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Seneca Creek State Park

About the Basin, July 21

The Seneca Creek State Park runs the length of Seneca Creek from Route 355 until it empties into the Potomac River. It is unique gem in Montgomery County, Maryland. At 6,300-acres, the park covers a lot of ground, allowing for a wide variety of recreational opportunities.

A boathouse on a lake

Credit: Flickr, Mr.TinDC, Clopper Lake Boat Center

Many of the park activities are centered around a 90-acre body of water called Clopper Lake. Boat rentals, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, and trails surround the lake. Hiking, biking, kayaking, boating (electric motors only), fishing, and hunting are popular activities. A 32-acre Disc Golf course at the park has 36 holes and positive reviews online.

For those brave enough, the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail runs 16.5-miles from the northeastern edge of the park to the southwestern edge, where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac River. There are plenty of other trails for the less intrepid, including the 3.4-mile Lake Shore Trail that takes you around the lake. Schaeffer Farm Area is especially popular with mountain bikers. An online trail map provides trail options and parking lot locations.

Historical features of the park include the Seneca Schoolhouse, a one-room historic schoolhouse built in 1865 of red Seneca Sandstone. The Black Rock Mill, an old mill, has some mill equipment on display.

The park has a popular winter lights display that opens Thanksgiving weekend where you can take your family on a slow 3.5-mile drive through 350 holiday light displays.

Park staff has a packed calendar of fun activities this summer, including pontoon boat rides, fishing lessons, nature walks, and a kid’s program called “Nature Shack”. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent ($28-40/4 hours) from the boat center. You can also join the outdoor store, REI, on July 29, 2017 for their Learn to Kayak Class ($70) for a perfect excuse to spend some time on the water and learn a new skill.

A boathouse on a lake

Credit: Flickr, Mr.TinDC, Clopper Lake Panorama

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ICPRB seeks contractor to review drinking water agreement

Request for Proposal: Review of the Potomac River Low Flow Allocation Agreement

Signed by metropolitan area governments and water suppliers in 1978, the agreement provided for an allocation of the Potomac River for drinking water purposes during periods of extreme low river flow. The agreement has served as a backstop for provision of drinkng water and has served well. Changes in the region’s demographics and regulations signal a time for review of this important agreement. The ICPRB is looking for a contractor to conduct this review of the  Low Flow Allocation Agreement.

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Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

About the Basin, July 14

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is not your typical national park. “Strikingly beautiful” as one Yelp reviewer called it, it is the only national park solely dedicated to growing

aquatic plants for your viewing pleasure.  And they are really good at it. Located in northeast Washington, D.C., along the Anacostia River, it is known as one of the premier sites for engagement, wedding, baby photoshoots. The colorful aquatic flowers abound throughout the gardens, especially during late June and July when the lotus and lily flowers are in full bloom.

A pond with aquatic flowers next to a walking path.

Credit: Flickr NPS CulturalLandscapes Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The aquatic gardens are mainly marshland with many walking paths and boardwalks to enjoy. Pack a picnic to enjoy on one of the many shaded benches or bring a blanket to dine in true picnic-fashion next door at Kenilworth Park. Turtles, beavers, swans, muskrats and a wide variety of other wildlife can be spotted swimming or flying among the flowers. But don’t forget your bug spray!

Summer hours are 9:00am-5:00pm, but it is suggested to get there early as some of the flowers close up due to the summer heat. Many of the trails at the aquatic gardens are wheelchair accessible (but not paved, so it may be muddy after a rain). Wheelchairs are available at the visitor’s center. Want to paddle around the marsh? Head up to Bladensburg Waterfront Park to rent a kayak ($20/day), then paddle the short trip down the Anacostia River to Kenilworth park for an adventurous float through the tidal marshes and water trails. Start out a couple hours before high-tide so you don’t get stranded in the mud.

Enjoy Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in its glory during the upcoming weeklong Lotus and Water Lilly Festival that kicks off on July 15, 2017. Dance performances, food, demonstrations, arts and crafts, and more will celebrate these exotic flowers. Anacostia Watershed Society is also organizing a free canoe trip through Kenilworth Park on the evening of Thursday, July 20.

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Blockhouse Point Park

About the Basin, July 7, 2017

Blockhouse Point Park is a little-known park that played a large part in history. The park is just north of Great Falls in the western part of Montgomery County on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. To keep an eye on the Confederate troops across the river, Union soldiers used it as a camp and lookout. From high vistas, the C&O Canal and Potomac crossings could be watched closely to prevent enemy raids. Three blockhouses (hence the name) were used as observation points by the Union army. They were eventually burned down by the Confederate troops in 1864. The land was used post-war to search for the Lincoln assassination co-conspirators and to look for Confederate soldiers returning to Maryland because of the excellent views of the Potomac River and its surrounding areas.

Google Map of Blockhouse Point Park

Today, the 630-acre park is used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Considered by Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Department of Parks as one of the Best Natural Areas, it is a microcosm of landscapes with mature upland forest, floodplain forest, palustrine wetlands, streams, river-rock outcrops, and more. It is also home to at least nine species of threatened, endangered, or watchlist plants.

There are 7+ miles of natural surface trails. Much of the trails are designated for hikers only, but there are some “hiker/equestrian” trails and some “shared use” trails. The sole biking trail is the Muddy Branch Greenway Trail that originates in North Potomac, follows the edge of the park, then connects to the C&O Canal Towpath. Two small parking lots are located on the south side of River Road.

A map and a brochure about the park provide more information for visitors. On July 15, 2017, Join the C&O Canal Association on a float down the section of the canal that runs through the park. Paddlers will enjoy a trip down the canal from Violetttes Lock just north of Blockhouse Point Park, down to Great Falls. Learn about this event and other fun happenings in the Potomac River basin on ICPRB’s Calendar of Events.

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Path Through Paw Paw

About the Basin, June 30, 2017

Located in western Maryland along the border of West Virginia, the Paw Paw tunnel started out as a way for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to bypass 6 miles of horseshoe-shaped bends in the North Branch of the Potomac River. A seemingly simple task, it was expected to take 2 years to complete. The first boat floated through the tunnel in 1850, fourteen years later.

Only a few short miles down the river the C&O Canal ends in Cumberland, Md., instead of the originally planned stopping point of Pittsburgh, Pa., partly due to the expense of Paw Paw tunnel. What could go wrong did go wrong during the construction of the tunnel. Engineering problems, worker riots, financial issues and more plagued the contractors.

Entrance to Paw Paw Tunnel

Credit: Flickr, Nicolas Raymond, Paw Paw Tunnel – HDR

As the saying goes, one man’s trash (or waste of time and money) is another man’s treasure, and this tunnel is a treasure. At 3,118-feet long, it can be enjoyed on foot or by bike, although it is recommended to walk your bike through the tunnel. It is a fun and adventurous look at history, just don’t forget your flashlight (a cell phone flashlight with plenty of battery life would work as well). The trek starts with a .5-mile hike from Paw Paw Tunnel Campground to the entrance of the tunnel. After admiring the archway, breathe in the cool, moist air of the tunnel. A fun walk through the tunnel brings you to a small waterfall on the other end. Once you’ve braved the full length of the tunnel, head back via the 2-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail that goes above the tunnel and includes interpretive signage.

A boat ramp in Paw Paw, W. Va. allows access to those horseshoe-bends in the Potomac River that provide stunning views. Looking for a longer adventure? Enjoy some kayak-camping while you paddle down the twists and turns of the Paw Paw Bends enjoying the rocky gorge. The National Park Service has an example itinerary of a 3-day kayak tour of the area. Don’t feel like going it alone? Join the Potomac Riverkeeper Network’s Paw Paw Bends Float and Camping trip coming up July 15-16.

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Mallow’s Bay, the Graveyard Teeming with Life

About the Basin, June 23, 2017

Kayak at Mallows Bay

Kayak alongside a sunken ship at Mallow’s Bay

On the Maryland side of the Potomac, just south of Washington, D.C., sits Mallow’s Bay. It has made news recently for being a controversial nominee for a National Marine Sanctuary designation by NOAA. The initial application included over 70 letters of recommendation from conservation organizations, historical societies, museums, federal agencies, elected officials and more. Controversial or not, there is a reason so many organizations found this spot to be a treasure of the Potomac River. Mallow’s Bay is the final resting place for almost 200 boats that cover two centuries of history. Paddleboarders and kayakers alike feel a sense of magic while floating through the water, knowing that at any given time they are only inches from rich history. As the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere, there is nary a spot in the bay where there is not a ship decaying on the floor below. These salvaged, and then sunk, ships are now home to a wide variety of fish, crustaceans, and aquatic vegetation. Some ships have created islands where osprey nest and crabs skitter across the sand.

Blue Crab at Mallows Bay

Blue Crab at Mallow’s Bay

The next few years will most likely see many changes for Mallow’s Bay. Possible plans for the area include paddle-in campsites, hiking trails, interpretative signage and additional public access amenities. Designation as a National Marine Sanctuary will only increase the speed and intensity of the additions and the public exposure it receives. These changes will bring their own benefits, but in the meantime, now is a great time to visit this primitive and isolated area. Take advantage of the quiet, meditative bay with the beautiful, sunken boats. Final decision on the National Marine Sanctuary designation is expected in one to two years.

As part of REI’s summer of fun events, the outdoor store will host a guided tour of Mallow’s Bay and the “Ghosts of the Potomac” on July 5th, which includes transportation from the D.C. metro area. Learn about this event and many others in the Potomac River basin on our Calendar of Events.