Notes from the Island
July 1997


For most of the month we have had up to 65 adult geese on the Island... and with 30 additional goslings this means one must step carefully unless one is wearing boots or other footwear that can get dirty. In about 3 days we went from 16 to 35, and this at a time when we were out of cracked corn and not feeding them. Then another flock arrived. Surely the Island will be several inches higher this year from all the goose poo.

Actually, some weeks ago there was the great mystery of the bird poo all over the large room in the Clubhouse. One could imagine a Hitchcock scenario of a crazy flock of something which left these kinda oily, sticky droppings all over the floor. They had to be scraped up with a straight edge, and still a small, oily patch was left. This was a source of much cogitation and great puzzlement for several days until the Caretaker was reminded that this followed a party of small children. A definitive test was performed that did confirm that the alleged bird droppings were in fact M & Ms that had been stepped on by little feet and ground into the floor. The precise nature of the test conducted will not be disclosed by the Caretaker.

On the night of the Monthly Meeting several people showed up for the picnic dinner scheduled an hour before and much fun was had by all. This is a perfect time for a communal event... long summer evenings with good food, good swimming, and good fellowship. If you are on the waiting list you are encouraged to come on the evening of the Monthly Meeting, to share in the good time and in the Monthly Meeting itself. It is also the one day a month when Members are encouraged to be on the Island at night and share the nocturnal beauty so appreciated by the Caretaker. You may recall that a beaver viewing was promised following the Meeting. Unfortunately, the upper end of the Island turned out to be too muddy for the Beaver Patrol to get to the prime beaver viewing location, and the beaver successfully continued their campaign of Caretaker humiliation by failing to make an appearance on the Island for the first time in two weeks.

During the last weekend there was much concern regarding the massive fish kill of carp in the river. Over a two day period I verified 13, and canoeists indicated as many as another 10. One small mouth bass was also sighted. Why??? What does this mean for water quality that swimmers might want to know. What are the implications for the Caretaker's well water??? Many folks are aware of the front page article in the Washington Post regarding the pollution of the Potomac headwaters in West Virginia by the huge poultry industry there. Where to start? Our Club President is a former Director of the MD Department of the Environment (410-631-3000 or 800-633-6101), and with his help I made contact with George Harmon (ext. 3856) who provided me with a long list of possibly helpful sources.

Among others he referred me to Sally Bowen of the MD Dept. of Natural Resources, Water Quality Division (410-974-3238). They collect water samples every 2 weeks at the water intake facility at Little Falls and send the samples to the State Lab. She reports that it takes two weeks to get the results back, and then they send it to another department (Bruce Michaels, 410-260-8627) to have the numbers run through a computer where it can take another 2-4 weeks to have a meaningful result that can be given to the public. It was her belief that Montgomery County no longer tests the water, and her suggestion for more timely information about water quality was to call Jim Schell at the Washington Council of Governments (202-962-3242.) Montgomery County does have a Stream Monitoring Program, but I have been unable to speak in person with Keith Van Ness (301-217-2865) as of publication.

The US Corps of Engineers manages the water intake for WSSC that is at Little Falls just below the Island and which is part of the Dale Carlia facility on MacArthur Blvd. The Corps Of Engineers has a hotline number (202-761-0660) from where I was referred to Kim at the Water Resources Support Center (703-428-8250) who gave me the direct line to Dale Carlia (202-764-2753.) There I talked to Steve Hales, Secretary to the Director, who confirmed that he would send me some off-the-shelf information and reports, that they did indeed test the water several times daily, and that he could indeed put me in touch with the one human tester on the planet that could answer all my questions, Pete Peterson (202-764-2754.)

Now at this point, you probably think you are reading a litany against government bureaucratic inefficiency and run around. Nothing could be further from the truth... and if that was your thought you are in fact reading a lecture on why you are a disgracefully unappreciative citizen, undeserving of the quality of government service you receive. At every instance I spoke to people who were pleasant, seriously interested in being helpful, and who sounded professional. Let me tell you folks, after living five years in Europe, I am qualified to point out just how good you have it. And note that I say "Europe" and am not just whining about a comparison with "former communist East Europe" where "every petty bureaucrat is a tyrant," because I believe this to be a European trait. Probably a non-American trait (Canada Excepted.) Sooo... the quest for the "right number" was not a bad experience, but a constant reminder: God Bless America.

