Kirsti Uunila, 410/586-8555. (10am-5pm W-Su).
London Town Historic Park, 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater: 410/222-1919 www.historiclondontown.com. This National Historic Landmark overlooks the South River, just 10 minutes south of Annapolis. Visitors tour a mid 18th-century brick mansion, expansive gardens and an outdoor archaeological exhibit of an early 18th-century tavern.
Anne Arundel Countys archaeology team conducts excavations on site once or twice a week, inviting the public to participate. Public dig days are one Saturday each month, 9am-2pm: July 13, August 10 and September 14.Call Lisa Plumley to volunteer in the field or laboratory during the week: 410/222-7441.
Historic Annapolis Foundation/University of Maryland, Dr. Tom Cuddy: 410/626-1032
This 20-year old collaboration between the University and the Foundation welcomes visitors at two historic sites in suburban Eastport on June 21-22 and 28-29 from 10am-3pm. The archaeological team has studied the rear yards of 110 Chesapeake Avenue and 119 Chester Street for the past two seasons and will gladly share what it has learned through guided tours.
14. Paddle The Bay
Canoes and kayaks glide into inviting waters where bigger boats cant go without disturbing wildlife or the environment. Youre down in the water, about as intimate as you can be without being in the swim, in harmony with the Bay and its creatures. Slow down your pace as you get in touch with the rhythms of paddling. Learn to be quiet and listen. See how smooth, slow or fast you can go. Get to places most everyone else can only dream about.
Creep into the Bays nurseries. In these creeks, marshes and rivers, red-winged blackbirds should make the only sound as herons fish, crabs scuttle, marsh mallow blooms and cattails swell. Paddle quietly and, especially if you enter from the big water of the Bay, skillfully.
Need a little help getting started? Amphibious Horizons launches instructional trips many weekdays from Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis (where you can rent for your own trip every day but Tuesday) and from different wonderful locations every Saturday and Sunday: 888/i-luv-sun www.amphibioushorizons.com.
Nowadays, you can join guided voyages from many other spots. Check for scheduled trips at Patuxent River Park at Upper Marlboro (301/627-6074 www.pgparks.com) or Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater (443/482-2216 www.serc.si.edu).
Setting off on your own? Rent a canoe or kayak to paddle from Amphibious Horizons and paddle the quiet waters of the South River. Or rent a boat from East of Maui (410/573-9463) and chart your own course. Getting serious? You can buy there as well as rent. Or shop at Springriver Kayak, Eastern Mountain Sports, REI, L.L. Bean, Sunnys the Affordable Outdoor Store even the big box stores.
Where to launch? In Annapolis, the Annapolis Maritime Museum offers a nice launch for canoes and kayaks. The grounds of the museum, which are known as Capn Herb Sadler Park, are accessible even when the museum is closed.
Farther south, launch at the tiny AA County park next to Herrington Harbour South at Rose Haven. Most beaches (see Way 4) also allow motorless launching.
Haul your boat to the water. Pick up your paddle and PFD, load in your safety gear and slide in. Now youre ready for a great Bay boating adventure.
15. NJFK: Make a Marine Mural
Get a long roll of newsprint or plain wrapping paper and roll out a good-sized piece on your back deck. Color in a beach on one side and a cross section of the ocean on the other. Connect them with a tide line separating the land and water.
Now think hard about all the creatures plant and animal that use the beach and all the layers of the ocean, from the gulls floating on the surface to the oysters attached to bars on the bottom and everything that swims and floats in between.
To spur your imagination, take a look at Alice Jane and Robert Lippsons book Life in the Chesapeake Bay.
Now start painting. Fill your mural with food webs of the hunted and the hunters. Remember the very important plants that take energy from the sun and make it into food for the plant-eaters like snails. Remember the critters that crawl, like crabs, the ones that swim, like all kinds of fish, the ones that wait for food to come to them, like anemones, and the plankton, or floaters microscopic beasties that provide food for everything from baleen whales to shellfish to baby crabs.
