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: Frederick Municipal Forest

When is a forest more than a forest? When it is managed specifically as the source of drinking water for an entire city. Hence, Frederick Municipal Forest is more than a forest. It provides clean, fresh drinking water for the 70,000 people who live downstream. Do you need more of a reason to love it? The well-maintained labyrinth of trails is a locally known secret to many hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts.

“The Frederick Watershed is a gem, a forest that protects the water supply and critical habitat for 22 threatened and endangered species, while providing a backcountry experience just outside the city,” says Jenny Willoughby, Sustainability Manager for the City of Frederick.

A wooden sign in front of a forest. The sign reads: You are now entering the municipal forest of the City of Frederick.Located along the ridge of Catoctin Mountain in western Maryland, the forest is accessible off Gambrill Park Road. It is also a short drive from the charming town of Frederick, Maryland. Although camping is not allowed in the Frederick Municipal Forest, Gambrill State Park is just down the road and provides a variety camping options.

Join the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin and the City of Frederick for a guided hike through the Frederick Municipal Forest on Saturday, June 8th.  The hike is part of ICPRB’s Walk in the Woods Series and the City of Frederick’s Sustainability Committee’s Green Lecture Series.

Entry Thumbnail

Michael Nardolilli Appointed ICPRB Executive Director

Michael A. Nardolilli has been appointed the Executive Director for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. Nardolilli will take the reigns beginning April 1, 2019. He replaces Carlton Haywood, who is retiring after joining ICPRB in 1982 and serving as Executive Director since 2012.

Nardolilli is currently  the Chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which oversees 32 parks on 12,000 acres and has a $23 million annual budget.

A headshot of Michael Nardolilli

Michael Nardolilli

Previously, Nardolilli has served as an executive for several nonprofits, including the Montgomery County (Md.) Parks Foundation, the C&O Canal Trust, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, and the Arlington (Va.) Outdoor Lab. At each of these positions, he successfully raised operating revenue and and helped ensure the mission and continuing stability of these organizations.

Nardolilli also has served as a volunteer with a variety of organizations, including as chairman of the East Falls Church Task Force and the Arlington County Transportation Commission. He has been named a Washington Life Green City Leader and a Hometown Hero by WETA-TV. Earlier in his career, Nardolilli was an attorney in private practice.

Nardolilli’s familiarity with conservation issues and experience with administration and fundraising with small agencies are important skills to lead ICPRB into the future,” said ICPRB Chairman and Maryland Commissioner Virginia Kearney. “The Commission is extremely pleased to welcome Mr. Nardolilli as the new Executive Director. His selection is the result of a rigorous interview process conducted by ICPRB Commission representatives from each member jurisdiction. Mr. Nardolilli brings to the Commission his leadership skills and experiences serving on and with boards, authorities, and foundations. I believe these skills and experiences will serve both ICPRB and the basin well in the years to come,” she said.

“I am excited by the opportunity to work with the excellent Commission staff and engaged Commissioners of the ICPRB,” Nardolilli said. “I look forward to applying my years of nonprofit experience to help the region be good stewards of the many resources of the Potomac River basin,” he said.

The ICPRB is an interstate compact commission established by Congress in 1940. Its mission is to protect and enhance the waters and related resources of the Potomac River basin through science, regional cooperation, and education.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Anacostia Park

Anacostia Park

About the Basin—August 31, 2018

On August 31, 1918, Congress passed legislation to bring Anacostia Park into existence. Since that day one hundred years ago, Anacostia Park has become the nation’s neighborhood park. The 1200-acre park is located on the east side of Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. and is one of the biggest parks in the city. The National Park Service works hard to make the park an urban oasis with amenities for all.

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is a favorite among Washingtonian runners. Its 12-miles of smooth, wide trails with a beautiful river view is great for walkers, runners, and bike-riders alike.

Sports fields, a swimming pool, picnic tables, and acres of green grass are all popular amenities at Anacostia Park.

