(Photos courtesy of Morgan Jones.)
An island with no time, marsh bouquets, and stories by fire light
By Morgan Jones
Barely visible on the horizon, a resilient piece of marshy land sits with a single structure that catches the light of the midday sun. With Tangier Island to its west and Pocomoke Sound to the east, Fox Island rests there quietly in the Chesapeake Bay. The blue-green waters around it are teeming with life. Built in the 1920’s as a hunting lodge, the quaint building on the island is now an environmental educational center owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). Thanks to CBF, school groups from all around the watershed can visit Fox, as it’s known, for an authentic island experience. In September, I spent three days on Fox Island with a group of students from the Key School of Annapolis as part of my experience as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member with CBF.
Aboard the Walter Ridder, a 40-foot jet boat, our group motored away from the town of Crisfield on Maryland’s eastern shore and out into the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. As we traveled further from shore, the legendary islands of Smith, Tangier, and Fox began to take form around us. The students were bursting with curiosity and excitement.
Before I knew it, we pulled up to the dock at Fox. Soon after getting settled, we met in the living room to listen to the rules of the island. One rule in particular stuck with me:
“There is a time and a place for everything, and here is a place where time is nothing.”
Adam Dunn, the Fox Island Manager, explained that from now on we would be living on “island time.” He went around the room collecting cell phones and watches from all of the students. Then, he said, “your normal lives are filled with schedules and routines, but out here all of that goes away.” After this, whenever a student asked for the time, the reply was always “it’s island time.”
The next few days were filled with nonstop adventures. Students learned how to bait and set their own crab pots, dredge for oysters, and identify exciting species that frequent the bay such as red beard sponges, lined seahorses, and black-fingered mud crabs. We spent a few hours on the neighboring island of Tangier where the kids were able to meet island locals and observe the similarities and differences between island culture and their own. To let out some extra energy, we went mud muckin’ and collected bouquets of marsh flowers and grasses.
The nights were just as thrilling. Students stared up at a clear night sky bursting with stars, and they tasted the famous Smith Island cake one evening after dinner. Perhaps my favorite experience of all was sitting around a warm, crackling fire listening to Captain Larry Laird tell the story of the “Green Man” and feeling more spooked than most of the kids.
The time I spent on Fox Island felt magical, and I believe that the students felt it too. The environmental education experiences that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides to kids, many of which are funded by grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, last a lifetime in their memories. Not only does it draw them closer to the ecosystem, culture, and history of the Chesapeake Bay, but ultimately the rest of the natural world around them.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust offers two educational grant programs that can supply funding for similar environmental field experiences for your students or school. The Trust’s Environmental Education Mini-Grant Program, which awards up to $5,000, is open and accepting applications until January 12, 2018, at 5 pm. The Environmental Education Grant Program, which awards between $5,001 and $40,000 per year (with a multi-year option), is open and accepting applications until December 8, 2017, at 5 pm.
To learn more about CBF’s invaluable educational field programs, visit their website.
Morgan Jones is a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member working for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She splits her time between the Environmental Protection and Restoration Department and the Education Department. This position provides her with professional, educational, and social skills to advance in the environmental field.