Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
First Landing courtesy of Katherine Jackson
I’ve always enjoyed walking in the woods in any season, but I especially take pleasure in the fall when the sun electrifies the yellow and red and orange leaves. I always assumed the satisfaction that resulted from ambling in the forest was due to the natural beauty, the fresh air, and the musty-dusty smell of pine straw and crushed leaves. I was surprised to read an essay the other day that credited the euphoria I feel among the trees to the blanket of decaying leaves. According to Liza Field, a teacher and writer whose essay appeared in the Virginian-Pilot, “compost-dwelling bacteria…are one big reason that hours spent in a woodland or compost-rich garden profoundly elevates human mood.” She says that studies have linked the humus created by decaying leaves with elevated levels of serotonin, which is associated with emotional states, and “decreased depression, blood pressure, anxiety and stress hormones.” No wonder a few miles of hiking is so rewarding. Crackling down a leaf-strewn path in the woods is as much of a fall tradition for me as Thanksgiving and pumpkins and Winesap apples. It’s something I look forward to every autumn.
This time of year was called “Taquitock” by the Algonquin people who lived in the area prior to the arrival of the British colonists. “Late fall” was one of five seasons on their calendar, a time for harvesting and feasting, as it still is today. After the hot and languid days of summer, the cooler temperatures and brilliant autumn sun energize me. Although the trails at First Landing State Park were carpeted with leaves on a recent Saturday morning, there’s still a beautiful red-gold canopy aloft. Colors sparkle through the maritime forest like a million jewels. The Algonquin people must have appreciated the fall festival at First Landing as much as I do.
In addition to First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach has a number of other places for walking in the woods. The Lake Smith / Lake Lawson Natural Area is awash in color, and with its new paths, benches and other facilities, is worth a visit. The Nimmo Trail and Greenway is also painted with color right now, as are the wooded areas around Stumpy Lake. Walkers and runners flock to these popular parks year-round, but especially in the fall. For a solitary walk in the woods, False Cape State Park is the best bet. It’s one of my favorite places in Virginia Beach, and no matter how many times I walk or bike there, I always find it to be fresh and fulfilling. Entry to False Cape is limited at this time of the year because Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which provides access to the park, closes its interior trails for the annual waterfowl migration. However, it’s still possible to get the park by walking south on the beach or by boat. I urge you to head for the woods. It’s not too late to get a fix of fall euphoria.
Monday, November 3rd, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Virginia Beach just keeps on getting better for walkers and bicycle riders. According to the 2014 Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Annual Report, citizens and visitors enjoy 254 miles of bikeways, trails and wide sidewalks in the city. Recently, two more miles were added to that total, due to the opening of an eight-foot wide asphalt path that parallels a new section of Nimmo Parkway. I recently walked the route, having parked at the Princess Anne Recreation Center near General Booth Boulevard and turning around at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on the corner of Nimmo Parkway and Princess Anne Road. It’s a good place to walk, flat and freshly paved. It’s flanked in some areas by woods filled with fragrant pine and hardwood trees. In other areas, it runs adjacent to neighborhoods. Pastureland abuts one stretch, and on the day I walked it, several horses grazed peacefully in the autumn sun. The path traverses a long bridge over the slow-moving West Neck Creek and the wetlands adjacent to it. A shorter bridge crosses Hunt Club Tributary. With the leaves on the trees changing colors and the fall wildflowers in bloom, it was a satisfying walk. I wasn’t the only walker who thought so.
In addition to being an easy place to take a stroll, this new section connects several bikeways, significantly increasing the number of miles that can be covered on two wheels. For example, the Nimmo segment makes it possible to bike from the Princess Anne Recreation Center to the Farmers Market. After completing the two miles on the Nimmo path, turn right on the bikepath adjacent to Princess Anne Road and it’s a straight shot to the Farmers Market. I described this route in a post last summer. The new Nimmo segment also connects with the Nimmo Trail and Greenway, which I wrote about last spring. The distance from the Nimmo Trail and Greenway to the Farmers Market is approximately eight miles, a challenging sixteen-mile workout on a safe and pleasant route.
