March 2012

Friday -- March 2, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.0     Water Temperature: 45

The river is rising and the FERRY IS CLOSED!

Monday -- March 5, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 6.6     Water Temperature: 45


The river hasn't dropped at all today! I guess with all of this rain in the watershed, it's going to take a while before we can operate the ferry again.

I took advantage of the heavy rains last week and paddled the Middle Patuxent River for the first time! Even though it is called a river, it is barely bigger than Rock Creek and it is only runnable after a good rain, like the one we had last Wednesday. It was a warm sunny day and a glorious trip through some surprisingly beautiful country. We had to scout one rapid at the beginning, just below Route 32, and we had to get out and carry three times on account of fallen trees across the river. We also decided to portage around a huge class IV rapid that is right after the confluence with the Little Patuxent. I say decided but there really was no choice, it was either portage or die. Then we did the last little class II back to our car. It was a fun, three hour paddle that landed us in Savage Maryland, right at the remains of Old Savage Mill. We went to find some lunch and before we knew it we were eating lunch on a deck, three stories up, looking down on the river we had just explored. Great day!

Tuesday -- March 6, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 5.9     Water Temperature: 45

The river is slowly receding but the ferry is closed again today.

Some of the bluebells are getting pretty tall and it looks like they came up two weeks earlier than they did back in 2010, here's what I wrote back then.

"Sunday, March 7, 2010--I just saw my first bluebells of the season peeking through the soft ground!"

Friday -- March 9, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.8     Water Temperature: 45

The river is down and Mae is running again.

Monday -- March 12, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3     Water Temperature: 45

Here we go, another Spring and the beginning of another season on Sycamore Island. The new, warmer weather is bringing the members out and it was good to see a few Islanders here yesterday.

Friday -- March 16, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9     Water Temperature: 58

I'm not a biologist, nor am I an expert on bluebells but I feel obligated to give my best estimate as to when the "Sycamore Island Bluebells " will be at their peak. Considering that we just had a little rain and that the week's temperatures are supposed to be in the seventies, I think that March 23 - 26 will be the best time to visit the Island to see the bluebells. Right now, the Dutchman's breeches are in full bloom as are the cut-leaved tooth wort.

Monday -- March 26, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 62

The bluebells are still in full regalia, so don't miss your chance to witness this once a year event!

There are at least two active goose nests on the Island, each with six eggs a piece. There is also a pair of phoebes building a nest in the rafters of the tool shed.

The roosting cormorant showed up last week too and that means that the migratory fish are also running.

Wednesday -- March 28, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.72     Water Temperature: 58

First let me announce that Whit Overstreet and I will be speaking at the Bailey's Crossroads REI tonight at 7:00. We'll be doing our last presentation about our "Island to Island trek down the tidal Potomac".

This has been a great Spring so far, and I feel like I'm really making the most of it this time.
So many times it seems that Spring is so short and it just sails right past me. It's hard because the wildflowers stay in bloom for such a short time and the bird and fish migrations are usually over before you know it.
That is why I am so glad that I took the chance to hike on the Billy Goat Trail last Thursday.
It was an incredible show of a forest floor carpeted in every kind of spring wildflower that you could name.
We even saw a few exquisite little grape hyacinth.
It was stunning, yet not unmatched. We had hiked at Scott's Run on the Virginia side on the previous Saturday and it was just as awesome.

Then, on Friday morning we were down at Fletcher's cove to witness the Potomac river's annual spawning-fish migration.
Every year a tide of anadromous fish, like herring and Shad migrate up the river to spawn.
The first physical barrier that they reach is at Little Falls, which make Fletcher's the perfect place to catch them as they get concentrated below the falls.
The fish are running early this year because of the unseasonably warm weather, usually the fish don't run until mid April. But that didn't seem to matter to the large number of eager fishermen that played hookie on Friday to join us in the fishing bonanza.
We caught herring, a dozen American shad, a few big catfish and the prize of the day, an 8-10 pound rockfish!

I love Spring!

I usually don't take a canoe out on the river when the water level is above five and a half feet, especially when the water is cold, but earlier this month I had a compelling reason to take the risks.

The late John Matthews used to tell me, back when he used to come down here everyday, that when the river is too high to paddle the main channel one could always scoot up the side channel that runs next to the canal.

