A Lost Chesapeake Island, Restored.

The Chesapeake Bay Program featured this incredible photo essay this week, focusing on Poplar Island. Off of the point of Tilghman Island, on the neck of land shaped like a raptor’s profile that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum also calls home, Poplar Island has been the focus of intense restoration efforts over the last decade. Like many Chesapeake islands, sea level rise, storm surges, and deforestation took its toll on Poplar, and the island disintegrated back into the Chesapeake over a hundred year period. Old timers can remember the club on the island in the 30’s that welcomed politicians and celebrities (one woman recalled spilling peas accidently down Harry Truman’s neck), and before that, a town of about 100 souls had called Poplar home. It was even a military base during the war of 1812. But by 1990, less than five acres were left. A century of plows, cattle, and the ceaseless activity of wind and water had first broken up the land into three separate islands, and as the decades inexorably passed, those islands dwindled until only shrinking fragments of green remained in the great expanse of Bay.

It was only due to an ironic turn of events that saved the island from total immersion: dredging saved the island from sinking. While federal and state officials sought a location to dump the sediment dredged from shipping channels approaching Baltimore Harbor, the National Fish and Wildlife Service was seeking a new location for protected habitat for birds, waterfowl, and other wildlife. Poplar Island was the perfect solution: use the dredge spoils to rebuild the land mass, which would be planted with grasses and would provide shelter and food for animals.

In this essay, the remarkable progress on Poplar is clear. The fate of many other Chesapeake islands, slowly slipping into the Bay with every tide, is not so certain. But, as Tom Horton says, “They’ll go out with a bang.” And from these photos, the visual fireworks of an rescued Chesapeake island are undeniably evocative, compelling, and a reminder of what we stand to lose as these wild outposts disappear back into the waves.

All photos courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program: http://bit.ly/m7GQZ