Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Kayaking the Wicomico River

We headed to Whitehaven, an historic industrial town along the banks of the Wicomico River, for this paddling adventure.

Lining the shores of the fairly placid river were mud flats and marshland, with numerous inlets and creeks to explore.

The Wicomico River is a 24-mile-long tributary of the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore of Maryland; the lower 20 miles are a tidal estuary. It drains an area of low marshlands and farming country in the middle Delmarva Peninsula. 

The gentle free-flowing river is a popular destination for recreational canoeing and kayaking, as well as recreational fishing and crabbing. You'll likely encounter some motor boats and sailboats on the main part of the river, and occasionally a barge, creating a significant wake to navigate. 

We stuck to the shore, avoiding wavy bumpy wakes (there was only one, actually), choosing instead to head into the inlets and creeks. It was magical. 

As you enter the creeks, the reeds loom several feet above you, creating rooms and hidden spaces in these tidal flats. We noticed numerous marsh crabs and their distinctive mud shelters, as they sifted the mud hunting for food.

John Smith, the first wave of the European invasion, encountered the Wighcocomoco (Wicomico) people in his exploration of the Chesapeake in 1608. They called the river Rokiawakin -- there is now a Rockawalkin Creek that flows in the Wicomico River. The Wicomico people slowly were pushed off their land because Europeans encroached on their land.

Osprey, herons, egrets are all common to the area, although we didn't see any during our paddle adventure. It was particularly lovely in the late afternoon, with the angles of the sun lengthening, creating the illusion of dusk in some of the narrow creeks. 

Know before you go: Do some research about tides, as that can make your kayaking adventure exhausting if you're paddling against both the river current and the tidal flow.

Website: For water access and boat launch sites https://www.wicomicorecandparks.org/parks-and-facilities/water-access-and-boat-launch-sites

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Green Is the Theme on the Old Main Line Hike in PVSP

Hiking along the Old Main Line in Patapsco Valley State Park is one of my favorite hikes, and I've visited repeatedly, but, it seems, always during the winter.

This time we returned just as summer was setting in, and everything was green, green, green. It was lovely! As we walked along the Patapsco River, trees leaned over to kiss the water.

Fog from the warm night was still lifting, making our first moments feel as if we were slipping into a mysterious world. Rain from the night before still sprinkled on our heads whenever the breeze touched the leaves.

When the path forks, go to the right, along the river. Both trails lead to the same place, but the rail trail is nearly unpassable because of the muddy puddles and it diverts briefly away from the river, so the rougher trail by the river is prettier, as well as more passable.

Lots of wildflowers hid along the trail, including a pretty little light lavender daisy, called Fleabane Daisy. We also saw ubiquitous buttercups and a few Jack in the Pulpits. It's always a good idea to look down while you're hiking -- you're not going to notice the wildflowers otherwise, or the snakes or frogs, both of which we saw on our hike.

We got to see this little Jack in the Pulpit, formally known as Arisaema triphyllum. I thought it was cool to discover its other common names: bog onion, brown dragon, Indian turnip, American wake robin and wild turnip. I kinda prefer Jack int eh Pulpit, don't you?

As its names suggest, this native North American wildflower has an underground tuber that is edible, although some of its above ground parts are poisonous to consume.

This trail follows the original path of the first railroad line, which ran between Baltimore and what was then called Ellicott Mills, an important, bustling center of commerce. Since then, the mills have closed and the town renamed itself Ellicott City to sound a little more sophisticated than it really is.

As you walk along the trail, you'll notice a number of rail artifacts, including a beautiful stone bridge still carrying the trail over a creek. The rail artifacts remain because much of the river valley, through which the Old Main Line ran, became part of the Patapsco Valley State Park. In fact, the area along the line contains an uncommonly large range of early 19th century railroad artifacts and structures.

It's about 2.5 miles to where the trail crosses the active CSX rail lines to continue on to Woodbine, making it a good turnaround point for an even five-mile hike. It's all flat -- literally no noticable incline at all, so it's good for families and all skill levels.

Read about a previous visit, which has more about the origins of this first rail trail here.

If Daniels sounds familiar, then thank you for being a return reader! MidAtlantic DayTrips has featured the Daniels area before, exploring several trails leading to Maryland's ghost town of Daniels and ruins of the churches in the fall, in the winter, and on the Howard County side above the dam exploring the Old Main Line (America's first rail trail) in the winter, and a pretty loop hike past house ruins.

Know before you go 1: I have yet to go when there aren't mud patches along the trail, so wear water-proof boots that you don't mind getting muddy. In warmer weather, put on bug spray: they're out there.

Know before you go 2: Parking is tight at the trail head -- maybe room for 10 cars unless you wish to chance parking illegally (not recommended, since big trucks can rumble by). Your best bet? Arrive early.

