Monday-- December 14, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9 Water Temperature: 44
The river is going up quickly but it is not predicted to get to flood stage.
We had the official work day on December 6, but there was also a ton of work done on Sunday, November 29th, and then yesterday we were able to accomplish a lot more!
Since the weather was so unexpectedly warm yesterday, I decided to take advantage of it and break out the paint for the canoe shed roof. The new roof panels were installed last Sunday and I really wanted to paint them before they got all wet and dirty, and the weather cooperated!
I had cleaned the long, metal panels with the power washer before they were installed and I didn't want to have to clean them again before I painted them.
I got out the brush and roller and, in between trips on the ferry, I rolled out the first coat. There is still some prep and painting to do on the previously painted parts, but once that shed roof is done we only have five more shed roofs to clean and paint! Any volunteers?
Speaking of the power washer, we had that tool working yesterday as well. Two women members used it to clean off the brick walkway that we unearthed last week. I think they had fun, it was the first time either of them had used a power washer. Thanks ladies, it looks great!
Tuesday-- December 8, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.1 Water Temperature: 42
It has been another busy month down here, well, busy for November/early December.
I heard that it was the warmest November on record, so not surprising.
Since returning from my vacation I've been focusing on winterizing the Island, putting things away, cleaning the gutters and raking up the leaves.
I received the check from the treasurer for the dishwasher, so I was able to go out to Beltsville and purchase it. I brought it down the towpath on Saturday night and we carried it to my front door during the work day on Sunday. Our plumber will be out to install it next week.
I spent some more time with the ferry cables and the other wires that were hit by the tree, and I was happy to get them up higher, away from the river.
I worked on our utility pole and I managed to tighten and straighten that.
I also did a lot of preparation for the work day, removing ladders from docks, removing ramps from docks, and actually bringing in the swim float and most of the canoe float even before the workday.
The work day was good and the Island looks so nice and tidy now! My idea of using the sign-up genius worked out well. I actually prefer having a limited number of volunteers at one time. Thanks to everyone that volunteered!! See you in the Spring at the next work day
We were able to bring in all of the docks and we covered them all with tarps just as Alec, the Club captain, had asked. We still might need a couple more tarps.
We also raked up a ton of leaves, filled all of the wood cribs to the brim, and otherwise took care of my list of chores, including some more brick work.
The other exciting news is that John and Karl, with the help of Andrew George, were able to finish up the canoe shed! Now we can return the canoes to their proper places.
Another important development that happened at the work day, one of our new waitlisters is a water safety expert and she deemed about 80% of our Club life jackets as unsafe to use and she threw them out. So we may need to purchase a few new ones.
Finally, I have been unable to post anything on the caretaker's log on the clubexpress website. Not only am I not a web designer, but the site continually changes things up and I'm afraid to use it since it always deletes my log entries.
I have started to post things on the old site just to keep it current, but that site sometimes won't save my entries either.
Wednesday-- November 25, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2 Water Temperature: 51
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It's been a challenging year but I think we can all be grateful to have a place like Sycamore Island to retreat to. This year has been busier than most and I am very thankful for the chance to get to know many of you better than I might have if it weren't for the virus. This Club has the coolest members!
One last thing, it is caretaker evaluation time, so please send you supportive comments to the personnel committee, Thanks!
Monday-- November 23, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3 Water Temperature: 49
The docks are still in the river. This will be the first year in my career as caretaker that the docks will still be in the river after Thanksgiving.
We couldn't do our normal workfest this Fall because of the virus, so I tried to make a plan in October to get the work done in a safe and socially-distant way. I didn't get any response from management about that idea so I made a point to take time out of my vacation to attend the Club's November meeting to propose a workfest day on November 22. I was told that a notice would be sent out, but when I returned from vacation there was no notice in my inbox and I started to wonder if I had dreamed the whole thing.
But yesterday one Club member, that was at the meeting, did call me and did show up to work. We were able to bring the swim float up on shore with just the two of us and with the help of some other bystanders, we raked up a ton of leaves.
