I recall many days of my childhood in Ontario, Canada on school field trips where we were asked to identify trees, plants and animals. These were always great memories for me and helped opened my eyes to the natural world all around us…even in our very own backyards. Looking back now, I’m amazed at how much emphasis, the canadian public schools placed on educating their youth about nature. It has certainly left a lasting impression upon me and how I view the world. I try to pass this wonder on to future generations.
The weather this past week has just been perfect in the central and western parts of Virginia. Fall is certainly underway and we have been trying to get out as much as possible to soak it all in. This was a great opportunity to do some leaf hunting. My son has enjoyed watching the leaves change and he also loves tree identification with his trusty tree guide. We didn’t have to go far, we had enough species of trees in our neighborhood to keep him occupied with a good field activity. We were going to collect leaves and seal them up in wax paper.
We hunted for acorns of many varieties of oak: white oak, red oak, chestnut oaks. It appeared that sugar maples were still far from turning in our neighborhood. Gum trees were yellowing and so were sycamores.
Once you have found your collection of leaves, simply lay them out on kitchen wax paper. Cover it with another layer of wax paper and iron them. The heat will keep the two papers adhered to one another and your leaves preserved inside.
All in all, it was great way to get outside, feel the sun and admire nature. Enjoy and be safe everyone.
I remember the simple days back when it was just me and my wife. If we wanted to take a day trip out to the mountains, such a feat could be accomplished within a moments notice. Some light packing, some food and water and we were good to go. These days, with two kiddos, a simple day excursion requires enough packing for an expedition – everything from maps, first aid kits, spare clothing, food, water, toys for the car, diapers, and the list goes on. Although it definitely takes more energy to embark on such trips, the reward is also greater. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s reaction to the marvels of our natural world. Every breath of brisk, fresh air seems to infuse them with energy as they are pulled from one discovery to another. Whether they are seeing a new animal for the first time – hearing the rush of the river as it crashes into rocks, or feeling the textures of different tree barks, I believe that there is not a better classroom out there.
One of the beautiful overlooks from Route 39
More views from Route 39 of the Maury River
For Earth Day 2020, we planned for a trip to the scenic, 936-acre, Goshen Pass Natural Preserve in Goshen, Virginia just outside of Lexington in RockBridge County. Elevation: 1,350 ft (411 m). We were blessed with absolute perfect weather. High of 64F and sunny. We knew that our prime spring hiking days were coming to a close so we wanted to get out there before the Virginia vegetation took over. Even this late in April, it was still perfect, the mountains were later to bloom than the city. Awesome. Mountain flowers were in bloom and the new buds emerging on trees, created an emerald backdrop with beautiful displays of every hue of green.
The drive from Richmond to Goshen Pass is about 2 hours from Richmond, and it is a pretty one. The gentle rolling hills, and well kept farms provide a peaceful journey as you course your way through the mountain. The natural preserve is Virginia’s oldest state-managed natural area. The region was acquired in 1954 to protect the gorgeous 3.7 long gorge along the specatcular Maury River. There is certainly magic here still yet to be discovered. There is an old-age chestnut oak forest, pine-oak-heath woodland and rare species of plants.
Picnic area off Route 39
These are stocked trout waters, special license required.
Our original plan was to hike a 3.0 mile circuit that started at the famous Swing Bridge over the Maury River. Despite the website, saying that this area was open, we arrived to find that the bridge had actually been boarded shut! Fortunately, this area is large enough to explore without the main hike. We drove back 2 miles on Route 39 to reach the Maury Memorial overlooking the Maury River. This area has a shelter, several well kept picnic areas, grills, portable restrooms and best of all, great access to the Maury River. We decided to spend the day here, catching crayfish, observing wildlife, tenkara fly fishing and just enjoying the outdoors. Surprisingly the area was really quiet. Other than one other family, we had the whole river access to ourselves. I learned later that this segment of the Maury River was popular for whitewater kayakers during certain parts of the year. This is certainly something I would like to check out in the future. The area by the swinging bridge appeared like a good put in for a fun run. I guess what they say is true, the Goshen Pass area is one of the most beautiful spots in Virginia.
Public access for hiking at Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve is available via a parking area off Route 39 and swinging bridge across the Maury River, both maintained by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as an access point for the Goshen-Little North Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). DGIF requires a WMA Access Permit for visitors age 17 years and older who do not possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license, or boat registration. Contact: the DGIF Field Office in Verona (540) 248-9360 or go to http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/access-permit/ for information on acquiring a WMA Access Permit.
On an unseasonably mild summer, August day, we headed east to the coastal plains (tidewater) region of Virginia. With the predicted forecast of highs of 82F with some overcast, we knew this was the perfect time to further explore the beautiful blueways in gloucester county. We had previously completed two of the blueways (Warehouse Landing & John’s Point) and decided to take on our third – Tanyard Landing Trail in Gloucester, Virginia.
