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About the Basin: Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

Waterfalls, boulder hopping, and rare flowers can be found right off the beltway — you just need to know where to look.

A small waterfall in the background leads to stream pools in the foreground.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (Photo: MostlyDross, 20131122_7739)

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is a choose your own hiking adventure type of place. Want a short, meandering walk with the kids? There’s a trail for that. Want to jump boulders while clambering up steep, rocky trails? There’s a trail for that. Want breathtaking views of waterfalls and the Potomac River? Yep, there’s that (but for safety reasons, swimming and wading are not allowed).

The trails are not blazed, but the park is small enough that there is little chance of getting lost. The park’s 384 acres is bordered by I-495, Georgetown Pike, the Potomac River, and a subdivision. The Fairfax County Park Authority provides a detailed topographic map online as well as at kiosks throughout the park.

The only blazed trail is the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT), which runs through the park. The PHT is a network of trails that run from the tidal Potomac to the upper Youghiogheny river basin.

Spring is a popular time to visit the park due to the carpets of wildflowers found amongst the trees.

The park truly is an oasis amongst the traffic, noise, and hubbub of city life. That was by design. The land was bought in the 1920s by a D.C. attorney, Edward Burling, as an escape from the city. Mr. Burling would visit his cabin well into his 90s and yet refused to let trees be cut down to install a phone line. When Mr. Burling passed in 1966, the parcel of land became the poster child for the nascent environmental movement when the local community fought developers sdasfrom turning it into a subdivision. The story even made it into the New York Times (The Making of a Park, 1970).

Study the topography of the map before heading to the park. This will help decide which of the two parking lots to use and which adventure to choose.

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ICPRB Business Meeting Announcement

The 4th Quarter ICPRB Business Meeting will be held September 10, 2019, at the ICPRB office in Rockville, Md. The ICPRB Commissioners will be updated on the on planning for our 80th anniversary celebration, hear about a recent collaboration between ICPRB and the Maryland Natural Resources Conservation Service, and they’ll get a special presentation on ICPRB’s recent work on streamflow and biotic effects of impervious cover in the Potomac River Basin. The public is invited to attend, but please RSVP as space is limited.

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Potomac Fishing Report – August 16, 2019

Little Girl Fishing at Little Seneca Lake

Managed trout areas in western Maryland are running low and clear, but the fish are there for patient and stealthy anglers. Hatches of aquatic insects have slowed, and anglers are throwing ant and beetle flies during the day, along with streamers.

The South Branch Potomac is low but fishing pretty well for smallmouth bass and sunfish. The Shenandoah has growing areas of algae in some spots, but is giving up some nice smallmouth bass, particularly in the North Fork.

The upper Potomac also is showing some algae as far up as Paw Paw, W.Va., and may be a result of continuing stormy weather and the lack of aquatic plants from more than a year of higher flows and decreased sunlight. Anglers are reporting some catches of smallmouth bass and catfish.

The upper Potomac is best in the mornings and evenings, and anglers are taking smallmouth bass off poppers and other topwater baits. During the day, fish are holed up in the shaded ledges and rock gardens near the bottom. The Brunswick section is fishing slow for bass, but catfish are biting well.

In the District of Columbia, Fletchers Boat House is reporting some bass and catfish. Washington Channel and the war college wall and grass beds consistently hold bass and cats. Anglers are targeting bridge pilings and docks as well as wood structure for largemouth bass and catfish.

Downstream, anglers are targeting the reduced grass beds and lily pads for largemouth bass. Snakeheads continue to spawn and can be found up the tidal creeks in shallow water. Fish of about four pounds are no unusual. The deep channel off Fort Washington is home to some very large blue catfish.

From the Route 301 Bridge downstream, anglers are finding striped bass, a lot of Spanish mackerel, spot, and perch. Channel edge between Piney Point and St. Georges. Available spot are being used to live line for stripers (anglers are required to use circle hooks), as well as the rock jetties around Point Lookout. Anglers are taking lots of Spanish mackerel, with some bluefish and some nice cobia rounding out the opportunities. Crabbing remains good.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Steve Chaconas/National Bass Guides, Mike Dudash/Eagle Aquatics, River and Trail Outfitters, Aqualand Marina, and White’s Ferry.

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About the Basin: Birding in the Basin

This is a busy time for many species of birds. The northern migration is ramping up and they are moving out of their summer homes. For us less-feathery folk, it is a great time to get outside and discover our avian friends.

Do you find it hard to believe there are other birds besides the ubiquitous pigeons and Canadian geese throughout the Potomac River basin? In fact, there is a wide variety of beautiful bird species in the region.

A bluebird sitting on a wire.

Right outside of the District and smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River is Theodore Roosevelt Island. In this oasis outside the city, you will see species that are commonly found in swampy and marshy areas, such as green herons and wood ducks. Bald eagles have also been known to nest on the island. For those fans of the movie “The Big Year”, the National Park Service provides a brochure to keep track of your finds.

The Audubon Society of Central Maryland maintains two large wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Frederick County, Maryland. Explore the flora and fauna on your own or join the organization on the third Saturday of every month for an informative nature walk.