When youre all done, use it as a backdrop for a puppet show with driftwood critters. (Way 10, Paint Driftwood Creatures.)
16. Before You Crack That Crab, Consider
They call them Atlantic blue crabs, but in Chesapeake Country we call them ours. In the last decade, Marylands average yearly crab harvest rarely climbed above 50 million pounds. By the millennium, the annual harvest was down around 30 million pounds. New research is suggesting the crab population is in serious trouble, and that our harvest this year could be the worst ever.
Thats the bad news. The good news is that both Bay states, Maryland and Virginia, are writing plans and taking action to keep blue crabs abundant in our Bay.
Both states are reducing the harvest by 15 percent. In Maryland, that means spawning females (the ones whose underside apron is swelled with eggs) are off limits. And the crabs you keep have got to be bigger: big five-and-a-quarter-inch males. For pleasure crabbers, thats not much of a sacrifice to keep the Bay full of blue crabs.
You can keep abreast of crab news and catches at the DNR web site, www.dnr.state.md.us./fisheries. Or phone DNRs Fisheries Information Number, 800/688-3467, and ask about the harvest this year. Each months report takes about three weeks to tally.
Should we stop eating crabs altogether? Not necessarily, but maybe we should consider how many we catch and eat. Like any good environmentalist, we should take only what we need.
Dont catch crabs you cant eat and dont patronize all-you-can-eat buffets, which may encourage waste. When youre crabbing with kids, teach them to catch and release, especially the females, which hold the eggs of future crab feasts. Make sure you and they know and obey all regulations on size and catch limits (see Way 17, Catch a Crab).
It cant hurt to consider before you crack a crab but even the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says its fine to eat a few.
We do not believe it is time to stop eating crabs, or to stop supporting Marylands watermen. It is, however, time to appreciate every crab we eat, and to eliminate all waste, says the Foundations Bill Goldsborough.
|photo by: Brian Raines
17. Catch a Crab (but not more than two dozen)
So youve decided there are enough crabs in the Bay for you to eat a dozen or two now and again. Where are you going to get them?
The crabs you buy at seafood markets and in restaurants have been caught by commercial watermen who work hard at the job, crabbing from boats with hundreds of submerged crab pots or hundreds of yards of trotline.
But if youve got access to the water, you can catch your own crabs, save some money and have a lot of fun.
You can always wade out into the water with a net and try scooping crabs. This is good sport, especially for kids. But crabs are swift swimmers and quite elusive. Other methods are more accurate, so youll be eating rather than fooling.
Begin with bait. Crabs eat just about anything, most of it things youd never want to eat and it doesnt have to be exactly fresh. Try chicken necks, which lend their name to the most accessible way to catch crabs, checken necking.
Next youll need some string, a bridge or pier overlooking the Bay or a tributary and a basket or bucket to store your catch. You might also want some thick gloves to grab the crabs that invariably scramble out while youre dropping in a new catch. And be warned: these suckers pinch like the devil got a hold of you!
Tie your bait securely, drop your line, and wait. When you feel a tug on your line, slowly pull up your catch, hold it over your basket and jiggle the line. With any luck the crab will drop off. Otherwise you can try prying open his claw be careful! or try shining a flashlight in its eyes. Believe it or not, this often works.
Crabs are a resource we all share, so do your part to keep the fishery healthy. Keep only legal crabs: for hardshells, thats five and a fourth inches from point to point across the shell. Crabs are a scarce resource nowadays. Throw back the females so therell be more crabs next year. Theyre the ones with red-tipped claws and a rounder underbelly.
To renew this great resource, recreational crabbers who go for two dozen or more must buy licenses this season. If you catch fewer than two dozen, you can still take your crabs without a license.
18. Get Crackin
The next steps are fun, too.
Theres nothing you can eat that says Maryland better than a tableful of hot, spicy, succulent blue crabs. And no better way you can enjoy a long feast with friends.
