Chesapeake Bay: Part I

This past week has been the first of several extended field trips for the BotS crew. This week’s goal being to experience at least a sampling of the entire Chesapeake Bay in five days. As I write this, we are on the road back to Bucknell, nearly everyone is asleep or quickly fading in that direction (except for “Dad” driving the bus and “Mr. Frizzle”[1].) There is too much to tell in one post, so here is Part I of our adventures.

Umm, guys? We're already full, how are we gonna fit that in too?

Day I: Normally, we have one extra seat on the bus, but to fit 14 people and all their gear in this bus for five days of activity that ranges from mucking through salt marshes to camping on the shore of the bay, we have no spare room whatsoever.  On the over seven-hour drive, we recieve a detailed overview of the geologic history of the continental  collision that formed the mountains surrounding Bucknell, the fertile valleys around Lancaster, and the coastal lowlands we are headed to explore.

Early evening brings us to the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) facility operated by the University of Virginia. As the sun sets over the bay, we travel to Cape Charles, a once booming town whose railroad tracks allowed cars loaded with produce and seafood to roll directly onto barges bound for the west side of the bay. At the bay shore, waterman Randy Carlson described to us issues facing recovery of the bay, and challenges for those trying to make a living from nature’s bounty. The solution is not as simple as merely restricting harvests from the bay, cleaning up toxic pollution or restricting nutrient drainage into the bay. It is a complex balance of these and many other factors.

The ride out to Hog Island. What a morning commute!

Day 2: Early morning we pack up and head down to the docks for an all-day exploration of Hog Island, an uninhabited barrier island on the ocean-side of the Eastern Shore. The five miles between the mainland and the island are covered by a bumpy ride in flat-bottom workboats that deposit us on shore and then go their way. Despite how far removed we are from the main channel of the Susquehanna River, these sediments are the remnants of Appalachian Mountains, moved hundreds of miles from their source, and established here in an altogether different ecological environment.

Besides digging cross-sections in the sand on the beach, we hiked around the southern end of the island and into the back barrier salt marsh exposed by the low tide. We were ultimately turned back from our attempt to reach where the boats were to pick us up, but it nonetheless provided the opportunity to see one type of marsh, of which we would see several during the rest of the week.

After backtracking our trek around the southern tip of the island, we again had to face the swarms of biting flies and infernal burrs whose sharp spines easily bury themselves in exposed skin or even through clothing if you aren’t careful. But try hustling through insect-infested brush with loaded packs without making a misstep into a cluster of nature’s own little land-mines. We managed to arrive to be picked up on time by the boats, just as they were making their way up the channel, now significantly more complicated because the tide was still much lower than the morning run. And to wrap up the end of our venture back, a part in the steering cable on the boat broke, requiring the captain to improvise a makeshift tiller made from a broomstick and rope (and that lasted until within sight of the dock before it too broke, requiring a second handle to finish the job).

Real men don't even need duct tape...

[1]Dr. Matt McTammany has become “Dad,” primarily due to the fact that he carries the credit card to pay for our expenses along the way.

Dr. Peter Wilshusen, who has done extensive work in Latin America, is simply known as “Pedro.”

Dr. R. Craig Kochel, did a lot of driving and most of the talking at the outset of our experiences, and has been dubbed “Mr. Frizzle” in honor of the Magic Schoolbus our BotSmobile strongly resembles.

One Response to “Chesapeake Bay: Part I”

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