Getting there: Patapsco Valley State Park - Daniels Area, 2090 Daniels Road, Ellicott City, MD 21043

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Daniels/Daniels.aspx

For other hikes in the Patapsco Valley State Park, check out the following articles:

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Johnstown Flood -- A Disaster Still Relevant Today

The Johnstown Flood Museum

Although the Johnstown Flood occurred more than 130 years ago, one of the worst natural or man-made disasters in American history, it's implications are still relevant today.

The Johnstown Flood Museum displays before and after the flood photos of Johnstown. This is before, obviously.

The causes included man's greed and a sloppy disregard for the environment that led to disaster.

Despite being more than a century apart, there are parallels between the Johnstown Flood and the 2016 and 2018 floods of historic Ellicott City, MD -- both of which also took lives (although no where near the number of the Johnstown Flood, thank god). Greed has caused the local county to approve, and developers to build, neighborhoods on the hillsides above historic Ellicott City without regard for the impact on the local environment. Although I'm aware of this one example local to me, I wonder where else this sort of scenario exists.

In Johnstown's case, a dam was carelessly repaired below even the recommended standards of that time to provide an inexpensive summer retreat, (the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club) for Pittsburgh's wealthy. That and narrowed river bed channels through and below Johnstown led to the devastating events. The disaster also brings into focus the age-old conflict and disparity between the lives and life-styles of the very wealthy and the working class.

The museum displays a variety of photos taken in the aftermath of the flood,
as well as newspaper headlines from around the country showing the reaction to the disaster.

In 1889, Johnstown was the center of a group of inter-dependent communities who's primary industry and employer was the Cambria Iron Company. Just over 30 thousand people lived or worked there or in the surrounding communities.

When the waters rushed into Johnstown that Friday, 31 May 1889, a stone bridge downriver snagged the debris being swept along, essentially creating a dam that covered about 30 acres, and allowing the water to spread through the town. A fire ignited in the debris, and many of the flood victims swept up in the debris  -- at least, those not drowned -- were burned alive.

The walking tour around the town leads you to important places in the towns history and
the flood, including to markers indicating how high flood waters reached.

The statistics are horrifying. Flood lines were 89 feet above normal river level; the initial wave hitting Johnstown was 37 feet tall. Nearly one in ten individuals in the flooded neighborhoods died -- more than 2200 are known to have died, although it's likely there were many more individuals, unknown and unlooked for. Ninety-nine entire families were wiped out. Bodies were still turning up down river until the early 1900s.

The Johnstown Flood Museum, in the historic downtown, documents the conditions that led to the dam's failure that released the waters of the lake formed by South Fork Dam, explores how geography contributed to the problem, and the timeline of events on the day of and the few days after the flood, which killed 2209 individuals, almost all of whom were the working class of Johnstown. The museum, which is run by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA), is housed in the former Cambria Public Library Building, does a nice job of explaining the disaster through exhibits and media. There are a few cases with artifacts from the disaster. The museum also covers the flood's aftermath and clean-up efforts, including the nacent American Red Cross's efforts, led by Clara Barton, to help survivors.

Getting there: 304 Washington St, Johnstown, PA 15901
Hours: April - October, Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sundays noon - 5 p.m.; closed Mondays
Website: https://www.jaha.org/

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Upriver from Johnstown is the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, run by the National Park Service and set on the hillside above the now-disappeared Lake Conemaugh, just above the location of the failed dam. Like the other museum, the National Memorial chronicles the events and conditions leading up to the flood, examines its causes, and provides some personal accounts from survivors recounting their experiences of the flood that really help you see the personal impact.

There's a video and exhibits, including artifacts from the flood and from Johnstown around the time of the flood. In addition, you can walk out on top of the failed dam to the breach, which provides some perspective to the volume of water involved. There's also a hike down to the stream that once fed Lake Conomough, which I didn't have time to do because of failing light.

Now a train runs through the land that would once have been underwater. I noticed deer frolicking around the tracks.

The National Park Service is currently in the process of renovating and restoring the South Fork Clubhouse and has obtained and is renovating several of the Victorian-era summer cottages of Pittsburgh's wealthiest families. Brief tours of the clubhouse are offered during the park service's "Journey Around Lake Conemaugh" van tours offered Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June to September.

One of the Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club's "summer cottages," undergoing renovation by the National Park Service.

Getting there: 733 Lake Rd, South Fork, PA 15956
Hours: The Visitor Center is open Fridays-Tuesdays from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Park grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is closed for federal winter holidays.
Website: https://www.nps.gov/jofl/planyourvisit/index.htm

The Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club's clubhouse, badly in need of restoration.

