ANNAPOLIS—Don Baugh and Tom Horton paddled their kayaks into the waters off the coast of Sandy Point State Park on Wednesday, launching their 500-mile traverse of Chesapeake Bay waterways. It’s a journey they had taken once before, 10 years ago.
Though the journey’s route remains largely the same—a 30-day circuit around the Delmarva Peninsula—Baugh, 61, and Horton, 70, will have company this time around, as they mentor two environmental leaders.
“What I took away 10 years ago was hope,” Baugh said. “You read all the reports on the environment and you look ahead to all the challenges, and it’s daunting. But when you spend 30 days in it, it gives you hope.”
Baugh, the former vice president for education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Horton, an environment columnist of more than 40 years, hope the trip inspires the next generation of environmental stewards.
CNS-TV video by Kathryn Klett
Among those are Alexandra Crooks, 24, and Stephen Eren, 26, two graduates of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Crooks has worked as a science and environmental educator over the past four years, and Eren worked as a backcountry ranger and a food scrap collector for a North Carolina composting company.
“I’m a hands-on learner, I’ve always been that way,” Crooks said. “And I think the best way to learn, and the best way to start caring about something, is to full on experience it.”
The kayaking team will mostly camp on beaches each night, with occasional stints in hotels and private homes. When on land, they will connect electronics to available power sources, though they have backup auxiliary chargers too, according to Susan O’Brien, a communications consultant for the trip. The team is also carrying food, and a crew following the mission will replenish that stock at various checkpoints along the way.
In addition to imparting hope, Baugh said, a goal is to have the future leaders gain a better understanding of how rapidly the bay is transforming.
“The bay has changed in 10 years,” Horton said. “There are probably a few things better than 10 years ago; there are definitely some things that aren’t as good.”
While long-term trends are more positive, bay pollution between 2003 and 2013 decreased in just three of the nine sites monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey, according to a 2014 report. At those three sites, only nitrogen levels fell, whereas nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment levels either rose or didn’t significantly change at the remaining six sites.
Unlike their original journey, Baugh and Horton will be gathering data on Chesapeake Bay weather patterns, sea level rise and water quality, as well as taking photos of caught and released wildlife like fish and shrimp. They will then upload that information remotely throughout the trip to sources like Instagram, GLOBE—a NASA international water quality monitoring program—and the Upstream Alliance, a program Baugh created in 2015 to foster environmental interest in young people.
Once uploaded, the information will be available to interested parties worldwide. Eighth grade students in the science, technology, engineering and math program at Old Mill Middle School South in Millersville, for example, will monitor the course of the trip.
The students have also been studying the Ocean Research Project, a Greenland-based mission that looks at how climate change affects that country’s sea levels and glaciers, and will compare results from that mission to the data collected on the kayaking journey, according to Mary Hartman, the STEM department chair for Old Mill Middle School South.
“The beauty of it is that it’s real life education for these kids,” Baugh said. “It’s in their backyard, not the Amazon.”
The bay data, however, won’t be easy to collect, Baugh added. Despite having helping hands from Crooks and Eren, as well as Upstream Alliance members Walter Brown and Mike Tannen, who will also make the journey, the team will have to balance running tests, uploading data, setting up camp, and kayaking 15-25 miles each day.
Baugh and Horton remain resolute that they are up for the challenges, both physical and educational, though.
“Don and I are not going to be carrying this ball for much longer,” Horton said. “If we don’t get younger people involved, hell, we’re sunk.”