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.
Friday, July 25th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
This week in The Beach Report, Blogger Katherine Jackson is hot on….
Another New Trail
Hooray to the City of Virginia Beach for adding three more miles to its inventory of multi-use trails, bringing the total to well over 100 miles of bikeways and trails in the city. A new shared-use path was built as part of the widening of Princess Anne Road from the Virginia Beach Municipal Center to the Farmers Market. To access the trail, we unloaded our bikes at the municipal center, an ideal starting point for biking in the southern section of the city. There’s plenty of free parking, especially on the weekends, and this time of year, hundreds of pink crape myrtle trees are impressive in full bloom.
The new asphalt path is separated from the roadway and is wide enough for two bikers to ride comfortably abreast. Along the way, the city’s Meadow Management program is taking hold. Native plants, including wildflowers, are growing literally like weeds: Indian Blanket, Queen Anne’s Lace, Coreopsis, and lots of other yellow and periwinkle flowers. Meadow management areas like this are cropping up in parks, near waterways, and on roadsides all over the city. This landscape design encourages indigenous plants to grow, provides stormwater filtration and wildlife habitat, and reduces manpower costs.
In addition to the riot of wildflowers along Princess Anne Road, there are plenty of sites to see in this vicinity. The Farmers Market bursts in July with tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, corn, watermelon and butter beans. One vendor sells homemade ice cream, a cool treat on a summer ride. Across from the market, Dale Eldred’s Light Garden, a massive sculpture of light sensitive panels enclosed in glass frames atop steel columns, shimmers with prisms of color.
We continued our ride on the Princess Anne Road path until we reached the entrance to Tidewater Community College. Here, we turned right and pedaled east through the campus to pick up another bikeway on South Rosemont Road. When Rosemont ends, a paved path continues along the utility right-of-way. After passing through grassy fields between two neighborhoods, the path intersects Winterberry Lane, where we turned right for a short jaunt through the neighborhood. Returning to Princess Anne Road, we headed south to complete a P-shaped loop, but not before stopping for picnic supplies at a nearby grocery store. Back at the Municipal Center, we ate lunch in the deep and breezy shade of a giant magnolia tree in the Mary Russo Volunteer Recognition Garden. In addition to picnic tables and benches, the garden has a large charcoal grill and several paths through flower-filled beds, a perfect place to wind down after a ride. As described, the route we took was approximately ten miles, an easy cruise for families with older children. Stronger riders can expand the route by touring through the Princess Anne Athletic Complex, the Hampton Roads Soccer complex, and the Farm Bureau Live amphitheater, which lie to the west of Princess Anne Road.
According to the City of Virginia Beach’s Bikeways and Trails plan, “the citizens of Virginia Beach have shown and stated consistently over the years that they want to be able to bike and walk around the City, both for recreation and transportation alternatives.” This comprehensive plan, overseen by a citizen advisory committee, establishes a process for considering the feasibility of including multi-use paths whenever new roadway projects are designed and when existing facilities are renovated. In fact, the plan is working, as evidenced by the new Princess Anne trail. Stay tuned to ShoreLines for information on new bikeways and walking trails coming online soon.
Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
This week in The Beach Report, blogger Katherine Jackson takes us on a serene trip to one of our natural areas for a look at Virginia Beach from yet another angle: the water.
Virginia Beach’s Scenic Waterway
Kayaking and paddle boarding have skyrocketed in popularity in Virginia Beach, where miles of beaches provide access to the ocean. In addition, the Virginia Beach Scenic Waterway allows paddlers to explore the city’s rivers, creeks and marshlands. Dedicated in 1986, this twenty-eight-mile waterway runs from the north end of the city to the south, and can be entered at nineteen sites, including First Landing State Park and Carolanne Farms Park.
