Thursday, March 26th, 2015 by Katherine Jackson
When exploring a new city, I like to learn about its history – the people and events that shaped its present form. For example, when I visited Zermatt, Switzerland, I roamed through antique shops for clues about the past. In Virginia Beach, the city’s rich maritime history is brought to life in museums, historic houses and memorials. Here are seven not-to-be-missed places that tell the story of Virginia Beach.
Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 by Katherine Jackson
Those of us who live near the Virginia Beach oceanfront joke that when we’re looking for a place to dine or socialize, we don’t like to go “out of our zip code.” We have plenty of reasons for that, but here are seven secrets that make living near the Virginia Beach resort so satisfying. (more…)
Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 by Katherine Jackson
Katherine Jackson keeps our “For the Love of” series going with a post about a timeless form of exercise – walking!
There's nothing like a peaceful walk on the beach
I’ve lived at a beach most of my life, and I sometimes wonder why people would live anywhere else. I went to high school in Ft. Lauderdale, spent a few years in Nags Head, and have lived in Virginia Beach ever since. One of my earliest memories is of a trip my family took to Virginia Beach when I was about three years old. I remember thinking that the beach was “slippery,” not understanding that the waves were knocking me down. Although I enjoy the mountains, I feel most at home with sand under my feet. As much as I like to walk barefoot on the beach in the summer, I also find winter beach walks to be rewarding in their own way. Even at the height of winter, I bundle up in a hat, gloves, and my old down coat, a hold-over from the ‘70s. By the time I’ve walked a few hundred yards, I start to warm up, or at least I forget about the temperature as I’m swept up by the waves and the sky and the treasures to be found on the strand. The solitude of the beach during the winter months is another bonus.
Katherine Jackson find treasures among the shells on her morning walks at Croatan Beach
On a recent Saturday morning, I headed out for a beach walk at the time of low tide since that’s when the sand is hardest and when fresh piles of shells are uncovered. I live at the south end of Croatan Beach, a quiet neighborhood beach south of the resort area, so I headed north toward Rudee Inlet. The wind was brisk, and the sun was bright. The thing about beach walking is that no matter how many times I’ve walked this stretch, there’s always something different to see: the pattern of clouds in the sky, boats heading out to sea, shells in the wrack line left behind by the ebbing tide. I always notice a variety of shorebirds, and sometimes a flock of pelicans. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a pair of eagles that my neighbors report seeing on the beach but so far they’ve eluded me. They nest in the woods nearby and come to the ocean to fish. I often see dolphins, and during the winter, I watch for whales that can sometimes be seen from the beach (and can more often be seen on Winter Wildlife Boat Trips that depart from the Virginia Aquarium).
Swaths of ice met Katherine on a blustery day at Croatan
On this morning, I was surprised by an unusual sight: swaths of ice on the beach at the high tide line. The thin sheets had frozen earlier when the waves receded. Having seen them, I wasn’t surprised when I got to the inlet to see that the rocks that form the jetty were wearing frosty caps caused by ocean spray. Back at the south end, a chain link fence that demarks the military base was coated in a thick mesh of ice from the blowing spray. I often extol Virginia Beach’s mild winter weather, but cooler days have their benefits, not the least of which is the anticipation of spring, which isn’t far away.
Doesn’t a winter walk on the beach sound amazing? It’s time for you to get away and Visit Virginia Beach!
Photo credits: Katherine Jackson
Friday, January 16th, 2015 by Katherine Jackson
This week in The Beach Report, blogger and local walking guide Katherine Jackson shares two out-of-the-box ideas for walking Virginia Beach. Don’t forget: this weekend is the Coastal Virginia Wine Fest – see link below for details. Live the Life!
Two Walks at the Virginia Beach Convention Center
Photo credit: Stephen Proffitt
I’ve attended a number of trade conferences and worked in exhibit booths at a variety of expos, and although both types of events are rewarding, they’re also hard work because they require long hours of sitting or standing. Taking a break, stretching my legs, and seeing a change of scenery are imperative to making it through the event. The folks at the Virginia Beach Convention Center have made it easy for people who attend events in the facility – as well as visitors and people who live in the neighborhood – to take a walking break. Maps available at the concierge desk depict two short walks – one is half a mile, the other is a mile – both of which can be completed without leaving the Center grounds. The routes are flat, easy and accessible for people with disabilities. And a number of sights are worth seeing along the way.
½ Mile Walk
Both walks begin at the same place: Exit the Convention Center’s west end, cross 19th Street and walk south along Jefferson Avenue. One of the most beautiful and moving sights on this route is the Tidewater Veterans Memorial, an architectural sculpture dedicated to all veterans in the Hampton Roads Area. The memorial was a community affair: the design incorporates ideas submitted by three high school students who won a city-wide contest. A second competition among twenty-five local artists and architects resulted in the memorial’s dynamic, spherical form. At the front of the memorial, a flag square includes the U.S. and Virginia flags as well as flags representing the five military services. The memorial carries the message: “They Shall Not Be Forgotten.”
