Jody Couser at Cape Charles Beach in Va., one of 18 Bay beaches she covered in her first two days of the week.

32 Bay Beaches, 5 Days: Chesapeake Advocate Creates Vacation Challenge

She leads communications for Chesapeake Conservancy, pushing to get the Chesapeake Bay recognized as a National Recreation Area by the National Park Service.

So what better way for Jody Couser to spend her precious vacation time than to visit as many of the Bay’s sandy beaches as possible in just five days? She’s in the midst of this self-imposed challenge right now—and she wants to show Chesapeake Bay country just how many great beaches we have close at hand.

Raccoon Point Beach on the Manokin River, between Princess Anne and Crisfield, Md. was one of Couser’s first stops. Photo: Jody Couser

Couser came up with the idea for the beach quest in 2020, on a gorgeous late-September week when she had vacation time to use. She came up with a strategic route and made it to 32 beaches in five days—starting close to her Annapolis home with Beverly Triton Nature Park and Sandy Point State Park, then moving onto the Eastern Shore (Kent Island, Rock Hall, Betterton), Delaware Bay (is that cheating?), back on the Western Shore to Calvert & St. Mary’s counties, and then the top of the Bay (Elk Neck State Park) down to Anne Arundel.

When Couser shared her journey on social media, she says she heard from many friends who were inspired to visit one or more of the beaches for the first time. Her friends now see her as a minor expert on local beaches, asking for referrals like, “Four friends want to have a Covid-safe get-together. We’re thinking about a long walk and talk along the beach with our dogs. What beach do you recommend?” 

She says her 2020 adventure was “an absolute blast”, and made a similar plan for 2021. She chose different areas to visit for “Beach Week 2021”. Her goal is to get to 37 beaches this time, but admits that might be over-ambitious. “I wind up talking too long to some of the amazing people that I meet out there!” she says.

A group of Eastern Shore of Virginia folks Couser met at Guard Shore Beach in Saxis Wildlife Management Area. Photo: Jody Couser

In just her first few days, Couser made her way down Maryland and then Virginia’s Eastern shores, stopping on the Nanticoke River, then in Crisfield, and stepping onto several Virginia beaches, from Cape Charles and Kiptopeke to Hampton Roads. Couser says the trip so far has given her a deeper sense of place for the spots she reads and writes about for Chesapeake Conservancy.

And of course, the people she meets have been a highlight. “Remember making beach friends when you were little? Something about the beach breaks down social barriers and all of a sudden you’re building a sandcastle with another child who you would probably be too shy to speak to were it not for the magic of the beach.” She calls her trip a grownup version of that phenomenon.

Want to try out some or all of Couser’s beach route? When she gets back from her trip, Couser will be sharing all of her beach photos and stories from her adventures on this publicly available flickr link:

Couser considers her Beach Week to be good research as well as fun. She notes that some of the beaches she visits in the late September off-season are short on parking, and often fill up in peak season. More [federal] resources would help open the Chesapeake’s shores to everyone, she says. Those kinds of resources would come with the National Park Service status that Chesapeake Conservancy is fighting for.

As for what she’d like people to take away from her vacation challenge, Couser says, “Get out there and enjoy! We’re so lucky to live here. We’re surrounded by beauty in nature, amazing wildlife, and the opportunity to learn the history of the Chesapeake and the people who lived here past and present.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano