Summertime on the Chesapeake Bay equates to steamed crabs, rock fishing, and swimming along a host of other water based recreation. The ubiquitous sights and sounds from these activities are a welcome addition for locals and hordes of travelers making their way to the region. Along with the permeating aroma of Old Bay seasoning, which will indeed send your olfactory sense into a state of nirvana, summer is also the season of economic boom.
The water of the Bay is so important to the culture and economy of the region. Yet have you ever considered where it comes from?
The diverse habitats of the watershed allow water to travel through marsh, piedmont, and the mountains of Appalachia. Yes, when your feet are waddling though the sands of the Bay much of that water originated in the Appalachian Mountains, whose vast wilderness of cove forest is a far cry from the marsh that surrounds the Chesapeake. The rolling green hills are a relic to a primeval past when these mountains were larger than the Rockies, originally carved by ancient glaciers that have since eroded into the forested wonderland we know today.
The mountains are an important component to the watershed. The rivers and streams that originate in them make up the majority of fresh water that eventually finds itself flowing into the bay. It is wild to contemplate that the water that drops from the venerable waterfalls will make its way to the Susquehanna, Potomac, Rappahannock, and other rivers originating in the mountains and eventually meander to brackish marsh. Additionally, for your favorite intrepid watershed photographer, exploring the higher mountains in this region, especially in Virginia and West Virginia, provides a welcome break from the heat (usually a much cooler by 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit).
The forests of these mountains also provide shelter for a large number of watershed wildlife, both aquatic and terrestrial. Riparian forest bordering along rivers and streams provide shade and cooler waters that are important for spawning fish. These woodlands absorb nitrogen and pollutants which in turn improve air quality.
And there is the mountain fauna. White tail Deer, bobcats, eastern coyotes, and elk are all found in portions of the mountains within the watershed. Seeing a newborn deer fawn being licked by its mother in a mountain meadow is wonderful to behold. As is the abundant bird life. Yet the animal everyone wants to see when venturing into the Appalachian Mountains is the Black Bear.
There is something about being in the presence of a bear, especially on foot, as it is electrifying and always memorable. This was an exceptional summer for me with observing black bear mothers and cubs. Unfortunately, there were some bear attacks this summer from both black and grizzly bears, leading many to unjustly believe it were dangerous to venture into the woods. However tawdry media hype had completely blown these events out of proportion.
I hike in bear country frequently. I find it satisfying that we have black bears in the watershed. However I am not naive, because tragedies obviously occur, thus I always carry bear pepper spray with me. Many amateur hikers whom venture into bear country do not understand the inherent dangers of wilderness areas or have a keen sense of animal behavior. They definitely do not have the slightest inclination on what to do in the rare case of bear attack. National Parks and wilderness areas are not a theme park. There are plenty of trails in these areas for novice hikers however you must educate yourself to have at least a basic understanding of what to do if a bear wanders onto the trail.
Simple precautions one takes when swimming in the Chesapeake Bay should be the same when wandering through bear country.
Currently, in late summer, the bears are gorging on cherry trees and the occasional ant hill. Soon it will be acorns. Sorry - I will not rush the remaining weeks of summer.
Besides, I have my camera in its underwater housing.