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June 30, 2011

Diamond (Jims) in the rough

jimsblog.jpgGorgeous morning to be on the Chesapeake Bay. Except for the choppy water part.

But it was time to bear witness to the work being done by boatloads of volunteers, young and old, students and veterans, who helped biologists tagging striped bass for the Maryland Fishing Challenge--Diamond Jim contest. Besides, the old adage still holds true: any day on the water beats a good day in the office (if office good days even exist anymore).

A dozen boats headed out early from the Eastern and Western shores and Baltimore with marching orders: catch and tag 200 fish with green plastic markers for the July portion of the DJ event. One fish is Diamond Jim; the rest are imposters.

The sun was just warming up its act and clouds were few and far between. The only fly in the ointment was a northwest wind pushing the water into blue-green lumps that rocked boats and sent spray over the bows. 

Campers from the Indian Creek summer program and kids who participated in the Baltimore Recreation and Parks "City Catch" program augmented the usual cast of Fisheries Service biologists and anglers who could play hooky for a few hours.

The going was kind of slow a shade south of Bloody Point. But everyone was filling their camera memory card with, well, memories, so how bad can that be?

There's still several hours left today (June 30) for someone to catch the striped bass with June's winning tag on it and collect $10,000. But given bay conditions today and the low water salinity levels above the Bay Bridge, I'm guessing that's unlikely.

So, the one striper with the lucky green tag released today will be worth $20,000 tomorrow. And if no one catches the July fish, the August fish will be worth $25,000.

For the first time, this year’s contest features a guaranteed $25,000 payout: If one of the three authentic Diamond Jims is not caught by Labor Day, the cash prize will be split equally among the anglers who catch imposters this summer. 

Every angler who catches a citation-sized fish or a tagged striped bass and enters the challenge becomes eligible to participate in the random drawing for prizes on Sept. 10 at Sandy Point State Park. Prizes include a boat and trailer package from Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Boats, thousands of dollars in fishing gear and trips from Bill’s Outdoor Center, a tropical vacation from World Fishing Network and merchandise from Under Armour.

All the fine print is here.

More than 800 anglers have qualified for the drawing that generally draws a couple of thousand. There's the final free fishing day of the year on Monday, a good opportunity to qualify.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 11:11 AM |
        

Five things to do outdoors this (holiday) weekend

Hot? Yes. Humid? Most certainly. But three days off in a row? Let's get started.

Here's some things to get you going. Happy Fourth!

1) Grab a copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club book, "Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C.," and choose one of the two dozen outings that will take you from the easy, kid- and pet-friendly Lake Artemesia and Northeast Branch Trail near College Park to the difficult, but rewarding 7-mile hike to Cascade Falls in Patapsco Valley State Park. The 254-page soft cover book includes maps, trip planners, tips, essays and GPS coordinates, all for $18.95.

2) If you can't cool off in the water, mud's the next best thing. On Saturday and Sunday, the Oregon Ridge Nature Center is having "Get Down and Dirty Mud Day," from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Make mud pies, mud sculptures, mud paintings and even mud casts. Then rise off in the sprinkler afterward. Suitable for ages 5 and up. Cost: $3 per child; $2 for members. Call 410-887-1815 for more information.

3) The Sierra Club of Howard County is having two outings this weekend. On Saturday, take a 7- to 9-mile hike at Catoctin Mountain Park and see Cunningham Falls, Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock. Bring lunch and water. Meet at the Bagel Bin off U.S. in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, for a 9 a.m. departure. Or make arrangements with the leader to meet at the Catoctin Visitor Center. Contact James Perschy, 410-964-1902 or jameshike@verizon.net. Then on Sunday, take a cool two-hour walk and wade down the Middle Patuxent River in Columbia. Wear old sneakers, and be prepared to get wet. Optional restaurant lunch afterwards, so bring a change of clothes. Meet at 10 a.m. at the Middle Patuxent Environment Area parking lot on Trotter Road, about a mile south of Route 108. The leader is Ken Clark, 443-280-4050 or kenclark7@live.com.

4) Elk Neck State Park is offering two, 90-minute canoe trips around the lake on Saturday, led by one of my favorite naturalists, Crystal Hudson. The first is at 10 a.m. and the second is at 12:30. After the trip, go cool off at the park's sandy beaches. The paddling outing is for ages 6 and older--no exceptions--and participants must be able to swim. The cost is $10 per person plus park entrance fee. There are other rules, but Hudson will fill you in by calling 410-287-5333 or emailing chudson@dnr.state.md.us.

5) Monday is the state's final free fishing day of 2011. Recreational anglers may catch finfish in the state's tidal and nontidal waters without a license, Chesapeake Bay sportfishing license, or any fishing stamp normally required. Free-fishing anglers must follow all regulations and minimum size and creel limits for the 62 species that are managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM |
        

June 29, 2011

Fear the Turtle(s)

It was, a reader commented, "the very definition of a slow news day."

Aviation officials had to close a runway at New York's Kennedy International Airport today and call in wildlife experts after a herd--herd??--of 100 diamondback terrapins decided to use the asphalt strip as their main approach to a breeding area.

“They look for sandy spots to lay their eggs, and there is an ideal location on the other side of Runway 4,” airport spokesman John Kelly told Andy Newman of the New York Times. "They come out of the water and cross the runway to lay their eggs in the sand.”

 

A few flights this morning were delayed for up to a half hour. The turtles were picked up and moved to safer ground so that they could continue their westward plod toward Jamaica Bay.

The same thing happened two years ago, the newspaper reported.

“This may be a major international airport, a gateway to New York City and the United States, but any facility that is built on water, sometimes your neighbors come in a hard-shell variety,” Kelly said.

Baltimore Sun photo of a diamondback terrapin by Jed Kirschbaum / June 9, 2006

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 12:58 PM | | Comments (2)
        

People's Exhibit A: Poaching enforcement has weak link

Joseph Walker Benton is the kind of young man who makes honest watermen cringe and the rest of us wonder what the heck is wrong with Maryland's legal system.

On March 19, at 1 a.m.--yes, an hour past midnight--Natural Resources Police officers watched the 21-year-old Centreville man steer his darkened boat into the Sawmill oyster sanctuary in Prospect Bay and begin dredging for oysters.

NRP had gotten a tip the previous evening from a legitimate waterman and knew just where to set up shop. Benton was already under investigation for oystering without a license and presenting an invalid license to an officer on March 3.

Officers intercepted Benton's boat in the Kent Narrows harbor, confiscated five and a half bushels of oysters and returned them to the sanctuary.

Benton was ordered to appear in Queen Anne's District Court on June 8 to answer the charges of removing oysters from an oyster sanctuary, operating a vessel without navigational lights, possessing oysters on a vessel more than two hours after sunset and two counts of catching oysters without a commercial license.

To his credit, he showed up. Unfortunately, justice did not.

The Queen Anne's prosecutor declined to pursue one licensing violation and the charge of dredging after hours. Benton paid a $650 fine on the other license violation. The judge fined the faux waterman $1,000 for stealing oysters from a sanctuary, but deferred payment.

Benton got to keep his boat and dredging equipment. He didn't lose his license because he never had one to begin with. He lost the oysters taken during his last night on the water, but presumably made some money on the ones he dredged on his previous outing, enough to ease the sting of his $650 fine.

An honest waterman took a leap of faith and called the cops, no doubt hoping to remove a bad actor from the water and to help restore the reputation of his profession.

NRP officers went out on a cold March night to keep their part of the deal.

It fell to a prosecutor to make it stick.

In this case, two out of three ain't good enough. 

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
        

June 27, 2011

Near-record runoff washes salt from Upper Chesapeake

Like a gigantic spigot, the Conowingo Dam unleashed a three-month gusher of fresh water last spring that flushed the salt from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries above the Bay Bridge.

From March through May, the dam released 5 trillion gallons of water, enough to replace the entire volume of the upper bay every 30 days. This year's spring total is surpassed only by 1993, when 5.5 trillion gallons gushed from the river's mouth.

As a result, salinity levels from Turkey Point to the Bay Bridge are at their lowest point since 1985, when monitoring stations were established. Even Eastern Bay and points as far south as Cove Point in Calvert County are seeing record-low marks.

What does it all mean?

"This is going to be an unusual year," said Lynn Fegley, assistant fisheries director for the Department of Natural Resources.    

Biologists expect there will be guest appearances by creatures confused by the change. But more worrisome is the thought that some invasive species, such as northern snakehead and blue catfish, that have been bottled up in freshwater tributaries will escape to other rivers and streams now that the saltwater barrier is down.

"They sense it's still fresh and they just keep going," Fegley said.

Strong spring flows often push more sediment and nitrogen into fragile areas, fueling massive algae blooms and large dead zones, as happened in 1994. But sometimes -- as in 1993 -- it does not, for reasons not quite understood.

Low salinity is the kiss of death for oysters. In 1993, watermen in certain areas reported losing half of their oysters. The following year, when the flow wasn't as strong but lasted longer, beds in the Choptank and Chester rivers and in the upper bay near Rock Hall were hard hit.

With salinity levels below 6 parts per thousand threshold, the Oyster Recovery Partnership has had to give up on plans to plant spat north of the Choptank River, executive director Stephan Abel said.

"We can't put seed out knowing it's going to die," he said. "We're not going to take any chances so we're sending divers out to ground-truth the bottom before we plant."

Instead of trying to plant oysters in Harris Creek and in the Severn River, ORP has switched to the Honga River and Point Lookout.

"It's awful, but you adapt," Abel said of the low salinity. "We've got plenty of bottom in the south, just not where we planned."

Fegley said Chesapeake species most likely will ride out the unusual conditions.

"It's not estuary Armageddon," she said. "Part of the deal, if you're a critter living in the Chesapeake Bay, is being asked to put up with an incredibly wide range of conditions, including great swings in salinity."

And low spring salinity levels, she noted, may help juvenile fish, especially striped bass -- a good sign in Maryland, where the Young of the Year survey recently has recorded several subpar years.

