01 - Upper Chesapeake Bay

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The Upper Chesapeake from the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake and Delaware canal to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is characterized by fresh water and high banks of long narrow rivers lined with hard wood trees. Human impacts and development around Baltimore, Baltimore Harbor, government facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and rural agriculture transitioning to higher density housing along the waterfront contribute to varied and interesting area for kayak exploration.

The Upper Chesapeake Bay is generally defined as the region North of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge comprising the northernmost third of the Chesapeake Bay. Starting from just above the bridge on the western shore, the major rivers flowing into the Bay are the Magothy River, Patapsco River, Back River, Middle River, Bush River, Gunpowder River, Susquehanna River, Northeast River, Elk River, Sassafras River, and the Chester River.

The Susquehanna River is the dominating natural feature of the Upper Chesapeake Bay. From 444 miles away at Lake Otsego, Cooperstown, NY (Baseball Hall of Fame), the Susquehanna drains 27,000 square miles of the New York and Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains, flows southeast, crossing the Piedmont Plateau and falls off the edge into a 5 mile wide bay at the head of the Chesapeake. Along the way it provides power to residents of Philadelphia and Baltimore from hydroelectric dams, York Haven, Safe Harbor, Holtwood and Conowingo and from the nuclear power plants Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom. These dams, on a river subject to frequent and deadly floods prior to the constructions of the dams, help control the 3.1 million tons of sediment carried by the river each year. Since 1928, more than 70 percent of those sediments have been retained by the Holtwood, Safe Harbor and Conowingo Dams. Built in an era of different priorities and with the horrific Johnstown flood still strong in the nation's memory, these dams were built to control the Susquehanna's occasional tirades and have performed that function faithfully.

However, the capacity of the Holtwood and Safe Harbor dams to trap sediments has been fully utilized; the last line of defense from the sediments is the available capacity remaining in the Conowingo Dam, which is estimated to last for about 20 years. Thus, the States bordering the Bay have time to develop better sediment controls to protect the valuable resources of the Bay. (Source: United States Society on Dams).

Susquehanna Watershed

Although the flood control, sediment trapping and electricity generated by these dams have been a benefit to the local communities they serve, it has come at a price. Great runs of American shad, river herring, eels and white perch annually made their way up the Susquehanna to spawn in all the streams of its vast water shed. During the several decades following the American Revolution, the shad harvest was limited only by the availability of salt needed for preservation. Although shad fishing occurred during only a few spring months, the species comprised the most valuable "crop" from this region of colonial Pennsylvania, and no family was without its shad. At the mouth of the Susquehanna, gill nets brought in over 3/4 million shad in a 1871. The construction of the first dam in 1904 across the lower Susquehanna stopped that migration completely. By 1915, the shad catch had fallen to 33,000 pounds and by 1921 there were no shad to be harvested. When the 105 foot Conowingo dam was constructed by the CCC as a depression era project, it was fully conceded that the shad passage devices were ineffective on the high dams.

White Shad
U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

More recent studies have highlighted the importance of the American Shad stock as a food source for many modern commercial and recreational catches. Recent efforts in cooperation with the utility companies appear to have been successful in restarting a natural migration, although it is a mere shadow of its former glory.

Susquehanna Pennsylvania Water Trail

State of Pennsylvania

Much of the river is deep enough for sea kayak use and the lakes behind the dams provide good recreational opportunities for all types of boating. (Trip Report - Susquehanna River between Conowingo and Holtwood dam - 21.5 miles round trip). The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, in partnership with federal, state and local government agencies, as well as other conservation groups, spearheaded efforts to create the Susquehanna River Trail.

Extending 24 miles from Halifax to Harrisburg, it incorporates four access sites and ten river islands designated for day use and primitive camping.   Volunteer groups have adopted islands and access sites and serve as trail stewards for maintenance, monitoring resource impacts and tracking public use. 

For a copy of the River Trail guide, contact the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay at 717-236-8825. 

