Westmoreland State Park is located along the shores of the Potomac River in Montross, Virginia. The park was one of six Virginia State Parks that opened in 1936 through the Civilian Conservation Corp program. Many of the park’s roads and trails were built by hand during that time.
Westmoreland is about a 2-hour trip south of Washington, D.C., and it is worth the drive. But don’t just go for a day, stay for a night or two. Better yet, stay for three nights. That is the only way to experience all this park has to offer.
Grab a Discovery Pack filled with identification guides and sieves from the visitor’s center and head down to the beach to try your luck at dinosaur hunting. Fossilized shark teeth are a common treasure found on Westmoreland beaches.
But that’s just day one. After you’ve gathered up all your shark teeth, join park staff for a variety of classes for the young and the young at heart. A fossil hike along the beach provides an introduction to the ancient history of the Potomac River. A program on crabbing will introduce you to crabbing techniques used by watermen on the Potomac. They also offer classes on ice cream making, sharks tooth necklace making and more. Join them for their next Fossil Hike on May 26. The park also participates in Clean the Bay Day on June 2 with a large, organized cleaning effort of the park and its beaches (or find a location closer to home to join Clean the Bay Day efforts).
Exhausted from your day of dinosaur chasing? The park offers everything from basic tent camping to luxurious cabin glamping and everything in between. Did you bring the in-laws, the grandkids, and all of their friends? The waterfront Potomac River Retreat sleeps 16 with 5-bedrooms and 5-baths.
There is something for everyone at Westmoreland State Park. When you go, share photos on social media with #PotomacLove and show us how you are enjoying the river this summer!
Strong regional planning has provided the metropolitan Washington Area with a reliable supply of drinking water for decades. Regional growth and climate issues spurred an important study that examines how the region might supplement water supplies for the future of the region. The report assesses a range of new management protocols, storage, and technology.
The Commissioners of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) recently passed a resolution commending the Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Alternatives Study, and encouraging area stakeholders and water managers to work together to implement the study’s recommendations.
The study, performed by the ICPRB Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP), assesses a range of solutions to increase the capacity of the region’s water supply, which may not meet unrestricted demands under all conditions by 2040. The study provides information on alternatives to ensure reliable drinking water supplies over a planning horizon extending to 2085. Alternatives were evaluated by their abilities to maintain a reliable water supply that includes growing metropolitan area water demand, decreasing river flows due to upstream use, and the potential impacts of climate change.
“The Commission encourages regional and federal stakeholders, planners and policymakers to review the report’s findings and strongly consider implementation of recommended options. The Commission is committed to continuing its role in facilitation of this process between the multiple stakeholders where it has the authority, resources and relevant expertise,” the resolution noted.
What does a chunk of coral from the Caribbean Sea, a brick sidewalk, two outhouses, and a 200-year old ship have in common? They were all found in the recent excavation for the parking garage of the Indigo Hotel in Alexandria, Va. At one point these items were above the waterline of the Potomac River. However, a few decades after the city of Alexandria was founded in 1749, the riverfront landowner wanted to increase his property so he did something that was pretty common back then, he just filled in the river bank. Known as “banking out”, the landowner sometimes scuttles, or sinks, an old ship in the spot to help contain the new materials added to the riverbed. That is believed to the be the case for the 50-foot ship fragment found in this soon-to-be parking garage.
The ship was painstakingly excavated from the pit in January 2016 by Thunderbird Archaeology. The wood needed to stay wet to prevent additional deterioration so the pieces were placed in large water tanks in a city facility for storage and protection. Little is known about the actual ship. Researchers are hoping that its restoration will unveil some of its secrets, including its construction, history, and possibly even the crew. Preliminary research has revealed that the ship’s timber was felled in the state of Massachusetts sometime after 1741. Based on historic maps, it is thought that the ship was buried on the Potomac shoreline between 1788 and 1798, along with sand, rocks and other debris.
After requesting proposals from professional conservationists around the world, the City of Alexandria’s Archaeology Department put the ship into the hands of experts at Texas A&M University’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation (TAMU).