DNR statistics show 1993 was second only to 1996 for number of baby stripers. The late winter and early spring flow in 1996 also was extremely strong. Spawning spot, yellow perch and white perch also benefited by conditions in 1993.

Recent dry conditions have allowed salinity to begin their creep toward normal levels, and unless there's a deluge from a tropical storm to top off the Chesapeake's freshwater supply, the upper bay may return to more normal levels.

Until then, the good news for waders, swimmers and watercraft riders: Low salinity will slow the summer invasion of jellyfish.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 5:04 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Black drum surrenders to retired general

blog1.jpgDon't stop me if you've heard this before. Because it's happened again.

Last year, Warren Magruder caught a 50-inch black drum north of the Bay Bridge. The retired Army major general wrestled the fish onto his boat after a 20-minute fight and brought it to shore, where it attracted a battalion of Pasadena neighbors.

Last Monday--same spot, same bucktail lure, same 5-foot rod, same two-speed reel--Magruder did it again.

The only difference? Magruder is a year older: 83.

"He's the Jack LaLanne of fishing," gushed DNR fisheries biologist Marty Gary.

"It has to be luck," said Magruder, who received a state citation for his catch.

Magruder was trolling off Gibson Island at Belvidere Shoal with his neighbor and fishing buddy, Jack Streb. The general had just returned from his annual Key West trip (he even has a video). Streb had just come back from a Maine vacation.

 

blog2.jpgLooking at the fishing finder, the boys noticed "a school of something" on an underwater lump, Magruder said.

"The next thing, my rod went down and the line began to scream," he continued. "I tried to slow it down, but even with maximum drag, it kept going."

Streb used his boat's motor to bring the fish under control and Magruder dropped the reel into low gear to begin cranking away.

"Until we got it to the surface, we didn't know what we had," Magruder said.

Streb knew: "We had our hands full."  

Twenty minutes later, the fish came alongside, presenting a new challenge.

"Jack only had a small net and it was all the two of us could do to get it in the boat," said Magruder.

(Let the record show that last year, the general boated the 70-pound fish alone. A fisherman since the 1930s, it was the first black drum he had caught above the Bay Bridge.)

After taking it to Fishbones in Pasadena to have it certified, they scaled the fish with a garden hoe and cut it into fillets.

Gary called the catch amazing for two reasons.

First, the salinity of the bay above the Bay Bridge is at a record low. Ten water quality stations, from Turkey Point to the bridge, are registering parts per thousand below anything seen since 1985. Even stations below the bridge, such as Eastern Bay, the outer Choptank River and Cove Point, are recording record marks.

"There's no salinity, but apparently these behemoths don't care," said Gary of the black drum. "You can sometimes find them in Eastern Bay, but that's usually the upper limit. This would be an unusual catch on one year, but two years in a row? That's awesome."

And the second reason?

"I can fully appreciate the ordeal of getting that fish in the boat, but for an 83-year-old angler? That's a feat I can't imagine," Gary said.

We'll give the final word on the matter to Streb: "I told Warren, 'If you do this next year, I'm cutting the line.'" 

Handout photos of Warren Magruder / July 20, 2010

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

June 24, 2011

Sprucing up the Patapsco for paddlers, anglers

patapsco1.jpg

patapsco2.jpgWhen the cork known as Simkins Dam was pulled from the Patapsco River late last year, water flowed freely for the first time in more than a century.

As the water level dropped, strange items began appearing. A huge milling machine with menacing blades. A massive steel tank filled with water and sand. A brick pump house washed from its foundation by the force of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Two sections of ancient sewer pipe near the bridge in Ellicott City.

They posed navigational hazards for paddlers, safety concerns for waders and swimmers and potential line snaggers for anglers.

"Plus they're just, plain ugly," said Jim Palmer, a member of Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park.

So the volunteers hired a tow truck big enough for Paul Bunyan to drive.

A Baltimore County highway crew rolled onto the scene to help.

Two hours later, all of the junk was on its way to the landfill.

  

patapsco3.jpg"This is terrific for the recreational boaters, the anglers, the kayakers and it's terrific for the river," said Major Daryl Anthony, central regional manager of the Maryland Park Service. "It's all part of the initiative to clean up the river and improve the overall health and beauty of the Patapsco."

That's not to say it was easy.

Palmer, Bruce Clopein, Paul Farragut and John Diamond did all the prep work, attaching heavy chains to the pieces and figuring out a clear path from the water, up the river bank and to the waiting bulldozer and truck along River Road.

James Freeman of Pasadena operated the controls on his tow truck's 75-ton crane with the deft touch of a surgeon. The huge boom swung under power lines and around trees. Freeman has practice. He was called upon in 2008 to raise the tractor trailer that plunged off the Bay Bridge.

After volunteers snapped large hooks to the chains draped around the milling machine, Freeman pushed the winch into gear. A steel cable tightened and slowly the hunk of metal began inching its way toward dry land, leaving a slug-like trench of sand in its wake.

"We'll come back and smooth that out," said Palmer.

Earlier this week, the state, federal and conservation partners that took part in the removal of Simkins walked the site to see if the river was returning to its original state. The concensus: So far, so good.

One obstacle remains between Ellicott City and the mouth of the river: Bloede Dam.

Money is tight, but early planning is underway.

All of the other items targeted by the volunteers were dragged to shore. Bicycles, a vacuum cleaner and a box load of cans and bottles were hauled off as well.

Tires and the messy remains of shoreline parties had to be left behind for another day.  

"This is a work in progress," said Palmer. "We'll be back."

Photos

Top: A 2,000-pound brick pumping station, torn from its foundation by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, was one of the items pulled from the Patapsco River.

Middle: A storage tank, filled with water and sand, was hauled away by a Baltimore County highway crew.

Bottom: Paul Farragut (left) and Jim Palmer steady the pumphouse as a 75-ton crane drags it from the Howard County side to the Baltimore County side of the river.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 6:57 AM |
        

June 23, 2011

NRP arrests another serial poacher

Since 1992, Tilghman waterman Edward Bruce Lowery Jr. has racked up more than 45 natural resources tickets for everything ranging from poaching oysters and clams to illegally harvesting striped bass, and has had his commercial license suspended twice by the state--once for oystering on a suspended license.

Now it appears he has added a new wrinkle to his career, according to reports filed by Natural Resources Police. Officers on patrol last Friday saw Lowery, 45, operating a hydraulic clam dredge in the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) protection zone in Cooks Point Cove on the Choptank River. Hydraulic clam dredging is prohibited in areas set aside for the restoration of submerged aquatic plants.

DNR suspended Lowery's license for the first 10 days of the 2009-2010 season after officers caught him on the first day of the season harvesting oysters on a suspended license. Six days later, NRP caught Lowery harvesting oysters again. Officers also found undersized oysters on his boat. NRP charged Lowery again with harvesting oysters on a suspended license and charged him with possession of undersized oysters.

On Feb. 2 last year, DNR suspended his license for the remainder of the season after he was caught power dredging for oysters after legal hours and in an area set aside for hand tonging.

For this latest case, Lowery has been ordered to appear in Dorchester District Court on Sept. 14. The prosecutor in the case is State's Attorney William Jones (410-228-3611 or wjones@docogonet.com).

Hope you find that information useful.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 1:14 PM | | Comments (6)
        

June 21, 2011

Serial poacher Joey Janda arrested again

Joey Janda, who has served time for poaching and had his commercial license suspended by a district court judge, was charged by Natural Resources Police on June 19 with possession of undersized blue crabs.

How is it that Janda is harvesting crabs at all?

At just 25, the Wittman waterman has been charged more than 60 times in the last decade and been found guilty on numerous occasions for poaching oysters, illegal striped bass fishing and harvesting undersized crabs. In addition, he has been convicted of fishing without a license and fishing on a suspended license.

But most importantly, in February 2009, a St. Mary's County judge sentenced Janda to 90 days in jail and three years of supervised probation and yanked his commercial license for three years after he was convicted of harvesting undersized oysters.

Recreational anglers and honest watermen sick of being lumped in with a bandit like Janda applauded the outcome.

Now, unless I've miscounted, Janda's three years of supervised probation isn't over and neither is his license suspension. Yet, he's been ticketed again.

Here's the deal: When the state pulled all Janda's commercial licenses, a now-retired DNR official allowed him to keep his privileges to act as a crewman on someone else's boat in all fisheries except oysters. The terms of the agreement stipulated that if Janda violated the law while under suspension, his crew status could be in jeopardy. 

Given those parameters, here's what NRP reports happened in the June 19 incident:

An officer noticed a pick-up truck with a flat tire on the shoulder of Route 33 just outside of St. Michaels shortly before noon. The officer talked to the driver, Janda, and noticed he had three and a half bushels of crabs in the bed of the truck. When the catch was checked, the officer noted that the half bushel contained 18 undersized crabs.

Janda has been ordered to appear in Talbot District Court on Aug. 18.

Fisheries Service Director Tom O'Connell said this morning that DNR "is exploring its options in light of the incident."

There should be no "options." If a judge finds him guilty on Aug. 18, Janda should lose his commercial fishing privileges forever. He should be banned from setting foot on a commercial boat. He shouldn't be allowed to work at a check station.

No mercy, no wiggle room, no second chances. Hell, he's already had and abused a billion of those.

The Maryland Watermen's Association, the Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fishermen's Association, the state Tidal Fish Advisory Commission, Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and other recreational organizations need to speak up. They need to contact O'Connell; the prosecutor, Talbot County State's Attorney Scott Patterson; and District Judge William Adkins III and tell them to close the book on Janda's short but destructive career. 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 9:17 AM | | Comments (2)
        

June 20, 2011

Ken Penrod's bass fishing report

Guide Ken Penrod, owner of Life Outdoors Unlimited, filed his weekly bass fishing report for the region's waters.

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: three stars; clear, pea green color; algae beginning to show up; 2 feet at Point of Rocks; 74 degrees.