Located just an hour away from richmond, this trail follows the gentle poropotank river, a small tributary of the York River. As a blueway, this trail is designed for non-motorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks. It is a great place to experience a small piece of the huge Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The wildlife is abundant, with blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, crabs, and even dolphins have been spotted in the poropotank river. It was a perfect day to flow through the arteries that make up the Chesapeake Bay. The occasional clouds, helped shade us from the summer sun and welcoming breeze, flowed through us. The air was fresh, with just a hint of salt. The bay grasses were healthy and plentiful. These are the buffer zones that are so important in keeping the bay clean. We meandered down the peaceful river in complete silence. The occasional fish would jump from the water, but otherwise, the only other sound was the wind through the grasses.
When you first arrive at the Tanyard Landing Boat Ramp, you will have the option of either going west down the trail or east to explore the river upstream. We actually did not stay on the trail, but headed east to explore the inner wetland areas. We spotted one other group kayaking but no one else was on the water. After the day of paddling, we headed to the nearby Gloucester village, a peaceful and quiet town with a population of 2951. The busiest section of town is the main street where most of the shops and restaurants are located. We returned to Olivia’s, our favorite restaurant in town, for crab cakes. For anyone looking for the complete, Virginia tidewater region experience: find a canoe/kayak, pick a blueway to explore, and then stop for food in Gloucester village. It’s what summer is Virginia is all about.
“There is but one entrance by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly bay, 18 or 20 miles broad. The cape on the south is called Cape Henry, in honor of our most noble Prince. The land, white hilly sands like unto the Downs, and all along the shores rest plety of pines and firs … Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” – Captain John Smith (regarding his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608)
In one of his most well-known passages describing the Chesapeake bay, Captain John Smith’s words still resonate today. This is the largest estuary in the United States and home to an incredible ecosystem. There is no question that the a healthy bay benefits everyone, from a environmental and wildlife standpoint and of course economically. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this sentiment. The future of the bay is uncertain as a proposed budget, by President Trump would eliminate federal funding for the continuing cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency budget for the Chesapeake cleanup was $73 million. With the new bill proposed, this amount would be $0. Organizations like The Chesapeake Bay Foundation have been fighting the battle to restore the bay for many years. Click here to sign a petition to urge congress to preserve funding for the bay: http://takeaction.cbf.org
I used this golden spring weekend, to pull out the canoe from the basement and explore another part of the Chesapeake Bay and the Gloucester Blueways, this time, to John’s Point. We paddled the Ware Riverlast year, but wanted to explore another of the 5 total blueways that exist in Gloucester County. John’s Point is very similar to Warehouse landing, the boat launch is very well kept with a nice clean beach as your launch site. It was a windy day, and the proposed trail totaled 8.8 miles along the Severn River toward Mobjack Bay and back was formidable. This might have been possible in a kayak, but we opted to head west instead of east to explore the inner waterways and the beaches in search of crabs and oysters. We took breaks from the wind as we hopped from island to island, and combed our way through the beaches. We saw several ospreys, one egret, one loon and a red tailed hawk. The water was very clear and all along the beach were oysters popping out of the sand. I came out here to feel once again how special the Chesapeake Bay is. What John Smith said about the bay in 1608, still holds today. It is truly a national treasure worth fighting to protect for future generations to come.
One of the first places we visited in Seattle was the Pike Place Market. Open since 1907, it is one of America’s oldest public farmers’ markets. It attracts more than 10 million visitors annually, earning it the rank of 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world. Certainly a place to overwhelm the senses; the smell of fresh cod in the air, vendors bargaining, the fresh, salty air from the Elliot Bay and of course tastes of all different sorts. I was able to pick up a cool book on canoeing in British Columbia, serving as a little incentive to return one day.
There is never a shortage of waterways to explore in Virginia. In a short 1 hour road trip from Richmond, one can reach the largest estuary in the United States; the Chesapeake Bay. Here, fresh water from over 150 rivers and streams of New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia meet the Atlantic Ocean to create a brackish water ecosystem teeming with diverse wildlife and vegetation. There isn’t a better way to connect with this landscape than by canoe. We decided to paddled through the south arm of the Ware River, one of five canoe trails that make up the Gloucester Blueways. The county established these Blueways as a way to encourage visitors to the area and to encourage preservation of these precious lands.
The population of bald eagles and osprey has been healthy in recent years and we had were within sight of them the second we reached the put in. The salty waters of the Mobjack bay was surprisingly clear and calm as we embarked on our excursion.
A sense of calm and stillness surrounded us as we approached the wetlands. We were protected from the wind by reeds and twists of and turns of the stream. I was stunned by the vast array of wildlife we encountered. From blue crabs, to herons and even a red-tailed hawk, each bend of the river presented a new surprise.
