News

About the Basin

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Buchanan State Forest

Buchanan State Forest

Looking for history, hiking, adventures, and a beautiful view in one easy stop? The Buchanan State Forest in south central Pennsylvania is the place to be. The land straddles the northern edge of the Potomac River basin. One side of the mountain range drains to the Potomac while the other side drains to the Susquehanna.

History

Boy riding into an abandoned tunnel. Lush vegetation on both sides of the trail.

Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike – Pike 2 Bike Trail

The 69,703-acres of dense forest contains ample United States history. This includes the remnants of a road used to supply British troops during the French and Indian War, a saltpeter mill used during the American Revolution, cemeteries from the antebellum era, and a CCC camp that housed conscientious objectors and German prisoners of war during World War II. The hometown of our 15th president, James Buchanan, is nearby at the compact Buchanan Birthplace State Park where you’ll find a monument to the president as well as picnic areas and a fishing stream with native brook trout.

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike first opened in 1940, two of the tunnels were one-way. Seeing the error of their ways, authorities abandoned the tunnels in favor of a more expedient bypass. The abandoned section is now known as the Pike 2 Bike Trail, an 8-mile stretch of slightly-eerie, graffiti-ridden trail that includes the abandoned tunnels.

Adventure

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) provides several maps for recreation in the area, including ATV trails, snowmobiling trails, and cross-country ski trails. There is a wide variety of hiking trails to choose from depending on your interests and skill-level. The short and easy Sideling Hill History Trail leads to an almost 200-year old aqueduct. Most trails allow mountain biking and horseback riding. Hunting and fishing are permitted throughout the state forest (with the right license and within season). Native brook trout can be found in several streams and DCNR stocks some of the streams.

Primitive campsites are available for tents, hike-in or RVs. The sites are free but require a Camping Permit.

The many high mountain ridges provide a variety of scenic overlooks, including the aptly named Big Mountain Overlook. Most of the vistas are accessible by car which make it a popular place for leaf peepers searching for dramatic fall colors.

Feel like getting your hands dirty? Grab your gloves and clippers and join the Friends of Buchanan State Forest (find them on Facebook) for their monthly Trail Work Days.

Headed to the Buchanan State Forest for your weekend adventure? Tag us on social media and let us know what you think!


Sign up for our newsletter and like us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to learn more about the Potomac River basin.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Caledon State Park

This National Natural Landmark is 2,587-acres along the banks of the tidal Potomac River in King George, Virginia.

A gravelly beach along the Potomac River.

Caledon State Park by Virginia State Parks License CC BY 2.0

Visitors love the well-maintained trails with plenty of easy, moderate, and difficult levels to choose from. Park staff offer a variety of fun and informational events from full moon kayak tours to fossil finding adventures.

At one point in history sharks roamed the park. At least when the park was underwater during prehistoric times. In modern times people enjoy spending a day looking for the dental remains of the prehistoric sharks along the shore of the river.

The park boasts more than 200 species of birds, but bald eagles are the crown jewel of Caledon State Park birding. The area has the largest concentration of the national icon on the East Coast and as many as 60 eagles have been spotted in the park. The staff holds several eagle tours throughout the year. Check out their Events page to find an upcoming option.

The park offers 6 campsites that are available as hike-in, bike-in or paddle-in only. They are first come first serve. Call (800)933-7275 to reserve your spot since the online reservation system will not work for these spots. The camp sites are part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, a series of water trails that trace the voyage of the English explorer. The sites are located roughly 3-miles from the parking lot, so be prepared to pack or bike in supplies, including drinking water. This is the tidal Potomac, the water is brackish and therefore too salty to drink.

A welcoming visitor’s center is open 10:00am – 4:00pm, Wednesday through Sunday. They provide historic information, maps, and advice on how best to enjoy the park. Please note that park staff request that unvaccinated visitors must wear face coverings inside all park facilities and where social distancing is not possible.