Smallmouth bass fishing has been very good although most of our fish have been rather small. Fifty to sixty bass per guided trip is the norm and while we do find some bass with sores and stress evidence, the vast majority seem to be healthy and well fed. Most of the larger females in the 15- to 18-inch class are rather skinny as they recover from post-spawn stress.

At Edwards Ferry, the ledges just downstream, Goose Creek, the Maryland side of the river near the power lines and Harrison Island on the Maryland side offer consistent catches when Mizmo tubes are presented on 1/8th ounce RAP jig heads. A four-inch Case Magic Stik with a 3/0 VMC hook is deadly most days. It’s important to use green Sufix monofilament in 6- or 8-pound test on a spinning reel.

At White Ferry, we continue to do best upriver, especially in the middle of the river, using the same lures and offerings. I hate to sound like a camp-mom but boaters MUST beware the ferry cable. Wait until the ferry is on one side or the other and navigate through the middle.

From Lander to Brunswick, we do quite well with the above mentioned schemes, especially up river. I like submersed ledges, where we overcast the structure and allow the current to deliver the tube or Stik. This water is getting low, so be careful. Best tube colors include Penrod Purple, KP Rose; KP V8 and roadkill Camo.

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: three to four stars: near 80 degrees: full moon tides; stained from wind and boats.

Largemouth bass fishing continues to be good to excellent in many areas of the river but don’t count on last year’s data. Many of last year’s vegetation fields are much smaller but hydrilla has not dominated yet. Grass is still the go-to habitat. Shallow, submersed wood cover in and near vegetation is almost a sure thing. Last week was full-moon dominated causing very high and low tides. Case Plastics, especially Case Magic Stiks, attached to VMC 3/0 hooks on Sufix Deep Crankin’ mono is a formula for success when everything else fails. Rapala DT06 crankbaits and Clackin’ Raps get the job done. We do very well with 4-inch Mizmo tubes attached to a ¼ ounce Mizmo InSider for any dropoff and in sparse grass. The shallow dive Rapala square-bill crankbaits do very well over grass during high water.

In and around Washington, troll Rapala Thug crankbaits in the Washington Channel, along the Fort McNair side, in 10-15 feet of water for bass and rockfish. Don’t get too close to that wall or you will be arrested. There are smallmouth bass on Long Bridge foundations and on the Kennedy Center dropoff.

In the vicinity of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, try Fox Ferry Point on low tide, submersed barges near the bridge, subtle points in Smoot Bay, coves near Belle Haven Marina, grass cover in Broad Creek and boat docks south of Hog Island.

In Piscataway Creek and south, try grass in Dogue Creek and Gunston Cove. The mouth of Pomonkey and the creek itself is well worth time. Little creeks in Hallowing Cove and main river grass near George’s house are productive. Grass beds in Occoquan and Belmont Bay have really come alive and don’t hesitate to cast Big Mouth Chatterbaits with swimbait trailers.

In Mattawoman Creek and vicinity, the “6-mph” zone is not so good although snakeheads abound. The grass between Snake Island and the confluence was not up to par, but wind had much to do with that. There are small, narrow grass beds between Chickamuxen and Mallows Bay that hold quality bass and it looks like Aquia Creek grass is healthy again—and abounds with snakeheads.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: two stars; high 60s; clean; normal pool. Guides Brent Nelson and Bret Winegardner are having problems locating largemouth bass and we hope it’s due to post-spawn stress rather than the fairly serious fish kill of last year. Find smallmouth bass along the Deep Creek Lake State Park shoreline as well as rocky shores on the main stem toward the dam. Mizmo tubes Rapala crankbaits and drop-shot plastics work well. Look for largemouth at boat docks and grass beds in the upper portions of the lake.

SUSQUEHANNA and JUNIATA RIVERS: three stars; main river on west shore muddy without explanation; 70s; 4.38 feet at Harrisburg and steady; 4.2 feet at Newport on the Juniata and steady.

LOU guide Mike Breeding is catching plenty of bass of all sizes along the east shore above the campground as well as in the Juniata. Campground Special tubes, Case Stiks, Big Mouth spinnerbaits and Rattlin’ Rapalas have been our most productive lures.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 12:07 PM |
        

AT Museum names inaugural Hall of Fame class

The Appalachian Trail Museum celebrated its first anniversary over the weekend with hikes and the induction of the first half-dozen members of the AT Hall of Fame.

The six men were nominated by the public and represent the Maine-to-Georgia trail's earliest movers and shakers. Honestly, there were no surprises.

The inaugural class and subsequent classes will be part of the permanent display at the museum, located at about the halfway point of the 2,181-mile trail in Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace State Park. During its first year, the museum attracted more than 8,000 visitors from 47 states and 18 countries.

The honorees and their citations are: 

 

Benton MacKaye (1879-1975) - He proposed the idea of the AT in his 1921 article, "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning." MacKaye convened and organized the first Appalachian Trail "conference" in Washington in 1925. That gathering of hikers, foresters and public officials embraced the goal of building the trail. They established the Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy), and appointed MacKaye as its "field organizer.” Without his vision and inspiration, the Appalachian Trail would probably never have been built.

Arthur Perkins (1864-1932) - Perkins, an avid outdoorsman, spearheaded the effort to make MacKaye's dream a reality. After MacKaye's initial inspiration, work on building the trail had largely stalled by the middle of the decade. Perkins, a Connecticut judge, took up the cause of the AT and pushed it forward relentlessly in the mid- and late-1920s. Just as importantly, he inspired others to get involved. Perkins was the second chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference, serving from 1927 to 1930.

Myron Avery (1899-1952) – If MacKaye envisioned the trail, Avery built it. He knitted the trail clubs together into a cohesive group, communicating by letter to volunteers up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. He was the first person to walk the entire trail, pushing his ever-present measuring wheel in front of him. His vision of the physical trail included the 2-by-6 inch white blaze markings that steered hikers in the right direction and guidebooks. He envisioned the AT as a "people's trail" that would be accessible to the “average tramper.”

Earl Shaffer (1918-2002) - Shaffer  pioneered thru-hiking. His notion of a 2,000-mile continuous wilderness hike was unheard of until his initial “Walk With Spring” in 1948. Before he did it, many thought it was physically impossible to hike the entire trail in one year. He hiked the entire trail again in 1965 and finally once more at age 79 in 1998.

Gene Espy – In 1951 at the age of 24, Espy became the second person to thru-hike the AT. His book, "The Trail of My Life," inspired many people to test their physical and mental abilities by long-distance hiking. Now 84, he was one of the speakers during the museum's anniversary weekend.

Ed Garvey (1915-1999) - He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1970, when it was still a fairly rare thing to do. The popularity of his 1971 book, "Appalachian Hiker," arguably did more to raise the awareness of thru-hiking than any other single event. In his book, he carefully explained his preparations and gathered useful information along the way that would be of benefit to those who would follow in his footsteps. Garvey also was instrumental in getting federal funds in the late 1970s to protect the trail, and he volunteered countless hours helping to build the trail while working in Washington. The Ed Garvey Memorial Shelter was constructed along the Maryland section of the AT on Weverton Cliffs, about four miles from Harpers Ferry.

Photo of Earl Shaffer by Andre F. Chung / 2008

Posted by Candus Thomson at 10:23 AM |
        

June 17, 2011

Recreational poaching remains a problem

It's true. The discovery of illegal nets bulging with striped bass or a federal sting that brings down a poaching ring revs up the media coverage and pumps up the headlines while the activities of unscrupulous recreational anglers barely cause a ripple.

Why? It's like the difference between a six-car pileup and a fender bender. Both result in damage but only one causes rubbernecking and gridlock. Plus, no one is going to read endless stories about one angler cited for catching four fish instead of two. Miles of illegal net? Now, you’re talking.

That’s just a fact of life.

Yet each time there's a case of poaching on the commercial side, watermen complain that they are being picked on by people like me. Their argument is that reporters never go after anyone else.

Wise up. That why-are-you-picking-on-me misdirection play didn’t work when mom busted you and your friends for breaking the house rules, why should it work now?

The Maryland Watermen’s Association deserves a thumbs-up for contributing to the $30,000 reward to catch the bandits who netted 12 tons of striped bass and left them to die. And watermen who have been feeding tips to Natural Resources Police about the crooks in their midst are to be commended for speaking up in a culture that has long rewarded silence.

I can't speak for other reporters, but the whining about poaching coverage being one-sided is just rubbish.

Did I report on the illegal nets in February? Of course. Ditto poachers in oyster sanctuaries, convicted serial bandits like Joey Janda, and Potomac River watermen conspiring to scam the system to the harm of honest watermen.

But it doesn't stop there.

I filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get the paperwork on a certain Tilghman Island charter captain who was later convicted of poaching.

I've ridden with and written about NRP patrols when the only boats officers boarded belonged to recreational anglers.

Stories about the ongoing federal investigation of charter boats from Virginia illegally striped bass fishing in federal waters? Mine.

And don't tell me I buried the cases of the out-of-state anglers charged with fishing for striped bass out of season and in a spawning area that's off limits. You read it here first, second and last.

It's not a part of the outdoors that I like to cover, but I get paid to do it.

What would be nice? If the recreational committee--that's you, Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, and you, Pasadena Sportsfishing Group--issued a sizzling, scathing rebuke of poachers disguised as recreational anglers.

You know the ones. The guys who hide fish under a mountain of cooler ice or catch their daily limit in the morning and go back out in the evening. The guys who fish where they shouldn't and when they shouldn't. The guys who post online pictures of themselves posing with crap-eating grins while hoisting illegally caught fish.

Stand up and call them out. Drop a dime to NRP. Do it before an elected official holds a hearing to shame everyone who steals fish, oysters and crabs.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland often writes letters to prosecutors and judges in cases that "shock the conscience," be they recreational or commercial.

