Taskinas Creek Trail: In The Heart Of The Marsh

Yes, it is open again!  The Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park was renown as one of the best hikes east of I-95.  Due to storm damage, it was closed to the public for two years.  Park staff and volunteers worked hard to re-route and restore the trail.  Despite some significant changes, Taskinas Creek is a hike that is winning praise in the region for it’s physical challenge, views of wildlife, and unique beauty.

Taskinas Creek at Sunset (© John Gresham)

The long bridges across the freshwater streams at the beginning of the trail are gone.  Yet, hiking along the smaller crossings still provides guest with an idea of how estuarine creeks and rivers begin as mere trickles of water at the bottom of a hill.  As they flow, these streams get broader turning the surrounding lowland into bogs.  A variety of frogs, turtles, and other creatures can be found here.

The freshwater bogs give way to an open canopy marsh and cord grass as hikers reach the first Marsh Overlook.  The stream meets the larger Taskinas Creek at the Heron Overlook.  This is a great place to spot both the Great Blue Heron and the smaller Green Heron.  At low tide, Fiddler Crabs can be seen scurrying around for hiding places.  High tides bring Muskrat and Killifish swimming right underneath the overlook.

Flying Lesson (John Gresham/DCR)

After an elevation change, hikers are rewarded with the Osprey Overlook.  An Osprey nesting platform stands between  two bends in the creek.  These expert anglers reside here from March until September to raise their young.  This year, we have two chicks on the nest in the creek.  The platform was installed by a local Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge.  An overlook named for our national bird can be found on a small spur trail before ascending on another hill.  Bald Eagles can be seen at the park year round, perhaps more frequently when the Osprey are back in Latin America for the winter.

Along the Creek (John Gresham/DCR)

A challenging ravine follows lined with Mountain Laurels.  In May, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the hike.  Ascending to the final hill is the spur leading to the Kingfisher Overlook.  Fans of the original trail will remember how the long bridge used to cross a section of the marsh.  A portion of the bridge was removed due to constant erosion damage.  But, a substantial section remains as an overlook that is perfect for wildlife viewing, photography, and waving to the canoeist and kayakers as they explore the creek.  Returning from the spur, the final leg of the hike is relatively broad with only slight elevation changes until completing the loop to the first two ravines.

New Trail Map (John Gresham/DCR)

As unbiased as I can be, this is the best hiking trail on the  peninsula.  I doubt if there is anything quite like it along the Chesapeake Bay.  The elevation changes will impress the most avid outdoors adventurers.  Birders and photographers can enjoy the diversity of nature’s beauty.  Environmental educators will find it a great learning lab for geology as well as ecology.  Make plans to visit the Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park.  Parking at the park is only $2 per vehicle on weekdays, $3 on weekends.  Visit the Virginia State Parks blog for stories about the trail and other items of interest at York River and around the state.

The Burning of the Socks: Birth of a Tradition

So if you sail into the Harbor on the 21st of March,
And you smell a smell like Limburger sautéed with laundry starch,
You’ll know you’re downwind of the Eastport docks
Where they’re burning their socks for the Equinox.

from “Ode to the Sock Burners” By Jefferson Holland, Poet Laureate of Eastport, 1995

Brad and John burning their socks (John Gresham/Va State Parks)

We took a bit of a chance at York River State Park this past Saturday.  We decided to use the Annapolis, Maryland tradition to kick-off our canoe and kayaking season.  The very idea of adults burning their socks seemed a bit silly.  But, I convinced my bosses that getting people to play with fire and water on the same day would bring people to the park. 

At Taskinas Point on the York River ( John Gresham/Va State Parks)

And did it work?  We had 39 paddlers on a day that started partly cloudy, became light rainy, and ended in downpours.  Of the guest, 24 of them were from the Hampton Roads Outdoor Adventure Meet-Up group.  Some of the others were from states as varied as Arizona and Vermont.  Had the weather been better, who knows how many would have turned out.  But my Chief Ranger, Brad Thomas, was well pleased with the attendance and told me, “There is no way we are not doing this again next year.” 

As with anything, there were some things we need to improve on.  But, a new tradition has been born at York River State Park.  The first Saturday of Spring we will celebrate the Equinox.  At Taskinas Point, we will burn our socks.

Check out Craig Leggette’s album of the event here!  Don’t wait until next year to come to the park and paddle.  Check out our paddling programs here!

Trails To Hike In 2012

Yes, it is “THE BEST OF …” season.  Everyone in every hobby and occupation is talking about the great stuff about 2011 and what to do in 2012.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon.  But, there are a few places I recommend to people who want to put their new outdoor gear to use.  The trails range from an easy walk on the beach to hind parts kicking adventures and offer some of the most interesting scenery in Virginia.  No, I haven’t hiked everywhere in the state.  I’m only suggesting based on my experience in 2011 (and feel free to suggest some other locations you like).  Print this post and keep it.  It may be useful when you plan your next road trip.

