Friends of Hunting Creek Venture Up Stream
On Saturday July 27th, about twenty-five paddlers set off toward the upper reaches of the Hunting Creek. This portion of the creek is bordered by marshes with an amazing quantity of wild rice. Wild rice is a native marsh plant that is relatively rare these days. We were also greeted on our trip by the cries of great blue herons, bald eagles, and a king fisher.
Notable was the incredible amount of hydrilla that covers the creek bottom. Hydrilla is not a native submerged aquatic plant, and it can impede boat movement where it is particularly thick. However, it does help to clean up the water and is purported to provide excellent habitat for fishes, particularly largemouth bass according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Also, a February 1, 2008 Bay Journal article reported that “Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey who have studied underwater grass beds in the Potomac River found that exotic species, especially hydrilla, which was once considered a harmful nuisance, have helped to restore key ecosystem functions such as habitat for waterfowl.” Finally, the article noted that while there was concern that hydrilla would prevent native submerged aquatic vegetation from returning, research showed otherwise: “. . as hydrilla expanded, the overall diversity of the grass beds increased. While exotics, particularly hydrilla, still dominate the beds, the study found that the proportion of area covered by exotic plants has gradually decreased over time.”
The middle and lower portions of Hunting Creek, for which I am most familiar, have higher salinity. The marshes are more diverse and the water is more turbid. I love the marsh milkweed, shown below. Sadly, I don’t see any submerged aquatic vegetation in these portions of the creek.
The cormorants have returned to Hunting Creek, or at least, today is the first day that I have seen them this year. It is such a joy to see these unusual birds that ride low in the water and can dive underwater for long periods in search of food.
Hunting Creek Watershed is Calvert’s largest. It has a high diversity of fish species and 57% of the watershed is forested, which foretell good water quality. However, its impervious surfaces cover 6% of the watershed’s land mass and impervious will rise significantly with the proposed expansion of town center and residential zoning around Prince Frederick.
Calvert’s healthy watersheds like Hunting Creek maintain land values and economic opportunities and are a part of the country’s most productive estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. The rural lands around our creeks are worthy of protection.
Greg Bowen, Executive Director of the American Chestnut Land Trust and avid paddler