In the cases of the anglers caught fishing out of season in a section of the Choptank River designated a protected striped bass spawning area, the group wrote a letter to Caroline County State’s Attorney Jonathan G. Newell on May 17, asking him "to make every effort to ensure they are found guilty and if so, an appropriate penalty imposed by the court. Whether they are a commercial or recreational angler, any person who abuses Maryland’s natural resources must be held accountable for their illegal actions."

Bravo. But where were the letters from the two other groups? And, for that matter, where's the Sport Fish Advisory Commission in all this?

This is fishing season. To be taken seriously, recreational anglers have to show they won’t put up with poaching by their own. To be credible, to be players at the table, they have to say it loud and they have to say it often.

And it has to start now.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
        

June 16, 2011

Five things to do outdoors this weekend

Father's Day weekend is almost here. Time to tell the dude to back away from the lawnmower and the paint brush and enjoy the great outdoors or begin thinking about summer vacation.

1) Be prepared for a summer's worth of camping. On Friday, REI Timonium is having a free workshop that covers camp cooking. Learn how to make good meals and make boxed mac and cheese and ramen noodles a distant culinary memory. The class begins at 7 p.m. Register at the REI website. 

2) Celebrate the first anniversary of the Appalachian Trail Museum all weekend. The museum, located near the midway point of the 2,181-mile, Maine to Georgia trail, showcases and honors the legendary hikers who made the idea for a footpath a reality. Hikes, music, speakers and children’s programs will fill both days. The museum is in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Gardners, Pa., not far from Gettysburg. A list of programs is at the museum website.

3) Learn about native butterflies Saturday during a 2.5-mile guided walk at the Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract in Laurel. The program, suitable for those over 10, begins at 8:30 a.m. A field guide recommended. Bring water and dress for the outdoors. Save a spot by calling 301-497-5887.

4) Go fishing with dad on Sunday at Patapsco Valley State Park or take a hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. Fishing will take place from noon to 1:30 at Lost Lake in the Avalon area. Bring drinking water and your favorite bait. Bring a fishing pole if you have one, but there will be extra poles if you need them. This activity is for dads, and children under 16. The cost is $2 per father and child. The 90-minute Soldiers Delight hike begins 4 and will be led by a naturalist. The walk through the sprawling Serpentine Barrens will touch on history, geology and ecology. Afterward, participants will get the chance to meet native wildlife that lives in the aviary. The cost is $5 per person. Reserve a spot for either activity by calling 410-461-5005.

5) End the weekend with a good deed. REI Timonium will be collecting used two-wheelers for Bikes for the World from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Bikes for the World works with partner charities in developing countries that train and hire local people to recondition bikes and distribute them to individuals in need of affordable transportation. A $10 donation with your donated bike covers shipping and handling. Details: 410-252-5920.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM |
        

June 15, 2011

Maryland boating fatalities soar; no end in sight

Eleven. That's how many boaters have died in Maryland waters so far this year.

To put that in perspective, the state didn't record its fourth boating fatality last year until June 24.

Over the last decade, Maryland has averaged a dozen deaths a year. In 2009, 17 people died in maritime accidents--the highest level since 2000. Last year the number dropped to 13. The National Safe Boating Council ranks Maryland third in boating accidents behind Florida and California (we don’t make the Top 10 for fatalities, however). 

With the boating season not yet in full gear and falling gas prices fueling the urge to get out on the water, it looks like another horrific year on the horizon.

What makes this feel particularly cruel is that the Coast Guard this morning issued a news release touting last year as the safest ever on the water. Six hundred seventy-two people died, four fewer than in 2004 and 26 lower than the average over the last decade.

It doesn't take much to from a safe year to an unsafe one.

Except for the fact that the victims were all men, it’s hard to find an overriding pattern in the 11 deaths.

The mishaps occurred in nine counties, according to Natural Resources Police reports. They have involved pleasure boats, commercial boats, a sailboat and a kayak. Only one accident resulted in multiple deaths. The victims ranged in age from 40 to 81.

"We look at the factors, It's like reading tea leaves," says Chris Edmonston, president of the BoatUS Foundation, a recreational maritime safety organization. "Weather plays a part. The economy plays a part and dumb luck is a big part."

The scary thought is that the death toll could be much higher. On Feb. 10, three experienced anglers were plucked from the waters off Calvert Cliffs by a quick-thinking fishing guide. On April 14 and April 17, a total of eight men were rescued from boats in distress.

Those are the mishaps we know about. Like hunting accidents, there’s many nautical near-misses that go unreported.

 "I worry about this year," Edmonston said. "After a long, cold spring, we know when people go back out again it's going to be trouble. People feel they can just jump in the boat and go like they do in a car. They have a false sense of security because nothing has ever happened to them. But boaters have things coming at them from all sides and underneath. They need situational awareness."

Natural Resources Police brass have already staged one media event to get the word out on water safety. There have been two fatalities since then.

One thing in the 11 accident reports does jump out, as it does almost every year: the overwhelming stubbornness exhibited by adults when it comes to wearing life jackets.

State law requires a child under 13 years of age must wear a life jacket while underway in a vessel that is less than 21 feet in length. In addition, children younger than 4 or who weight less than 50 pounds must have a life jacket equipped with a grab strap, inflatable headrest and crotch strap.

But adults? We are free to kill ourselves and we apparently are up to the task. As NRP Capt. Bob Davis always says, "You can't legislate prudence."

According to Coast Guard statistics, roughly 90 percent of victims in fatal boating accidents weren't wearing a life jacket. State records show 16 of the 17 victims in 2009 failed to take that simple precaution.

The three men rescued at Calvert Cliffs almost certainly owe their lives to their decision to wear life jackets. The vests kept them afloat in icy waters until help arrived.

Edmonston said he was fishing last November in the Chesapeake when he was flagged down by a guy in a sit-on-top kayak who had been blown all the way down the Magothy River to the bridge and couldn't get back. He was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, but no life jacket, and "he didn't have a clue," said Edmonston.

Not surprisingly, July is by far the busiest month for boating accidents in Maryland, followed by August. The most deadly segment of the day is noon to 6 p.m. Alcohol was a factor in 6 of last year's 13 fatalities.

Edmonston and rescue experts from the Coast Guard and NRP recommend these steps to stay safe:

1) Develop a float plan and give it to a friend or relative. Include where you are going, how many people are aboard your vessel, a complete vessel description, and when you plan to return. And, Coast Guardsmen say, make sure you tell that friend or relative when you return. Take the time to download and complete a detailed, Coast Guard-designed float plan template.

2) Check the local weather before shoving off. "Keep an eye on the sky to the west," said Edmonston.

3) Make sure everything is in good working order, fluids are topped off and batteries are charged.

4) Have a marine-band radio aboard and test it before casting off. Channel 16 is monitored by the Coast Guard and is the most reliable way to send a distress call to search and rescue teams.

5) If you have passengers, go over emergency procedures and show people how the radio works. In the first fatality this year, the mate on a boat didn't know how to call for help or run the boat when the captain was knocked overboard.

6) Check that all safety equipment is in good condition and sufficient quantity for passengers. If you get stopped by NRP for a routine inspection, you will be asked to prove you have it on board, so save yourself a ticket. Basic equipment includes correct size and number of life jackets, fire extinguishers, visual distress signals and sound-producing devices, such as a whistle or horn. "It's unbelievable how many people signal distress by waving their arms," Edmonston said.

7) More tips are here.

You can read the national statistics for last year on the Coast Guard website.

"People go out on the water to escape, and that's good," said Edmonston. "But you have to be prepared for what you encounter." 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:15 AM | | Comments (1)
        

June 14, 2011

Recreational poachers get off easy

Clearly, the word hasn't filtered down to all Maryland district court judges that illegal fishing is a big no-no. Perhaps summer school is in order.

Four recreational anglers arrested by Natural Resources Police in early April for targeting striped bass in a spawning area before the season started were fined just $125 each when they appeared in Caroline District Court last month. The trials for three others were postponed until next week.

Catching or attempting to catch striped bass in a spawning area between March 1 and May 31 carries a maximum fine of $1,500 per fish and license suspension of up to one year.

But Paul Edward Daisey, 30, of Millville, Del.; Frederick Joseph Ruff, 49, and Kathy Ewing Ruff, 49, both of of Milton, Del.; and Chad Edward Tingle, 35, of Selbyville, Del., pleaded guilty and got off easy.

To quote Brian Wilson, "Caroline, no."

The evidence was clear. These anglers were under surveillance by NRP officers who were tipped to illegal recreational fishing in the Choptank River near Ganeys Wharf. The area is designated as a striped bass spawning river, making the fish off limits. In addition, these fish bandits were fishing a full week before the start of the spring trophy season. Officers shot video and charged four anglers on April 9 and five more the next day.

Spawning fish. Out of season. Out of staters. So where's the outrage?

I've heard not a peep from the recreational fishing community, which loves to call for the maximum penalty for watermen caught doing dirty deeds. No news releases. No calls for action. Just silence. Well, except for tournament results. Yowza.

Three more anglers will be in court June 20: Terry Edward Andrus, 47, of Cypress, Texas; William Darr Hall, 57, of Bridgetown, Del.; and Mark Bryan Stubbs of Katy, Texas. Let's see what happens. I'm betting on the buck-25 treatment to continue.

Timothy Wayne Barnett, 31, of Bridgeville Del., who also was charged with fishing without a license, failed to appear in court. Maryland's electronic court files failed to show the disposition of the case of Kevin Glen Reese, 46, of Katy, Texas, who also was charged during the same NRP patrol.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 12:38 PM | | Comments (6)
        

June 13, 2011

Ken Penrod's bass fishing report

Guide Ken Penrod, owner of Life Outdoors Unlimited, offers these bass fishing tips in his weekly report:

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: three and a half stars; dirty main river; 70s; 4.37 feet at Harrisburg and rising a little; 4.75 feet with a small rise expected at Newport on the Juniata. People claiming that the number of small bass are minimal should be fishing/investigating now because our guides say that 50 percent of the bass they catch are less than 12-inches long and many are under 9 inches. There are still plenty of larger fish, although the females are flat-bellied and recovering from spawn. Despite floods, we are seeing massive bass fry schools. The river is falling quickly and we wonder why the main stem near Duncannon is so muddy.