There are still four docks still out in the river and some other things that need to be done before the weather turns cold so I will try to organized another volunteer workday, probably Sunday, December 6, so keep an eye on your inbox. This is a volunteer Club, volunteering is required, and its FUN!
Sunday-- November 22, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.3 Water Temperature: 48
Remember kids, you can't use the Club's watercraft once the river drops below 55 degrees, like it is now.
Friday-- November 20, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5 Water Temperature: 46
We are back down to having only one paddle board on the Island available for general use. The other two, the long, red, Oxbows, are no longer here. The owners, who were so generous to let us use them for the past two seasons have decide to move the paddle boards to a new home on the eastern shore. We will miss those paddle boards, but a big "thank you" to the Billings for letting us use them for so long.
Speaking of donated craft, someone has just loaned us two, kid-sized whitewater kayaks. They are very sleek, and very small. Probably perfect for a 7 – 10 year old. They are looking for a permanent home if you know of any aspiring paddlers.
Thursday-- November 19, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6 Water Temperature: 45
I had some time today so I decided to revisit our crippled ferry cable and trail-light wires. The wires for the trail lights were hanging low so the first thing I did was to raise them up as high as possible above the river to keep them safe until I had time to do the electrician's work of reattaching the electric box.
Next, I used the grip hoist on the Island side to pull the safety cables tighter and higher. There may be a way to bring them up even higher, but I decided that they were good enough for now.
I then attached the grip hoist to the utility pole and began to try to bring it back to straight up and down, it was kind of leaning downstream which made me nervous. After cranking it into place I used the cable the Stan had anchored into the shore and secured the pole in it's new position. What a relief!
Wednesday-- November 18, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9 Water Temperature: 50
I never told the story of how I had to fix all of the wires and cables that were taken down by the fallen tree on the mainland. Of course, these things always happen when I already have a full plate of chores and errands to do before I leave for my vacation.
It was a Monday morning and, as is my habit, the first thing I did was to look out my bedroom window to check the status of the river and the ferry. Right away I realized that things were not as they should be and so, even before coffee, I went out to investigate.
Unfortunately, it was just what I feared. the strong winds had knocked over the dead ash tree that was the looming above the ferry landing on the mainland. The tree suffered from the dreaded ash bore beetle infestation. Our tree experts had mentioned it when they were here to cut the tree that was in the river but we declined their offer to take down the ash tree as well, too bad.
Now I was looking at a big mess of broken branches, trunks, and broken cables. Initially, the sight was overwhelming but slowly I sorted it out and realized that maybe it wasn't the ferry-cable catastrophe that I have nightmares about. Actually, we were very, very lucky in many ways.
First of all the ferry was parked on the Island side of the river, so it was safely out of the way. The weight of that tree could have done some real damage. Secondly, the new ferry rope didn't break, which was good since it was brand new. Also, the safety cable with the pulleys and chains didn't actually break, so we still had enough length the reach across the river. And, it got caught on the ferry rope so I was able to retrieve it.
The other thing that we should feel fortunate about is the fact that Stan Fowler, during his short stint as Club captain, had reinforced and stabilized the main pole that holds all of this apparatus. As it was, the pole got knocked off of perpendicular by several degrees. I'm pretty certain that things would have been a lot worse if he hadn't done that. Thanks Stan.
Yes, we were very lucky but we still had a huge mess to clean up, not exactly what I was planning for that day. It looked pretty serious and I thought that we might need to deploy a crane, since the tree was out in the river, but our tree experts, bless their hearts, came out the very next day and hacked that tree to pieces and sent it down the river. Yes, we are also very lucky to have such competent and responsive tree experts.
The tree fell on Monday November 2nd, the tree guys came on Tuesday the 3rd, and on Wednesday it was time for me to figure out how to get the cables back into place. The pressure was on too, not only were the Club officers wondering how I would fix the cables but there was a father wondering if he had to cancel his daughters birthday party and another member wondering if they needed to postpone their camping trip.
I figured I would probably need to organize some volunteers to help me, but before I called out the troops I wanted to assess the damage and get things worked out in my mind. I slowly began to reattach all of the parts and eventually I was able to make a lot of progress, just using the grip hoist.
The electric cable for the trail lights was severely damaged but not broken. That cable I tied off with a prussic knot to hold it in place, and then focused on the main cable that holds the safety chains and pulleys. While that cable was down and at eye level, I decided to cut off some of the obsolete bolts that were rusted to the old cable. To my chagrin, the hack saw slipped and I managed to cut my left index finger. I tried to ignore it but I soon realized I needed to make a trip to the ER where I got two stitches.
That was a setback but I managed to use the grip hoist to get the cable up and high enough, so that we could use the ferry. The cables weren't perfect but time constraints prevented me from fooling with it anymore. I was very pleased with the progress I made and I didn't have to bother with organizing a bunch of volunteer help.
Tuesday-- November 17, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0 Water Temperature: 55
I'm back from my mini vacation. We had a lot of fun in the wilds of Pennsylvania but it was an unusual time to go away from the Island. Instead of coming home to an Island that is bursting with life like in the summer or Spring, I came home to an island that was devoid of life.
The cormorants that were reliably perched by the river were gone. The last of the leaves were brown and had fallen to the ground and, since the birdseed in the feeders was long gone, there weren't even any squirrels or songbirds to help make it feel less deserted.
The river level had gone up while I was away, so today I did what I could to bring the docks in from the river while the water was high. I made only marginal progress on most of the docks but, since I had prepared the swim float before I left, (I had detached the anchor and floated it into a cove near the Island), I was able to skootch that one up onto the low bank where I had left it. Now it will be super-easy to get out of the river with the help of a grip hoist.
Monday-- November 2, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.0 Water Temperature: 60
THE FERRY IS CLOSED!!
A tree fell and took down all of the ferry cables.
Tuesday -- August 4, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.9 Water Temperature:89
It looks like we dodged a bullet with that recent hurricane. It moved through here so fast that it didn't seem to cause much flooding. The river is muddy brown but the river is still low enough to run the ferry, so we're open.
Wednesday -- July 29, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1 Water Temperature:89
The zip line is back up! Reinstalling the zip line was going to be a fun project for our new members to do at the Spring workfest but since that never happened I decided that I'd better get it back into operation. There has been a bit of clamoring from our younger members about when the zip line might be back in action.
Of all the many projects that I tackled this month, putting up the zip line has to have been the most gratifying. It is so fun to hear the kids shouting "ZIP LINE!" as they race across the Island. I remember the first zip line that I put up back in 2004. I bought it at the toy store for my kids and it ran from my front door down the hill to a platform by the river. It was a lot of fun but not like the industrial-sized one that we have now.
We now have three working paddle boards! I ordered a fin for the red Oxbow sup, so now we have two of those as well as the wide blue one. They are very popular, we could probably use two more.
I had to do some work on the Club canoe too. The thwarts keep breaking and rotting out. Gerry Baron and I replaced many of the broken thwarts a couple of year ago but folks keep sitting on them and snapping them. This time I wasn't messing around. Instead of the expensive store-bought thwarts that seem to rot out rather quickly, I used stout 2"x 4"s of treated lumber. I hope I get a bit more life out of these boards, and they will not break if you sit on them. But please, don't sit on the thwarts.
Some other jobs that got done this month; I finished patching and painting the knots on the new plywood docks. I had to pad the post at the ferry landing to keep it from getting bashed up. I reinforced the captains float to make it more sturdy. I built a makeshift ramp out of an extension ladder and some lumber for the small captain's dock. I installed new exit signs in the Clubhouse. I remounted the swimming safety sign that was damaged last year and I rehung it by the swim float. I did another shift of clearing debris and trash from the fallen sycamore in the river, (watch out for the poison ivy!) And I organized and cleaned the inside of the tool shed. All while I was running the ferry as well.