On a recent Saturday morning, we put a canoe into the waterway at the Dozier’s Bridge Canoe Launch on Princess Anne Road, approximately seven miles from the Virginia Beach oceanfront. From that point, the waterway leads south along Patterson Creek to West Neck Creek, the North Landing River and Back Bay. Heading north, the waterway leads into the Lynnhaven River and the Chesapeake Bay. Given enough time, boaters can paddle from the Chesapeake Bay to the North Carolina state line. We weren’t nearly that ambitious. We spent two and a half hours leisurely cruising three miles of the trail as it traverses lush green woods thick with evergreens, hardwoods and bald cypress trees. We saw wildflowers such as Trumpet Creeper with its brilliant red blossoms laced through branches overhanging the water, and we smelled swamp roses even before we saw their pink blooms. We found a blackberry vine, its fruit ripe and sweet this time of year. Red, blue and gray dragonflies flitted everywhere, touching down on the water and crossing the bow of the canoe. Since this is a part of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, we weren’t surprised to see a number of species including a swallow, a cardinal, and a woodpecker (along with evidence of a large population of his relatives nearby). I saw a hawk’s reflection in the water before I saw him soaring in the sky. A Great Blue Heron accompanied us down the waterway, landing on dead branches or the creek bank a hundred feet ahead of us, then taking flight each time we got close. We estimated its wingspan at seven feet. We also saw turtles sunning on a log, schools of tiny fish, and a beaver-downed tree. At one point, we came upon a canoe with two people who were fishing. “Whatcha catching?” I asked. “Anything,” the woman replied. “Got one,” she said, and pulled from the water a keeper line attached to their canoe. “Catfish,” she said. It looked about ten inches long. We also watched a snake swim across the waterway. It was too far away to identify, but a good reminder to be careful of poisonous copperheads and cottonmouth moccasins that live in this area. After we tied the canoe to a log on the bank, we ate sandwiches and watermelon while floating in the shade. An adult beverage might have been consumed. It was a peaceful retreat, another example of how easy it is to get away from it all, even in the middle of Virginia’s most populous city. If you don’t have a boat but are interested in exploring Virginia Beach’s water resources, local outfitters provide equipment, instruction and guided tours. Oakum Creek at Munden Point Park might be a good place to start. According to naturalist John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” That goes for every paddle as well.
Photo credits: Katherine Jackson
Thursday, June 19th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
On a cool and breezy Saturday morning, I joined Audubon birder Steve Coari and a group of seven bird enthusiasts for a walk at Pleasure House Point, a 118-acre preserve on the banks of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach.
I have walked the Beach Trail at Pleasure House Point before, but walking it again with this group gave me a new appreciation of the preserve’s value as a habitat for songbirds and wading birds. Not only was Steve constantly calling out bird species – Green Heron, Blue Grosbeak, Mallard, Chickadee, Pine Warbler, Least Tern – but so were the other participants: “Up top! Up top! Cormorant, Chimney Swift, Red-winged Blackbird!” Everyone would swing around to look and the camera shutters would start clicking.
As we walked through the pine woods and beside the ponds, the creek and the river, I noted twenty-two different birds, and heard people call out a few others that I didn’t see. Along the way, Steve provided information about the birds’ activities. “Hear that? Sounds like a squeaky toy? Chimney Swift,” he said. On the creek bank, he pointed to a pile of oyster shells: “Someone’s been feeding.”
The Yellow-Crowned Night Herons were the stars of the show for me. Fellow participant Jane Scott Norris captured this gorgeous photograph of a Night Heron reflected in the pond and generously shared it with ShoreLines. We also saw Night Herons flying, landing, ducking into the water for food, and sitting as a pair in a tree. I got close enough to get a good look at their markings so next time I’ll be able to identify them myself.
A Great Egret – white as a sheet and easy to spot against dark green foliage across the creek – was a highlight, as was a Cormorant, afloat on the river and eating a fish. We saw an osprey on its nest, feeding its young, and we heard Mocking Birds doing what they do best. When birding, Steve says he listens for the calls, looks for movement, and looks for “snags” – dead trees or branches near the water where birds perch. He visits Pleasure House Point frequently so he knows where birds like to hang out. He advised that low tide is a good time to go birding because when the water recedes, exposed food attracts birds. In addition to providing habitat for many resident birds, Pleasure House Point is a stopover for migratory birds. That makes it an ideal place for bird watching in every season, which is a reason to return often.
On the absence of an avid birder, the field guide to the Chesapeake Bay is helpful for identifying birds and their calls. The guided walk was free and sponsored by Lynnhaven River Now, an organization that educates folks about the river and contributes to its health via advocacy, restoration projects and events. All they ask is that participants pick up any trash they spot during the walk. It’s a small price to pay for a two-hour living lesson on birds and their behavior. Special thanks to Steve Coari and Trista Imrich of Lynnhaven River Now for this chance to walk in the winged world.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron photo courtesy of Jane Scott Norris
Friday, June 6th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Blogger Katherine Jackson gives us some schooling on where some of VB’s local lingo came from in this week’s Beach Report. Enjoy!
