CBEC Connects People to Nature

Getting Out in Nature at Kent Island

When Courtney Leigh, the Adult Education and Volunteer Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC), drives into work through the neck of the Kent Island, MD, peninsula that the center is situated on, she finds her mood lifted as she sees the beautiful salt marsh that the driveway runs through.

“Every single time I enter the property, there’s wildlife for me to absorb and enjoy,” Leigh says. The physical location of CBEC is one of her favorite parts of her work there. However, there’s much more to CBEC than just a beautiful location on the Chesapeake. For anyone who visits, there’s so much to do and see, and so much history and science to learn!

CBEC received that name in 2002, but it’s been around since 1979. It’s always been dedicated to preserving the environment for conservational and educational purposes. The center began as the Wildfowl Trust of North America and sought to protect both the wild birds and the wetlands that served as their habitat. Over time, it expanded its location and the scope of its goal. Now the center raises awareness about not only habitat loss, but also the importance of keeping Bay waters clean and the growing urbanization that threatens the Bay and its creatures.

CBEC’s mission is “to promote stewardship and sustainability through environmental education and habitat restoration.” The center goes hands-on with the environmental education through its various programs, which include guided hikes, kayak tours, and educational programs of all kinds. There are programs for all visitors, from preschoolers to college students to the general public.

Leigh says that she particularly enjoys being able to “physically immerse [visitors] in [the environment], whether they’re mucking through a marsh or paddling a kayak for the first time and able to witness the gentle ebb and flow of tides in the salt marsh.” Kayaks can be rented from May to October, and visitors who choose to do so will get a map of the water trails they can travel down. As visitors kayak through the salt marsh, they can get up close and personal with the wildlife that lives in it, such as wildfowl and fish.

Wildlife can be found all throughout CBEC, not just on the water. Several of the center’s hiking trails center on the animals that can be found there. In particular, Owl Alley has a nest with a loving owl family; and Fox Pass might have visitors sharing the trail with deer, catbirds, raccoons, sparrows, and of course, foxes. There’s the chance to spot natural wildlife on all of the center’s hiking trails, and no trail is more than two miles long. Hiking trails also include beach walks, paths to exhibits, and observation decks, such as Piney Point, which overlooks Prospect Bay.

Leigh feels that visitors might be more motivated to help with conservation efforts after visiting the shelter “because of their chance to get in the habitat and enjoy the habitat.” On top of teaching visitors the importance of environmental conservation, CBEC is doing its part in directly bettering the environment. Some of the center’s current focuses are living shorelines, meadows for pollinators, osprey platforms, oyster reefs, turkey habitats, and wood duck habitats.

Some of these conservation projects are set up by partners outside of the center, such as the Department of Natural Resources and several universities. Visitors can also help with the center’s efforts through CBEC’s Adopt a Raptor program. CBEC is home to several birds of prey that cannot be rereleased into the wild due to health problems like blindness or amputation. The birds are healthy, but CBEC is their permanent home.

Visitors can see the raptors by going down one of the hiking trails, but benefactors who adopt a raptor can get even closer to them, naming their raptor and taking a picture with them.

CBEC’s other conservation efforts have been going stunningly. The oyster reef, which the center has been managing for more than a decade, has expanded over the years in both support and oysters, which means only good things for the Bay.

CBEC provides a great service not only to the environment, but also to the human community. According to Leigh, there’s a serious lack of opportunities for people to become closer to nature. “It’s a huge need for people to access the water, access a trail, free of charge,” says she. CBEC fills that niche by opening itself to the public free of charge.

Located at 600 Discovery Lane in Grasonville, MD, CBEC is a wonderful place to learn and spend a free afternoon! Learn more about CBEC here.

~By Cassi Whitehead