In preparation for its cross-country voyage, each beam of the ship was meticulously documented, examined, photographed and measured. All hands were on deck for this painstaking process. Each historic piece was wrapped in a wet paper-towel material, followed by plastic-wrap, then a layer of foam padding. Over 1.5 miles of foam padding were used to protect the precious cargo. When completed, the floor of the storage facility seemed to be covered with Egyptian mummies of all shapes and sizes.
TAMU will spend an extensive time documenting each piece of timber, creating a laser scanned image of each beam that can be used for further research. “We hope to learn about the ship’s construction methods and original size and appearance”, said Dr. Eleanor Breen, the acting City Archaeologist working on the project. TAMU will conduct a 2-step restoration process. Initially, the water will be slowly replaced with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to stabilize and strengthen the delicate planks. Finally, a freeze-drying procedure will remove any remaining moisture.
It may be 5 to 6 years before the ship’s homecoming, but the work for its return has already begun. “The ship is poised to be the anchor for a new waterfront historical interpretation of Alexandria’s maritime heritage,” claims Breen. The display is destined to be a figurehead of Alexandria’s maritime history.
To learn more about the ship and its restoration adventures, follow the Alexandria Archaeology Museum on Twitter at @AlexArchaeology or the hashtag #SaveOurShipALX. A Save Our Ship Fundraiser has been established to preserve this precious piece of history for future generations.
What the Future of our Water Supply Might Look Like
When residents of the Washington metropolitan area turn on their taps, potable water comes out. That it is a largely thoughtless practice is a testament to decades of careful planning and cooperation among area water suppliers assisted by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB). The commission’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac River (CO-OP) studies water use in the region, organizes coordinated utility operations during extreme droughts, and assesses the reliability of current and future raw water supplies. The ICPRB also helps basin water suppliers protect the region’s drinking water sources.
A new CO-OP study is proposing a range of solutions to increase the capacity of the region’s water supply, which could fail to meet unrestricted demands by 2040. In this case, there would be a small probability of failure if no action is taken to reduce water use during an extreme drought. The study, “Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Alternatives,” also provides information on options for a reliable water supply out to 2085. Alternatives have been evaluated according to their capabilities to increase future system reliability in the face of growing metropolitan area demands, decreasing river flows due to upstream consumptive use, and the potential impacts of climate change.
The options for augmenting future supply are both structural and operational. Many have been the subject of past investigations by metropolitan area water suppliers. Although most of the structural alternatives (for example, conversion of stone quarries to store water from the Potomac) would provide water directly to only one or two suppliers, all would provide regional benefits by reducing Potomac River withdrawals during times of low flow. All structural alternatives would require significant investments in new infrastructure including new underground conduits to transfer raw and/or treated water from one part of the supply system to another. The operational alternatives would require little or no infrastructure investment. They would instead require new cooperative agreements, and/or contracts between water suppliers, and/or investment in research to develop new operational tools and policies.
In general, the study found that combinations of structural and operational alternatives should be in place to ensure system reliability in the future. For the medium-term planning horizon of 2040, two strategies for phased implementation of quarries and operational enhancements were recommended for further refinement. These two combinations of alternatives were selected in part to ensure system reliability under a moderately severe climate scenario with a 7 percent decrease in average summer stream flows.
The strategies also consider the need for steps toward broader regional cooperation to help prepare for more severe challenges that may occur in the decades after 2040. Over the longer-term planning horizon, by 2085, study results indicate that most of the proposed alternatives will be needed to ensure future reliability.
“This is the next step in keeping the area’s water supply able to meet the demands of residents,” said ICPRB Executive Director Carlton Haywood. “The region’s water supply will maintain its very high level of reliability with proactive planning and actions by the water providers and governments. This level of planning, cooperation, and execution is why we are looked upon as an example by other regions,” Haywood said.
American Shad, Striped Bass Show Good Recruitment this Year
American shad and striped bass stocks had good spawns in the Potomac during 2017. Maryland’s annual young-of-the-year survey consists of seine net hauls at 22 locations around the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay to gauge how many fish were hatched after the springtime spawn. The survey is an important tool in measuring the health of Chesapeake Bay and tidal river fisheries.