There is certainly something very special about the wetlands. For years the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been fighting to protect these lands. These regions are especially important in preserving the clarity of the Chesapeake bay. It is the final stop for all of our river and stream runoff from land before it reaches the bay. The major pollutants of the bay are in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus. Such elements are crucial to life, however an overabundance can be detrimental. When these elements are in excess, they contribute to algae blooms which clouds the water and inhibits sunlight that is crucial to the growth of bay grasses. The decline in oxygen from dying plants can cause dramatic pH changes which can kill off crabs, fish and more plants. Today, 300 million pounds of polluting nitrogen reaches the bay each year, over 6 times the amount that reached the bay in the 1600s.
Bald Eagle in flight
While the war effort in cleaning the bay is underway on many fronts. Many believe that the oyster will be the savior of the bay. The eastern oyster is an incredibly resilient species, although years of disease, pollution and over harvesting have caused numbers in the bay to decrease to less than 1% of what it once was. This shift in oyster population has also contributed to the decline in the health of the bay. Oysters are able to filter up to one gallon of water in one hour. They play a vital role in preserving the clarity and hence the habitat of the Chesapeake Bay. In the recent years, the news has been promising with oyster populations making a bounce back and with them, the blue crab population. Both iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay.
I had some time at the end of this trip to reflect on some tripping gear as well. This was my third outing on the prospector, and so far she has been handling like a dream. At only 52 lbs, she’s a breeze to load onto the car and take anywhere. She is responsive and feels comfortable on all different types of water. The comfortable yoke design also makes her almost a joy to portage…but i wouldn’t go that far. I’ve also been quite happy with the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera I’ve been shooting with. I’ve realized that I normally shooting in fairly wide angles at an average of 16mm. Although I haven’t used many other lenses other than my portrait 35mm, I can definitely see the utility in the zoom lenses >250mm in capturing wildlife. The eight bald eagle sightings on this trip convinced me to at least look into some of these lenses.
The scorching Virginia summers often steer our canoe trips to the cooler mountain lakes, however this is spring, and anything is fair game. It was actually a refreshing and chilly day as we paddled, at temperatures in the 50s F. Let’s see how long these cool temperatures last. With the north arm of the Ware River and four more routes to explore on the Gloucester Blueways, there’s still plenty to see. Long live the Chesapeake Bay.
The canoe is a Canadian icon. One model in particular exemplifies the spirit of northern canoe tripping, it is known as the Prospector. The Chestnut Canoe company was based out of the maritime province of New Brunswick and was the leading producer of fine wood canvas canoes at the end of the 19th century. They created numerous models for all types of uses including the cruisers, trappers, freights, Ogilvy’s, pleasure canoes and of course the coveted Prospector.
The Prospector stood apart from the rest, with the ability to be used in every setting. Spacious enough to accommodate an expedition, a moderate rocker to respond quickly in rapids, and a shallow arch for stability. Since the closure of the Chestnut Canoe Company in 1979, no other canoe design has been imitated as much as the Prospector.
Although Prospector canoes are still made today by numerous different canoe companies, the Prospector made out of Royalex ceased to be in production since 2014.
Royalex is a composite material developed in the 1970s. It is light and very durable, ideal properties for any canoe. It is comprised of an outer layer of vinyl and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic with an inner layer of ABS foam. Unfortunately, PolyOne, a plastics company and producer of royalex at that time ended production of this material due to low demand. The last sheets were shipped out in December 2013. When word got out that royalex canoes were no longer in production, these canoes became highly sought after items. Especially by whitewater paddlers who swore by royalex canoes for their durability and lightweight.
Incidentally, one day while browsing the web, I came across a brand new one at a remote outfitter in New York state. After a series of quick phone calls, I learned it was a brand new 16ft red prospector at 52lbs. Almost half the weight of our Old Town Discovery of 3-ply construction. We decided it was time to act. We were prepared to make the drive from Richmond to New York. Fortunately, the outfitter was making a trip to Erie, PA for an outdoor show and they would be able to meet us there with the canoe. This thankfully shortened our trip by 1.5 hours each way. On a snowy night on March 4, 2016 at 3:00am, we left Richmond in the hunt for the prospector to bring her home.
Nova Craft Canoe was founded in Glanworth, Ontario in 1970. The company switched owners when it was purchased in 1986. Despite this change, Nova Craft kept its name as well as its original symbol. The Nova Craft emblem features the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird is an important symbol in several Native American tribes. It is of particular significance to the Haida of the Pacific Northwest as well as the tribes of the Great Lakes. It is said to be a being of supernatural size and power, capable of producing thunder claps with its great wings. This symbol is found on numerous cedar canoes of the Pacific Northwest tribes and usually holds the top position of totem poles.
Maiden voyage out on Swift Creek Lake in Pocahontas State Park, VA.
Some thought we were crazy for driving 14 hours to pick up a canoe. Funny, we thought it would be crazy to not get her. If that’s what it takes to “paddle the truth north” (Nova Craft’s slogan). She’s now back in canuck hands. Welcome home girl.