After passing the Tidewater Veterans Memorial Park, the route continues south to 17th Street, turns west for a block, turns north and passes two fountains, and then returns to the Convention Center. Another noteworthy feature of the Center’s grounds is the display of native plants, including trees, shrubs, groundcovers and grasses. Bald cypress trees line many of the walkways, and even though they’re bare during the winter, their scent still fills the air. Some plants along the way are sleeping right now, while some have donned their winter colors. I’ll come back to take this walk again in the spring when everything starts to wake up.
One Mile Walk
Photo credit: Katherine Jackson
The half-mile course ends with the return to 19th Street, and another half mile can be added by walking along 19th Street to the east end of the Convention Center where a Pop Up Art Park lies at the corner of 19th and Parks Avenue. Titled Project LifeguART, the exhibit includes authentic lifeguard stands and gear boxes decorated with vibrant and original art. I had heard about this project over the summer when the painted stands and gear boxes were placed on the beach, and I was impressed when I saw them in one place. Some have bold nautical designs and some are covered by sea creatures. Two are painted like VW vans, one with a surfboard on top, and one with daisies and peace signs. Designed by local artists and sponsored by local businesses, the pop up art alone is worth the walk. Plan a trip before spring when they’ll be returned to active duty on the beach.
Photo credit: Katherine Jackson
The one-mile course is completed by turning around at Parks Avenue and returning to the west end of the Convention Center. However, the walk can be extended by heading for the scenic Virginia Beach Boardwalk just a little more than half of a mile from the Convention Center, or by continuing north a few blocks on Parks Avenue to the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art where a number of sculptures are installed on the grounds.
Of course, the Convention Center itself is a work of art, reminiscent of both a lighthouse and the prow of a tremendous ship. It’s perfectly located as a starting point for walking in the resort area, and there’s typically free parking available. While you’re in the neighborhood for a walk, you also can take advantage of some of the events on the Virginia Beach Convention Center calendar in the next few months.
Here’s a taste:
Coastal Virginia Winefest and MOCA Art Show, Jan 17 & 18: 40 wineries, a craft beer garden and a host of vendors showcasing food, arts and crafts.
Tidewater Recreational Vehicle Show, Jan. 23 – 25 featuring everything necessary for an outdoor lifestyle.
Virginia Flower and Garden Expo, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1 promoting horticultural education for professionals and weekend gardeners
Shamrock Marathon Sports and Fitness Expo, March 20 – 22 featuring equipment, apparel and shoes, along with a speaker series
Friday, December 5th, 2014 by Katherine Jackson
Nature Trail is an Outdoor Classroom
People visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for a variety of reasons: to see the fish and animals, such as the sea turtles and river otters; to attend special programs, such as the stingray feedings and the harbor seal training; to watch 3D movies in the six-story theater; to entertain their children on a cool and cloudy day. I went to the Aquarium specifically to take a walk on the Nature Trail. Measuring a third of a mile long, the Nature Trail traverses the Owls Creek Salt Marsh Preserve, a broad area of wetlands and woodlands which stretch between the Aquarium’s two large exhibition halls. The best feature of this walk is that signboards on the trail describe the birds, animals, fish and plants that inhabit the woods and the marsh. That makes it easy to learn about the natural environment while strolling through the woods and along the banks of the creek. It’s like an outdoor classroom for the self-motivated learner. For example, one area is preserved as a wildflower meadow, and signage describes the flowers that thrive in the sun. At this time of year, most flowers have finished blooming, but the Tall Coreopsis and the Goldenrod refuse to give up. Their yellow flowers are bright spots in the waning landscape.
Although there aren’t many flowering plants right now, the woods are alive with the colors of fall. On one loop of the trail, signs identify white oak, holly, beech, loblolly pine and other trees, and provide information about their function in the ecosystem. At one exhibit, I learned that butterflies enjoy the daytime while moths prefer the nighttime. And according to one sign, marshes are a source of food and shelter for a large percentage of marine fish and shellfish. One of the most interesting exhibits is a man-made osprey nest. I see osprey nests all the time in the tops of trees and on poles around Virginia Beach, but I was surprised to see how large these nests are. Osprey return to the same nest each year and continue to expand and improve the roost with sticks, grass, and feathers.
Nearby, I climbed the thirty-foot Treetop Tower for an osprey’s-eye view of Owls Creek. Placards on the staircase landings identify the birds and animals that live in the vicinity. Like many of the exhibits inside the Aquarium, the exhibits on the trail are not just static signboards. For instance, in one area the signs have illustrations of animal or bird tracks and give clues so visitors can guess which they are. One sign says, “My tracks show four long toes…I build big nests…and I am a fan of the daytime.” Open a panel to find the answer: Great Blue Heron. Speaking of which, look over there: a Great Blue Heron is wading through the marsh.
In addition to stopping on benches along the way to listen to the songbirds and enjoy a few minutes of quiet contemplation, I strolled through the indoor exhibits as well. A Komodo Dragon roamed around its exhibit case, stingrays glided along the bottom of their pool, and Lookdown fish floated in their habitat. The humans seemed content in their environment as well, ambling along with smiles on their faces. Indeed, people go to the Virginia Aquarium for any number of reasons — a walk on the Nature Trail followed by a cup of hot chocolate in the café is among the best.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KATHERINE JACKSON
The Virginia Aquarium is just one of the many exciting ways to experience Virginia Beach. To learn more, check out the official website for the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.VisitVirginiaBeach.com.
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.