Between Fort Hunter and Montgomery Ferry, we fish mid-river habitat such as ledges, sunken islands and grass beds with Big Mouth spinnerbaits, Campground Special tubes; Size 10 X-Raps; Rapala DT04 crankbaits and Case Plastics. The Juniata, between Amity Hall and the confluence is as good as it gets also and the same baits work well. 

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: four stars; 75 degrees; pea green; 2.25 feet at Point of Rocks and slowly falling. The river is beautiful and improving each day. I did three days here last week and we averaged 55 bass per trip with a high of 70 and a low of 45.  As the week wore on, the average size increased as recovering females began to eat. The bass all look fine although the ladies are quite flat. I have not encountered much submersed grass and expect the many floods could have scoured the bottom. I saw no evidence of a trico hatch, but noted a few white millers each day.

At Edwards Ferry, we recommend the ledges near Edwards, Goose Creek, the Maryland shore near the power lines, Balls Bluff and Maryland side of Harrison Island. We are using No. 8 Sufix monofilament, Gator medium-action rods and Daiwa Excellor reels. Our lures of choice are Mizmo and Campground Special tubes in roadkill camo, KP V8, Penrod Purple and KP Rose. From Whites Ferry (beware the ferry cable) we like to run upriver and fish a controlled drift down the center and then the Virginia side. Good lures to try include Rapala DT04 crankbaits, Big Mouth spinnerbaits and four-inch Case Magic Stiks on 3/0 VMC hooks.

TIDAL POTOMAC RIVER: four stars; mid-80s; algae forming in creeks and south. Bass fishing remains very good throughout much of the river. In and around Washington, it’s a good time of year to fish for smallmouth and walleye between Key Bridge and Chain Bridge. Remember this is speed controlled area. We use tubes and Rapala crankbaits here. Bridge foundations at Key, Memorial and Long bridges are holding both smallmouth and largemouth. For largemouth try the Washington Channel dropoffs, Pentagon Lagoon and the shoreline between the Anacostia River and Bolling Air Force Base.

In the vicinity of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, look for bass in Penrod Cove, Smoot Bay, Belle Haven, Broad Creek and boat docks below Hog Island. We also recommend Bulltown Cove, grass beds near Mount Vernon and in the mouth of Little Hunting Creek. Pomonkey Creek and Gunston Cove are worth the time.

Around Mattawoman Creek, work the grass beds near Smallwood State Park and nearby Chickamuxen Creek. Grass beds outside of the Marine Corps base restricted area have been productive and give Arkindale a shot this week.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: three stars; 70 degrees, normal pool. Guides Brent Nelson and Bret Winegardner say that fishing has been pretty good. They are fishing mid-lake grass beds for largemouth bass and some of the boat docks have hungry bass, too. The guides are skipping Case Magic Stiks to the docks and spinnerbaits do well in the grass.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 8:20 AM | | Comments (1)
        

June 10, 2011

Five things to do outdoors this weekend

Saturday is National Get Outdoors Day. And National Marina Day. And the day in 1919 that Sir Barton won the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner. And Gene Wilder's 75th birthday.

So much to be thankful for. Let's enjoy it.

1) Saturday is the second free fishing day in Maryland, a perk that's also being offered at some federal lands. In the Free State, all you have to do is supply the tackle and bait and stick to Maryland's regulations on size and number of fish. Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel is having a free fishing day for kids at its two ponds. The refuge will supply all fishing poles and bait. Registration is required; call 301-497-5887. Kids and adults may also fish with personal equipment at the North Tract section of the Refuge off Route 198. Youngsters under 15 can fish from 9 a.m. to noon at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall. Loaner rods and reels will be available, along with bait and food. Staff will be on hand to help. Don't forget to bring a camera.

2) Preparing for a big summer vacation? Get some field experience in taking nature photos on Saturday at 10 a.m. from Natalie Brewer of Weeds and Wildlife Photography. This free workshop will help you anticipate great shots and take them. Bring your digital camera and walk with Brewer at the Howard County Conservancy Mount Pleasant Farm on Old Frederick Road. Rain or Shine.

3) Jump in on a free workshop on bicycle maintenance basics will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at REI Columbia. You'll learn how to lube a chain, fix a flat tire in record time, and make other minor adjustments to your bike. Visit the REI website to register or for more information.

4) Hike the Valley View Trail along the Patapsco River with the Sierra Club. The Saturday hike is about 7 miles, with some stream crossings. Bring lunch and water. Meet at 9 a.m. in Rockburn Branch Park, the entrance off Landing Road one mile north of Montgomery Road. Park in the lot at the end of the road under the power lines. Contact hike leader James Perschy, 410-964-1902 or jameshike@verizon.net.

5) End the weekend surrounded by the sounds of nature at sunset during a relaxing 2.4-mile paddle in Days Cove at Gunpowder Falls State Park, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. You must be at least 12 years old. The cost is $8 per person. Save a spot by calling 410-592-2897.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 8:00 AM |
        

June 9, 2011

Marine gets ticket on free fishing day

I wish I had an answer for this one, folks, but I don't. A pause button won't fix this and Mister Peabody and his Way Back Machine are booked. Perhaps you can suggest a way to make this better.

What we have here is a Marine, some Natural Resources Police officers, the law and a good day gone bad. Let me know what you think after reading this letter from Marine Sgt. John W. Earney, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.:

This past weekend (June 3-5) my wife and I traveled to Waldorf. Her youngest brother was graduating high school and she wanted to be there for him. After the graduation at 4 p.m. on Saturday my wife's two brothers (17 and 19 years old) and I decided we would head down to the Chapel Point State Park for a little celebratory afternoon fishing, after all it was a free fishing day and we thought we would enjoy the nice weather.

Little did I know that it would turn out to be a not so enjoyable night.

As we fished for hours, laughing about high school with the new graduate and how he had his life ahead of him, the sun set. Time escaped us.

Chapel Point State Park closes after sunset. We weren't paying attention and missed the signs. Let me stop here. As a Marine sergeant, I know how to accept responsibility for my actions, I have been on multiple deployments and I am responsible for Marines who trust my leadership daily. There is no excuse as to why we were in the closed park after dark except that time flies when you're having fun.

Back to the story... no sooner had we decided it's getting late, we better get home, than the Natural Resource Police show up and this conversation takes place.

NRP OFFICER: What are you boys doing in my park after dark?

John: Trying to take advantage of the fishing day, sir.

NRP OFFICER: That's no excuse. This park is closed after dark.

John: No problem. sir. We can pack up and leave right now. I wasn't aware of the park closing.

NRP OFFICER: There are signs clearly marking what time the parks closes. Give me your licenses.

John: No problem, sir, here you go... Must have missed the signs.

NRP OFFICER: Grab your gear and meet me in the parking lot.

John: No problem, sir.

So as you can see, we respectfully explained the situation, grabbed our gear and headed for the parking lot. Twenty minutes later, the officers handed us tickets [that carried] $55 fines and told us to be on our way. What's my point?

Well, I am deeply unimpressed and disappointed with the Department of Natural Resources and Maryland as a whole. With no priors on any of our records, even speeding tickets, a sincere apology, and it being our first time at the park (remember we were there before it got dark), you think the awesome officers would have given us a stern warning and sent us on our way. Nope. Thanks again for the fishing day, Maryland, and the $165 in fines. I'll be sure to come back and visit real soon.

Outdoors Girl called NRP, and Sgt. Art Windemuth explained that the men were ticketed at 11:15 p.m., more than two hours after sunset. The park rules are strictly enforced because neighbors have complained about noise and rowdiness at the southern Charles County park. The hours are prominently posted (I know this to be true). The fines are set by the district court, not NRP.

"We don't enjoy ticketing people, but it is what we do," Windemuth said.

Did they get what they deserved or should the officer have let them go with a warning?  

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM | | Comments (15)
        

June 8, 2011

Two watermen cited for striped bass violations

Two watermen were cited by Natural Resources Police for striped bass violations in the first week of the pound net and hook-and-line seasons.

Robert Hodge Newberry, 52, of Crumpton, was charged yesterday with possessing undersize striped bass, fishing for striped bass without a commercial hook-and-line allocation card and possessing untagged commercially caught striped bass.

While patrolling the Chesapeake Bay near Sharps Island, officers boarded the commercial fishing vessel, Open Ticket, and found 13 untagged striped bass and two undersize striped bass.

In the last decade, Newberry has been charged with fishing without a license, possession of undersized oysters, and catching both oversized and undersized striped bass.

Also charged yesterday: Dolan Lee Hurley, 67, of Cambridge, with failure to tag striped bass within 200 yards of his pound net. While patrolling off Cooks Point in the Choptank River, officers boarded a commercial fishing vessel stopped more than 1,000 yards from the pound net, and found 500 pounds of untagged striped bass. 

Both men are scheduled for trial on Aug. 17 in Dorchester County District Court.

The pound net season opened on June 1 and the commercial hook and line season opened yesterday.
Posted by Candus Thomson at 1:22 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Go Maryland! Beat Michigan!

For the second year, Odwalla, the maker of high-end juice drinks and snack bars, is handing out cash to states for the planting of trees. 

For every mouse click on their Plant-A-Tree website, Odwalla is donating $1 toward the purchase of trees for state parks. The program--it's free to vote--will max out when the total reaches $100,000.

For its size, Maryland is doing well. Of the approximately 39,500 votes cast so far, the Free State is fourth, with slightly more than 2,601 clicks. And, we have a cool video to promote our tree-planing effort.

Michigan, which won last year, has tallied nearly 12,000 votes--what, are they letting prison convicts participate? 

 

Texas is second (9,363 and counting) and neighboring Pennsylvania is third (3,648 as of this moment).