Caledon State Park is one place you need to look both up and down to enjoy everything the park has to offer. You may spot a bald eagle soaring above or spot a shark tooth along the shore, but either way, you will enjoy your day at the park.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Piscataway Creek

Piscataway Creek

We’re switching gears for this week’s About the Basin. Instead of extolling the virtues of a nature reserve or state park, we’ll be travelling down a short stream just south of Washington, D.C. called Piscataway Creek and discovering all the natural and historical treasures it has to offer.
Beginning just north of Rosaryville, Maryland, the Piscataway runs just 4.5 miles long. The headwaters pass through Piscataway Creek Stream Valley Park. This park is difficult to access and has few trails. However, if you are in the area, stop by Cosca Regional Park. The main feature of this park is Lake Cosca, which runs into Butler Branch, a tributary of Piscataway Creek. Boat rentals and overnight camping are available in this 690-acre park near Clinton, Md.
About the time Piscataway Creek flows under Indian Head Highway (Route 210), it opens-up into an embayment that provides a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, boating, fishing, and educational adventures. The Piscataway Creek Trail can be found on the north side of the embayment. The highlight of this park is a short, easy hike with beautiful views of the river. Just west of the trail is Fort Washington Marina which offers two boat ramps and lots of parking.
Beyond the recreational opportunities, this area is rich with history. The mouth of the river is directly across from George Washington’s Mount Vernon and is largely protected because of its view of this historic piece of land. But long before George Washington dug a hoe into the ground, the Native Americans considered the area a special place. Many organizations work to preserve the history of this creek and its embayment.
On the west side of the marina is Fort Washington Park, one of the few forts still in its original form along the east coast of the United States. An important Potomac River stronghold, this fort showcases how it has adapted to the advances in artillery, ships, and warfare over the past two centuries.
Across the creek from the fort is National Colonial Farm at Piscataway Park, managed by the Accokeek Foundation. In addition to a boat ramp, hiking trails, arboretum, and forest restoration projects, the park hosts a living history farm from the colonial period. Visit the farm to learn what it was like to live as a middle-class family before the American revolution (spoiler alert: they didn’t have wifi!).
Just west of National Colonial Farm is Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm, an environmental center focused on sustainable agriculture and cultural heritage. Most of the farm’s programs are for local students and teachers, but the center occasionally opens to the public for special events, such as last Saturday’s Pinot on the Potomac.
Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin, Peculiar Potomac Edition: Waffle Rock

Waffle Rock

About the Basin, Peculiar Potomac Edition

A large rock with a waffle-like pattern on one side. Photo Credit: mdmarkus66, https://flic.kr/p/7WFfUy

Photo Credit: mdmarkus66, https://flic.kr/p/7WFfUy

Last week’s About the Basin covered the Jennings Randolph Lake near Elk Garden, West Virginia. This week’s article takes a closer look at a geological phenomenon known as Waffle Rock. This interesting rock stands guard at the West Virginia Overlook above Jennings Randolph Lake.

This massive rock has a large waffle-pattern on one side. Some have claimed it is evidence of visitors from another planet, some say it is the scale pattern of a ginormous lizard, and others say it is just an interesting geological formation. We’re going with the “geological formation” theory.

Several hundred million years ago, according to ICPRB hydrogeologist, Jim Palmer, “Joints opened up in the soft sandstone and allowed iron rich water to seep into cracks and form cement around sand particles.” This cemented sand is highly weather resistant. Regular sandstone is not. The soft sandstone eroded away from the rock while the grid-like pattern of the hard sandstone remained, creating a waffle-y rock.

The rock was originally part of a larger formation that broke off some point in the past few hundred million years. It ended up near Shaw, West Virginia, the ill-fated town that is now at the bottom of Jennings Randolph Lake. The rock had geological (and, according to the story, sentimental) value. Before the lake was filled in during the early 1980’s, the rock was moved to its final resting place. It now welcomes tourists and locals alike to ponder the deeper things in life while overlooking the scenic Jennings Randolph Lake.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Jennings Randolph Lake

Jennings Randolph Lake

Less than 3 hours west of the Washington metropolitan area lies a massive man-made lake with a storied past. Tucked into the Allegany Mountains of West Virginia, Jennings Randolph Lake sits over land that was once a small town called Shaw. In 1981, the residents moved out and water moved in.

