Notes from the Island
November 2004


The big news of the month (for me anyway) is that we fixed the leaky ferry. I decided it was time to fix her right, and to do that we had to take her out of the river. I took advantage of the high water from the most recent hurricane and floated the ferry up onto the Island. The waters receded early the following week, and the big barge was on dry land sitting next to the boardwalk. (It looks a lot bigger on land than it does in the water.) Slowly, the pontoons dried out and I got to work. The down-river pontoon had a large crack along the nose from being repeatedly banged into the steps. I used bolts to close the ten-inch crack as John Matthews suggested and applied a thick layer of epoxy. Of course, this was after I had pumped many gallons of water out of both pontoons. After the epoxy dried I applied fiberglass cloth and resin to both pontoons for good measure. Exactly one week after I pulled the ferry into the shallows, she was ready to be launched again. Gerry Barton, John Matthews, Jim Drew, Tryon Wells, and I were able to push it successfully back into the river. We hooked the chains up and sheís looking as good as she ever did. It is so much easier to pull the ferry across the channel now, I canít tell you what a difference it makes, and so far it doesnít seem to be leaking. Having a ferry that works is a good thing; it was really bugging me to see the ferry sitting so lopsided in the water the way it was before.

Did you know that the giant Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) in front of the canoe shed is about 215 years old! There is a formula to estimate the age of trees based on the diameter at breast height, multiply the diameter in inches by a factor (for sycamores that factor is 4) and get the approximate age. The diameter of our tree is 54Ē(!) and so, by this formula, our tree is over 200 years old. Not bad, but, according to the forestry division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which maintains a champion tree registry for the state and the county, the champion sycamore tree for Montgomery County is at the Dickerson Conservation Park. It has a diameter of 79Ē and so is over three hundred years old! However, we have a redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis) on the Island that is over twice as big as the champion redbud for the county; so, I think Iíll send in a nomination for this one. Who knows, we may have a state champion redbud here on the Island. Iím surprised at the variety of trees Iím finding on the Island and it seems that forest management could be part of my job description.

Speaking of forest management, there are some damaging non-native species of vines that need to be addressed. We had a good growing season this year and the wisteria and kudzu have really taken off. The invasives are easier to spot now because they stay green longer than the native plants and I found wisteria with trunks as big as my wrist and kudzu thirty feet up a tree. I know pulling vines is a thankless job but Iím hoping we can work on them during the Workfest.

It has been a wonderful month on the river. The floodwaters receded and left us with the clearest water Iíve ever seen in the Potomac. It has been a real novelty to be able to view the topography of the river bottom. The winds of the hurricane season have died down and the green water is still and mirror-like most of the time, perfect for reflecting all the colorful trees. The birdlife, as usual, is abundant. The eagles are back, I saw my first red-necked grebe of the season, and I think I just saw a Nashville warbler.

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker