Smith would have been first to grab paddle, try Chesapeake water trail

OUTDOORS

February 20, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

Bad news: When it comes to wide-open spaces, Maryland is not a large state.

Good news: With the Chesapeake Bay and hundreds of rivers and streams, it is a wet one.

Looking to capitalize on those liquid assets, Sen. Paul Sarbanes and three of his colleagues last week asked the National Park Service to see about turning the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries into a first-of-its-kind paddling trail.

The John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail would honor the explorer's role in founding Jamestown, Va., and mapping the Chesapeake Bay. It would be similar to 13 established land-based paths such as the Lewis and Clark and Pony Express trails.

With more than 150 rivers and thousands of streams flowing into the bay, the possibilities for a water trail seem endless. And when tied to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of parks, lighthouses, hiking trails and historical sites, the exploration options would fill a lifetime of vacations for paddlers and folks with small boats.

"The magic of the Chesapeake Bay is that you can lose yourself in a tributary, lose yourself in a marsh and really get to know it," says Ann Swanson of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. "The water trail would allow you to see the bay the way John Smith saw it."

Smith and his crew of about 12 traveled the bay in a 30-foot open boat off and on for two years beginning in 1607. Anyone who has spent a long weekend with the family on a cabin cruiser can only applaud that fortitude.

The good captain was looking for food for the Jamestown colony - which he found - and the Northwest Passage - which he did not. He wandered the length of the bay, beginning near Cape Henry and sailing 180 miles north to Susquehanna Flats between Harford and Cecil counties.

But it wasn't a straight line. By the time he explored the Potomac River and wiggled his way up the coastline, Smith had put nearly 3,000 miles on the boat's odometer.

His journals marvel at the beauty and bounty of the bay, calling it one of "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."

Of course, time and messy people have degraded the view Smith enjoyed. Development has chewed holes in the shoreline, the crabs and oysters are having a tough go, and agricultural runoff clouds the picture.

Still, it's hard to believe the good captain saw a more stunning Poplar Island sunrise than we do now.

The water trail has bipartisan backing. In addition to Democrats Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the bill is sponsored by Virginia's two Republican senators. In addition, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his Democratic counterparts in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams have signed a letter of support.

Sarbanes has asked the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to schedule hearings on the legislation. If the feasibility study is approved, the park service will need about two years to complete it. The senator said he hopes the water trail can be on the way to official designation by 2007, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

By giving small-boat owners and paddlers better access to the bay, supporters hope to create more stewards, says Patrick Noonan, chairman emeritus of The Conservation Fund.

"Frankly, the 400th anniversary presents us with the opportunity to celebrate this great area, a treasure as important as Yosemite and Yellowstone," Noonan says. "We think that the water trail ... is an idea that can inspire the next generation of bay explorers, advocates and scientists.

"The timing is good. The opportunity is before us. We think we should seize it."

Casting call

It has been four years since young Jessica Digman of Eldersburg represented the region at the national BASS CastingKids competition in New Orleans.

Although she didn't win the $5,000 scholarship, she showed poise and casting talent admired by the judges.

Local BASS officials looking for the next Jessica will hold a qualifying competition next Saturday and Sunday at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Hanover.

Accuracy in pitching, flipping and casting will earn contestants a spot in the state finals at Bass Pro on March 5. There are two age divisions: 7-10 and 11-14.

For times and more details, go to www.basspro.com.

Left-handed compliment

Finally, a tip of the fishing cap to Bernard V. Kreh, who came into the world on Feb. 26, 1925, taught the Germans a thing or two at the Battle of the Bulge and then schooled thousands of anglers as The Sun's outdoors writer and as an instructor at outdoors shows around the country.

Eighty years old and still going strong. Tight lines, Lefty.

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