Last year, Maryland (pop. 5.7 million) finished third and won $17,443 for planting. Michigan, with 9.9 million residents, won $46,124, and Pennsylvania, with a population of 12.6 million, won $30,656.

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 11:38 AM |
        

June 7, 2011

With one step into the waves, Park Quest ends

parkquest24.jpgBrisk breezes blow a week's worth of sweat and DEET away as I step onto the beach at Assateague, the final stop in this year's version of Park Quest 24/7.

The temperature is 75.2 degrees and the wind is blowing at 14 mph.

How do I know? The final Quest is all about the weather.

Ranger Meghan Sochowski crafted a challenge that addresses both ordinary conditions and extraordinary ones found in hurricanes and thunderstorms.

Meghan is a Park Quest original. She was on board four years ago at Pocomoke and transferred her Quest talents here two years ago.

Her attention to detail and ability to balance the needs of both big and little kids shows.

"It wasn't my favorite thing in the beginning," the St. Mary's County native acknowledges. "But now I can't wait. I like planning them."

It's a little difficult to process all that's happened over the last seven days, from the start in Garrett County last Wednesday to sticking my feet in the Atlantic surf just minutes ago.

I'll save that for Sunday's column.

The park folks here at Assateague have decorated a beach buggy with streamers and garlands and are giving me a celebratory ride.

Lieutenant Mike Riley pops the top on a bottle of sparkling grape juice (this is an alcohol-free state park and he is an officer of the law) and proposes a toast.

It really is over.

Like Meghan, I can't wait to begin planning for something a little different for next year.

Wait, did I say next year?

Posted by Candus Thomson at 5:30 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Trip to Pocomoke brings Quest stops down to one

parkquest23.jpgEnter the dark woods and wetlands at Pocomoke State Park's Milburn Landing and you feel like you're on Yoda's turf.

Massive trees provide a welcomed canopy from the sun. A carpet of pine needles pad the trail. Lush ferns sway in the light breeze. Cypress trees give the swamp water its distinctive tea color.

The Quest narrative can be downloaded from the Park Quest website. Dopes like me who forgot can read the script that is supplied in the PQ backpack at the trailhead.

The Quest takes you around the perimeter of the day-use area, where you'll learn about Native Americans, Pocomoke's natural resources and the park's history. Each stop has a stamp to apply to your worksheet.

The circuit hike through Yoda Land isn't required, but I recommend it.

Take your worksheet to the Delmarva Discovery Center in Pocomoke City and get your PQ Passport stamped.

Add a tour of the Center to your day (they have a Nemo clown fish on display).

Getting my Passport stamped means just one thing: Park Quest 24/7, which began last Wednesday at 7 a.m. in Herrington Manor State Park in Western Maryland, has but one stop left.

One.

That has a nice ring.

It's onto Assateaque to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 4:00 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Water trails at Janes Island make for peaceful 22nd Quest

parkquest22.jpgTurns out the Quest I worried about most in this year's Park Quest 24/7 is one of the ones I enjoyed the most.

Paddling the water trails at Janes Island State Park can be refreshing, educational or relaxing or an endurance event that you endure (my 2010 Quest).

It depends on the weather, the route and the company.

As luck would have it, I hit the trifecta of paddling perfection.

The weather this morning is lovely, the final respite before we return to summer's mouth-of-the-dog conditions.

The route is the aptly named Short Trail.

The company is Ranger Christine Jirikowic, an anthropologist by training and a natural-born naturalist.

During our hour-long paddle, we see lots of salt marsh critters and get to play in the cool mud (it washes off, mom).

The Glendening administration designated  Janes Island the first terrapin sanctuary on state land. The protection, thankfully, is now statewide.

There are plenty of terrapins in the waters around Janes, and they play peek-a-boo with our canoe, ducking underwater as we draw close and popping back up after we glide past.

All too soon, our Quest is over as we pull up to the dock.

I get my Passport stamp -- only two to go. Now it's off to Pocomoke's Bald Cypress Trail.

Photo: Ranger Christine Jirikowic paddling the Short Trail at Janes Island State Park on the final day of Park Quest 24/7.

Posted by Chris Korman at 11:05 AM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

June 6, 2011

Stop 21: Sandy Point State Park

After the attack of the horse flies, Park Quest 24/7 flees across the Bay Bridge, checking the rear view mirror frequently, to the breezy expanse of Sandy Point State Park and Quest No. 21.

The flies do not follow.

I am joined by recovering journalist Josh Davidsburg, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman, and an agency intern, who I won't embarrass by naming her. She is, after all, being a good sport about being dragged about the park grounds and her sharp eyes will come in handy as we searched for clues.

Ranger Dorna Cooper rounds out the rag-tag team to make sure we stay on course and don't make search-and-rescue headlines.

This Quest is a treasure hunt that takes Questers from the marina area to the beach.

The best part? Both ends have ice cream for sale. sandy-point-park-quest.jpg

(Hint: Visit the beach-side nature center, but get your PQ Passport stamped at the marina store so you can pose in front of the pirate picture.) The breeze is bug-free and delightful. Ditto the company.

I run into Quest team Kiddies Galore again, looking none the worse for wear since Susquehanna State Park -- was that just yesterday?

Arrr, success is ours, me buckos!

So, three blank Passport pages, three Eastern Shore Quests to go: Janes Island, Pocomoke and Assateague.

Something tells me the flies are waiting on the other side, waiting to come aboard.

Must be brave.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 3:29 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Checking in at Martinak State Park

park-quest-fishing.jpg This used to be the hot spot before Tuckahoe State Park came along up the road and siphoned off some business.

But Martinak State Park, with its free boat ramp and access to the Choptank River, still has its fans. On this day, a family has a picnic under the trees near the nature center and nearby Sheenay Adams of Denton is wetting a line.

This Quest is stop 20 for this year's edition of Park Quest 24/7. It's built around five poems that act as clues to lead families to green boxes along the trails. When you find one, sign the logbook and stamp or draw a picture to signify success.

As with Sassafras, early is better than late. The horse flies or deer flies are thick and waiting to buzz you. Resistance is futile.

Off to Sandy Point on the other side of the bridge for the final Quest of the day

Photo: Sheenay Adams fishing at Martinak State Park.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 12:42 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Gilchrest makes a Park Quest appearance

gilchrest-park-quest.jpg So who opens the door and greets me at my first Park Quest 24/7 stop today at Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area?

Former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest.

Knock me down with a feather.

No, he's not a docent at the three-story 1700s home known as Knocks Folly. He's working on a program for school kids that teaches about ecology, geology, agriculture, history and commercial fishing in the area, and this is his base camp.

Good idea being carried out by a good man.

The out-of-the-way historic area has cool farm equipment, a family cemetery, a museum and a working waterfront, where I watched two anglers launching their kayaks into Turner Creek, which empties into the Sassafras River, and a waterman unloading crabs.

Todd Easton, who leads a four-person Maryland Conservation Corps crew, recommends hiking the trails at the back of the property near water's edge.

"You'll feel like you're out there all by yourself," he says.

Outdoors Girl recommends picking a day with a breeze and getting here early, before the horse flies work up an appetite.

Waving goodbye, Gilchrest offered this advice, "Eat a good breakfast."

I think he was talking about me, not the flies.

Off to Martinak, stop 20.

Photo: Former congressman Wayne Gilchrest on the porch of Knocks Folly.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 9:56 AM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Boss to Outdoors Girl: Keep Going!

Just before beginning the tough, middle part of Park Quest 24/7 last weekend. my BlackBerry buzzed with incoming information.

The subject line: Keep Going! The sender: The Sun's head dude, Tim Ryan.

At first I thought it was a 21st-century pink slip. You know, "Now that we have you out of the building, we've changed the locks and advise you to always keep the Sun in your rearview mirror. Keep Going!"

But, no, the boss of all bosses was sending along his best wishes. He's understood Park Quest 24/7 from the beginning, from some scribblings on a greasy paper plate on Memorial Day weekend 2010 and my announcement that I'd try it again this year.

Lucky me.

Other folks have kept the luck flowing, from the Maryland Park Service staff and volunteers to my fellow Questers, reaching 1,000 teams this year. As a result, I've been able to bag 18 parks, stretching from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, in five days.

The journey has expanded my understanding of Maryland and its natural resources. It has given me plenty of column ideas. I've seen some inspirational sunrises and gorgeous sunsets. Most of all, I've gotten to meet a lot of you and hear about recreational opportunities you'd like to see.

You Quest because, like the Sun's head dude, you get it. Thank you. 

Two days down and six state parks to go. I can't wait to go home, but I know when it's over I'll miss the adventure.

Photo: Big Elk Creek at Fair Hill

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:30 AM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

June 5, 2011

Like pirates and snakes? Then Elk Neck is for you.

A pirate! That's what I'm good at.

After trying and failing as a bike rider, a disc golf player and a chromite miner during Park Quest 24/7, my adventure across Maryland, I found my match at Elk Neck State Park with the help of Naturalist Crystal Hudson.

The Quest is a combination pirate quiz and compass exercise. You'll learn something about the natural resources at the Cecil County park.

If she's around and the nature center is open, Crystal will introduce you to her corn snake that travels to schools as part of the "Scales and Tales" program.

If you answer all the questions correctly, some pirate booty awaits at the end.

Day Five of Park Quest 24/7 is over. Just two more days and six more parks left in the challenge that started June 1 in Western Maryland.

Monday, I'll hit Sassafras and Martinak on the Eastern Shore before crossing the Bay Bridge in the early afternoon for another pirate adventure at Sandy Point.

Then it's a final three-park sprint to the coast to be standing in the Atlantic Ocean before supper time on Tuesday.

Photo: Naturalist Crystal Hudson and Zombie, an 11-year-old corn snake who lives at the Elk Neck State Park Nature Center.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 6:06 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Quest 16: Not just spinning my wheels

I'm back at an old friend from last year's Park Quest 24/7: Susquehanna State Park. If you've never been, you're missing a nice spot. First, you leave civilization and drop through a hobbit forest on your way to the historic area. All of the sudden, the deep woods peels back to reveal an 1800s scene, complete with a toll house, a mansion and stone grist mill powered by a giant water wheel.