First Street courtesy of Katherine Jackson
A few years ago, I worked for the company that put on the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on Labor Day weekend. Some of the key players had traveled from San Diego to coordinate race logistics. I stood on the Boardwalk with one of the operations guys while he talked on his cell phone to someone who was in Virginia Beach for the first time. “We’re at First Street,” he said. “There is no First Street, but that’s what they call it. It’s the south end of the Boardwalk at Rudee Inlet.” I remembered this incident the other day when I was running on the Boardwalk and turned around at First Street. (See, you’re already in the know. You already know what First Street means.) As I ran, I made a list of terms that might be helpful for newcomers to Virginia Beach. For example, locals refer to the commercial district between Rudee Inlet and 40th Street as “the Oceanfront” or “the Resort.” Although there’s an oceanfront at “the North End” (north of the Cavalier on the Hill) and in Sandbridge (the southernmost beach), that’s not where we mean when we say we’re biking at the Oceanfront. I was still thinking about local lingo as I made my way through a cluster of bikes parked outside the new Back Bay Brewing Company on Norfolk Avenue. Their brewmasters are cooking up some tasty beer with locally resonant names: Atlantic Avenue IPA and Beach Cruiser Pale Ale. But Steel Pier Bohemian Lager? You might have noticed a wooden pier at 15th Street, but when people say they surfed at “the Steel Pier” that’s not the pier they mean. They’re talking about the steel pier that used to exist near First Street. More local language: If someone says she launched her kayak at Seashore State Park, she means First Landing State Park, which was renamed not long ago to commemorate the landing of English settlers who sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to found Jamestown. Speaking of the Chesapeake Bay, sometimes we lump together all of the beaches along the Chesapeake Bay, as in “I’m going over to Chic’s Beach for a swim.” Chic’s Beach is actually the stretch of beach near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, while other sections are identified when necessary as Cape Henry Beach or Ocean Park. More lingo: “ECSC” – the East Coast Surfing Championships that happen every year in August. “The Art Center” – the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, which puts on the annual Boardwalk Art Show, this year June 12-15. “The County” – the southern section of the city, formerly called Princess Anne County, where you’ll find strawberry fields, produce stands and horse barns. And finally, “the jetty” – the rocky protrusions that line Rudee Inlet and create a surf break at First Street. Armed with these terms, you’ll find it easier to get around at “The Beach,” which is what you’ll call Virginia Beach now that you’re in the know with the local lingo.
Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
There’s always something new to see on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk: stunt kites flying, flowers blooming, bands playing, surfers paddling into waves. Recently I noticed on the three-mile strand a series of eleven signposts, which mark the locations of buildings and monuments that are important to Virginia Beach history. For example, the Old Coast Guard Station at 24th Street, built in 1903, was part of a network of lifesaving stations that rendered assistance to ships in peril along the coast. At 11th Street, the DeWitt Cottage was built in 1895 by the first mayor and postmaster of Virginia Beach. This brick structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, now houses the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. The Virginia Legends Walk at 13th Street honors people who were born in Virginia or important in Virginia history. When coming to a signpost, use a smartphone or tablet to scan the QR code displayed thereon, and presto: a video pops up with slices of history and fun facts about the site in question. For instance, at 25th Street, a short clip about the Norwegian Lady monument explains how the bronze statue was given to the City of Virginia Beach by the people of Moss, Norway, to commemorate the lives that were lost in 1891 in the tragic wreck of the Norwegian sailing ship Dictator. The monument replicates the ship’s figurehead that washed ashore. An identical bronze lady looks back from 4,000 miles across the ocean in Norway. The history of the Virginia Beach resort (yes, the Boardwalk used to be made of wood), information about Naval Air Station Oceana (home to 18 Hornet and Super Hornet jet squadrons), and the legend of King Neptune (ruler of the sea who is depicted by a 26-foot tall statue at 31st Street), are all described along the way. Just download a free QR/barcode reader app, point your phone at a sign, and history comes to life in the palm of your hand. No searching for brochures or scouting the web once you get home. As you will find out when you watch the clip on the history of the resort, the Boardwalk has been a great place to stroll, people-watch, and enjoy entertainment since its construction in 1888. Now, thanks to the Discov-QR Boardwalk Tour, there’s also a lot to be learned by taking a walk on the Boardwalk.