As part of the North Branch of the Potomac River, these are the source waters for the 5.1 million people in the Washington metropolitan area. In times of drought, the lake serves as an emergency reservoir to many downstream. In addition to water supply, the project was constructed for flood risk management, water quality, low flow augmentation, and recreational opportunities. The dam was constructed, and is still managed by, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

But Jennings Randolph is more than just a place to store water for thirsty people downstream. The 4,500 acres of land and water is a recreational hub with an impressive variety of activities. These include boating, camping, waterskiing, scuba-diving, hiking, swimming, archery, birding, hunting, whitewater rafting, and record-breaking fishing.

Walleye is regularly stocked in Jennings Randolph. Patience is required though, as they are known for being large, but also wily and difficult to find in the lake. Smallmouth bass, trout, bluegill, and catfish abound.

The Howell Run Picnic Area is a picturesque picnic spot overlooking the lake. It offers several shelters for rent, many picnic tables, trails, bathrooms, fishing, and more.

A trail from the picnic area leads to a swimming spot known as Shaw Beach. This sandy beach is a great place to soak up the rays while the kids play in the water.

A 3D archery course is available if you are looking for more adventures. The course is for both beginners and advanced shooters, but you will need to bring your own bow.

During the spring (and occasionally during the summer), USACE releases enough water from the dam to make Class I, II, and III rapids in an area below the dam known as Barnum Whitewater Area. The release schedule for the year is posted online.

Whether you are looking for a day on the water, a day on the beach, or even bigger adventures, Jennings Randolph Lake has something for everyone.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Fairfax Stone State Park

Fairfax Stone State Park

A white, aged plaque that tells the story of Fairfax Stone.

Photo by West Virginia State Parks

Fairfax Stone State Park, near Davis, West Virginia, has no boating, no hiking, and no camping. It does not even have a restroom. In fact, it is a diminutive 4-acre park.  However, it has immense importance to the Potomac River and the history of the region.

A spring, marked by an organized pile of mossy rocks, is the beginning of the North Branch of the Potomac River. A mere 383 miles downriver, that trickle transforms into the 11-mile wide mouth of the Potomac River, spilling into the Chesapeake Bay.

Before the American Revolution, it was the tradition that English kings would reward loyal friends with large parcels of land in the territories. A plaque on a six-ton rock at the entrance of the park commemorates the western boundary of land granted to Lord Fairfax by King Charles II of England in 1746.

A large stone with a plaque that tells the story of Fairfax Stone.

Photo by West Virginia State Parks

His bounty was, “bounded by and within the heads of the Rivers Rappahannock and Patawomecke”. Known as Fairfax Stone, it is one of the oldest markers in the United States. This plot of land has been part of many boundary disputes.

There may not be many amenities in this charming park, but it is a good reminder that even the largest rivers start as a trickle.

Camping and other amenities can be found at the nearby Canaan Valley Resort State Park and Blackwater Falls State Park.

 

Photo of a map showing the Fairfax Stone state park in the west and Washington, D.C. in the east.

Photo from Google maps.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Brunswick Family Campground

Brunswick Family Campground

Four kayakers are seen from behind as they paddle down the Potomac River near Brunswick, Md.

Kayakers paddle down the Potomac River from the Brunswick Family Campground boat ramp.

For many families, the Brunswick Family Campground in Brunswick, Maryland is a summertime tradition. Whether you are a hiker, biker, kayaker, history buff, or train enthusiast, there is something for everyone at this campground along the C&O Canal Park.

This campground is known for two things: access to the river and trains. Campers launch from the boat ramp for a paddle down the Potomac River. Organize boat rentals and transportation with camp staff. Some campers park their beach chair in the shallow waters along the edge to cool-off on a hot day.

Train enthusiasts can enjoy the trains that come rumbling down the tracks along the campground throughout the day. Don’t forget your earplugs for the nighttime rumbles! Learn more about the town’s rich transportation history at the Brunswick Heritage Museum.

Plan to spend a few days exploring the area. The historical powerhouses, Harpers Ferry National Park, Antietam National Park, and Monocacy National Battlefield are all an easy drive from the campground.

One of the perks of staying at a campground managed by River & Trail Outfitters is that many of their boating trips launch directly from the boat ramp at the campground. They offer a variety of adventures along the Potomac River, including an upcoming Sunset Float and Moonrise Paddle Tour on July 21. We would like to thank River & Trail Outfitters for their help as “river watchers” for ICPRB’s weekly newsletter, River Watch.

