Eco Trekking across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Posted by KristenM on September 2nd, 2010
Sunset on Smith

Sunset on canoes in Tylerton, MD

This summer from August 7th through August 13th, 9 students went on a journey through the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This trip was organized and led by Josh Falk, an Education Specialist at SERC, and Kevin Schabow, an educator at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. The purpose of this trip was to immerse high school age students in the complex nature of the science, culture and natural resources that the Bay’s watershed has to offer. This year, the students were assigned to report on what they learned and what they did. Here is their story.

Group One (Chris, Laura Zack)

How would the Chesapeake Bay be different if the whole watershed looked like the hike we went on, on Wye Island?

      On the first leg of our trip we started off driving from SERC to Wye Island a small island completely enclosed in the Wye River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where we hiked through a forest and learned how the forest would filter rain water before it entered the river or The Bay. In the forest there was a lot of tree biodiversity, there was white oak, red oak, Loblolly pine, holly trees, beach trees, etc. Some of the trees were so big that it took four of us to reach around the tree. Four hundred years ago forests like that would have filtered run-off and there would have been a clearer bay, One of the cool things about modern Wye Island was that it was an isolated area and some of the island was virtually untouched by civilization.

      Day two we took a ferry and headed to the town of Tylerton on Smith Island, where we met Captain Wes, Adam, Melissa, and Julia (who all work for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation). As soon as we arrived we went in to action by placing crab pots out in the water. For the bait we used Menhaden, which has many important commercial uses besides crab bait, and in fact is the largest fishery on the East Coast of the US. In conversations with Captain Wes we talked about the laws for crabbing and how this affects watermen’s lifestyle. As soon as we got back we went beach combing on a search for arrow heads and other neat things that we would want to collect. By the time that was over we were all were hungry for the great food that Smith Island had to offer. We ended the second day playing a game to learn the tributaries of the Chesapeake.  

Getting ready to go canoeing

Laura Davis, Anne Wyrough, and Liz O'Keefe getting ready to go canoing on Smith Island

      For our first activity on day three we canoed to an area called The Pines which is mostly marshland, but used to be a small community. When we got there we first learned about the history of this community and others on surrounding islands. These communities were inhabited by people but were later abandoned on the account of rising water levels. We also were learned about how animals evolved to camouflage themselves in the surrounding marshland. Plants and animals also evolved to survive in marshland, for example the plant Spartina was able to use brackish water by disposing of the salt through the blades. We also learned that the marshland had little to no dirt but was made up of a substance called detritus, decomposing plant material and other things, and we had a lot of fun playing in it.

Learning about tidal wetlands

Eco trekkers learn about the plants that live in a tidal salt water marsh

      On Smith we learned about ways to conserve water and food. Ways that we did this was for example when we ate a meal we tried to have no SLOP, (which stands for stuff left on plate), this turned into a game and we have are names on the slop wall of fame. Another game we played was called energy baseball where if we forget to turn off a light and the counselors turned it off first we got a strike. We had no strikes amdwe ended up getting are name on the wall of fame for both games. We also had sinks that would turn off automatically so we use less water. Another way to conserve fresh water was to take bay showers, with water right out of the bay. We followed the rule “If its yellow let mellow, if brown flush it down” and this is pretty self explanatory.

      The afternoon of day two we walked around Tylerton asking the residents questions about life on the island. We thought of various questions we wanted answered, and then we asked them around the town. It was fun to meet all the new people and talk to them. After that we went to check on our crab pots and go scraping to find soft crabs and cool fish. When you go scraping you drag a scrape across the sea floor, where SAV is, because soft crabs and fish hide there. After we dragged it for about five minutes then pulled it up, we got tons of cool fish and soft crabs. Then we went to get the crab pots we set out yesterday. We did pretty well too; we caught a bushel and a half with only 18 crab pots.  Once we got the crabs we steamed them and had a feast right on the dock watching the sun set.

Groups two and three (Jay, Liz, Wes, Nathaniel, Austin, and Anne)
Day four we went out early to watch the sunrise on our boat while in Tylerton, The Walter Ridder.  We also wrote a journal about the sunrise and what we saw.  Then we came back to Tylerton, had breakfast and went back out to dredge for oysters.  Once we caught them we talked about how there used to be a lot of oysters but then people over harvested them, how disease affected them and we also talked about what they did for the Chesapeake Bay.  Next we came back to the island and packed up our gear.  We then took the boat ride back to Crisfield, got in our vans and continued our journey to Cooperative Oxford Lab where we met Bart who works for NOAA. We learned about rising sea levels and what affect they have on us.  Then we used surveying tools to do a marsh transect to show how little elevation gain is in a marsh. 