For a bit of vintage fun, strap on your rollers skates and check out their rolling rink. Don’t have a cool set of wheels? They offer free rentals throughout the season, Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Join the National Park Service for their 100th Anniversary Birthday Bash at Anacostia Park this weekend. Live music, yoga, boat tours and more family-friendly activities on Friday and Saturday. Bring your bell-bottoms to join the Disco Skate Party Saturday night.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Gravelly Point

Gravelly Point Park

About the Basin—August 24, 2018

A little boy watches a large plane fly directly overhead. Gravelly Point Park is a favorite spot for kids of all ages for one main reason: the love of airplanes. The park is known for being one of the best places for plane spotting in the nation. The grassy strip of land is located just north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va. and just a few hundred yards from their runways. With your feet planted firmly on the ground, it feels like your fingers could graze the bottom of the Boeing 747’s passing just above your head. The view of the underside of the planes is only complemented by the stunning skyline of our nation’s capital just across the Potomac River.

Launch a boat from the ramp at Gravelly Point to get an even closer look at these flying behemoths. The strip of water that leads from the ramp to the Potomac River is located directly between the runway and Gravelly Park. Paddle across the Potomac River for a new perspective of D.C.’s famous monuments and a close-up look at the bridges that span the river.

Gravelly Point is located alongside the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail, which runs from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. This trail is a favorite of bicyclists, runners, and walkers for its smooth surface and beautiful views. The rocky shoreline is a prime spot for anglers.

Three kayakers in the Potomac river in front of D.C. monuments

Kayaking on the Potomac River

It gets busy on weekends, so come early to find a parking spot or use the Mount Vernon Trail for access. Please note that the park is only accessible while traveling north on the George Washington Parkway. Bring a picnic because there are limited amenities.

Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: The Tidal Basin

How the Potomac Flats became the Tidal Basin

Sunrise at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Flickr, christophersmith29

About the Basin – August 17, 2018

The Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. is probably most notable for its breathtaking cherry trees that drip soft pink blossoms into the water as spring emerges. However, there is more to this appendage of the Potomac River than meets the eye.

In the mid-1800’s, commerce in the popular shipping ports in the District was hampered by silt build-up along the shores. It was also a health issue. The silt build-up, known as Potomac Flats, sat with stagnant raw sewage and was a breeding ground for malaria-laden mosquitoes.

Authorities decided something needed to be done with this unhealthy eyesore in the Nation’s capital.  Congress agreed it should be enjoyed by the people of the city, ordering it as “forever held and used as a park for the recreation and pleasure of people.”

Around the turn of the century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) developed a plan to dredge the river, create the Washington Channel (the stream of water that runs through the basin and then between Potomac Park and the mainland), and dump the dredged silt onto the remaining part of Potomac Flats. This created the East Potomac Park portion of the basin and the modern shape of the Tidal Basin that we all know and love.

A map of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

To keep silt, raw sewage, and other unwanted problems from building up, USACE installed a gate at each entrance of the basin. During high tide, the gate at the river allows water to enter the basin while the gate at the channel closes, filling the basin. As the tide ebbs, the gate to the Washington Channel opens while the gate at the Potomac River closes. Silt and other pollutants quickly drain through the channel. The Library of Congress has some diagrams of how the Tidal Basin functions to prevents stagnation and all the problems that come with it, such as algae growth, funky smells, and silt build-up.

This engineering marvel ensures that visitors from around the corner and around the world can enjoy the beautiful sites of the Tidal Basin. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial can all be seen along the 2-mile loop around the basin. Walking and running along basin trails are popular activities for both locals and tourists alike. Pedal boats, available for rent, can provide a unique perspective of the natural beauty in this wholly man-made structure.

A diagram of the gates in the Potomac Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress, Call Number HAER DC,WASH,574-


Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls State Park

About the Basin, August 10, 2018

A sign in front of a boardwalk that looks over the Cunningham Falls. The sign talks about water quality. Cunningham Falls State Park, near Thurmont, Maryland, has many treasures. It is known for being the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland. Big Hunting Creek, one of Maryland’s premier trout streams, runs through the park.  Swimming in the lake is a summertime tradition for many families, both near and far.

The park has many miles of beautiful hiking trails, but the most popular trail is the short, forested hike to the falls. It is stroller-friendly and great for all ages. The falls have a viewing boardwalk with benches. After enjoying the falls, head back down to lake, grab a picnic table, spread your towel on the sand and spend the rest of the day enjoying food, friends, and family while cooling off in the lake. Grills are available on a first-come first-served basis.

Check out the park map to find some primo catch-and-release fishing spots in the park.

