Victoria Galford, front, takes a photo of the dam as she and her… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
Several hundred people got a new perspective on the Loch Raven Reservoir Sunday, watching the Gunpowder River pour over the spillway as they stood on the dam itself, just a few yards from the water.
It was the Baltimore Department of Public Works' third Loch Raven Day, one day a year when the public is invited into an otherwise off-limits area for the unusual view.
"It's awesome," said Dave Wilmot, a fire safety engineer from Lutherville, expressing a sentiment heard often during the unexpectedly sunny afternoon that drew families outdoors.
"I've always wanted to see the dam. I drove past it and I saw the construction," he recalled, while his toddler son, Gregory, pointed at the expansive reservoir and announced: "Wah-ter."
"We always wanted to see this," said Jocelyn Held, a homemaker who bicycled with her husband and daughters from their home nearby to peer over the railing.
They were among visitors who walked on what had been the top of the dam in 1922, before a 2005 renovation bulked up the dam and added 28 feet to its abutments. The increases brought it into compliance with federal standards that grew out of 1972's Tropical Storm Agnes — a deluge that raised the water level nearly to the dam's limit and destroyed other East Coast dams.
Standing on the deck once again led Tom Harryman, a service technician who lives near the reservoir, to reminisce about childhood afternoons with his grandfather when they tossed bread to waiting fish. "You would see carp," he said. "Some of them were three feet long." He still returns often to the reservoir's banks, finding peace and beauty in fishing, watching birds and just unwinding.
The event offered an opportunity for people to tie the 23-billion gallon reservoir mentally to their tap water — much of the Baltimore region's water comes from here — as well as to history and the watershed environment. Department of Public Works officials are considering holding another Loch Raven event in the fall.
The combination, said Betty Frech, who came from Baltimore's Mayfield neighborhood with her husband, John, "really gives you an appreciation of Loch Raven."
Dave Smyth, a Gannett-Fleming project engineer from the renovation, showed visitor after visitor a cagelike machine that rakes debris from the water's surface and explained how sluice gates regulate the depth from where water is pulled for daily use.
"It's really fascinating to hear from the engineers who designed the rehabilitation of the dam and get an understanding of what happens every time you turn on the faucet," said Nick Daniels, a teacher from the city's Hamilton neighborhood.
His wife, Amie, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County student of urban environmental education, said the visit complemented her studies and also entertained Charlotte, the couple's 11-month-old.
At the water's edge, children skipped stones while the Baltimore Rangers re-enactors, in green wool coats and three-cornered hats, told visitors they were forerunners of the today's rangers. Stationed at a garrison in Pikesville in the 1690s and paid in tobacco, they patrolled the frontier and turned Native American paths into roads, some of which are among the region's paved roadways today.
Youngsters crowded around the Department of Natural Resources' Scales and Tales program, which brought examples of wildlife of the watershed, to get close to the birds, touch a black rat snake and see a 90-year-old Eastern box turtle.
A little Eastern screech owl batted his huge O-shaped eyes at visitors and seemed to hold conversations with them — and he may have been photographed as much as the vistas and lush foliage of the reservoir.