Tuesday -- July 28, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2 Water Temperature:89
Last week I had the pleasure of ferrying long-time members Bill Banta and his wife Rochelle across the river. They've been members since 1982 and I gues that it's getting harder for them to make it down the hill to the Island. It's been years since I've seen them here. What a treat.
Speaking of long-time members, It was great to see Abigail Weibenson down here with her family. She's been a member since 1975 and still going strong!
The Club seems to have adopted a family of mallards, or should I say the mallards have adopted us. I first met these ducks one evening while standing by the river gazing at the view and the wildlife, like I often do. When these four female mallards came walking right up to me, just as tame as can be. I didn't understand what was going on with these "wild " ducks until a day or two later I saw some members feeding them.
Now, for better of worse, you can find these ducks here any given day walking from one picnic table to the next, looking for handouts. One of our regular members even gave them a name, "the girlfriends", though I'm pretty certain that its a mother and her recent offspring. Sadly, one of the young ducks injured it's foot and can be seen limping behind its siblings trying to keep up.
Speaking of injured birds, I rescued a baby humming bird from the river yesterday! It was buzzing around on the surface of the water next to my dock. I scooped it up with my gloved hand and took it up to the house. It didn't try to fly away and it seemed very happy to have a drink of my CountryTime lemonade that I fed it with a dropper. It was so amazing to hold that tiny creature and hear it cheep for more lemonade. After it dried off it tried to fly again but it only seemed to go in circles. It looks like its right wing is damaged, so there is not much hope for that little guy.
Monday -- July 27, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.2 Water Temperature:87
I finished painting the tool shed roof! What a job! And in the killer heat as well. I'm so glad that it's done and I'm very pleased with the results, a long-lasting paint job and the perfect color too! I really liked using that Direct-To-Metal paint. One unexpected benefit was that when I cleaned the roof, i also cleaned the "sky lights", so now there is much more light in the tool shed!
I guess that the other big news is that we finally got the last of the docks launched last Sunday. Having the docks out is a big improvement toward normalcy, and everyone has been enjoying having them out in the river.
It took a while but once we decided to use volunteer help instead of using our contractors, I quickly organized a work crew of club volunteers. It was a hot day but we all met at 10 and we were all done by 11:30, so we were able to out race the hottest part of the day.
I was really impressed with how the new members and old all worked together and made the group decisions. What helped us tremendously in getting the job done quickly was my idea to use extension ladders as tracks to drag the heavy docks across the mud and into the river. We will definitely be deploying the ladder trick in the future.
Once we got the easier, canoe dock, into the river we moved across the Island to tackle the captains float, (named after long-time club captain John Matthews). This year, to promote distancing, I decided to break that giant dock into two parts. Instead of one giant dock with two tables, we have one small dock with a small table and one bigger dock with a big table. Then we had to bolt the sections together, install the access panels and tie the cables to the tree on the shore.
On a sad note. When we moved the ramp for the canoe dock, we found a dead adult osprey stuck under the ramp. I hope it wasn't one of the pair that has been nesting up by lock 8.
Sunday -- July 26, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1 Water Temperature:87
The river temperature went up to 92 last week but mercifully, the temperature dropped back down into the eighties. The river has been nice a low though, just the way we like it.
This Club has some of the nicest people! I can't believe how kind and considerate everyone is. Not only is everyone pitching in to help keep the ferry running smoothly but people are actually bringing me gifts! It was such a nice gesture when two separate members brought me bottles of wine. Another member baked me some awesome chocolate chip brownies. Another, new member has brought me girl scout cookies, twice! And the icing on the cake was when a long-time member sent me a generous donation toward replacing my bike that was stolen from the Island while I was in the hospital back in March! I am so impressed how everyone has pulled together like family, Thanks y'all!
Sunday -- July 12, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.1 Water Temperature:85
It's been another busy week down here. I'm getting lots of help with the ferry so I've been freed up to take on some bigger projects. This week it's been the tool shed roof. I painted it once before, about 15 years ago. I have a picture of myself on that roof that my daughter took back when she was still living here.