Know before you go: There's enough in the Johnstown area, between the Johnstown Flood Museum, the National Memorial, touring the Wagner Ritter House (a working class home dating back to the 1800s) and the Heritage Discovery Center to make a very full day of exploration of the infamous flood and what life was like in the area, before and after 1889. There's also a walking tour around Johnstown highlighting major landmarks. Several places are marked with the height of the flood waters.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Two Lexington Hotels

Lexington VA, the home to the legendary Virginia Military Institute and the Washington and Lee University, has a lot to offer those seeking a getaway weekend. In addition to lots of Civil War history and historic sites, there are outdoor adventures to be had!

Not far away is the Virginia Safari Park and the Natural Bridge, and, of course, the James River and all the recreational possibilities that a scenic river offers! In the opposite direction, Grand Caverns invites you to explore its mysteries deep below the earth's surface.

Lexington was named in 1778, the first of many American towns and cities named after Lexington, Massachusetts, known for being the place at which the first shot was fired in the American Revolution.

We recently had the chance to explore two hotels in Lexington while enjoying the outdoor adventures I mentioned above.

Col Alto Hampton Inn

Although most Hampton Inns, while comfortable and accommodating, aren't particularly interesting, this one is, because it's attached to an old house and incorporates the historic charm of the original 1827 manor house -- that's where you check in and where you can have breakfast in the morning.

Col Alto Manor House is a two-story, Georgian style brick dwelling with a hipped roof. Col Alto was the home of Congressman James McDowell, for whom the house was built, and later, for Congressman Henry St. George Tucker. In the 1930s, the house was remodeled, enlarged, and modernized, and more recently, made into a Hampton Inn.

You can stay in a room that features contemporary touches or in one of the restored manor rooms offering a glimpse into the past: the Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson or the Washington and Lee Room featuring period decor.

Getting there: 401 E. Nelson Street, Lexington, Virginia, 24450,
Website: https://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/virginia/hampton-inn-lexington-historic-district-LXTSWHX/index.html

The Georges, a Boutique Inn

This is a relatively new inn, right in the heart of the former colonial town and within easy walking distance of restaurants, but it's housed in two historic buildings in downtown Lexington -- the Washington Building and the Marshall Building. Two of Lexington’s oldest surviving structures, they were built more than 200 years ago, and have served as private homes, shops, inns and offices over the years.

As a boutique inn, The Georges, no two of its 18 rooms are identical. Each has been elegantly decorated and offers all the modern amenities that would make your stay comfortable.

Getting there: 11 N Main St, Lexington, VA 24450
Website: https://thegeorges.com/

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Strolling Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery

The Old City Cemetery is a historic cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is the oldest municipal cemetery still in use today in the state of Virginia, and one of the oldest such burial grounds in the United States.

Between 15 and 20 thousand individuals are thought to be interred in Old City Cemetery. Unusual for its time, both whites and African Americans are buried there, even during the 1800s. In fact, almost all of Lynchburg's enslaved and free African American population are buried there since it was the primary burial site for African Americans from 1806 to 1865. At that time it was the only burial ground, excluding private family graveyards, available to African Americans in the area.

But Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery is part museum and part cemetery. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely people buried there.

But since the 1990s, the city has also used the cemetery as an historic park, a space to preserve historic buildings, and has moved several buildings, including a train station, to the cemetery. I kinda dig this idea. Cemeteries, in the mid-1800s, were often designed as rural garden parks, places you'd want to pack a picnic and visit for the afternoon, to get some fresh air and sunshine. Moving these historic buildings to the cemetery upholds and updates this tradition.

The cemetery also holds secrets. There are graves that don't give any clue to its inhabitant's amazing lives, such as Lizzie Langley's. She reportedly was a madam of a house of prostitution -- back in the day, Lynchburg was known for its houses of ill repute (the higher the hill you climbed, the better the class of girls).

Langley's clientele paid Lizzie directly, but she was kind. Out of those payments, she provided an allowance to the girls, but invested the rest. When the girls decided to retire, they were given the invested proceeds.

As with almost every cemetery below the Mason Dixon, there's a Confederate memorial, with 2,200 Confederate soldiers from 14 states.

Nearby, there is the Pest House, Lynchburg's first doctor's office and hospital. In addition to the Pest House, there's the Station House Museum (old rail station), a Hearse House and Caretakers Museum, and a Mourning Museum.

Among the notable notables buried there is Lottie Stanton's grave. Stanton worked in the "colored box office" at the local movie theater during the Jim Crow era (photo of the door and chair) and photo of her grave stone. She used to let the kids slide in to the movies free because she "didn't see them." We visited her grave, leaving a rock on it to show we'd visited.

Getting there: 401 Taylor St, Lynchburg, VA 24501

Hours: dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.gravegarden.org/

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