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In Full Bloom: McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area

In Full Bloom: McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area

About the Basin

You might think field upon field of bright yellow sunflowers are found only in provincial Italy or France and other places known for romance and beauty. But there are 2,000 acres right in our backyard that will make you feel transported to a more magical time and place. Known as the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (WMA), staff at this park plant acres of sunflowers to attract and feed pollinators and birds. For a couple weeks each year (around the end of July) the WMA is alight with seemingly endless summery flowers.

Flowers at McKee-Bashers Wildlife Management AreaJust like birds, people flock to the area for family photos, nature photography, and just to enjoy the sites. Catch the flowers at full bloom over the next couple weeks. Meandering trails throughout the fields let you explore without damaging the flowers. However, look but don’t pick; plucking one of these beauties is prohibited at the WMA.

When the sunflowers aren’t the main attraction, there are plenty of trails to hike or bike in the area. Since they are connected to the C&O Canal trail system, the WMA trails makes for a nice side trip or starting point on the Canal. Hunting waterfowl, deer, wild turkey and other animals is allowed (within hunting regulations). There is even a specially managed dove field open to the public for hunting. Birding and wildlife photography are popular activities at the WMA due to the abundance of wildlife, including 200 species of songbirds found in the area. The more adventurous can take a boat across the Potomac to reach Maddux Island, which is part of the WMA.

A beautiful trail follows some of the perennial marshy flatlands where waterlilies and other aquatic plants abound. Parts of the WMA are managed as a greentree reservoir, a term used for bottomland hardwood forest that is flooded in the fall and winter. This attracts colorful migrating waterfowl, such as wood ducks.

The park, in western Montgomery County, Maryland, is conveniently located right off River Road. It is not difficult to find, just plug “McKee Banshee Management Area” into your GPS and look for the parking lots full of cars and people in incongruously fancy dress for a hike. After all, this is a popular place to take family photos. There are several ways to access the fields, but most involve a short walk through the woods that is often muddy, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. No bathroom facilities or benches are provided, so please plan accordingly.

Sunflowers blooming under a clear sky

 

 

Photo Credit: instagram.com/hell_yea_someone_was_just_in/

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Potomac River Fishing Report – July 23, 2021

The Shenandoah basin water levels are low and clear and some areas have some algae. Anglers are catching smallmouth bass and catfish in both the North and South forks. The mainstem is fishing fair for smallmouth bass, sunfish, and catfish. Mountain streams are very low and clear, so anglers will need some stealth to avoid spooking the fish. River temperatures are in the low- to mid-80s

The South Branch Potomac is running very low and clear, with water temperatures in the mid-80s. In areas with enough water, smallmouth bass and catfish are taking slowly fished lures. The North Branch Potomac is somewhat cooler. Trout management areas continue to produce some rainbow and brown trout in the mornings. The ICPRB continues to assist the Maryland Department of Natural Resources with creel surveys that will help in future management decisions.

The upper Potomac River remains low, slow, and clear, with water temperatures in the low- to mid-80s. Lander, Brunswick, and Whites Ferry provide access to some productive water. The best fishing by far is in the very early morning that provides some great topwater fishing with poppers and other small topwater baits. Target faster moving water. As morning continues, some smallmouth bass can be taken by fishing stick worms or small plastic baits fished very slowly. The bite is very light, making it easy to miss a gentle strike. Some nice smallmouth were taken from upstream of Whites Ferry and around Dickerson. The mouth of the Monocacy is green from algae, which is found in spots along the Potomac.

The MD DNR is planning for a supplemental stocking in some areas of the river. For more information, visit the smallmouth bass stocking webpage.

Fishing in the metropolitan Potomac remains slow. Anglers are targeting bridge pilings, docks, and other structure with stick worms, soft plastics, and crankbaits. The Washington Channel is holding some blue catfish.  Hydrilla is growing in some areas, and fishing the bed edges where found can be productive. All baits should be fished slowly in the warm water, which is in the mid-80s.