The names and numbers are listed above not just for dramatic effect but for your own reference purposes, especially since compilation time was great owing to the fact that many state numbers changed on 30 June.

So what about the water quality?? Mr. Peterson says the coliform bacteria level is as low as he has seen it... and he has 30 years of experience. Then what about the article in the Post about the chicken offal? Well, one would not want to quote Mr. Peterson, but one gets the impression from talking to him that some well meaning people are being alarmist now to head off the situation becoming alarming later. What about other types and sources of pollution? Mr. Peterson points out that the Potomac has never had much industrial development upstream compared to other rivers. Furthermore, farming practices upriver have improved considerably, and have in fact changed significantly as a lot of upstream farmland has been put back to grass and grazing. Grazing... does this mean cow offal? Well, apparently feed lot practices have also been cleaned up in the past several years.

So what about the dead carp??? The MD Dept. of Natural Resources has a division that monitors fish kills (Charles Poukish, 410-260-8630.) They were already aware of the problem, famous river activist Ed Gergler (?) having reported massive carp kills from Great Falls to Snider's Landing. They did not relate the fish kill to a water quality problem because (1) it seemed to be species specific, (2) seemed to affect only large breeding carp, and (3) was likely caused by the lateness of the cold spring waters forcing the carp to delay their spawning much latter than usual thus resulting in "post spawning trauma." Carp samples had been collected and were also being tested for infectious carp dropsy virus (not transmittable to humans) and one other carp disease, but these are not likely, and it was promised that the Island would be called if anything sinister turned up. Your State government was already on the case.

So come on down. Get wet. Have a swim. It is OK.

The family of Charles O'Brien, recently deceased, came down to clear out his locker. They also brought two picture albums filled with 30 to 60 year old photos of Sycamore Island goings on. These are now upstairs in the club room and provide a fascinating insight to another cycle of island life. Much of his fishing equipment has been donated and left in locker number 10, and any interested fisherpersons may sort and claim during the month of July, before it is trashed.

Many weeks ago the Caretaker returned after dark one Sunday evening to find the ferry locked up at the towpath ferry landing where it should have been. But left on the ferry was a Club canoe, and tied up in the water adjacent to the ferry was a second Sycamore Island canoe... very definitely where they should not have been. This is a very serious No No. Very, very, serious. Anyone could have come along and taken these two canoes. The culprits know who they are (and thanks to the ferry log so does the Caretaker.) The point here is to make the correct procedure clear. If you come down to canoe and the ferry is locked up because no one is on the Island, you must return the ferry to the towpath landing before taking a canoe out... so others may have access to the Island (not in the least a returning Caretaker.) If you return from canoeing late and the ferry is locked up at the towpath landing because everyone else has left the Island, you must canoe to the ferry, bring the ferry and the canoe to the Island, put up the canoe securely, and leave the Island by ferry, leaving it locked up at the towpath landing. The lock is always on the ferry railing or the ferry chain, and the ferry chain should be locked to the chain on the ferry landing in such a way that there is plenty of slack. All Members (or Members in waiting) are supposed to know the combination.

Finally, an explanation is in order regarding the discovery of gloves all over the Island, about which there have been many questions. You see... Madelyn (our black kitty) does not like people on the Island. We know this because we have caught her stealing the Caretaker's gloves and hiding them. This is the only possible explanation for such bizarre behaviour. You can imagine the Caretaker's embarrassment. And how to justify such a large budget expenditure for repeated glove purchases? At first we were convinced it was part of the on-going Beaver Conspiracy, and there was great relief when Madelyn was discovered red handed (or, glove mouthed.) Some of you may have wondered why the Caretaker always was putting gloves up in the tree by the ferry. At first there was hope that even if she found them she would not be able to get at them. Forget it. All substitute Caretakers are now forewarned not to expect to find gloves on the Island, but to provide their own.

-- Doc Taliaferro, Sycamore Island Caretaker