Along with the multi-use path that is separated from the main road by a grassy strip, this part of Nimmo Parkway has what Virginia Beach Senior Planner Wayne Wilcox describes as “wide outside lanes…a type of bike facility for on-road riders. Cars can pass the bikes more safely and easily without changing lanes.” Facilities like this one are making it easier to walk and pedal as alternate means of transportation in Virginia Beach. In fact, more and more people are biking to work at the Municipal Center via pathways on Nimmo Parkway and Princess Anne Road. The Parks and Recreation annual report outlines a number of priorities, and I’m happy to report that trail development is at the top of the list. Walking and biking are year-round activities in Virginia Beach, thanks to our temperate climate and our ever-increasing inventory of trails.
Photo credits: Katherine Jackson
Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
In addition to cool temperatures and low humidity, October brings the fresh scent of blooming flowers to my running route. As soon as I walked out the door on a recent Sunday morning, I could smell the fragrance on the brisk air. The plant I always used to call Russian olive is more accurately called thorny elaeagnus, thorny olive, or silver thorn, and it was brought to the U.S. from China and Japan in the 1800s. By whatever name, it’s a large evergreen shrub with thick branches that twine into neighboring plants. New growth on the elaeagnus arches up into the air, and when mature, the tree-like form can reach more than twenty feet in height. Dense foliage makes the elaeagnus perfect for privacy hedges. In October and November, creamy white flowers hang like tiny pendants among dark green leaves that are covered with silvery scales.
I have a large elaeagnus shrub in my backyard, and when the wind is just right, it wafts the sweet fall perfume into the front yard and through the open windows. It reminds me of gardenia, jasmine and magnolia, only lighter and more ethereal. Across the street, my neighbors have a mature hedge of large elaeagnus plants running for fifty feet along their property line. At the peak of the blooming season, I can smell the flowers from down the block. As I hoof my way through the neighborhood, the sweet scent drifts out to meet me. The fragrance is so far-reaching that sometimes I can’t even see the shrub that’s scenting the air.
The elaeagnus is well-loved and often planted in Virginia Beach because it’s a hardy and aggressive grower that’s impervious to salt spray and useful as a windbreak. Years ago, when planning the landscaping for my new house, I said “absolutely nothing with stickers or thorns,” but fortunately, the thorns on the elaeagnus escaped my notice. In truth, the plant doesn’t require much maintenance and the thorns aren’t that bad. One thing I love about Virginia Beach is that there’s so much to look forward to when each season arrives. As the year rolls into autumn, pumpkins pop up everywhere, the leaves change to red and orange, and the blooming elaeagnus sweetens the air. Take a walk on Ocean Front Avenue at the North End of Virginia Beach and you’ll be sure to catch a whiff – or lots of whiffs — of this sign of autumn’s arrival.
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Walking on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk is always fun because there’s always so much to see. That’s doubly true during the annual Neptune Festival Art and Craft Show in September. This year, from 18th Street to 29th Street, in booth after booth, more than 270 exhibitors displayed the products of their imagination in every medium: watercolor, wood, oil, leather, gold, silver, shells and clay. The show is juried, and the selected artists and craftsmen mounted an outstanding and diverse display. There were large scale paintings, many with beachy themes, and small scale fused glass pendants. There were hand-built wooden rocking chairs and woven sweet grass baskets. There was a lion made of driftwood and a neon flamingo. There was art recycled from vintage china, and jewelry made from rocks. There was wearable art, such as dresses, scarves, and hats. There was even art for pets: wooden water bowl stands, and collars and leashes in a rainbow of colors and patterns.
I went to the show on Friday, thinking it would be a less popular choice than the weekend, but the place was alive with art lovers. The weather played a part: it was an ideal fall afternoon, with warm sun and a cool breeze. The artists, some locals and others from around the country, were eager to chat about their materials and methods, and to sell their wares, many of which were affordably priced, especially considering every piece was made by hand. One artist told me that the Neptune Festival is her favorite show because the location is so pleasant and the locals are so friendly. With the beach, the ocean and the bright blue sky as a backdrop, the art show was indeed a perfect place for a stroll.
Art is just one part of the Neptune Festival Boardwalk Weekend, which happens on the last weekend in September every year. There’s also live music on numerous stages, a sandsculpting contest, a parade, an 8K run, and fireworks to celebrate the end of summer and usher in the fall. Festival food vendors sell everything from crab cakes to kettle corn. And open-air cafes along the strand provide a comfortable place to relax and people watch. At the north end of the art show, King Neptune – god of the sea – presides over the Boardwalk in the form of a massive bronze sculpture, and he lends his name to the festival every year. However, perhaps it’s Apollo – god of the arts – who deserves credit for inspiring the creativity that turns the Boardwalk into a spectacular oceanside art gallery. But don’t tell Neptune I said that.
Monday, September 22nd, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Located in the rural section of Virginia Beach, Munden Point Park is described by some people as a well-kept secret. Near the North Carolina state line, the one hundred-acre park features a picturesque tract on the North Landing River, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. In addition to a boat ramp, the park has an eighteen-hole disc golf course, ball fields, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and a tiny amphitheater for weddings and other events.
We recently took our canoe to Munden Point to explore Oakum Creek, a mile and a half waterway adjacent to the park. It was a beautiful morning as we launched the boat into the North Landing River, sunny and bright, with enough wind to whip up small waves. Boat traffic on the river was light – a few trawlers, runabouts and jet skis. After paddling about an eighth of a mile along the riverbank, we entered the mouth of Oakum Creek and began a leisurely, flat-water paddle. The creek winds and turns, its banks lined by cypress trees with their jutting-up-knees, evergreens, cat tails, flowering pickerel weed, and pink and white wildflowers. Dragonflies fluttered around us, fish jumped, songbirds chirped, and a hawk soared over a field adjacent to the creek. At times the surface of the water was a mirror; at other times, the wind gusted across and the sunlight flashed on the ripples.
The only other boater we saw on the creek was a bass fisherman who was drifting along without his engine. Occasionally we heard motorboats on the river in the distance or a hoot from a disk golf tournament that was happening at the park, but for the most part, we were alone with nature: no roads, no houses, no worries. It was a peaceful paddle, a respite from the clock-driven demands of daily life.
Munden Point Park has rental canoes and kayaks for use on Oakum Creek. Call 757-426-5296 to check availability. If you bring your own canoe, there is no fee for launching, and you can explore the river as well. The water level and the distance that can be paddled on the creek vary, depending on how much the wind is pushing water up into the creek. We spent about two hours paddling upstream and back. Although it takes a while to get to the park, it’s a pleasant drive through the countryside, past horse pastures and pumpkin patches and quaint crossroads. On the way home, we stopped at one of the many farm stands to stock up on local produce: tomatoes, corn, squash and potatoes. People associate Virginia Beach with ocean sports, but Munden Point Park offers a chance to float up a creek with a paddle.
Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Some people say Owl Creek; some call it Owls or Owl’s Creek. By whatever spelling, Owls Creek and its public boat ramp are vital resources for Virginia Beach residents and visitors. In the early days, this part of Virginia Beach was comprised of marshlands with a narrow channel that conveyed rain and tidal waters into the ocean. Attempts were made to drain the marsh for development, but it wasn’t until the 1950s, when the area was mined for sand to replenish the beach, that the linked water bodies of Owls Creek, Lake Rudee, Lake Wesley and Rudee Inlet were dredged. Neighborhoods sprang up along the waterways, but woods and wetlands here continue to provide habitat for birds and animals, including foxes, herons, pelicans and eagles. Depending on the season, speckled trout, flounder, striped bass and a host of other saltwater species cycle through the waters between the creek and the mouth of the inlet.
Since the public boat ramp was renovated in the 1990s, flocks of sportsmen and women have taken advantage of the access it provides to inland waters and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Motorized boats are launched from the ramp and head out for deep sea and inshore fishing. Kayakers and paddleboarders tour the basin or leave through the inlet to catch waves. The Rudee Inlet II, a small dredge that works to keep the inlet open, motors into and out of the creek, as do Navy vessels that are launched nearby. Some of the wooded property that lines the creek is privately owned, and some belongs to the Navy. Fortunately, approximately 100 acres are being preserved for recreation in the City’s new Marshview Park, where construction of trails and other facilities began in June.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I walked the mile from my house to Owls Creek to see what was going on. The boat ramp was hopping with activity. In one lane, a young man and woman were putting kayaks – tricked out with fishing poles – into the water. In another lane, a water sports outfitter was loading paddleboards into a van at the end of a group excursion. In the parking lot, a jet ski owner was securing his watercraft to its trailer. Out on the water, a fishing boat was returning from the ocean, and a small skiff was floating along the bank, its occupant casting a line. Before long, a kayak powered by pedals and adorned with a pirate flag slipped up to the dock. As the sun set across the water, two beautiful golden retrievers on leashes appeared to be enjoying the fresh air. Owls Creek is adjacent to General Booth Boulevard near the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, approximately half a mile from the resort area. It’s a worthwhile destination, with or without a boat.
Photo credits: Katherine Jackson
Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
On a recent Thursday evening, hundreds of Virginia Beach residents and I biked to the Boardwalk for the Free Summer Concert Series at 31st Street Park. The headliner was Carbon Leaf, a national recording artist and, more importantly, a local favorite. The quintet pumps out a blend of indie rock, pop-bluegrass, Celtic rootsy folk with a decidedly maritime edge. Imagine acoustic and electric guitars jamming to a steady drumbeat, then add a fiddle, an upright bass, a penny whistle, and a songbook of haunting melodies. Carbon Leaf has what it takes: a unique sound. Gathered at the outdoor stage for a free taste of the band’s extensive catalog were dads with toddlers, eighty-year-old grandparents, teens on neon skateboards, pony-tailed surfers, crewcut sailors, those with tattoos or not. People from across the human spectrum swayed to the beat and sang along. Some sat in beach chairs, some lounged on blankets, and some sipped cocktails on the terrace of an adjacent restaurant. As the sun set and the moon rose, the massive King Neptune statue that rises over the park seemed as entranced by the lyrical tunes as were the flocks of people snapping photos with him.
Afterwards, the lyrics of a Carbon Leaf song kept running through my mind: “Live a life less ordinary. Live a life extraordinary.…” Extraordinary is the perfect word to describe the moveable concert that is Virginia Beach, especially in the summertime. As we biked to the park and back home, I counted nine musical acts, including performances on the five stages on the Boardwalk. I also heard live music from four open-air cafes. There were even three buskers — musicians playing impromptu: a harmonica player, a guitar player and a trombone player. And that was just on the Boardwalk.
The music continues through the fall and includes headliners like Trombone Shorty and Delta Rae. A highlight of the music scene is The American Music Festival on Labor Day weekend, this year featuring Train, Hunter Hayes, Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Blues Traveler, all of whom will play ticketed shows on a gigantic stage built on the beach at 5th Street. In addition, festival-goers can choose from among dozens of free concerts by local, regional, and national acts such as Rusted Root and Vertical Horizon. On the first weekend in September, Blues at the Beach will feature two days of beloved Blues acts. And at the end of September, The Neptune Festival will host its share entertainers on the Boardwalk. The concert calendar is impressive. Suffice it to say that Virginia Beach has become synonymous with live music accompanied by the sound of waves breaking on the beach. There aren’t many places in the country where you can hear so much music by bike. It’s simply extraordinary.