Paddling the Monocacy

River: A weeklong celebration helps raise awareness of the waterway.

May 11, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The small flotilla of kayaks and canoes glided easily into the wide, shallow riffles, momentarily disturbing the solitude of a bass fisherman standing waist-deep in the Monocacy River.

Traffic noise from above on Devilbiss Bridge Road quickly faded, muffled by full-summer leaves and rocky outcrops, and replaced by the small splashes of paddles and large carp, or the drumming of a woodpecker. Pairs of Canada geese and mallards seemed to take wing around almost every bend.

It was part of the second Monocacy River Paddle, a weeklong celebration by a Frederick-based conservation group that wraps up today and is intended to raise interest in one of the state's scenic rivers.

This year, the paddle covers most of the river's 58.2 miles, from Monday's start at the Monocacy's headwaters just above the Mason-Dixon line in Adams County, Pa., continuing south to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, near where the river empties into the Potomac on the Maryland-Virginia border.

"Last year, we started about halfway down -- but people wanted more paddling, so that's what we give them," said Hilari B. Benson, executive officer of Community Commons Inc., established in 1978 to educate and involve people in watershed issues in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas.

"The Monocacy is a very significant river that flows through this area," Benson said.

Draining nearly 1,000 square miles in Pennsylvania and in Frederick, Carroll and Montgomery counties, the Monocacy takes its name from the Shawnee Monnockkesey, for "river with many bends," according to a fact sheet prepared by the nonprofit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

These days, the river is used as a public and agricultural water supply.

Frederick officials asked state environmental regulators last week to let them to continue drawing up to 3 million gallons a day, even if the river flow drops below the level set in the city's current appropriation permit.

The week's celebration began with a ceremonial passing-of-the-paddle at the Pennsylvania site where the Marsh and Rock creeks join. Participants paddle sections of the river each day, in a journey that concludes at the Monocacy Aqueduct on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

Stops along the way include the water-treatment plant in Frederick, the Jug Bridge toll house, Creagerstown and Pinecliff parks, and the Lilypons Water Gardens.

Also along the route is the Monocacy National Battlefield. There Civil War troops clashed southeast of Frederick on July 9, 1864, at Frederick Junction -- also known as Monocacy Junction -- where roads to Baltimore and Washington and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad all crossed the river.

But the centerpiece is the river, and the best way to learn about it is to get out on it, organizers said.

"A lot of people have never been on the Monocacy. It's a real easy river to get to," Benson said. The paddle events "let people see firsthand what the river looks like."

The weeklong events also include educational programs focusing on the river, including field trips for local students.

On Wednesday morning, about 20 sixth-grade science students from Thurmont Middle School gathered at the Ceresville Mansion in Frederick County to learn about the watershed, stream ecology, wildlife and storm water management.

"They know so much coming in," said Teresa Gallion of Walkersville, who volunteers with her husband, Jim, to run educational programs for Community Commons. "But there's nothing like learning in the outdoors."

The school group had finished the program early, so pupils were given the task of pulling up the stalks of a weedy invader, the non-native garlic mustard.

"One of the nice things about doing it outside is, the kids are a lot more receptive," said Chuck Bowler, a semiretired former national and state park ranger who serves as a District Court commissioner in Frederick and Hagerstown. "Their imagination tends to help reinforce their experience, and the fact that they are using more than the senses of sight and hearing that they use in a normal classroom."

Kayakers and canoeists began their journey that day at Devilbiss Bridge, then paddled six miles downstream to the Ceresville Mansion.

Kim Roberts, 37, a graphics designer from Frederick, attended the speeches and social events last year but didn't paddle. "That really enticed me to come this year, especially these days when you're not even supposed to flush your toilet," she said.

Kathleen Doyle, 43, of Frederick, said she joined the group "just to paddle," and this year launched her blue kayak for the first time on the Monocacy. By Wednesday evening, as the group hauled the boats out on the bank beside the mansion, she reminded them that she works as a massage therapist.

Andy Nichols, 45, the owner of Teamlink, a canoe, kayak and climbing business in Frederick, founded a group called the Monocacy Conservancy 10 years ago. But the group of volunteers, with jobs and families, didn't have enough time to achieve its goals.

"I'm glad to see this is going on. There's a lot of energy behind it," he said. "Now Hilari has a paid position, it enables her to give full time to this."

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