This year’s survey showed encouraging numbers for both striped bass and American shad. Many areas of the bay contributed to the striped bass number, while American shad reproduction came almost entirely from the Potomac.
Overall, bay-wide numbers for both the species were improved over a poor 2016. Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist and manager of the young-of-year survey Eric Durrell noted that spring weather conditions, including river flow, water temperature, and other factors heavily influence the success of migratory fish species such as the striped bass and shad. The fish time their runs upriver based on these conditions, which give the eggs and larvae the best environmental conditions for success.
Striped bass in the Potomac were near the long-term average. American shad were well above the long-term average on the Potomac, and should help buoy stocks after a phenomenal 2015 Year Class. The same could not be said for the rest of the bay, where reproduction was minimal. “We caught 1,093 American shad during the survey,” Durrell said, “And 1,004 of those fish came from the Potomac.” He noted that the river has historically spawned a lot of shad and that the modifications of Little Falls Dam restored miles of historical spawning and nursery habitat for the fish. In the upper bay, The Susquehanna has several dams that limit the kind of habitat the fish needs, Durrell said.
The Potomac has benefitted from an ICPRB organized coalition of government agencies, nonprofits, schools, and teachers who played a role in aggressively stocking the river for about 10 years and pushed for the modifications to the dam that reopened about 10 miles of the fishes’ habitat. The project is one of the success stories of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Read more about the project online.
American shad reproduction has not been going well on the James and Rappahannock rivers in Virginia, despite a multi-year stocking effort that has, at times, used eggs taken from Potomac fish. A lack of progress toward goals and budget considerations have curtailed the stocking efforts on those rivers.
More information on the juvenile striped bass program and the more than 100 species of fish that are seen during the effort is available online.
The Past, Present, and Future of Potomac Aquatic Plants and Why they Matter
For many people, a boat trip or walk along the shores of the metropolitan Potomac includes seeing a lot of aquatic plants (as well as some algae). Many sections of the Potomac support lush grass beds during the warm months. This has not always been the case, and the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has both signaled and been a major factor in the improved water quality of the river. The resurgence of many species of SAV during the last four decades points to the river’s revitalization, noted Nancy Rybicki, a U.S, Geological Survey scientist who has monitored Potomac aquatic plant growth during that time.
Rybicki periodically updates groups about the river’s plant status, as she did recently at a meeting of the Friends of Dyke Marsh. The packed room was given a history lesson, as well as warnings about water chestnut, an aquatic plant that once crowded the river downstream of Washington, then was eradicated, and has recently reestablished.
Rybicki’s focus over the years has been the upper tidal Potomac. The lower Potomac has not fared as well. The saltier lower river still suffers from water clarity and low dissolved oxygen issues, and is more strongly affected by Chesapeake Bay water quality issues.
The Potomac’s plant populations declined significantly from nutrient and sediment pollution and accompanying algal blooms through the 1930s but massive water chestnut stands downstream of Washington remained. Unlike other aquatic plants, the rooted water chestnut lives on the water’s surface where it can get the sunlight it needed to flourish, despite the sediment and pollution. By 1933, 10,000 acres of dense water chestnut beds clogged the river from Washington, D.C. to Quantico, Va. The growth was finally controlled by a multi-year harvesting and eradication effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that ended in 1945. Removal by hand continued until at least 1965.
Sewage treatment has improved greatly beginning in the 1970s, resulting in some water quality improvements. About 1983, some vegetation returned to the metropolitan river. Monitoring revealed that the plants were hydrilla, a non-native plant often mistaken for the resident plant elodea. They can be distinguished by the number of leaves that encircle the stem―elodea has 3 leaves while hydrilla has 4-5 leaves per whorl, giving the plant a bushier look. Based on hydrilla management schemes in Florida, which was spending millions of dollars a year, the ICPRB brought groups together to assess the issue. Eventually, an intergovernmental group started mechanically harvesting the plants in areas with high boat traffic.
