Eco Excursions

Take a green trip that saves money, your health and the environment.

Holding steaming mugs of morning coffee, we walked down from our campsite to the white sand beach that stretched as far as the eye can see. A wild pony nosed around beach scrub, looking for breakfast. Our eyes focused some 200 yards offshore, where a pod of dolphins arched and jumped in single file. Around us, sanderlings played cat-and-mouse with the waves.

We were camping on Assateague Island National Seashore, a special place made more special because we got there under our own steam—by kayak.

Our latest trip to Assateague was all about fun and getting there by kayak our passion. It was also a "green" trip thanks to the heightened awareness about how we travel and the resources we use. It is easy for some to dismiss "green travel" as just another socially conscious label for activities many of us have practiced for years. If you take the family camping for a week instead of to Disneyland, you're "green." You may also be budget conscious; the money saved by camping is more tangible than our reduced carbon footprint.

But with some forethought and planning, green travel is more than a label. It is making conscious decisions on how you travel, where you book your lodging and how you choose your destinations. Green travel is sustainable travel. It means patronizing a business, restaurant or inn where you know the investment will stay local and sustain the local economy. Green travel can also be activist. "Voluntourism" is combining your travel with an activity, whether it's a beach clean-up or helping to build trails and shelters on the Appalachian Trail.

With these concepts in mind, we've put together some suggested Green Travel destinations. The added value is that getting out by your own conveyance is not only good for the environment, it's good for your health!

DC by Train, Bike, Boat and Foot
Catch the Amtrak from Newport News or Williamsburg to Washington's Union Station and avoid interstate traffic. The ride averages 4 1/2 hours at a cost of between $40 and $60. Washington's Union Station is just a few blocks from the National Mall. Washington D.C. Metro's Red Line departs from Union Station with links to activities and destinations farther afield.

Here's a sampling of some human-powered activities around Washington, D.C.:

-Walk the National Mall for a 4-mile loop through history. Nearly 2 miles in length and anchored by memorials from end to end, the National Mall traces the evolution of "America's front lawn." By trip's end, you'll have visited 13 memorials and monuments—a monumental feat unto itself. The eastern half, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, is dubbed Museum Row. There are more than 10 museums, including the Smithsonian Institute.
-Take the Metro's Blue Line to Arlington National Cemetery for another great walk. Acres of green lawn and rows of white headstones are spectacular monuments to our country's greatest figures, both civilian and military.
-Bike across the Potomac to Alexandria and follow a portion of the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail paralleling George Washington Memorial Parkway. Stop at Belle Haven Marina where you can rent kayaks and delve into the Dyke Marsh Preserve. Within minutes you've left the sounds of the highway behind and entered a freshwater marshy maze of floating lily pads and Arrow arum. Canadian geese honk from the shoreline, painted turtles slip off logs at your approach, and osprey sit in their huge nests.

Kayak Camping
The great thing about camping from your kayak or canoe is all the stuff it can carry compared to strapping it all on your back. Here are some places you can paddle up to and set up a tent to really get away from it all. Only experienced paddlers should attempt the first three trips. Be sure to practice Leave No Trace guidelines for primitive camping.

-False Cape State Park, Virginia Beach. It's remarkable that in Virginia's most populous city, there's still a beach where you can truly get away from it all. Four miles south of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is Virginia's most remote state park, a mile-wide barrier spit you can reach only by foot, boat, bike or guided tram tour. Hike along the beach or kayak up Back Bay to reach campsites at Barbour Hill (6.2 miles) and False Cape Landing (8.7 miles). Start at Little Island City Park before the entrance to the wildlife refuge. Reservations and a permit are required. 800-933- PARK,
-Mockhorn Island, Eastern Shore of Virginia. This is one of the very few seaside islands on the Shore where camping is allowed. Put in at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge just north of theChesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and paddle 4 miles north to the island. The southern tip has a small beach and the remains of a former posh hunting lodge.
-Assateague National Seashore, Md. Hike or paddle to one of several backcountry sites ranging from 2 ½ to 13 miles from the parking lot at the ranger station (be sure to get a permit there). Paddlers will want to take the bay route rather than the open ocean, which has high surf.
-Merchants Millpond State Park, N.C. Of the trips featured, this one is the easiest. This state park just over the Virginia border preserves a magical blackwater swamp with canoe/kayak trails, rentals and campsites. The trail is marked by buoys, so it's hard to get lost. Just be careful in the Lassiter Swamp, where old-growth bald cypresses grow and a resident alligator dwells!


Pick your own food: Shenandoah
Take a wild foraged foods hike with herbalist Teresa Boardwine at Green Comfort Herb School near Sperryville. Spring is the best time to take a walk in the woods and learn about all the delicious and nutritious 'weeds' beneath your feet. If you're really lucky, you may find some of the elusive morel mushrooms. Back in her round yurt, Boardwine shows you how to prepare things like burdock, ramp and fiddlehead fern stir-fry, lemon balm tea, and garlic mustard pesto. The chickweed, chive and violet blossom butter is a real treat on homemade bread.


– Virginia Green Travel:
– Leave No Trace: Provides detailed practices for low-impact outdoor travel.
– A mtrak schedules at

The Burnhams have two new books coming out this month featuring human-powered travel: Best Hikes Near Washington, D.C. and Knack Kayaking for Everyone. See them at

Categories: Weekends