Loopers: Traversing the 'Appalachian Trail on Water'
The Great Loop of the Eastern United States is like a safari, or sea-fari if you will. There are bears, manatees, bald eagles and mountain lions all while boaters cruise through 6,000 miles of waterways. They travel the Atlantic up to Canada then to inland waterways, down to the Gulf Coast and back to the Atlantic.
Libbey Seigars and her husband Steve Spencer returned to Whitefield Maine recently with stories of firsthand encounters with nature including a 250 pound black bear swimming by in a North Carolina lake.
“ I saw this big log and then I looked and I giggled because the log had something that looked like Mickey Mouse ears, and he turned his head and it was an enormous black bear swimming. Never in my life have I seen a bear swimming like that or have gotten to watch one.”
Along their nine-month, 6,900 mile journey, there were repairs to their 24-foot boat Laughing Gull, fog, reckless boaters and this:
“I had open heart surgery in Charleston, South Carolina. I had some very minor pain, turned out to need more attention. But they did a fiveway bypass and we just had the good luck to wash ashore at a worldclass hospital, so yeah, it was just kind of amazing.”
A couple of weeks later the couple was using a new boating app to follow the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail up the Rappahannock River. Eagle watching from the water at Fones Cliffs, they met up with some old friends including Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Naturalist John Page Williams, who wrote a book on the trail, and Joel Dunn of the Chesapeake Conservancy, who has been helping to design the trail.
“This guy right here inspired me to go to kayaking on the Maine Island Trail. We actually got a lesson from the Maine Island Trail folks about what our water trail on the Chesapeake might look like.”
Dunn tapped into Spencer's expertise from his work on water trails with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to develop a boater's guide to the Smith Trail.
“We want to be like the Appalachian Trail on water. That's our dream.”
Part of getting that is public access. Dunn says 98 percent of the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are privatelyowned.
“If you don't provide people enough opportunity to park their cars, launch their boats, even to walk along the shores of the rivers and the Chesapeake and the John Smith Trail, then our public is not going to get to know the Chesapeake and love the Chesapeake, maybe even commit their career to it.”
If he were here today, Captain Smith might not recognize the shores of most of the waters he once navigated. Even Fones Cliffs, which has remained very much the same during the last 400 centuries is slated for development. Most people don't know about the trail. CBF's Williams recalled nine years ago when the trail first became official.
“People kept asking, the John Smith Water Trail, is it open yet. Actually yeah, it's been open since 1608.”
You can find the Chesapeake Conservancy boater's app and other trip planners on the web.