The final dam, Conowingo, is just 6 miles northwest of the city of Havre de Grace, MD. Havre de Grace, once considered for the capital of the United States, is America's first planned city with all its streets laid out in the squares we take for granted today. Originally called Susquehanna Lower Ferry, the city received its named from the Marquis de Lafayette in the 1782. Impressed with its beauty and similarity to "Le Havre de Grace" in France the town adopted the name "Harbor of Mercy". It sat at the crossroads on the land route between Baltimore and Philadelphia and the canal route between Baltimore and Harrisburg. Today US 7, the original colonial road, U.S. Route 40, Interstate 95 cross on high bridges between the two hundred foot banks.and the east coast rail lines of Amtrak between Washington, Baltimore and New York cross between downtown Havre de Grace and Perryville, MD.

Town of Havre de Grace

The Concord Light house stands on the point where the Susquehanna meets the Chesapeake Bay. The lighthouse has served as a beacon for sailors and boaters for over 170 years, making it the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in the State of Maryland. The O'Neill House, located nearby, is the original keeper's home and is being restored to its appearance in the 1800's. During the War of 1812, John O'Neill fired canon at the British fleet with dire consequences for the town immediately after. The lighthouse is open weekends April through October from 1 to 5 PM.

Havre de Grace is the home of several new museums of nautical and historic interest. The Decoy Museum documents and interprets waterfowl decoys as a genuine American folk art and how it relates to the heritage of the Chesapeake Bay. Through tours, lectures, demonstrations, special events, and a series of exhibits that range from single display cases to room-sized water fowling displays, the Decoy Museum strives to communicate the heritage of Upper Bay decoy making to a national audience.

The Maritime Museum was established to preserve the maritime heritage and ecology of the Upper Chesapeake Bay Region by displaying artifacts, memorabilia and photographs from this era.

Located next to these museums is the Havre de Grace promenade, a 2400 foot boardwalk along the shore. This handicap accessible walkway provides opportunities to observe abundant migratory waterfowl and passing maritime activity.

The Susquehanna Museum at the Lockhouse is housed in the Locktender's house at the Southern terminal of the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal. This house was built in 1840 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is furnished according to its period.

The Museum features the Locktender's Office, a pivot bridge and a video, which describes the operation of the Canal.

The Susquehanna Museum is dedicated to the collection, care and dissemination of information focusing on the history of Havre de Grace, its people with particular attention to the southern Terminal of the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal and environs.

Havre de Grace Susquehanna lockhouse Museum

Millard Tyding Park Launch ramp
Millard Tydings Park launch ramp

For kayakers, there are a number of serviceable launch points in Havre de Grace. Near the Tidewater Grille is a small sandy beach next to a rock jetty just off the municipal parking lot off St. John street. Located right at the mouth of the Susquehanna, this site is perfect for trips headed either up the Susquehanna toward the Conowingo dam, or out over the Susquehanna flats or along the shore. From mid to late summer the water here is choked with heavy aquatic vegetation. Several 100 yards upstream, just to the north of the Amtrak train bridge, is a small boat launch ramp and parking lot at the intersection of Otsego and Union Streets named Jean Roberts Park on the Maryland launch ramp site, adjacent to the David Craig Park. There is also a launch ramp with ample parking at the Havre de Grace marina in the Millard Tydings Memorial Park on the south end of town off of Commerce Street. This launch site is best for trips headed south toward the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Situated next to the promenade, Decoy museum, Maritime Museum and Concord Point Lighthouse, this is a great destination for a combination land and kayak adventure for the entire family. See map of Havre de Grace.

Restaurants available in Havre de Grace include the Tidewater Grille, MacGregor's Restaurant, and The Crazy Swede. Accommodations are available at the historic Van Diver Inn and the Spencer Silver Mansion.

The following are trip reports for the Upper Chesapeake.