Before painting the roof I had to clean it, of course, and our new power washes was the perfect tool for the job. It wasn't easy rigging up the ladders and getting myself, and the spray gun, up on the roof, but once in place the power washer was very efficient. I'll be spreading the paint next week, weather and time permitting.
With Mary's help I was able to find a new and hopefully, improved, lock for the ferry. This new lock has bigger numbers and a button to push to open it. It wasn't easy to find the right lock that still had four numbers for the combination. I hope it works out and makes it easier to unlock. Now if we could only figure out a way to keep it from falling into the river.
I made some improvements to the ramp at the canoe dock. I used that ramp last week and noticed that it was steep and sliding into the river. I was going to brag about how the simple ramp is better than the canoe dock but with the low water, the situation has changed.
First, I had to move the canoe dock out of the way to make it easier to reach the ramp and the river. I used the come-a-long, and brute strength, to inch the dock over just enough to be able to pass by to the ramp. Then I used the come-a-long to pull the heavy metal ramp back up the slope to where I wanted it.
Then came the tricky part. I wanted to put one of our flotation blocks under the ramp to give it some buoyancy and make it easier to use. So, with some members standing on one side, I was able to slip the floatation under the ramp and secure it with ropes. It seems to be a big improvement and it makes it much easier to launch your water craft.
I'm not sure yet what the plan is but hopefully we will either hire someone or organize a work day to get the last two docks out in the river.
I fixed two of the plastic chairs. They seem to break pretty easily, but, as long as they don't lose a leg, I can fix them and get some more life out of them. I spent half a day organizing the tool shed. Last night I restrung the bell rope across the river reinstalled the bell. I might take some time to get used to hearing the bell again. It's been over three months since it rang.
Sunday -- July 5, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8 Water Temperature:80
It was a pretty quiet Fourth of July this year. Not a lot of picnicing or large crowds. I didn't see any fireworks but at around 9:20, we could hear them exploding all around the Island.
Everyone seems to be enjoying our new system of ferrying people over and signing up for slots. I've been busy doing a lot of upkeep. I used the pressure washer to clean the walks around my quarters but I had to clean the dock ramps by hand. I stained the ramp to the captains float, I finished painting the casement windows that I've been working on and I repainted the wood-cut logo that's on the clubhouse.
I also trenched around the new steps landing, fixed the hinge on a screen door, patched the new railing and touched up the stain, painted the old stanchions on the ferry, met with the tree expert again, this time about the insurance work. And I built a new auxiliary dock that sits just upstream of the ferry. This dock will give me easy access to the river and will enable me to more easily retrieve the ferry if it ends up on th wrong side of the river. My plan is to use the canoe to help me to stay distant from all the members riding on the ferry.
And I cut all of the grass one more time, takes about eight hours to do the whole field and trails.
Sunday -- June 28, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.8 Water Temperature:80
That was quite a storm that we got on Thursday night! I heard that there were power outages and even some hail. The storm kept some of the members away, but not all. After the worst of the storm had passed, one family braved the clouds and went for a long paddle. On their way back they noticed the huge amount of trash and debris pouring out into the river from the flooded waters of Cabin John Creek. Cabin John Creek drains all of Rockville, and judging by the amount of trash, there must have been at least a couple of inches of rain up there.
The trash kept piling up all night and by Friday morning, thanks to that fallen tree next to the ferry, and by morning, the ferry was completely encased in driftwood and crud. I then spent the entire morning trying to clear out the crud and trying to free the ferry.
Thanks to all of the members that were here to help me to launch the swim float on Friday. It was fun to work together and get the float out in the river. It's also a relief and a joy to get the float out again, since there was no workfest this year, we had to get creative.
Finally, starting next week, I will begin to help with running the ferry on a limited basis. My hope is, even though I am here to facilitate, that the members will continue to work together to coordinate getting each other back and forth on the ferry. I'm here to keep things going smoothly but I also want to try to avoid too many unnecessary ferry trips.
