Enjoying Nature On The Peninsula

Museums And Events in Newport News, Yorktown And The Eastern Shore

This summer we’re highlighting coastal adventures inspired by land, sea and air. Each organization offers a broad range of reasonably priced classes, programs, camps and experiences appropriate for different age groups. Build a boat; unearth ancient fossils; send your kids to Pirate Camp; participate in a Chesapeake Bay Discovery Lab or Sail; go birding and biking along Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Many of these trips can be completed in a day or over a long weekend. Since our selected destinations are located near multiple nature-based attractions and important historic areas, you could easily combine touring possibilities to customize a vacation that’s not too far from home.
Begin your own journey to everywhere by placing one of these enlightening excursions on your summer fun checklist—along the Virginia shoreline, the briefest day trip can develop into a life-changing adventure.

Yorktown: The Watermen’s Museum
Located on the York River, at the foot of the Coleman Bridge, The Watermen’s Museum is a living tribute to the men and women who made (and in many cases still make) their living on the water. It is a non-profit museum and school focused on maritime history and the preservation of the York River and Chesapeake Bay.

While lectures, on-site watercraft, and static displays fascinate adult visitors, the museum provides a scenic platform for young adventurers to deploy their creativity and curiosity through weeklong camps: Boat Building, Archeology and Nature Explorer Summer Camps take place over the period June–Aug. 29 and are targeted to grades 3 through 8. Students are dropped off at 8:45 a.m., and classes adjourn by 3:00 p.m. Students can learn the basics of woodworking through building a traditional rowing skiff, learn about artifact discovery and curating, or explore Blue Crab and oyster habitats. At Pirate Camp, daily activities are designed to let campers experience life as a colonial pirate. A ship replica complete with performance stage is used to reenact scenes from pirate life. Campers will learn colonial games and songs, partake in a treasure hunt challenge, harvest seafood, and learn model ship and flag making. Students build sand forts, which they defend from attack, learning about working together as part of a crew, all in preparation for a pirate raid on the last day of class—canon fire included.

Don’t forget to see the all-volunteer-crafted working windmill, and ask about how the museum’s historic buildings made their journey across the York River. Museum grounds include a small sandy beach, walking path, and sheltered picnic tables. Adults can enjoy the attractive dining and shopping opportunities along Riverwalk Landing, which is adjacent to the Watermen’s Museum. Relax over lunch, a glass of fruit wine, or a cone of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
309 Water St., Yorktown

James River/Stratford Hall: Mid-Atlantic Fossil & Nature Trips
Discover ancient fossils and other artifacts in your home waters, or enjoy a geology lesson while plying local rivers via comfortable, open skiffs. These popular hands-on tours and field trips combine outdoor adventure with a casual, but scholarly twist. Trips are led by renowned scientists and naturalists in the fields of paleontology, botany and geology.

Program Director Cathy Young organizes trips for adults, family groups, and young explorers. Cathy explains: “Many of the sites that we visit on the fossil trips are closed to the public. However, the paleontologists who lead the trips have special permission from the land owners to bring groups there to collect fossils. Many of the fossils that have been found on our trips have been ‘museum quality.’ It’s a fact that many new fossil specimens have been found by amateur explorers. One never knows what you will find on one of our adventures.”

Upcoming summer events: Fossil Collecting Weekend Along the James River, Saturday, May 31–Sunday, June 1. Excursion led by Dr. Lauck Ward, curator emeritus, Virginia Museum of Natural History. Participants will explore the James River by boat, stopping to collect fossil specimens and different destinations. Most sites contain fossils from the Miocene and Pliocene ages. 2014 Paleontology Camp at Stratford Hall, Monday, July 28–Friday, Aug. 1. Children ages 7 through 17 will collect and identify fossils along with an expert paleontologist at historic Stratford Hall Plantation in Virginia. Camp includes a tour of the Great House of Stratford Hall, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthplace. Participants stay at a guest house on the plantation. Camp price includes all meals, lodging, boat rides, lectures and tours. Classes fill up quickly, so reserve your child’s spot now.
Director, Cathy Young

Gloucester Point: Virginia Institute of Marine Science Summer Programs
Chartered in 1940, The Virginia Institute of Marine Science, affectionately known to locals as ‘VIMS,’ is currently among the largest marine research and education centers in the United States. As part of their mission, VIMS and its federal partners serve the citizens of the mid-Atlantic region by offering numerous public programs, most of which are free to participants. After Hours Lecture Series public seminars explore hot topics and timely issues pertaining to the Chesapeake Bay region. Discovery Labs give adults and children a hands-on opportunity to explore aspects of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Science Under Sail is a two-hour sail aboard 105-foot schooner Alliance. Paid guests learn all about Bay marine life. 1.5-hour guided Public Tours cater to ages 9 and up. Tours include visits to the Visitors Center and Aquarium, a VIMS research laboratory, and the VIMS Teaching Marsh or Preserved Fish Collection. Reservations are required.

For the full summer fun experience, VIMS Communications Director Susan Maples turns the spotlight on selected summer events held on the VIMS scenic Gloucester Point campus: Inside to Seaside, select dates, June–August. This hands-on program gives families an up-close look at animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay through a visit to the VIMS aquarium area followed by an educational collecting and seining adventure on the nearby beach. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Discovery Labs—June 10 – Horseshoe Crabs, July 15 – Turtles, Aug. 19 – Scallops—provide fun, family-friendly experiences and lifelong learning. Labs focus on a specific topic through a series of stations that provide hands-on activities for kids and adults. Participants look through microscopes, observe live animals, and partake in crafts and games. Both VIMS faculty and students participate as speakers, sharing their research with the general public in an intimate setting.
www.vims.edu (visit for full calendar of events and adventure opportunities)
804-684-7000 or 804-684-7846

The Eastern Shore Loop: Birding & Wildlife Trail
Hike and bike the Eastern Shore Loop to experience some of the best wildlife habitat on the Eastern Seaboard. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) describes the Loop for visitors: “The seaside of the peninsula is an intricate mosaic of barrier islands that, as a wildlife habitat, is better represented here than virtually anywhere else in the world. All of these islands have been protected from development, and nature has thrived accordingly. The Eastern Shore Loop includes world-class wildlife watching at Chincoteague at its northern end, and world-class venues like the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, Kiptopeke State Park, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at its southern end.”

For a longer vacation, Kerry Allison of the Eastern Virginia Tourism office recommends combining the Loop tour with a visit to one of the shore’s summer events and festivals: Tall Ships Festival, Pig Roast, Seafood Festival, and the Wallops Island Field Station Family Events. Visit their website for a full slate of event dates and to obtain dining and lodging suggestions. The Interactive Loop Trail Map on the DGIF site contains a wealth of detailed information and additional Eastern Shore resources. Highly recommended.
Interactive Loop trail map: www.dgif.virginia.gov/vbwt/loop.asp?trail=1&loop=CES
Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce: 757-787-2460

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