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Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week: A Time to Enjoy Our Local Streams

By Julie Palakovich Carr, Rockville Recreation and Parks Foundation Board member

June 4 to 12, 2022 is Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week. This is a time to think about how we can explore and enjoy the Bay in new ways, as well as protect it.

Although Rockville is located an hour from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, our state is strongly tied to the Bay. In all, 95% of Maryland is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That means that everything that goes into a storm drain in Montgomery County—or almost anywhere else in the state—ends up in a stream that ultimately flows into the Bay. All told, the Chesapeake is the nation’s largest estuary.

Rockville has three watersheds that flow into the Potomac River, which is the source of our local drinking water. The cleaner we keep the Potomac, the cleaner our drinking water—and the Chesapeake Bay—will be. All three local watersheds are accessible for hiking and exploration and many streams run through local parks. During the summer months, these forested stream valleys can be cool—figuratively and literally—to explore and enjoy wildlife.

Our local streams are a great place to see wildlife. From turtles to crayfish to birds, there is an abundance of types of animals in and along our streams. In the Rockville area, you might see two-lined salamanders, tadpoles, northern water snake, raccoons, and birds such as heron, mallard, and wood duck.

And don’t forget about exploring in streams. Our local streams are generally safe for wading in, provided that you adhere to some basic precautions. Some important safety tips are to wear closed toe shoes (in case of glass), don’t drink the water, and don’t go swimming (i.e. don’t submerge your head). We live in an urban area and the water level can change rapidly, especially after it rains and keep an eye out for any strange colors or oiliness to the water. And as with any outdoor activity in this area, insect repellent may also be desirable. After your excursion, you should wash your hands, feet, and legs with soap to remove any bacteria and it’s also a good idea to clean your clothes and shoes soon after going wading to prevent the creek smells from getting established in your clothes.

Where to Go

There are several good spots to go hiking and to explore streams in Rockville.

Rock Creek drains the eastern part of Rockville. The trails in Rock Creek Park largely follow along beside the stream that gives the park its name. These trails are paved and shaded, making them great even on a hot day for walking, jogging, or biking. For a hike that feels a bit more natural, try the trails that start at Croydon Creek Nature Center, such as the Overlook Trail. This trail leads to a series of small waterfalls and a large natural pool, which is good for exploring and seeing wildlife.

The southern part of Rockville is the Cabin John Watershed. A nice spot to see the creek is in Dogwood Park. A bridge over the stream provides pedestrian and bicyclist access from Cabin John Parkway in the Hungerford neighborhood. Continuing south along Cabin John Parkway is a lovely, paved path that overlooks a pond before connecting to the Carl Henn Millennium Trail.

The western side of Rockville is the Upper Watts Branch watershed, which also drains part of Gaithersburg. The stream is accessible through the woods from Princeton Place and Azalea Drive in the Woodley Gardens and College Gardens neighborhoods.

If you looking to enjoy the Bay itself, my family’s favorite spot is Sandy Point State Park. It’s only an hour away from Rockville and has lots of sandy beaches and swimming areas, plus a great view of the Bay Bridge.

Another spot we’re looking forward to exploring this summer is Calvert Cliffs State Park. Not only can you enjoy the beach, but fossilized shark teeth are commonly found along the shore. It’s worth noting that this beach involves a bit of a hike from the parking lot (1.8 miles each way).

Ways to Get Involved

Native plants activity book for kids. The Muddy Branch Alliance created a self-guided nature activity book for kids. Print out a copy to use while your family explores along a stream. And don’t forget to bring crayons or colored pencils so that your kids can color in the illustrations based on what you find.

Volunteer to do stream monitoring. The Audubon Naturist Society has been checking the health of local streams since the early 1990s. The Rockville chapter of the Izaak Walton League also conducts periodic monitoring of stream health. Volunteers assess stream habitats and look for organisms that live in the streams.

Clean up trash. The City of Rockville’s Adopt a Stream program encourages individuals and groups to periodically remove litter from designated stream segments. If you are looking for a less programmed option, try plogging—pick up litter while walking or jogging.

Plant native plants in your yard. Native plants help to attract and support local pollinators and may be hardier and more resistant to pests, therefore requiring less or no pesticides. Rockville offers residents financial rebates for planting native trees and plants.

Ease up on salt usage in the winter. Salt spread on roads and sidewalks in the winter doesn’t stay put. Once winter precipitation melts, excess salt enters local streams via storm drains. Unfortunately, that salt is bad for wildlife. Local volunteers documented toxic salt levels in the Muddy Branch in Gaithersburg for more than a quarter of last year. And Lake Veruna had a fish kill last year because of toxic salt levels.

Report dumping or water quality issues. If you ever see a stream that has an unusual color, is cloudy, or has a strong smell, it may be a sign of pollution. You can report suspected pollution to the City of Rockville’s Pollution Hotline at (240) 314-8348.

Here’s to a week of good weather and fun explorations of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries!

A special thanks to Karen Lasday at the Croydon Creek Nature Center, Shannon Philbin from the City of Rockville, and Karl Van Neste with the Muddy Branch Alliance for providing information for this article.

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