Downstream, bass are seeking cooler water and shade. Morning high tides allow anglers to target grass beds in moving water in incoming and outgoing tides. Fort Washington Channel holds huge blue catfish, and the mouth of Piscataway Bay has some largemouth bass. Grass beds become more established downstream. Mattawoman Creek vegetation holds some bass and snakeheads. Pohick Bay has some nice bass and snakeheads. The early morning hours are the most productive. The very light and slow bite is easier to pick up with lures fished very slowly.

Cooler daybreak water temperatures allow for topwater fishing both around grass beds and other structure. Later in the day fish shady spots under docks or floating debris mats. The tidal creeks on both sides of the river are holding some nice bass. Fish stick worms and chatterbaits over the grass beds, and the edges as water lowers. Swim baits work well around hard structure.

Pohick Bay coves and shorelines hold bass and snakeheads. Blue catfish are common, with 40-50 pound fish a common catch for those targeting them. Snakehead catches are increasing with spawning over for now.

The Potomac River is closed to striped bass fishing through August 20.

Fishing is slow in the Colonial Beach area, with water clear with a green tint and temperatures in the low- to mid-80s. Anglers are taking some bluefish, croaker, spot, and some nice white perch, along with blue catfish. Puppy drum have moved into the area. Sea nettles are showing up in greater numbers. Avoid bottom fishing in the main channel where the summertime depleted oxygen zone is forming.

Near the river’s mouth, anglers continue to see nice bites of Spanish mackerel and speckled trout. Cobia are being taken in chum slicks. Bluefish are around to strip the baits of those fishing for other species. Crabbing remains tough.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Potomac River Fisheries CommissionNational Bass GuidesShallow Water Fishing Adventures, and Machodoc Creek Marina.

Little boy sitting on a bench reaching for bait. A lake is in the background.

 

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About the Basin: Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park

July 16, 2021

Looking for a “a drop-dead beautiful place” (Tripadvisor review, Oct. 2019) that is also a quiet respite from the activity of the big city and was once training ground for spies? That’s pretty specific, but we found it for you. Prince William Forest Park (PWFP) is located only 35 miles south of Washington, D.C. along the I-95 corridor. At 15,000-acres, it is the largest park in the National Park Service’s Washington Capital Region and one with an eventful past.

Young black boys receiving an archery lesson.

Archery Lesson. Credit: National
Park Service Museum Collection

Recreation

The park has 37 miles of hiking trails, rustic cabins, an RV campground, and primitive hike-in campsites. The park covers much of the Quantico Creek watershed with several streams and ponds for fishing and exploring.

Are you up for a navigational challenge? Grab a map and a compass from the visitor’s center to try your hand at orienteering. This Scandinavian sport uses a map and compass to navigate to various checkpoints throughout the forest. The park has 30 orienteering courses for all navigational skill levels. You will have a chance to practice your spy skills, like park residents of the past.

Park’s Past

Like many parks in the National Park Service, PWFP has a storied past. Prior to the Great Depression there were several well-populated African American communities in the area including Hickory Ridge and Batestown. These towns had been well established for hundreds of years. The towns grew after the Civil War as many formally enslaved people moved in and called it home. Many of the residents worked in the local Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine until the mine closed in 1920.

When the federal government instituted the Resettlement Administration (RA) program in 1935 to provide land to struggling farmers, they bought or condemned much of the property and forced the community out of their homes. Many residents resisted. The federal government continued to acquire land as part of the Recreational Demonstration Area program which claimed to protect forestland, provide jobs, and create recreational opportunities for nearby city-dwellers. This stretch of Eastern Piedmont forest would soon become the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. It was thought to be a shining example of what the RA program could do. In 1948 the park was renamed Prince William Forest Park.

