Paddling toward preservation

Free kayaking is Discovery Village's latest effort to encourage appreciation of the bay


For more than 150 years, Shady Side watermen earned a living catching rockfish, perch and oysters. Today, however, the water is barely able to support the 15 watermen who continue to work out of Parrish Creek.

Protecting their livelihood - and their heritage - is the mission of Discovery Village, a Chesapeake Bay education center on Parrish Creek in the tiny South County community.

In its latest effort to encourage locals and tourists alike to appreciate the wonders of the bay, the nonprofit center is launching a free family kayaking program.

With a kickoff party tomorrow, co-founders Adam Hewison and David Maher are inviting visitors to take one of up to 20 yellow single and two-person models (or to use one of their own) from the center's kayak launch site.

In the shallow water, away from the rumble of motorboats, kayakers are likely to spot an assortment of local inhabitants: fish, crabs, blue herons, mallards, ospreys, egrets, terns and gulls, eagles, turtles and swans.

"It's a great thing for our community. In this area, there isn't any public access to the water," Hewison said. "When we got here in 1999, the idea was always to open up this beautiful property to the public."

Also partners in a financial Web portal for investors called, Maher, 30, of Calvert County and Hewison, 60, of Shady Side bought the 8-acre site from the Johns Hopkins University.

The 1970s-era buildings at Discovery Village, used by the university for bay research, have partially equipped laboratories and classrooms, some with potential office and conference space.

Now they're used by volunteers to present programs for schoolchildren and other visitors.

"Seasons of a Chesapeake Bay Fisherman," developed with Anne Arundel County fourth-grade teachers, gives children the opportunity to talk to a waterman and travel on a workboat on the river.

"A School of Fish," part of Discovery Village's emphasis on art, was a competition among the county's 12 public high schools about three years ago. Students designed unheard-of fish, such as the sparkling white "angel fish" that reverses to become a black "devil fish" in the center's main lobby.

Video from the OspreyCam, a camera mounted inside the main building that is trained around the clock on a large osprey nest in Parrish Creek, is sent via the Internet to schoolchildren, who follow the bird's life cycles from their classrooms. The kids are invited to name the babies when they hatch.

The goal of the Terrapin Institute, headquartered at Discovery Village, is to salvage adult turtles and collect turtle eggs and baby turtles from deprived habitats where they are unlikely to survive. After a stint in the turtle nursery, they are tagged and released into the water.

"If people could look at this species," said founder Marguerite Whilden, "[they might think,] `Well, maybe we should do that with other things.'"

A major project in 2005 has boosted the center's population of turtles.

With the support of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Discovery Village completed a $90,000 project to remove a large section of deteriorating bulkhead and replace it with a more environmentally sound solution: a living shoreline.

Today, turtles and horseshoe crabs make their way through the sea grass planted by schoolchildren and volunteers along the shoreline to nest and lay eggs.

Another of Discovery Village's experimental projects is a 22-foot-tall windmill that stands near the water's edge like a piece of modern sculpture. Turning in the breeze, the windmill blades generate a rush of oxygen-rich bubbles into the water to enhance the creek's aquatic life. The state Department of Natural Resources is monitoring the effectiveness of the project.

Kayaks aren't the only vessels docked at Discovery Village. Another is the oyster boat Patricia Campbell. From the deck, tons of oyster shells laden with spat - tiny baby oysters - are sown into the bay under the guidance of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Miss Edith, an oyster boat built in 1960 that worked for 40 years in Parrish Creek, was stripped to bare wood last winter and restored to its original splendor by five local watermen and craftsmen.

The 42-foot, 8-ton boat with refinished brass appointments will be ready this summer to take passengers on three-hour cruises to the Thomas Point and Bloody Point lighthouses, said Hewison.

An electric pontoon boat takes schoolchildren on short cruises around the creek.

Discovery Village pays some of its expenses by leasing slips at a discounted rate to watermen and by renting space to ventures like the Southern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce and water-related companies, including boat builders and a rigging company.

The partners at Discovery Village have taken to heart the advice of one of their watermen, who said, "Give the bay half a chance and it will come back."

Tomorrow's Kayak Night celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. at Discovery Village, 4800 Atwell Road. Cedar Grove United Methodist Church volunteers will sell food, and the Shady Side Sour Notes may perform. For more information, call 410-867-2100.

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