Living where the land meets the water gives us everything we need: shelter in the woods, food to eat, and clean water to drink. Our climate promises a good life for the 15 million people and the more than 3,000 types of plants and animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Certain soils and plant roots soak up much of the 30-40 inches of rain we receive each year. Leaves also absorb water, and forests slow a hard rain's fall to earth. Woodlands shade the stream, and their roots hold stream banks in place. Pine trees and hardwoods layered over flowering shrubs, berry bushes, and wildflowers provide food and shelter for birds, mammals, insects, and turtles—just to name a few. In the clean, cool water nearby, fishes and shellfish feast on aquatic plants, and become food for larger fish, birds—like the Bald Eagle—and people.
When rivers flood, or when rain hits land without woodlands, fast-running water takes everything in its path to the bay. Pollutants from our homes, yards, cars, and work also flow into the bay. To protect the water, plants, and animals that live here, ribbons of waterside (or riparian) buffers of forests line the rivers and streams. These waterside woodland slow the erosion of soil and absorb extra nutrients, while also providing shelter and food for wildlife.
Preserving even small
sections of riparian habitat helps protect our largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay.
As a river meets the ocean, a dynamic world of daily and seasonal changes in saltiness and temperature becomes the home to unique plants and animals. The rhythmic tidal changes work like an engine producing food, and decomposing matter. Winter storms tear wetland plants into food for fishes and all microscopic life. These tiny aquatic plants and single-cell animals grow to abundance when nutrients churn up from the bay floor and flow off the land. In the spring, many different types of ocean fishes swim up rivers to eat and lay eggs, and then return again to the salty ocean. In the warm waters of summer, crayfish and shellfish find food, and become food. Throughout the fall, millions of migratory birds come to the Atlantic Flyway to feed on the plants, nutrients, and fishes, and shellfish. Throughout the year, each part of the ecosystem depends on another in a powerful dance of life.
Walking on this trail, you will see some of the plants and animals that make their home in waterside woodlands.