At an unexpected haven in the southeast area of Fairfax County, Va., known as Huntley Meadows Park, you will find such striking birds as Eastern Bluebirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Northern Flickers. The land, which was once owned by Mr. George Mason IV, is now a 1,500-acre park with trails and watchtowers for your bird-watching pleasure. This park is known for being a prime birdwatching location with more than 200 different bird species spotted over the years. There is a Monday Morning Birdwalk that has been held, rain or shine, for the past 30 years.

With as many as 430 bird species in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for birding. Other local areas known for excellent birding include the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, Yankauer Nature Preserve along the Potomac River in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Lorton, Virginia.

Can’t get out to see birds this weekend? Explore a live migration map and other birding-geekery on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, BirdCast, or check out one of the many live bird-cams located throughout the basin.

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Algal Blooms in the Basin

The ICPRB is fielding calls about the blue-green algae that can create toxins that harm people and pets who come in contact with blooms. News stories about dogs dying after swimming in contaminated ponds and lakes are getting heavy circulation. Lakes Needwood and Frank in Montgomery County, Md., have annual blue-green algae blooms and people and pets should avoid contact with the water. Blue-green algae lives in the Potomac, but large blooms are not currently common.

Blue-green algae is capable of producing toxins that could be harmful, but does not always do so.MarylandVirginia, and the District of Columbia all monitor these blooms and welcome reports from the public. The Environmental Protection Agency  works on harmful algae blooms as well. Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is just one type of algae. Many other kinds of algae, such as filamentous types that look like hair attached to rocks, do not produce toxins, although any blooms of algae indicate an imbalanced system usually high in nutrients. Algal populations are an important part of aquatic systems, but can cause problems when they grow rapidly out of control.

As a general rule, humans and pets should avoid water that is discolored, has a layer of algal scum on the surface, or has a strong odor.

While instances of blue-green algae seem to be growing with hotter, wetter summers, it has been much worse. Into the 1970s, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers in the District were covered by florescent green mats of blue-green algae every summer. The blooms greatly decreased as Potomac restoration efforts took hold.

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About the Basin: Occoquan Regional Park

The Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, Virginia, provides a steady dose of history, waterfront views, and a relaxed pace.

A path surrounded by trees. A building can be seen at the end of the path.

Photo courtesy of NOVA Parks

Before it was a public park, the Occoquan Regional Park was home to a plethora of brickmaking kilns run by prisoners housed at the nearby Lorton Work House Prison. The ovens were known as beehive kilns for their rounded form, a shape that has been used since the Middle Ages. The bricks from this area were used to build public buildings in Washington, D.C. and throughout northern Virginia. Visitors can explore the last remaining beehive kiln at the park.

The park has baseball fields and a boat launch (for carried craft only) and beautiful views of the Potomac River. The highlight of this park is the recently renovated trail. The paved, easy trail was expanded to a 5k-length in 2018. This park is ideal for families with strollers or kids learning to ride a bike.

Just downstream of the Occoquan Reserve, the river is an important source of drinking water for the region. The Occoquan Regional Park sits at the intersection of hiking and history, where water resources meet water demand.

Want to learn more? Join ICPRB’s Executive Director, Mike Nardolilli, as we explore the interplay of water demand, politics, zoning, water quality, and the challenges they present during an easy 3-mile walk. We will learn about the triumphs and challenges of relying on Occoquan Reservoir as a source of drinking of water for the region. The hike is free and open to the public. We will meet at the Brickmaker’s Café (9751 Ox Rd, Lorton, VA) at 10:00 am on Sunday, September 15.

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Potomac River Fishing Report – August 9, 2019

Children with fishing rods lined up along the side of a canal.Mountain trout streams remain in good shape for this time of year. Anglers are matching insect hatches or using streamers. Some nice trout are being taken in the North Branch Potomac. The South Branch Potomac is running fairly clear, and anglers are finding some nice smallmouth bass and catfish. The Shenandoah is in good shape, and the North and South forks are running clear and giving up some nice smallmouth bass.

The upper Potomac is giving up some smallmouth along the shore in the morning and evening, and out of shaded rock gardens and ledges during the day. Overall, the normally very productive stretch from Lander to Brunswick has not fished well this season. Catfish seem to be biting well most everywhere.

In the District of Columbia, bridge pilings and hard structure are providing largemouth bass and catfish. The Washington Channel and War College Wall and grass beds are giving up some largemouth bass and crappies. Some hydrilla beds in the main river hold some bass on moving tides.

Further downstream, the headwaters shallows of tidal creeks are prime territory for northern snakeheads and some bass. Lilly pads and grass beds in Piscataway and Mattawoman creeks are fishing well. The main channel off the Fort Washington lighthouse is a prime area for very large blue catfish.

From the Route 301 Bridge downstream, anglers are finding some striped bass, many of them small. Anglers are limiting out on Spanish mackerel, large spot, and white perch.  The Channel edge between Piney Point and St. Georges is a target area for stripers, and many anglers are using spot to live-line for the larger rockfish. Anglers are casting to rock jetties near Point Lookout for a mixture of stripers and bluefish.  Anglers also are finding some very nice cobia in the area. Crabbing is good.