DE - Chesapeake & Delaware Canal - 2004/11/13 - 29.0 milesElk11/23/2004Current
MD - Betterton to Rock Hall/Gratitude - 2003/06/08 to 2003/06/09 - 40 milesSassafrasBetterton06/10/2003Flat Water
MD - Bird River - 2003/03/30 season openerBirdMariner Point Park04/11/2003Flat Water
MD - Bohemia River - 2009/07/11 - 12 milesElk07/13/2009Flat Water
MD - Chesapeake Main Channel - 2001/11/14 to 2001/11/15 - 65.9 milesMain ChannelTidewater Grill11/23/2001Flat Water
MD - Conowingo Dam pool - 2003/06/16SusquehannaBroad Creek Landing06/18/2003Current
MD - Conowingo Dam pool - 2006/04/30 - 25.2 milesSusquehannaBroadcreek Landing07/06/2006Flat Water
MD - Dundee Creek to Pooles Island - 2005/06/05 - 18 milesGunpowderDundee Creek07/21/2005Flat Water
MD - Eastern Neck - 2006/11/26ChesterBogles Wharf11/27/2006Flat Water
MD - Elk River - 2001/10/13 - 20.3 MilesElkElk Neck State Park12/01/2001Flat Water
MD - Foundry Bay - 2009/03/29 - 8 milesSusquehannaJean S. Roberts03/31/2009Flat Water
MD - Gratitude - 2009/06/05 - 10.8 milesChesterGratitude Beach06/08/2009Flat Water
MD - Gunpowder River - 2007/01/01GunpowderMariner Point Park01/02/2007Flat Water
MD - Gunpowder River and Pooles Island - 2003/7/01 - 17.75 milesGunpowderGunpowser State Park07/03/2003Flat Water
MD - Half Delmarva - 2004/06/16 to 2004/06/27 - 316 milesMain ChannelTidewater Grill07/06/2004Flat Water
MD - Havre de Grace - Swan Creek - 2002/08/13 - 12.0 milesSusquehannaTydings Memorial Park11/29/2002Flat Water
MD - Havre de Grace channel night paddle - 2003/07/22 - 10 milesSusquehannaJean S. Roberts08/02/2003Flat Water
MD - Havre de Grace overnight - 2007/04/28SusquehannaJean S. Roberts05/10/2007Flat Water
MD - Havre de Grace to Joppatown - 2007/05/06 - 34.5 milesChesapeake BayJean S. Roberts05/07/2007Flat Water
MD - Kent Island - 2002/08/19MilesMattapeake Landing08/28/2002Flat Water
MD - Langford Creek - 2003/07/07 - 27.2 milesChesterCliffs Wharf07/14/2003Flat Water
MD - Northeast River - 2002/05/23 - 15.6 milesNortheastNortheast05/24/2002Flat Water
MD - Northeast River - 2003/09/01 - 15.0 milesNortheastNortheast09/02/2003Flat Water
MD - Patapsco River - 2001/10/27 - 18.0 MilesPotapscoMerrit Point Park - Bull creek12/01/2001Flat Water
MD - Patapsco River - North Point to Key Bridge and Return -16.0 MilesPotapscoNorth Point11/29/2002Flat Water
MD - Rock Hall to Chestertown - 2003/07/09 - 27.3 milesChesterGratitude Beach07/14/2003Flat Water
MD - Sandy Point Lighthouse - 2008/08/03Chesapeake BaySandy Point State Park08/11/2008Flat Water
MD - Sassafras River - 2002/04/20 to 2002/04/21SassafrasBetterton04/30/2002Camping
MD - Severn River - 2008/01/18Severn01/20/2008Cold
MD - Stemmers Run - 2011/06/25 - 8.2 milesElkStemmers Run06/27/2011Flat Water
MD - Susquehanna Flats - 2002/08/25SusquehannaJean S. Roberts08/28/2002Flat Water
MD - Susquehanna River- 2002/04/12 - Havre de Grace to Rock Run and return 14.0 milesSusquehannaJean S. Roberts11/30/2002Flat Water
MD - Susquehanna River - 2001/07/22SusquehannaPeachbottom Nuclear plant07/23/2001Flat Water
MD - Western Shore Upper Chesapeake - 2014/09/29 to 2014/10/03 - 74 milesChesapeake BayNortheast11/16/2014Camping
NJ - Cape May - 2005/09/25 to 2005/09/29DelawareJean S. Roberts12/13/2005Flat Water
PA - Lake Aldred - 2009/04/18 - 9.8 MilesSusquehannaYork Furnace05/01/2009Flat Water




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