Usually, the water in this "side channel" is too low to paddle, but since the river was up I decided to go and explore. I also have a theory that this channel was not sculpted by nature but was a man-made canal. I wanted to check it out to see if it might have been used to navigate the river before the C&O Canal was built, back in the 18th century.

We all know that George Washington improved the river for navigation and built many "skirting" canals around the major rapids like Little Falls and Great Falls. My theory is that this skirting canal, that runs from Minnehaha Creek up to Cabin John Creek was used to avoid the three difficult rock ledges that are immediately upriver from the Island.

I paddled upriver hugging the Maryland shore. I passed Ruppert's Island and entered the large channel that led me past lock house 7. The channel narrows and comes to a dead end where Minnehaha creek enters the river. There is a huge gravel bar there and the river was not quite high enough to paddle past it.

Once past the gravel bar, however, I could see a long corridor of flat, still water running parallel to the C & O, invitingly headed upriver to Cabin John Creek. Here is where I think that the skirting canal was built. This would have been the second skirting canal after Little Falls and the second one as you head upstream from Georgetown. The amazing thing that I noticed was that not only was this a safe way to pass the rapids, somehow the water in the "canal" was flowing upstream! The river was around 5.5 feet that day and at that level the water from the main river was higher than the water in the canal and gravity was carrying the water into the skirting canal and pushing it back upstream.

Instead of staying along the mainland shore I decided to go to the left and hug the Virginia side of Cabin John Island. This part of the river also seemed altered by the hand of man. I was in the main stem of the river but I was sheltered from the strong current by a long line of trees that were growing from what seemed like a man-made dike. I continued my circumnavigation of the Island and soon I entered the mouth of Cabin John Creek. It was incredible, as I headed up the creek, I reached a fork, to the left was the creek flowing from under the C&O and to the right was an easy passage that parallelled the C&O and led me back to the mouth of Minnehaha Creek where I started.

Today, the "canal" is only watered when the river is high but I suspect that it was different when the river was used for navigation in the 1780's. Back then, there would have been feeder dams to divert river water to the Maryland side and I believe that the water from the creeks was also diverted to add water to the skirting canals.

Maybe I'm wrong about my canal but it is amazing to think about the old days when men pulled boats full of goods past our Island and up to the far reaches of the Potomac. It's also fun to think about what it must have been like down here before they built the C&O canal.

Thursday -- March 29, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.5     Water Temperature: 58

The roofers (Patch Roofing) have just finished the second flat roof. They did the easier roof above the club kitchen two weeks ago and yesterday and today they worked on the more difficult roof above my kitchen. The second roof was harder to do because they had to work around the giant airpump that sits up there.

It feels good to get rid of all of that shoddy work that was done here before and I'm very pleased with the workmanship that was done this time. I'm confident that now I will stay dry and that we won't have to redo those two flat roofs for a long time. I guess I can repair the water damage in my kitchen now.

Paddled up to Ruppert's and walked around. Soon that island will be a mess of poison ivy and stnging nettles so I wanted to take a look before it was too late. We saw one goose nest, dug up some ramps for dinner, and discovered the biggest patch of squirrel corn(a type of wildflower)I've ever seen. We also came across a big patch of wild ginger in bloom. I know that all of those wildflowers are going to bloom every Spring whether we're there to enjoy them or not but I sure am glad that I went over there to witness the show.

Walking around Sycamore Island today, I counted 161 toad shade trilliums and ten of them were of the strange and rare, non-purple variety! In past years I'd only see 3 or 4 of those wildflowers on the Island. Maybe I just wasn't looking. Also, a word of warning, it looks like it is going to be a good year for poison ivy, it's popping up everywhere.

Saturday -- March 31, 2012
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.2     Water Temperature: 56

I recently noticed that they have removed the trash can that was there at the lower parking lot on Clara Barton Parkway. I guess it has to do with budget cuts. It's too bad, I'm afraid that it will lead to more littering and it probably means that some poor guy just lost his trash-collecting job.

Speaking of littering, and maybe there is a "cause and effect" here, some concerned citizen has posted signs at the top of the hill to encourage people not to litter, "Make today a brighter day, throw your litter and garbage away" is how it reads.

One more littering note. Can someone explain to me why someone would put dog poop into a plastic bag and then leave the bag on the trail, day after day? Makes no sense to me, dog people.