Though its not quite that simple. Crab feasting is a ritual. If youre a fanatic, a true Chesapeake crab feast begins before dawn, when you roll down to the water. If youre only half a fanatic, you may buy the crabs for your feast (preferably from a waterman whos your neighbor). But youd consider it barbaric to buy cooked crabs.
How to cook, crack and clean up a crab feast requires a manual. There are even rules for how to set the table: use newspapers and no plates, for starters. Find full details in our on-line archives for Vol. VIII No. 22: June 1-6, 2000.
How to enjoy them is simple. Call your friends. Drink some beer. Eat until the mosquitoes drive you inside. Then move the feast with you onto the dining room table and eat until you say uncle.
19. Prepare the Perfect Crabcake
One way you earn the distinction of Chesapeake Country citizenship is by creating your signature crabcake. But youll only get there by trial and error. Along the way, youve got choices, choices, choices.
First, are you going to pick your crab yourself? If so, you can be sure youve got Maryland crab. Easier but less authentic is to buy crab from a seafood shop or even a grocery store. If youre committed to Maryland crabmeat you might be disappointed; local crab is unlikely to be picked till later in the summer. Ask where the crabmeat you buy comes from.
Next, are you satisfied with lump, where leg chunks are included with smaller meat? Or do you want jumbo lump where big pieces are the rule? Theres a big price difference, so look at what youre buying before you pay.
Now, what are you going to add to your bowlful of pricey crab? Again, theres no simple answer. You need a little binder. For some, the only choice is cracker crumbs. Others swear by bread. Some add the crumbs dry. Others moisten bread cubes in milk, still others in olive oil.
If your crumbs are dry, youll need some kind of liquid: a beaten egg, milk or mayo are the favorite choices.
Now, were getting really touchy. Do you add flavorings or let the crab speak for itself? Some people add onion or green pepper, while others think such strong flavors ruin the sweet taste of crab. Such purists might allow a sprinkling of chives or fresh cut parsley. Many add a touch of Worcestershire sauce. Almost everybody adds a touch of their favorite crab spice. A few add lemon, white wine, horseradish.
Next, mix very gently to keep those lumps lumpy. Shape the mixture into generous cakes.
Now, theres one more choice: broiled for fried. If you dare to guild the lily, melt as much butter as you dare in a hot skillet before sliding in your cakes. If you prefer to live to eat crab many other days, its almost as tasty to spray cakes and pan with olive oil and broil till brown. A delicious option is to bake at 470 degrees for about five minutes.
Satisfied? Youre not likely to win a prize at the Maryland Crab Derby Aug. 30 at Crisfield. They favor fancy recipes with bells and whistles. The perfect crabcake needs no adornment, citizen.
Try these proportions:
One pound of crabmeat; 1-2 slices bread or up to 1/2 cup cracker crumbs; 1-2 beaten eggs; 3 tablespoons to 1/2 cup mayo or sour cream.
20. NJFK: Learn About a Bay Animal
What Chesapeake Bay animal makes you go wow? Get out there this summer and find out all you can about it.
Get up close and personal. Spend a day at the beach. Wade into a wetland. Paddle a canoe at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. Walk a boardwalk at Horsehead Wetlands Center in Grasonville.
Will you need special tools for your research? Binoculars work best for birds. If you want to see whats going on in the water without getting your face wet, make an underwater viewer. Cut the top and bottom off a half-gallon milk carton. Cover one end with plastic wrap and secure it with a rubber band. It will work like a magnifying lens for critters swimming or living just below the surface.
Does it swim beyond the surf line? Then a visit to an aquarium might be your ticket to better observation. The National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons have live exhibits featuring animals of the Chesapeake Bay.
Read, read, read. Here are some good places to start: David Owen Bells Awesome Chesapeake and Chesapeake Bay Walk, Zora Aikens Finding Birds in the Chesapeake Marsh, Kenneth Gosners A Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore, Hildebrand and Schroeders Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay and Priscilla Cummings Chadwick the Crab fictional series.
Published by New Bay Enterprises Inc.
© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.
Reproduction without permission prohibited.