Although not a native plant, hydrilla stands helped improve water clarity, and hydrilla was followed by a number of other, native, aquatic plants that returned to the river. Hydrilla remains the most common plant, but now shares the river with about 20 other species of plants. Learn to distinguish some of the most common species in the article below. Both the amounts and diversity of aquatic plants increased 10-fold from 1990 to 2007, and continues to increase, Rybicki noted. The growth of Potomac plant populations in a fragile but improving Potomac during that time has been uneven, with weather conditions in any given year (stormy springs with reduced sunlight, high flows that scour the river bottom, cooler temperatures, and other factors) promoting or reducing plant growth.
The growth of aquatic plants in the Potomac has helped improve water quality, helping make the river habitable to more plants, as well as providing food, cover, and water clarity that supports more fish and other creatures in the Potomac ecosystem.
Common Plant Species Found in the Potomac River
The metropolitan Potomac River, devoid of aquatic plants in the late 1970s, saw the return of both native and invasive plants in the following decades. Plant populations in the river grew by a factor of ten from 1990-2007. More than 20 species of plants now call the river home, these include:
Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata): is an invasive plant that was one of the first to appear in the river’s resurgence of plants in 1981, remains the most common species on the river. It grows in dense beds and can be found in both the fresh and tidal waters. (Photo: David J. Moorhead, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)
Wild celery (Vallisneria americana): is a native plant that is an important food source for birds. (Photo: Gary P. Fleming, DCR-DNH)
Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum): is a non-native plant favored by Potomac sport anglers. Its feather like leaves make it less dense than stands of other plants, allowing anglers to penetrate the beds with lures and catch fish. (Photo: Wisconsin DNR)
Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum): also known as hornwort, has slender, densely branched stems. It does not put roots into the river bed, but lives as long strands anchored by other plants or structure. It spreads mainly through segments of plant breaking off and floating to new areas. (Photo: Paul Skawinski, 2009)
Waterweed (Elodea canadensis): is a native plant that looks a lot like hydrilla. It is primarily found in fresh water, but can tolerate some salt and is found in the tidal Potomac as well. (Photo: Christian Fischer)
Water stargrass (Heteranthera dubia): is a native plant with grass-like leaves and sprouts small yellow flowers later in the summer. The plant is found mostly in the freshwater river, but has been extending its range into the upper tidal river. (Photo: Fritz Flohr Reynolds)
Water chestnut (Trapa Natans): has only recently become an issue on the Potomac, but may be spreading from stormwater ponds into the river. If you see it, report it! See the article above for more information.
In the last Potomac Basin Reporter, we challenged your knowledge of the river with our quiz:”How much do you know about the Potomac River?”
We were impressed with the results! There are a lot of Potomac River experts out there. We thought the questions would be difficult, but the average quiz-taker answered 67% of the questions correctly.
It’s not too late to take the quiz! Click here to take it before reading further. Then come back here to compare your results. The most correctly answered question asked to identify how many jurisdictions the Potomac River spans. A whopping 86% of you chose the correct answer of four states (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia. The most difficult question, with only 46% of people answering correctly, was the average number of gallons withdrawn from the Potomac River each day. This includes irrigation, agriculture, residential and all other uses. This number spikes in the hottest months of the summer, but the average daily withdrawal from the Potomac is 486 million gallons, or 736 Olympic sized pools.
ICPRB in the Community
Staffers at ICPRB spent many fun summer days sharing their love of the Potomac River watershed with the residents who call it home. The ICPRB tables shared information on water quality, educator resources, and other information on the basin. Here are just a few of the events they enjoyed:
Festival del Rio – This multi-cultural, bilingual event is designed to give Latinos an opportunity to learn about local environmental issues.
Jones Point Park Event (Alexandria, Va.) – 75 fourth-graders enjoyed a day of outdoor environmental education at this Every Kid in a Park event.
West Va. Science Teachers Association Conference (Wheeling, W.Va.) – ICPRB staff shared our m any educator resources with West Virginia science teachers.
As part of ICPRB’s Score Four program, the high school students celebrated the Conservation Garden installation at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md. Watch the sign dedication ceremony on Facebook.
When residents of the Washington metropolitan area turn on their taps, clean reliable drinking water comes out. This daily event, taken completely for granted, is a testament to decades of careful planning, investment and cooperation among area water suppliers assisted by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB). The investment in planning continues with the release of a report presenting options to increase drought protection for the Washington metropolitan area’s drinking water system, which will become inadequate in several decades.
