One of the great things about the Chesapeake Bay region is the number and varieties of bodies of water. Rivers stretching broad and wide as they flow to the sea. Creeks just barely big enough to be named. Each of them having their own unique ecosystem. Some of them with water that taste better than anything from a plastic bottle. Others are the home of our favorite saltwater delicacies.
But, how can anyone truly enjoy what the water has to offer by sitting in a car or along the shoreline? It’s like looking at a picture of a kiss. It may be innocently cute or bleed with passion. In either case, being a participant is a heck of a lot better than being a spectator!
Several state and many county or city parks in the area offer paddling tours. “What, me go out in all of that water?” Yes, canoes and kayaks allow you a closer and more intimate view of the life of a waterway. These boats enable visitors to go where cars and foot trails will not allow. Piers and observation decks are nice. But, to see more creatures in their habitat it is better to be in it.
“But, I don’t know how to paddle one of those things.” Canoes and kayaks aren’t complicated boats to maneuver. You won’t need to know every stroke. Guides give demonstrations of the basic forward and back stroke, turns, and the proper way to hold the paddle. Some first timers are faster learners than others. But, the purpose of a tour is not to race or make some sort of documentary. No one judges, everyone has fun.
“But, what if that thing tips over and I drown?” Few people drown while properly wearing a personal flotation device (PDF) and guides will make sure you do so. Guides also don’t take trips in adverse weather conditions. At York River State Park, for example, if there is a small craft advisory and white-capped waves on the river, we take our guest on Taskinas Creek instead. Also, the canoes and kayaks offered are made for beginners. They are wider than more advanced watercraft making them very stable. The only way to tip them is to go out in rough water or engage in horesplay (which a good guide will sternly discourage before the trip).
“Do I need to go on a guided tour at a park, especially if I have my own boat?” No. Even if you rent a boat at the park, feel free to explore the water on your own. I get a kick out of seeing people paddling their sleek sea kayaks, inflatables, and other boats. Guided tours are offered to help first time paddlers and to tell visitors about the ecosystem and history of the park. If you are new to the area, these programs will enhance your knowledge as well as let you see the park from just above the waterline. Virginia Outdoors, www.virginiaoutdoors.com, is a great place to find out about paddling opportunities. Also, check out the Virginia State Parks blog at blog.virginiaparks.org.