Students set up a transect to look at how sea level rise may effect coastal communities

Liz O'Keefe, Laura Davis, Chris Farrow, and Jay Wegner set up a transect to look at how sea level rise may effect coastal communities

 This showed how big of an affect a couple of inches of rising sea levels would do to buildings and even towns right on the water.  Once finished there we traveled to Lum’s pond in Delaware where we spent the night.  We put up our tents and then had delicious sloppy joes for dinner.  We then went on a covert ops mission to take a shower where all 12 people took showers in under 10 minutes then we went back to our tents and went to bed.
      Day five we woke up early, ate, and packed up quickly to get to Endless Mountain Outfitters in Sugar Run, Pennsylvania on time for a canoe trip down the Susquehanna. It was a long car ride to get there but it was worth it! When we got there we ate our lunch and changed to get ready to go canoeing. We got in our guides David and Sarah’s van with the canoes and drove up the river. We put the canoes in and started to paddle down the river. David pointed out that there are tons of bald eagles all along the river. We ended up seeing around 15 bald eagles. He told us about standing rock and how glaciers deposited it there. We went a little farther and stopped on the French Azylum and learned about how the French had lived there during the French revolution. We got out and swam in the water for a little bit but we had to keep going. We went through some really shallow and fast water which was lots of fun We also passed a wall that David told us held the train tracks up was built by the Irish during the potato famine. We ended the paddle by going through some rapids, packing the canoes up, and heading back to EMO.

Canoing the Susquehanna

Chris Farrow, Liz O'Keefe, Anne Wyrough, Wes Duchene, Austin Davis, Laura Davis, Kevin Schabow, Zach Chester, Nathaniel Chester, Moshe Roberts, Jay Wegner and Josh Falk shortly after conquering the mighty Susquehanna

Once there we changed, got in the vans, and headed to our camp site in Glimmerglass State Park on Otsego Lake. We set up our tents and ate in the dark, ate s’mores, cleaned up, and went to bed.

      Day six we woke up at around 6:45 and headed to a Field Station run by SUNY (State University of New York), Oneonta.  Once there we went on a nature hike led by a SUNY intern named Brie. She led us through a hemlock forest. We saw many other types of trees besides hemlock including birch, ash, white pines, and many others. We also saw lots of ferns including sensitive, cinnamon and, ostrich fern. We learned again that trees are very important because they are buffers for runoff. We learned an easy way to tell the age of a forest. If the forest is hilly then it is generally older because that means that trees have fallen and pulled out ground which creates depressions. If it is level that means the forest is newer. After our nature hike we had lunch. After lunch we went with a teacher named Peter for a trip to some of the ponds outside the lab. We used triangle nets to try to catch invertebrates in the pond. In the ponds we caught lots animals including tadpoles, baby salamanders, small pond fish, giant pond bugs, and a frog. We also learned about how these ponds were a key habitat to many organisms including baby organisms.  After this we came back to the lab, thanked Peter and Brie, and got our stuff and left for the SUNY boat house.

      At the boat house we listened to a SUNY professor named Holly explain the history of Otsego Lake and the abiotic and biotic organisms that fill it.  She explained in great detail how the lake once was a part of the Susquehanna River, then flooded by melting glaciers from the north giving birth to the beautiful fresh water in Otsego Lake.  We learned the basics of Lake Otsego, such as its deepest point (170 ft.), its unique tub shape, and its drastic temperature changes (23 degrees Celsius at the lake’s surface and 6 degrees Celsius at the lake’s bottom).  This fresh water lake gave us a better understanding of the beginning of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and gave a great comparison among the drastic differences between the different bodies of water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. After we listened to Holly we all got our lifejackets on and hopped on the Pontoon boat for a ride along the lake. 

Students learning about the Biology of Otsego Lake

Zach Chester and Wes Duchene learn about the Limnology of Otsego Lake

On the boat we tested the lake’s turbidity, these tests are done to determine how deep one can see a secchi disk in the water, it also gives the scientists an easy fast way to estimate how much algae is in the water. We learned that one can see about 20 ft. into the lake until you could no longer see the secchi disk.  This is a drastic change compared to the turbidity within the Chesapeake Bay waters, which one can see only about 3 ft.

      We had a probe to test some water quality parameters including dissolved oxygen (DO), salinity, depth and temperature. There are three levels of the lake epilimnion, the thermocline, and below the thermocline, we found that each had different measurements. The deepest point that we tested, 160 feet, had 1.23 DO which is very bad for the health of the fish, such as the native lake trout. If the poor DO levels remain low other native fish will die out such as the fresh water cod.     We also used a Van-Doren Bottle to collect water from the bottom of the lake and got to feel how cold the water really felt.

Once we were done with our program with SUNY we headed back to our campsite and got ready to swim in the lake.  We only swam for a little bit because it started to rain and we were cold.  After we got out of the lake, we played an amazing game of capture the flag in the pouring rain!!  Later that night we got explore Cooperstown and get some ice cream.  There were two things that were cool about being in town; we got to see the baseball hall of fame AND then stood on a bridge over the very beginning of the Susquehanna River!  It was pretty cool to see where the Chesapeake Bay started!!  We ended the evening back at camp with a night hike to an overlook by the lake.  We talked about what we learned and that a lot of us wanted to come back to camp next year as counselors in training!  Afterwards we went back to our tents and went to bed for our last night of camp.

We woke up early the next morning, took down our tents and started our six and a half hour drive home.  Once we got back we unloaded our gear, watched a slide show and said goodbye.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. That looks like a lot of fun. I just stumbled across your blog and this article while I was looking for some information about the Chesapeake Bay. I had to give a speech on the Chesapeake Bay when I was a student and today I remembered and so wanted to look something up. But anyway. Nice post and I wish you a lot of fun when you are doing the same thing next year.

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