A new ICPRB CO-OP study assesses a range of solutions to increase the capacity of the region’s water supply, which could fail to meet unrestricted demands by 2040. “Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Alternatives,” provides information on alternatives out to 2085 to help ensure strategic options are available over that planning horizon. Alternatives were evaluated by their abilities to maintain reliability in the face of growing metropolitan area water demand, decreasing river flows due to upstream use, and the potential impacts of climate change.
Options to augment future supply are the subject of ongoing assessments by metropolitan area water suppliers. Some of the options include construction of new facilities, such as converting stone quarries to water storage reservoirs that would directly provide water to one or two suppliers. They would provide regional benefits by increasing Potomac River flows during times of low flow. These alternatives would require significant investments in new infrastructure that include new underground conduits to transfer raw and/or treated water from one part of the supply system to another. Other alternatives include better flow forecasting models, changes to how existing reservoirs are operated, reductions in consumptive use, more stringent water use restrictions, and other proposals. These operational alternatives would entail some costs associated with new cooperative agreements, contracts between water suppliers, and
investment in research to develop new operating tools and policies. The study identified combinations of infrastructure and operational alternatives that should be in place to ensure system reliability in the future. For the 2040 planning horizon, two alternative options for phased quarry storage implementation and operational enhancements were recommended for consideration and further refinement. The two alternatives were selected to ensure system reliability for a moderately severe drought with conservative estimates of climate change impact.
Considerations include protecting the region from shortfalls leading up to 2040 and the need for broader regional cooperation to prepare for more severe challenges that may occur in the decades after 2040. Over a longer-term planning horizon, study results indicate that most of the alternatives will be needed to ensure future reliability by 2085.
“This is another step forward in our long term commitment to meet our region’s water supply demands,” said ICPRB Executive Director Carlton Haywood. “Our water supply is reliable because water providers and regulators comprehensively plan for the region’s future. The level of planning, cooperation, and execution in this area is why we are studied as innovators by other regions,” Haywood said.
The ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac River (CO-OP) studies water use in the region, organizes coordinated utility operations during droughts, and assesses the reliability of current and future raw water supplies. The ICPRB also helps basin water suppliers protect the region’s drinking water sources.
A scenic 2-hour drive west from the D.C. metro area will land you at a state park that looks more like a resort than a park. Cacapon (pronounced “Ca-cape-un”) Resort State Park,
near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, is still a state park at heart, though. It boasts a small sandy beach for swimming, paddle boat rentals, serene fishing spots, many hiking trails, and a nature center. However, the park’s additional amenities make a weekend at Cacapon more glamping than typical old-fashioned camping. You will also find an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding, a hotel and conference center, and cabins decked out with all the necessities for a weekend away.
Vintage Postcard of the beach at Cacapon Resort State Park
It’s vintage, unostentatious vibe has visitors returning again and again. One online reviewer said it best: “Stop being pretentious and stay here.” Activities at Cacapon bring you back to the good ol’ days. You can make new friends with a pickup game of basketball, get your family together for a game of beach volleyball or challenge your in-laws on the tennis courts. For the techies that just can’t separate themselves from their phone, the hiking trails abound with geocache treasures.
For something a little special, hike up Cacapon Mountain to an observation deck where you can see West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in one sweeping view. It is always a breathtaking site, but even more so during leaf peeping season in October.
If you are looking for something a bit more primitive, check out the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area just east of Cacapon Resort State Park. This 23,000-acre park offers 75 basic campsites. Many afford an inexpensive waterfront view of Sleepy Creek Lake. Unlike Cacapon Resort State Park, amenities are few and far between in this area that truly embodies West Virginia’s slogan, “Wild and Wonderful”.
Just down the river from Alexandria, Va., exists 485 acres of marsh, swamp forest and flood plain known as Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. It is an oasis amidst the concrete jungle. It is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway managed by the National Park Service. The Preserve has an impressive diversity of flora and fauna, including more than 270 species of birds and 300 species of plants.