The park is separated into two sections, the William Houck Area and the Manor Area. Check your GPS carefully before heading out to make sure you are headed to the correct area for your intended adventure. Both areas have a campground.

William Houck AreaThe waterfall at Cunningham Falls State Park

This area has the hike to the falls, the swimming lake, and a concession stand that is open during the summer.

Come early on nice weekends because the park will temporarily close when they meet capacity.

Manor Area

Visit the Scales and Tales Aviary for an opportunity to get a close-up look at (mostly native) wildlife.

The Catoctin Mountain Furnace features a furnace that began operations around 1776. The furnace provided ammunition for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Join park staff this Sunday, August 12, for Macroinvertebrate Mayhem (11am, South Beach Nature Center) where staff will lead a walk through a stream to discover what creatures live just below the surface.

Entry Thumbnail

ICPRB Publishes the Potomac River Basin Comprehensive Water Resources Plan

One Basin, One Future: ICPRB Promotes a Sustainable Water Future

New report addresses water resources in the Potomac River basin for today, tomorrow, and the future.

The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin is proud to announce the publication of the Potomac River Basin Comprehensive Water Resources Plan.  The Plan addresses issues of ensuring reliable drinking water supplies, improving water quality and ecological health, and sustainable land use management as it relates to water resources.  It was compiled using a collaborative process that engaged diverse stakeholders that included representatives from different levels of government, regions of the basin, water use sectors, and nongovernmental organizations, and it recommends actions that each stakeholder group can take.

The Plan builds on existing state and local efforts and is intended to complement those efforts by paying particular attention to water resource issues of interstate- and/or basin-wide significance.  It serves as a guide to the status of water resources in the basin and provides a basis for deciding how the needs of one water use can be accommodated while still providing for other uses.  The report’s recommendations include greater information sharing, improved data collection, greater coordination among user groups, and identification of common goals.

The ICPRB will use the Plan to set priorities for its activities in coming years and hopes those activities will be a catalyst for the Plan’s implementation in collaboration with other stakeholders and the public.  Looking ahead, ICPRB expects to periodically evaluate basin wide progress toward a vision of the Potomac River basin as a national model for water resources management that fulfills human and ecological needs for current and future generations.

The comprehensive planning effort was partially built on nearly five decades of experience working with Washington Metropolitan Area water suppliers to provide a safe, reliable water supply system for the region during extreme droughts without stressing the Potomac River, the major source of drinking water. The successful system has been continually enhanced through regular studies of demand, alternative water sources, threats to source water, and possible effects of climate change on the system. These experiences in cooperative research and decision-making have informed the water resources comprehensive plan.

“The Potomac basin has a history of collaborative efforts among the basin states. The Potomac River Basin Comprehensive Water Resources Plan can serve as a common platform for analyzing and prioritizing the efforts that can serve the public’s many interests while preserving the resource into the future,” said ICPRB Executive Director Carlton Haywood.




Entry Thumbnail

About the Basin: The Black Panther on the Bottom of the Potomac

The Black Panther on the Bottom of the Potomac

About the Basin

A Photo of the top of U-1105, the Black Panther

Photo Credit: Maryland Historical Trust

For 69 years a German submarine, known as U-1105, has sat at the bottom of the Potomac River.

Commissioned in June 1944, the submarine lived a short but eventful life. Serving as a wartime patrol near Ireland, it killed 32 men while disabling the British HMS Redmill. Less than a year later, Germany surrendered. The war was over.

U-1105 became a spoil of war as it was valuable for research and testing purposes. Nicknamed the Black Panther due to its “skin” of black synthetic rubber meant to evade sonar devices, the U.S. Navy soon acquired it to conduct research. Only a few years later the submarine took a 20-second trip to the abyss.

It remained forgotten in its watery grave for the next 40 years. Rediscovered in the 1980’s, the shipwreck site just off Piney Point, Maryland, soon became Maryland’s first historic shipwreck preserve and it is now part of NOAA’s National System of Marine Protected Areas.

Although the submarine is a tourist attraction for civilian divers, at 91 feet below the surface, it is considered a highly technical dive with a strong current and low visibility. For armchair adventurers, a video of the Black Panther is available on YouTube.

It is just one of several submarines with intriguing stories found on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. Learn more about the fascinating history of the Black Panther on the Maryland Historical Trust website.

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,

Photo Credit: mdmarkus66,

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.