Sunday -- June 21, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.5 Water Temperature:80
Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!! It looks like its going to be a nice day.
It has been an exciting week down here with lots of new improvements to brag about. The weather cooperated too, giving us just enough time for the contractors to come down and make improvements.
First we removed all of the old plywood from the docks and installed all new 3/4 inch plywood to the swim dock, swim float and the Captain John Matthews memorial dock.
We also removed the old railing from the ferry and installed a fancy new railing designed by Stan Fowler. Dave Winer was instrumental in getting the new railings stained and helping me to get the new stanchions painted, then the contractors did the rest.
Another fancy new development is the addition of stairs leading down the bank at the swim float and a new dock ramp there too. The contractors even helped me to launch the swim dock when it was all done. It is going to be a big improvement over last year when we had to slip and slide down the bank to get to the river.
There is never a dull moment while the workers are here. I was always busy getting things ready for them or doing the detail work like installing ladder to the swim dock, adding the hinges for the ramp, and assembling Stan's one-of-a-kind railing. I also had to repaint all of the stanchions and help Dave with staining the boards.
It was also my job to waterproof the frames of the docks while the decks were off. Plus, I painted two casement windows. I did not get much grass cut this week.
Saturday -- June 13, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.7 Water Temperature:80
The temperature of the river is now up to 80 degrees. It just might be warm enough for me to take a dip. And the weather today is perfect too!
As predicted, the tree that fell downstream of the ferry is starting to trap a lot of driftwood, litter and foamy slim. I had to paddle out there yesterday and spend a couple of hours trying to clear some of that stuff out. It's amazing just how tightly packed all of that debris becomes. I felt like I was trying to break up a beaver dam. It wasn't an easy job, and it was a very messy job as well but I was able to free a lot of the crap and send it down river. The warm water made it a little less miserable.
Exciting news, we're hoping to get all of the docks resurfaced this week and soon we hope to be able to push them out into the river. I know everyone is looking forward to that. The even more exciting development is that we are also getting steps installed at the swim float area. It has long been a problem getting down that muddy back to the swim float and I've been trying to come up with solutions. Then one day it hit me. I'd like to say that it was my idea but in truth it was something I saw in an old photo of the Island. Apparently, back in the forties maybe, there was something known as the "swim steps". From the old picture I saw it looked like the steps were removable and were probably taken in every winter. It seems like the perfect solution, let's hope they work out.
Saturday -- June 6, 2020
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.3 Water Temperature:76
We've had some strong downpours recently but the river is not expected to go up too much. Four and half feet is predicted for the rest of the week, not so high that we have to close but not a fun level for using the ferry.
Our resident red-shouldered hawk has left the nest. I think I heard it calling for it's parents down by the bottom of the Island, but I'll probably never see it again.
Good news about the eagles nest. I spied not one, but two young eagles in the nest this week. I even heard one call out with it's high pitched screech!
I never did mention the howling, banshee sounds that I heard last month. I guessed that it was a group of coyotes across the river at Turkey Run Park. From the sound of it I would say that there were at least three, probably four animals yelping. And the moon was full too!
I ordered the patching material that I'm going to need to patch up one of the Club canoes and one Club kayak. Both craft are suffering with holes in the hull. It's nice to have a supplier, Sweet Composite, tight here in the neighborhood and within our Club as well!
I also ordered a pressure washer for the Club. We've never had a pressure washer here before but I think it is going to be a welcome addition. Unlike all the other pressure washers that I've used, this one is electric for easy use and convenience, yet still powerful, 2050 PSI! The Club captain, Alec, encouraged me to buy it so that we can keep the decks, and walkways looking clean and mildew-free, and also to make them less slippery.
Another purchase that I made recently was a new set of block and tackle for the ferry rope. It's vital to have the mechanical advantage of the pulley system to tighten the rope across the river, and the old gear that we have now is broken, rusty and unreliable.
I used up all of the $400 that the Club gave me for petty cash with these purchases, but it was nice to have the money on hand when I needed it to buy sanitizer and wipes for the Club.