By the wheel, I meet up with three other groups of Questers: Ivall Adventure, Team Jordan and Kiddies Galore.

The wheel moans and creaks as it gets up to speed. Inside, the mill grinds corn into cornmeal. Kids can dress in period garb for their mill tour. Before you know it, it's time to fill in your answer sheet, get your passport stamped and head back to 2011.

Next stop--No. 18 on PQ 24/7--is Elk Neck State Park and a chance to show my knowledge of pirate lore. Ahrrr!

Posted by Candus Thomson at 3:29 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Quest 15: Back in the saddle

I started the day in horse country near Big Elk Creek, where a man fishes for trout early Sunday morning, on the trail of a sly fox.

Staying on the right path was easy--look for the orange markers, the yellow pictures of foxes and the brown "blazes" of pony poop.

You see, Fair Hill is a different critter than many of the state lands on this year's Park Quest. It's a 5,655-acre Natural Resource Management Area, where hikers, anglers, hunters, bike riders and folks on horseback and in horse-driven buggies pursue their favorite outdoor activity.

 

The Quest hike is a pretty one, a 2.5-mile out-and-back, with plenty of history signs. (Don't forget your passport because the stamp is at the end of the out part, and you'll have to go "back" to get it).

Horse people, like pro hockey players, are really nice to reporters, so I learned a lot about their mounts and their training.

The Quest involves an arithmetic problem, but don't worry--I only got a 220 on my math SAT (you get 200 points just for putting your name on the test) and I did OK.

One suggestion to the PQ czars: You might think about putting a yellow fox and arrow at stop F. The "special" PQ trail doesn't look too special.

With No. 16 in the bag, it's off to Susquehanna State Park.

 

Photo: Piney, a mule, poses while on patrol with Volunteer Mounted Patrol member Charlotte Eggink.

 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 3:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

June 4, 2011

Friendly faces at Patapsco provide much-needed energy

parkquest15.jpgThe final Quest of Day Four was a family affair involving two groups: some Park Quest veterans and some newcomers.

Although I'm not related to either group by blood, they both feel like family. We play well together.

So, at the halfway point of Park Quest 24/7, with my  muscles aching and my energy at an ebb, seeing Team Bay Bougheys and the Pits of Despair in the parking lot at Patapsco Valley, ready to Quest, was like eating a handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans with a Red Bull chaser.

The Quest itself was a race against a thunderstorm barreling in from the northwest.

Even though we had never all worked together before, the teams quickly answered the questions on their worksheets and puzzled out the puzzles.

Meanwhile, the Hilton area was a beehive of activity, with kids dashing around the playground as a seasonal ranger nearby led a nature program on red foxes.

Maryland's 66 state parks are really worth trying, whether you Quest or hike or paddle or pedal. Or even if all you want to do is settle under a shady tree with a book and maybe throw something on the grill before calling it a day.

Park Quest 24/7, completing the challenges at all 24 participating parks in seven days, is just my little way to throw some light on a tremendous state asset that is in, or maybe just beyond, your neighborhood.

There's just three days and nine parks left in this year's adventure -- and it has been an adventure. I look forward to telling you all about it.

See you Sunday for Fair Hill, Susquehanna and Elk Neck.

Photo: Aidan Pyle, 7 1/2, of Elkridge, practices drawing a red fox during a nature program. 

Posted by Candus Thomson at 6:00 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

And on the 14th stop, there was a bride-to-be

parkquest14.jpgOnce again, Outdoors Girl is under-dressed for the occasion.

This time her faux pas came at the Jerusalem Mills area of Gunpowder Falls State Park, where bride Denise Gielas of Sparrows Point and her bridesmaids were getting pre-ceremony photos taken at the picturesque village.

After finding most of the birdhouses containing stamps to mark my worksheet, I came to the bridal party, just inches from one of the last birdhouses.

Wait or play through?

Luckily, the bride moved on to another spot, but not before she invited me into a photo and a bridesmaid lent me her bouquet to spruce up my outfit.

Congratulations, Mrs. Denise Gielas Wilson. You, too, groom Joey Wilson.

On to Patapsco Valley State Park.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 5:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

At Soldiers Delight, proof that mining life is tough

parkquest13.jpgOK, I stink at mining, too.

Better keep my day job.

At Soldiers Delight, I follow the directions on an MP3 player as I learn about "A Miner's Life" and the chromite mining operation that used to dominate the area.

My guardian is Ranger Joe Vogelpohl, who wrote and produced the audio trail guide.

Mining way back when was back-breaking work carried out in hazardous conditions--not much has changed.

Although some readers suspect I'm always in the dark, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that I can't tell one rock from another under those conditions, one of Ranger Joe's challenges.

Under beautiful skies, I finished my Quest just as my friends, Team Bay Bougheys, arrived.

I hope to see them later at Patapsco Valley State Park -- my last stop of the day.

Photo: Ranger Joe Vogelpohl at a panning area.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 5:15 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Fore! Outdoors Girl is disc golfing at stop No. 12

parkquest12.jpgI stink at golf. No patience. No aim.

So disc golf isn't going to be my shining moment on Park Quest 24/7, an attempt to complete the challenge at each participating state park within seven days.

Seneca Creek State Park has a dandy 27-hole course designed by the Cedar Farm Golf Club.

I try the first hole and realize I could spend all day just trying to complete the first nine holes required of this Quest. So I walk the soft, green fairways all alone, enjoying the early-morning quiet.

Even the arrival of long-time club member Mark Stiles, a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Training isn't likely to help.

So I finish the word puzzle, get my PQ Passport stamped and head for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, stop No. 13.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 4:45 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

June 3, 2011

Treasures are hidden in boxes at stop No. 11

There's nothing like a quiet walk on a shaded dirt path to make you forget about the gridlock that is Route 301 in Waldorf in Charles County.

Luckily, just over the line in Prince George's is Cedarville State Forest, located at the headwaters of Zekiah Swamp.

I luck out. A cool day means bugs won't be much of a bother as I work my way through all 24 state parks participating in Park Quest in seven days.

This Quest was devised by Girl Scout Troop 2344. Like some others this year, it's a letterbox challenge, a kind of treasure hunt in which clues lead you -- hopefully -- to a weatherproof box filled with a log that you sign and a stamp that you put on your worksheet to prove you made it.

At Cedarville, you can find  two boxes or four. Being in a hurry, I did two.

Nice job, girls.

But what's my rush? I'm only going to insert myself into rush hour traffic.

Maybe I'll go find those two bonus boxes.

Saturday, I'll start my day close to home at Seneca Creek then move onto Soldiers Delight, Gunpowder and Patapsco Valley. That will give me 15 of 24 parks with three days  to go.

Posted by Chris Korman at 5:30 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

At stop 10 of Park Quest, a bit of improvision

parkquest10.jpgBad news. No Park Quest trunk on the porch of the Greenwell Foundation, as promised online, so no compass to do the Trail-O challenge.

No one around to shake things loose, and the nice woman in the office says she's heard Marker 7 is down.

So, Outdoors Girl made her own Quest, walking the River Trail along the Patuxent, Maryland's longest fully contained river, and taking a picture of two adorable kids to prove I was here.

Onto Cedarville State Forest.

 


Posted by Candus Thomson at 2:45 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Smallwood serves as 9th Park Quest stop

parkquest9.jpgThis is the first time this Charles County state park has been a Park Quest site. You wouldn't know it.

Seasonal Ranger Elena Bode read Questers' comments from the first three years and helped design challenges at other parks, so she has a pretty good idea of what will work.

It's a fine line Quest masters walk: can't make it too hard for young ones or too easy and boring for older kids.

This one at Smallwood has the perfect balance of waterfront questions, woodsy challenges and a little bit of Maryland history.

What did I learn? That the sign for a women's outhouse is a moon and the one for men is a star.

Parents bring some coin -- on weekends there's ice cream at the snack bar.

Photo: Ranger Elena Bode at General Smallwood's homestead.

 

Photo: Melody Foresta, 2, and her brother Brady, 3, on their way to the beach to get their pictures taken to surprise their daddy for Father's Day.
Posted by Candus Thomson at 11:45 AM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

June 2, 2011

Park Quest 2011: Time to feed the walking (flying?) wounded

parkquest8.jpgWhenever Ranger Jen Miller is having a bad day, she pulls some dead rats from the freezer.

Feeding the owls, hawks, vultures and other birds at the Cunningham Falls State Park Aviary is both necessary and gratifying.

All the birds are the walking wounded of the animal kingdom. They've been struck by cars, flown into high-voltage lines or suffered some other mishap. No longer able to go it alone, they are brought to the aviary to be part of the educational program that is part of Park Quest.

Miller thaws rodents and doles them out on cookie sheets in each spacious walk-in cage. Some birds can barely wait for the cage door to closed before they pounce. Others hang back to dine alone.

The aviary is just part of the Quest here, but leave enough time to visit awhile.

You'll learn to appreciate your place on the food chain.

Photo: A barred owl

Posted by Candus Thomson at 8:30 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

On stop No. 7, a mutt ... and some ice cream

parkquest7.jpgFor the record: Ranger Tammy McCorkle and I didn't start talking about the flavors at South Mountain Creamery until we finished our first mile of the Appalachian Trail.

Coconut Joy? Blueberry Cheesecake? Birthday Cake?

It made the walking go quicker. Contributing mightily to the adventure was Missy, the ranger's 10-year-old pooch of mixed descent ("Her mother was a dog and her father was a dog," McCorkle said.) The hike climbed a tiny bit of the mountain, decorated in an explosion of mountain laurel in full bloom.

A quick note to the idiot who recently carved "Hummer" and "Motorboat" into the AT shelter built by volunteers:

1) If that's your choice of luxury items, go carve them into the wall of a dealership;

2) If that's your trail name, it needs some work.