1) Maritime/Vir-Mar Trail (False Cape State Park)Getting into False Cape is an adventure on its own (no private vehicles).  But, for a truly wild beach trek, this trail is hard to beat with its untouched sand dunes to the Atlantic and sunsets on Back Bay.  Call the park office to plan your trip around a ranger guided program and you may be able to crash at the Wash Woods Overnight Education Center.

2) Crabtree Falls (George Washington National Forrest)Yeah, it can get crowded on warm weekends, and for good reason.  It is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi and has gorgeous views.  The trail has a challenging combination of stairs and switchbacks.  I prefer starting from the bottom (plenty of parking off of Rt 58) and hiking to the top and back.  Resist the temptation to play in the rushing water.  Too many hikers had fallen to death here.

Sanderlings blitz at the Bayshore Trail

3) Bay Shore/Winter Water Trail (Hughlett’s Point Natural Area Preserve)This Northern Neck jewel has one of the largest panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay.  When permitted (some very rare bird and insect species are protected here), you can make a complete loop from the beach to the lower end of bayshore.  Nearby Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve has no trails.  But, has some interesting observation points and a kayak launch.

4) Wahrani Nature Trail (New Kent Co. Parks & Recreation)Forget your stairmaster.  This frequently overlooked spot on the side of the road to the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula playgrounds (Rt 33) packs plenty of elevation changes.  Use caution here because you may have to share some real estate with mountain bikers.  It is a great place to warm up for mountain hikes.

5) Cold Mountain (Appalachian Trail)/Hotel Trail (George Washington National Forest)Take the AT in and out from the parking lot for the marvelous panoramic views.  Take the Hotel Trail for views of Mt. Pleasant and cool running creeks.  Make a day of an almost 6 mile loop.  Camp overnight.  Do whatever you can.  But, this place is fantastic!

6)  Mattaponi/Woodstock Pond Trail (York River State Park)Taskinas Creek Trail will reopen in 2012.  But, don’t let that be an excuse to ignore fossil beach, the observation deck, and the spillway view between the pond and river.  You can make it a double loop hike, or connect to Backbone to reach the trails deeper in the park.

Humpback Rock rewards the hiker

7)  Humpback Rock (Blue Ridge Parkway)If you have never hiked a mountain, this is a good one to start with.  If you have done it before, this is a good one to visit.  The unique rock formation is almost like a window on the Shenandoah Valley below.  There is a connection to the AT for more advanced hikers.

8)  Herring Creek/Mattaponi Bluffs Loop (Zoar State Forest)Aylett, Virginia may be the best kept secret for adventure east of I-95.  This hike allows you to explore and play in cool, refreshing waters.  There are trails at the main section of the state forest and you can launch a canoe or kayak down to the Aylett boat launch (or further) for a great float trip.

Thanks to all of you for visiting Baystride Images in 2011.  I pray that you and your families will have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

John R. Gresham, Jr.

Ode to the Country Store

The Center of the Universe

Before supermarkets, truck stops, convenience stores, and “Wally-Worlds;” communities were served by local markets.  They were small and did little if any advertising.  Most of the shop owners lived nearby, some right beside the store.  The prices were marked up only to make a small profit.  Some owners let customers run a tab to be paid at the end of the month.  There were a few chairs by the wood stove where a traveler or local could eat a sandwich.  Farmers brought feed and seed.  Sporting supplies and hardware could be found just down from the canned goods.  The country store had a little bit of everything.  Despite the modernization of the economy, these nostalgic little stores still exist thanks to merchants who enjoy serving their neighbors more than getting rich.

Jim Hall’s Store sits at the intersection of Rts 30 and 626 some “ump-teen” miles from West Point.  It’s crossroads location is a magnet for all who reside in or drives through lower King William.  My church is right across the field.  So, I like to grab a barbecue and some chips for lunch on my days at the office. Crabs and oysters are available  in season.  I also get news about how the shad are running in the spring.  Expect a little of anything out of Jim Halls from rabbit feed to fresh bacon.  He’ll put it all in the same bag for you.

Downtown Croaker

Taking exit 231-B from I-64 to York River State Park will bring you to Garret’s Store in “Downtown” Croaker, Virginia.  Steve Garret extends a handshake and helping hand to just about anybody.  He keeps plenty of bait and tackle for anglers who visit our pier and supplies us for our Kid’s Freshwater Fishing Tournaments in the spring and summer.  Because we don’t have food vendors at the park, Garret’s is a good place to get what you need for a quick picnic.

A couple of other country stores worth the visit:
Kent’s Store (near the King William Courthouse on Route 30) has gas and plenty of groceries.
J & B’s Country Store (West Point/Toano exit 230-A) a rural alternative to the more commercialized madness of Williamsburg.