War-time Efforts

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, area residents who had not left by the 1940s were forcibly removed to make way for a training camp for the Office of Strategic Services (now known as the CIA). The Quantico Marine Corps Base abuts the park to the south. The park’s relationship with the base was fraught, but fruitful, for both parties. The military used the camp cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to train spies and radio operators. There was even a “Little Tokyo” training facility. At one point, the park administrator convinced the military to build roads and other infrastructure in the park as part of their training operations. In honor of its war-time history, the park now holds a 3-day Spy Camp each summer.

A more detailed account of the park’s fascinating history can be found in Prince William Forest Park: An Administrative History.

A Visitor’s Center with maps and information is located at 18170 Park Entrance Road in Triangle, Virginia. The PWFP staff frequently update the COVID-19 operating status so please check online prior to heading out.

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Potomac River Fishing Report – July 16, 2021

Striped Bass

The Potomac River and its tidal tributaries are now closed to striped bass fishing. Maryland’s tidal tributaries are closed to striped bass fishing from July 16 through July 31 to preserve the species during high temperature days. Virginia tributaries of the Potomac are closed until October 4. The tidal Potomac mainstem is closed for striped bass through August 20.

Fishing the Potomac

In the Shenandoah basin, water levels are low and clear and some areas have some algae. Anglers are finding smallmouth bass in both the North and South forks. The mainstem is fishing well with smallmouth bass, sunfish, and catfish. Mountain streams remain low and clear, so anglers will need to sneak up on these fish.

The South Branch Potomac is running low and clear, with water temperatures in the mid-80s. Smallmouth bass and catfish are taking slowly fished lures. The North Branch Potomac ‘s cooler waters (near 60) continues to produce some nice rainbow and brown trout downstream of Jennings Randolph Reservoir. Trout management and put-and-take areas continue to produce. The ICPRB continues to assist the Maryland Department of Natural Resources with creel surveys that will help in future management decisions.

The upper Potomac River is low, slow, and clear, with water temperatures in the low- 80s. Lander and Brunswick are popular access points that produce smallmouth bass and channel and flathead catfish. The segment from Seneca to the mouth of the Monocacy river continues to fish well, with the cooler water temperatures at dawn being best. Anglers on the water early enough will find great topwater fishing in the shallow water over rock gardens mid channel. Later in the morning, slowly fished stick worms, soft plastics, and swim baits will bring some fish. The Edwards Ferry area is fishing well. The DNR is planning for a supplemental stocking in some areas of the river. For more information, visit the smallmouth bass stocking webpage.

Fishing in the metropolitan Potomac remains slow. Anglers are having success at bridge pilings, docks, and other structure with stick worms, soft plastics, and crankbaits. The Washington Channel remains a good spot, with a mix of largemouth bass and catfish along the channel dropoff.  Hydrilla is emerging in some areas, and the edges of those patches are good bets. All baits should be fished slowly in the warm water, which is in the mid-80s.

Downstream, bass are seeking cooler water and hiding from the sun. Aquatic grasses are doing better than in previous years, with the larger be

ds downstream of Piscataway Bay. The river is likely to be crowded this weekend, as major tournaments will be fishing out of both National Harbor and Smallwood State Park. More than 300 boats will be involved, and area boat ramps may be crowded early in the morning on Saturday.

Cooler daybreak water temperatures allow for topwater fishing both around grass beds and other structure. Later in the day fish shady spots under docks or floating debris mats. The tidal creeks on both sides of the river are holding some nice bass. Fish stick worms and chatterbaits over the grass beds, and the edges as water lowers. Swim baits work well around hard structure.

Pohick Bay coves and shorelines hold bass and snakeheads. Blue catfish are common, with 40-50 pound fish a common catch for those targeting them. Snakehead catches are increasing with spawning over for now.