That little incident aside, it was a hike that ended before I really wanted it to.

But on the other hand, the end of the hike meant ice cream for Missy, Tammy and me.

It's a two-for-one special for Questers.

Make mine a Coconut Joy.

Photo: Outdoors Girl with Missy McCorkle at South Mountain shelter on the Appalachia Trail.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 8:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Park Quest 2011: Sixth stop is gigantic Fort Frederick

parkquest6.jpg If you have kids who like forts and cannons, bring them here.

You can't see Fort Frederick from the road or even the visitor center, but believe me it's big.

This Quest starts inside the fort but quickly moves you out in the woods and meadows, beyond the thick, stone walls. It's relaxing, educational and the interpretive rangers, like Rob Ambrose, make it fun.

My Park Quest passport now has six stamps. It's off to South Mountain, the Appalachian Trail and South Mountain Creamery for some S'mores ice cream.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 1:45 PM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Biking for fifth Park Quest stop


park-quest-bike.jpg If Outdoors Girl careens off a paved path and into the woods on a two-wheel death machine, does she make a sound?

No. There isn't enough time.

The 23-mile Western Maryland Rail Trail is a great way for entire families to go pedaling together.

For me, it's stop 5 on Park Quest 24/7: two dozen state parks across the state in one week.

Seasonal Ranger Amanda Carbaugh rides with me. Dennis Hudson, owner of C&O Bicycle Shop, opens up early to fit me with a 7-speed bike.

I'm unsafe at any speed, so I'll keep it in third gear the whole, flat way.

I haven't ridden in nearly two decades, so my main goal is to not kill the ranger or any actual skilled cyclists.

My only d'oh moment comes when I reach down to grab the Park Quest question packet falling out of my pocket. A wobble left. A wobble right. A plunge into a nearby wooded area.

No harm, no foul. I finish.

It's off to Fort Frederick now for the second stop of the day.

Photo: From left, Terri Carr, Tracy Vagrin and Nina Catron, all of Frederick County, at the start of a 25-mile ride on the Western Maryland Rail Trail near Fort Frederick.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 11:01 AM |
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Five things to do outdoors this weekend

When someone offers you an outdoors freebie, take it. Maryland and Virginia and the federal government want you to wet a line this weekend for free.

Grab a rod and reel and a container of nightcrawlers and head for the water. Here's some suggestions--fishy and non-fishy--for this weekend.

1) On Saturday, adults and kids can fish anywhere in Maryland without a license. Just follow state regulations about size and number of fish and you're in business. Virginia Marine Resources Commission has declared June 3-5 free saltwater fishing days and the state's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has extended that to include freshwaters, except in designated stocked trout waters. No license is required; all fishing regulations, including size, season, catch limits and gear restrictions, will remain in effect. For saltwater regulations, visit Virginia's state website. Fish free at Saturday at at Bogles Wharf and Ingleside at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge will host its annual freshwater fishing event for kids ages 15 and under. Photos, prizes and fun will take place at Hog Range Pond.

2) The 13th Annual Ducks Unlimited youth activity day will be held – rain or shine – on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Baltimore County Game and Fish Protective Association, 3400 Northwind Road in Carney. Activities include waterfowl decoy carving, working dog demonstrations, archery; falconry, wildlife exhibits; firearms safety and marksmanship and bird house construction. The $10 admission fee covers all activities, lunch, a DU Greenwing membership and one-year subscription to DU Magazine. For details, contact Mike Havlik at: mhavlik@metlife.com.

3) The Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon is sponsoring its 14th Annual Wade In Festival on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Retired state Sen. Bernie Fowler began the Wade In to measure water quality, and the Tributary Strategy Team and the Estuary Center carries on the tradition at Otter Point Creek. The afternoon will include live music, fish printing, decoy carving demonstrations, pontoon boat rides, fish seining, canoeing, kayaking and face painting. The vent is free and no registration is required.

4) Roland Park is having a community walk Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are guided tours at 9 and 11--just meet in front of the library. The details are on the website.

5) On Sunday, take a wildflower walk with a naturalist at 9 a.m. at the Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract in Laurel. The guided 90-minute stroll will introduce you to the role that wildflowers play in the ecosystem and will help you identify some common species. Field guide, water, and magnifying glass recommended. Suitable for all ages. The North Tract is on Route 198 between the Baltimore-Washington. The walk is free; donations to the Friends of Patuxent are welcomed. Save a spot by calling 301-497-5887.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 7:00 AM |
        

June 1, 2011

Park Quest 2011: Four down, and only 20 to go

parkquest4.jpgFour parks down, 20 to go on my marathon Park Quest 24/7 to complete the challenges at 24 state parks -- from Garrett County to the Atlantic Ocean in seven days.

So far, I've hiked following  compass bearings to answer questions, paddled a canoe while staying on a GPS-set course, found letterboxes that taught me about natural resources and history and hiked to a cemetery, an aviary and a dam.

I'm sitting on the veranda at Rocky Gap State Park, enjoying a freshening breeze -- don't worry, it's heading your way, Baltimore.

A decent first day with just a few minor glitches.

The Rocky Gap Quest took me to the quieter end of Lake Habeeb. My advice: don't overshoot the marker on the Old Hancock Road (if you get to an asphalt road, you've gone waaay too far) and steal a crayon from a kid rather than use a pencil for the rubbings.

On Thursday, I'll start the day with a 10-mile pedal on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. I haven't ridden a bike in almost 20 years, so this should be circus-clown amusing.

Maybe they'll have training wheels for me?

Posted by Candus Thomson at 6:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Park Quest 2011: New Germany State Park often overlooked

parkquest3.jpgNew Germany State Park is like buttah.

Literally.

My family and some of our good friends spent Memorial Day weekend camping at NG. At dinner time, just before the corn on the cob was ready to join the grilled steak and baked potatoes, we had a butter malfunction.

My spouse ran down to the park store to see if a quick replacement could be secured.

Instead of sending him away, Ranger Crystal McCann quickly unlocked the snack shop, rummaged in the refrigerator and discovered a lone stick, probably belonging to a staff member.

She donated it to our dinner.

New Germany is a gem, often overlooked by campers.

We will remember it for the  trail system (the pink trail offers the best chance for a black bear sighting), the comforting whoosh of Poplar Lick gushing over the dam and all the terrific 1930s-era buildings and cabins erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps  that are part of this year's Park Quest challenge.

But most of all, we'll remember Ranger McCann's kindness.

Good rangers--and there are plenty in Maryland--make sure you have a great park visit.

But a great ranger makes sure your corn on the cob is buttered.

On to my final quest of Day One: Rocky Gap.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 2:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

Park Quest 2011: Second stop

IMG00007-20110601-1008.jpg1) A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death.

2) Turtles can breathe through their butts.

3) Butterflies taste with their feet.

4) Paddling into a stiff head wind on Deep Creek Lake without Ranger Mark Spurrier in the stern providing the muscle is a futile exercise that is likely to result in negative mph.

I learned the first three facts from a poster in the Discovery Center bathroom at Deep Creek Lake State Park.

I learned No. 4 while paddling from the bow of a green Old Town canoe.

The lake is quiet mid-week just after Memorial Day weekend. Cruising with the wind while following GPS coordinates to waypoints is both relaxing and educational. Without giving too much away to my fellow Questers, I'll tell you the 1.5-hour adventure is just the right length for young or beginning paddlers.

Spurrier, who lives along the lake, is worth seeking out for some facts about the lake's ecology and state efforts to keep water quality high.

On our paddle back, as we left the protected cove and rounded the point just before the Discovery Center, a strong wind stopped us dead. Hugging the shoreline and paddling furiously we managed to go...no where. It was like trying to move a boat made of concrete anchored to the bottom.

All of the sudden, we hit a  lull in the wind tunnel. "Paddle now," Mark hollered.

In three minutes, we covered the last 50 yards and grabbed the dock.

Quest No. 2 done. Now, arms quivering, it's off to New Germany State Park.

Posted by Chris Korman at 12:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        

First stop on Park Quest 2011

park-quest-2011-1.jpg Beautiful start to my state park marathon: 24 state parks in seven days, going west to east. It's only 65 degrees right now at Herrington Manor State Park. But humidity is hanging like damp cheesecloth over the 53-acre lake.

Some folks are out fishing early and the park manager, Lieutenant Al Preston is sprucing up the grounds around the lake house.

This Quest requires compass skills. No worries, I have one owned by the late Bill Burton, Maryland's longest-serving outdoors writer, former Evening Sun colleague and good friend. For good luck, his granddaughter bought a little ceramic bear and left it at the park snack shop for me to pick up. Thanks, Kenzie.

Good Quest. Tougher than last year. Preston said it was designed that way to give Questers basic compass skills last season that they could build on this season.

One down and 23 to go. Time to find a cup of coffee before moving on to my next stop, Deep Creek Lake State Park.

Posted by Candus Thomson at 8:14 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Park Quest 2011
        
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About Candus Thomson
In a world of paper vs. plastic and candy mint vs. breath mint, my early memories involved a debate about the merits of freshwater vs. saltwater.

On the one hand, a great uncle’s fishing cabin on the Susquehanna River beckoned, but so did family gatherings on the Jersey Shore.

The correct answer, thankfully, was, “both.”

As The Sun’s outdoors writer for more than a decade, I’ve fished across Maryland in one day, hiked the width of the state in one hour, camped overnight in the median of I-95 to experience the wildlife between the fast lanes and chased mountain bikers in a 24-hour marathon race.

Those are some of the highlights. I’ve also fallen in a raging Gunpowder River during a trout survey (photo available upon request), had a shark spill its guts on my clothes and been stuck in a sub-freezing Vermont wilderness with men armed with flintlocks and hatchets, shuffling along on ancient wooden snowshoes.

And, in my travels I’ve met lots of you, who share a love of the outdoors and the good times and mishaps that go along with it.
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