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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay

By Deane Winegar

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Chesapeake Bay > Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay > Hampton Roads Area

Hampton Roads Area

Hampton Roads is the name for the waters where the James River, the Nansemond River, and the Elizabeth River meet the Chesapeake Bay. Oil tankers and container ships, as well as vessels from around the world importing goods such as cocoa beans and rubber, visit the busy ports at Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport News. Long trains bearing coal from the mountains of western Virginia and West Virginia rumble to Hampton Roads, where the black gold is put on ships for export.

In addition to being one of the world’s foremost deep-water harbors and trading centers, Hampton Roads has been a strategic location for war maneuvers from the Revolutionary War to present times. The proximity of the excellent harbor to the Atlantic has helped Hampton Roads acquire bases of every branch of the military, as well as the world’s largest concentration of naval operations. Private shipbuilders, who hire thousands of workers, help keep the local economy strong. Many area museums are dedicated to preserving the marine, shipbuilding, and naval history.

Engineers have designed nine underwater tunnels to allow ships to pass over auto traffic, making Hampton Roads second only to Japan as the world leader in underwater tunnels.In the Hampton Roads area are the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Chesapeake to the south and Hampton and Newport News to the north. Suffolk, with 430 square miles, is Virginia’s largest city in landmass. Peanut farms occupy much of the land, and give Suffolk its nickname, Peanut Capital of the World. The aroma of peanuts roasting in large processing plants is one of the side benefits of visiting Suffolk.

Anglers, boaters, canoeists, and wildlife observers can find plenty of recreational opportunities in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Several tributaries of the Nansemond River in Suffolk have been dammed to form water supplies and fishing lakes, including Western Branch Reservoir, Lake Prince, Lake Cohoon, Lake Meade, and Lake Kilby. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (804-539-62160) manages them for largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, chain pickerel, bluegill, redear sunfish, white perch, and yellow perch. The Intracoastal Waterway flows through Chesapeake. Also, a portion of the beautiful North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, including a canoe trail and observation tower on Pocaty Creek, are in Chesapeake. Northwest River Park (757-421-3145) on the Northwest River in southern Chesapeake offers camping and a boat launch on the Northwest River.

Suffolk, Chesapeake, and the State of North Carolina share the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (757-986-3705). The refuge [Fig. 6] is comprised of nearly 107,000 acres of forested wetlands with 3,000-acre Lake Drummond at the heart of the swamp. Black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, red and gray foxes, raccoon, and mink make use of the swamp, as do some 200 species of birds and 58 species of turtles, lizards, salamanders, frogs, and toads.

Visitors to the Great Dismal may hike or bike the unpaved roads or follow the Boardwalk Trail on Washington Ditch Road about 1 mile through the swamp. Fishing and boating are allowed all year on Lake Drummond. A public boat ramp is located on the north side of the Feeder Ditch, which connects Lake Drummond with the Dismal Swamp Canal and US 17 on the east side of the refuge. The refuge headquarters is located on the western side of the swamp, south of Suffolk. Heading south from Suffolk’s downtown area on US 13, bear left on VA 32, go south for 4.5 miles, and follow signs.

Stargazers will want to take in the Chesapeake Planetarium (757-547-0153) at 300 Cedar Road, next to the city hall. The planetarium, which is operated by the Chesapeake School District, attracts some 40,000 visitors annually. Reservations are recommended for the hour-long show at 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

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