Fishing has slowed somewhat in the Colonial Beach area, with water clear and temperatures in the low- to mid-80s. Anglers are reporting catches of bluefish, croaker, spot, and white perch, along with the ever-present blue catfish. People also are catching brown shrimp in the area. The eating-size shrimp become more prevalent closer to the bay. Sightings of dolphin pods in the area are becoming more common. Sea nettles are starting to show their tentacles. Avoid bottom fishing in the area as the summertime depleted oxygen zone is forming.

Near the river’s mouth, anglers continue to see nice bites of Spanish mackerel and speckled trout. Cobia are becoming more common, with anglers fishing live eels in chum slicks. Bluefish are around to strip the baits of those fishing for other species. Crabbing remains tough.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Potomac River Fisheries CommissionNational Bass GuidesShallow Water Fishing Adventures, and Machodoc Creek Marina.

 

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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!


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Potomac Fishing Report – July 9, 2021

In the Shenandoah basin, water levels are low but may rise with any storms. Anglers are reporting smallmouth bass in both the North and South forks. Around Front Royal the mainstem is fishing well with smallmouth bass, sunfish, and catfish. Mountain streams are low and clear, with stealthy anglers getting some nice trout.

The South Branch Potomac has stable flows and is giving up some smallmouth bass and channel catfish. The North Branch Potomac action has slowed somewhat but continues to produce some nice rainbow and brown trout downstream of Jennings Randolph Reservoir. Trout management and put-and-take areas continue to produce some nice fish. The cicadas remain in this and other cooler areas but are declining. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently monitored fish populations in the North Branch showing an increasing population of both rainbow and brown trout.

Little Girl Fishing at Little Seneca Lake

The upper Potomac River is running somewhat low and clear, with water temperatures in the low 80s. Lander and Brunswick are busy and giving up smallmouth bass and channel and flathead catfish. The segment from Seneca to the mouth of the Monocacy river continues to fish well, especially in the morning hours. Anglers are fishing mid-river rocks and structure with stick worms and swim baits fished slowly. Anglers also are finding channel and flathead catfish and carp. Some nice bluegill round out the menu.

Fishing in the metropolitan Potomac remains slow. Anglers are targeting bridge pilings, docks, and other structure with stick worms, soft plastics, and crankbaits. The Washington Channel remains a good spot, with a mix of largemouth bass and catfish along the channel dropoff.  Hydrilla is emerging in some areas, and the edges of those patches are good bets. All baits should be fished slowly in the warm water, which is in the mid 80s.

Downstream, bass are in summer mode and seeking the shade of grass beds, docks and other structure. Morning high tides allow the use of slowly fished stick worms and chatterbaits over the beds, and the edges as water lowers. Tidal currents will be strong with the new moon. Grass beds become more prevalent downstream of Piscataway. Swim baits work well around hard structure.

Mattawoman Creek grass and plant beds are giving up some largemouth bass,  as are the tidal creeks on the Virginia side of the river. Pohick Bay coves and shorelines hold bass and snakeheads. Blue catfish are most everywhere. Anglers are reporting some nice snakeheads in the grass at the head of tidal creeks.

Maryland’s tidal tributaries are closed to striped bass fishing from July 16 through July 31 to preserve the species during high temperature days. Virginia tributaries of the Potomac are closed until October 4. The tidal Potomac mainstem is closed for striped bass through August 20.

From Colonial Beach to the river’s mouth, water is becoming more stratified and a developing area of depleted oxygen on the bottom means lures should be fished above 15 feet. This region has chronic summertime areas of low bottom oxygen as surface water warms. Many dolphin pods are being seen in this area down to the river’s mouth.

Near the river’s mouth, anglers are finding a lot of Spanish mackerel. White perch, spot, and speckled trout are part of the mix, along with blue catfish. Some Cobia and bluefish are moving up the bay toward the Potomac and will be around as the summer progresses. Crabbing remains spotty.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Potomac River Fisheries CommissionNational Bass GuidesShallow Water Fishing Adventures, and Machodoc Creek Marina.

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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.