Going out on the Potomac River this weekend? Show us how much you love the Potomac by using #PotomacLove in your social media posts!

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin, Peculiar Potomac Edition: Foamhenge

Foamhenge

Several large blocks of foam backlit by the sun. They are arranged to look like Stonehenge.

Foamhenge at Cox Farms

In celebration of the beginning of summer, this week’s About the Basin covers an internationally known pile of rocks that honors the summer solstice.  No, not Stonehenge, but the lesser known -henge this side of the pond: Foamhenge.

At Foamhenge, the life-size blocks of foam are chiseled, painted, and arranged to be an exact replica of the slightly-more-famous prehistoric wonder of the world, Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England. However, this one is closer to home.

Located at Cox Farms, Foamhenge is less than an hour’s drive from the D.C. Metro Area. This homage to Stonehenge is open to the public on Saturdays (12:00-2:00pm) during the summer and spring seasons. Admission to this quintessential American roadside attraction is free but only accessible via a shuttle provided by the farm. Part of the weekly event called “Smokin’ Saturdays”, farm activities also include food, feeding farm animals, produce, and live music. Over-sized games of Yahtzee, Jenga, Connect 4, and Checkers are also available for entertaining the whole family.  This weekend, check out Foamhenge for a European-style staycation and marvel at the wonders that the Potomac basin have to offer right here at home.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Little Bennett Regional Park

A calm stream surrounded by trees at Little Bennett Regional Park.

Photo from MNCPPC

If you take MD-355 north out of Washington, D.C., you will drive through miles of urban and suburban landscape. Eventually, the houses and shops will turn into bucolic fields and forests. The gateway to this beautiful part of rural Maryland is Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg, Md. The south side of the park is lined by housing developments named for the farms that once stood there, but pass through the park and Maryland becomes agricultural fields and small towns.

Just as it is the gateway from urban to rural, Little Bennett also inhabits the ambiguous space between the past and the present.  The park boasts 14 historic sites and 25 miles of forested hiking trails, but it also has a golf course, playgrounds, and more-than-adequate facilities for both glampers and campers.  At 3,700 acres, there is a lot to do and see at Little Bennett.

Eastern bluebirds and timberdoodles are just some of the notable wildlife in the park. If you see a large mound of dirt, admire the handiwork from afar but do not touch it. Those mounds are home to Allegheny mound-builder ants. They can become aggressive if disturbed.

The park’s historic sites celebrate the agricultural and small-scale industries that covered Montgomery County, Maryland in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. One of the 14 historic sites is a one-room schoolhouse built in 1893 and restored to its original appearance in the 1920s. Join park staff on the first Sunday of the month for a guided tour. The next tour is July 1st.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin, Peculiar Potomac Edition – George Washington’s Bathtub

George Washington’s Bathtub

George Washington’s Bathtub in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia is touted as the “only outdoor monument to presidential bathing.” However, (spoiler alert!) Washington never actually used the tub. The stone “bathtub” was built to symbolize the bathing conditions of the 1700’s. In his quest for better health, Washington visited the hot springs on many occasions.

It is unclear how effective the the hot springs were. In a letter from 1761, Washington said, “I think my fevers are a good deal abated, though my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep equally disturbed.” Washington enjoyed the hot springs frequently, despite his disturbed sleep. He even bought a property close by in the appropriately named town of “Bath”. The town continues to be a popular destination for a spa retreat.

At less than 5 acres, the stone structure in the shape of a bath is located in one of the smallest parks in the West Virginia State Park system. Nonetheless, the park boasts a museum, a Roman bathhouse with spa services, and a public drinking fountain. People come from miles around to fill jugs with the natural spring water.

There is a yearly celebration of the unusual monument, known as George Washington’s Bathtub Celebration, held in mid-March. But if you can’t wait that long to explore this roadside attraction, check out the most famous (and only) presidential bathing monument this weekend for the monthly Art in the Park at Berkeley Springs Park on Sunday. You can support local artists while you explore the curious sites the Potomac watershed has to offer.

Do you know a spot in the Potomac watershed that is wacky, curious, or just a bit odd? Let us know by emailing info@icprb.org and it may be featured in a future Peculiar Potomac Edition of About the Basin.