Many runners, walkers, and bikers enjoy the Mount Vernon Trail, a 17-mile paved path, that winds through the marsh. The Haul Road Trail is short at .75 miles, but provides a look at each type of habitat in Dyke Marsh.
Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding are the primary activities at Dyke Marsh. They allow visitors a more intimate view of the river and the wildlife that calls the area home. Rent a boat at the marina next door, then paddle south along the shore for the short trip to the marsh.
Photo credit: Flickr, Dyke Marsh, Virginia, La Citta Vita
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of restoring the marsh that is currently eroding at an average of 6 to 7.8 feet per year. Restoration efforts, which include planting native aquatic vegetation, are scheduled to be completed by 2019.
An active volunteer group, Friends of Dyke Marsh, holds a variety of events open to the public, including a bird walk lead by expert birders each Sunday at 8:00am, plus lectures, educational events, and more. Some upcoming events include a talk on September 13 on Wetland Plants by Dr. Nancy Rybicki, a U.S. Geological Survey Aquatic Biologist and a discussion on November 15th about the health of Hunting Creek and area streams by Dr. Kim Mutsert of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University. The volunteer group also actively works to restore the marsh by planting trees and other activities.
Located along the Potomac River in Prince William’s County, Virginia, Leesylvania State Park has a lot to offer its multitude of visitors. As one online reviewer states, “This gem of a park offers peace and quiet in the middle of the hubbub of NoVA.” Although small, the park offers a range of amenities for those looking to escape the city for a day, including trails, a boat ramp into the Potomac River, visitor’s center, picnic shelters with barbecues, fishing spots, a playground, and more.
(c) Flickr, Mrs.Gemstone, “Leesylvania State Park – PotomacBeach”
A Living Shoreline project is currently in progress at the park to prevent erosion and create a habitat for aquatic plants and animals. This type of restoration project builds up the shoreline using natural materials to create a wetland environment that protects the shore from erosion and provides valuable habitat. There is an informational walk open to the public on September 10 to learn more about the project and the ecological principles behind it.
Having only been open since 1992, the park itself is relatively young. However, the area is full of history, with some spots within the park listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The land was once owned by some of the more famous residents of northern Virginia, the Lee and Fairfax families. Chimneys are all that remain of these notable residences though. A few members are buried in a cemetery within the park. These historic sites are accessible by trail. Learn more about the wartime history of the area on the Potomac River Blockade Boat Tours in September and October.
In addition to the events above, the staff at Leesylvania State Park provide weekly events for people of all ages. Walks, talks, and other adventures explore the wildlife of the area, from the bottom of the ponds to the sky above. If you can’t make it to a scheduled event, park staff are usually on hand to discuss wildlife, fishing spots, or history of the park.
Photo Credit: Flickr, dpbirds, “Sunset, lake and hills !!”
Celebrating its 50th year, Greenbrier State Park has not changed much since the doors opened in 1967. Barring the additional bathroom or two, the long, sandy beach and 42-acre man-made lake ringed by beautiful forest looks much the same as it did back when it’s visitors wore bell-bottoms. The area still provides fun and adventure for both local and traveling families.
Along with Gathland, Washington Monument, and South Mountain, Greenbrier is one of four connected state parks known as the South Mountain Recreation Area, located between Frederick and Hagerstown in western Maryland. There is something for everyone in this neck of the woods, fishing, wildlife, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, hunting, and even a visitor’s center to tell you all about it. If that’s not enough, the Appalachian Trail runs through the park as well.
You can rent a boat to spend an afternoon on the lake fishing for trout, largemouth bass or bluegill, rent a gazebo with friends for a casual, lakeside get together, or just park your chair in the sand to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature while enjoying the cool feel of water on your toes.
The park was as popular back in 1967 as it is now (the budget had to be doubled shortly after opening to accommodate for the underestimated number of visitors).
You might think field upon field of bright yellow sunflowers are found only in provincial Italy or France, 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 romantic 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.
Just like birds, people flock to the area for family photos, nature photography, and to enjoy the sites. Catch the flowers at full bloom this year for the two weeks following July 24. 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 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 the usual 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.
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.
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.