Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Building Wildlife Habitats with the District Department of the Environment

Did you know DC has a Wildlife Action Plan? Key to that plan is improving wildlife habitat in private spaces. As the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife puts it:

Photo credit: mean louise
"Since it is already a densely populated area, there are few places where new parks or green space can be created. Additionally, the habitat that is available to wildlife, in parks like Rock Creek, Watts Branch, Fort DuPont and the C&O Canal, is becoming less suitable for wildlife as invasive species continue to spread. We hope to help property owners create good wildlife habitat, create aesthetically pleasing gardens and build community."

In conjunction with that plan, there's a fantastic sounding workshop series coming up. The sessions will combine presentations with hands-on work planting a garden designed for wildlife habitat. What's more, you'll get to take home live plants and a copy of one of our favorite books, Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy.

This is all free, and not limited to residents of the District. Register here.

The Potomac Gorge Habitat
Saturday September 11, 9am-3pm
Palisades Recreation Center
5200 Sherrier Place, NW
Gardening for Birds and Butterflies
Saturday October 9, 9am-3pm
Langdon Recreation Center
2901 20th Street, NE
Gravel Terrace Habitat
Saturday September 18, 9am-3pm
Benning–Stoddert Recreation Center
100 Stoddert Place, SE

Creating Wildlife Communities in Small Spaces
Wednesday & Friday October 13 & 15 5pm-8pm
Hearst Recreation Center
3600 Tilden Street NW
Magnolia Bog Habitat
Saturday Sept 25, 9am-3pm
Douglass Recreation Center
1898 Stanton Terrace, SE
The Beauty and Bounty of Native Cherry Trees
Saturday October 30, 9am-3pm
North Michigan Recreation Center
1333 Emerson Street, NE

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Calendar: Labor Day Weekend

Lots of folks are probably going out of town for the Labor Day weekend, including us -- we'll be in Colorado visiting family. But there are plenty of things to do right here. To highlight just a few:

Overlook Trailhead with Trail Runner
Help keep these trails looking good!
Potomac Overlook Park by Jimski
You can put in a little labor yourself on Saturday -- there's a volunteer day at Potomac Overlook Park.

Take advantage of a day off on Monday by going out to the Sunday-night open house at the University of Maryland Observatory. Dr. Cole Miller will speak on black holes and gravitational waves, followed by a tour of the observatory -- and actual observing, if the weather cooperated.

For a mini get-away, the Potomac Conservancy is leading an overnight canoe trip on the Potomac River from Saturday afternoon until Sunday, for only $20/adult, $10/child (bring your own camping gear, but they have canoes). Spend the night on Minnie's Island in the Potomac, near Lock 8 on the C&O Canal. RSVP by this Thursday to Deanna Tricarico at tricarico@potomac.org.

Looking ahead...right after we get back from Colorado, on September 11, we'll be leading a hike to look for (and hopefully eat) ripe pawpaws. Sign up now to reserve a spot!

As always, there are lots more great-sounding hikes and activities on our calendar. Have a great holiday weekend, whatever you do!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

LOOK FOR: Passionflower (And Maypops)

A few weeks I told you there's hibiscus native to the DC area, even though most people think of it as a tropical flower. But in the "isn't this tropical?" category, our native passionflower takes the cake.

bumblebee on passionflower
Passionflower at Lake Artemesia by The Natural Capital
If anything in our area looks like it should live in the jungle (or perhaps Pandora), this is it. Each flower has a base of 10 whitish petals (5 are actually sepals) with a layer of frilly purple tendrils on top of them, crowned by an other-worldly set of stamens and pistils. And it's a vine -- aren't there lots of vines in the jungle? -- with large, deeply-lobed leaves.

The tropical look of this flower may lead you to think of steamy nights of passion, but the 17th century missionaries who named it claimed to have religion in mind. (Was this devotion, sublimation, or a sly double entendre? We'll probably never know.) But with 10 petals for the apostles, a crown of tendrils, the five stamens representing five wounds, and three pistils for nails (or the Trinity), you've got the Passion incarnate (Passiflora incarnata): the crucifixion of Christ.

Purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
Photo credit: Janet Powell
Unaware of their religious symbolism, those amazing flowers are just trying to reproduce. It's fun to watch bumblebees nectaring; their backs get covered in pollen from stamens poised at just the right height.

And in late summer, the vines will produce a luscious, this-should-be-tropical fruit. Each oval fruit has a green husk about 2 1/2 inches long. Inside are black seeds and juicy, gelatinous white flesh that's sweet, tart, and refreshing. These fruits are passionfruits, but they also go by another name in the south: Maypop. Presumably, they ripen earlier there.

maypop, passionfruit, fruit of passiflora incarnata
Photo credit: freethehops
In the wild: For several years there was a passionflower vine along the Capital Crescent Trail, by the bridge over the Clara Barton Parkway, but we haven't been by there to check on it in a while. There's a big mass of vines at Lake Artemesia. We'd love to hear about more!

In your yard: Passionflower prefers full sun and average moisture. But before growing passionflower you should be aware that it sends out runners that pop up far from where you originally planted it. Without attention it could easily overtake an area; in the wild it forms large, tangly masses. It might be worth trying to grow it in a pot, but I'm not sure how well it would tolerate that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

5 Questions for: Cycle Jerk

My answers to 5 simple questions about the outdoors got a great response, so I'm hereby declaring it a monthly series. Who should we feature next? Leave a comment or email me at thenaturalcapital@gmail.com.

Cycle Jerk?
Jim Fulmer is the man behind Cycle Jerk, where you can read about his bike-riding adventures (including riding his bike to work every day on the Capital Crescent Trail) and observations on biking in general, with occasional guest appearances by his adorable two-year-old daughter. Jim and I ran into each other online this spring, and not long after bumped into each other in real life at a wild edibles tasting (he cooks a great chicken-of-the-woods curry). If he wants to cultivate the title of Cycle Jerk, though, he could work a little harder on the "jerk" part of his persona. Example: Jim was the first to step up and answer our five questions. So, without further ado, here are his answers:

1. You seem to have a great love of and curiosity for the natural world, how did that come about?

As a kid I was always going on nature hikes and drives with my dad. If he saw me laying around with nothing to do he would throw some snacks in the car and we would go on a nature drive. This meant getting lost in the Shenandoahs for the day or heading out to White’s Ferry and exploring the Potomac and the C&O. Also, the house I grew up in backed up to the Difficult Run Trail which gave me easy access to plenty of forest, from Lake Fairfax Park to Great Falls Park.

2. What would you change about your home, your neighborhood, your corner of the world? What one thing would you change to make it a better place?

I would stop my neighbors from over fertilizing their lawns. All the harmful crap they use just to keep their lawns the right shade of green ends up in Sligo Creek and frankly it’s got enough problems.

More selfishly I would cut down the tree in my next door neighbor’s front yard which shades the only spot I have to grow veggies.

3. Describe your most profound encounter in the natural world.

I was on one of those zip line tours in Monte Verde in Costa Rica. The highest zip line was 400 feet above the tree tops that went 750 yards connecting two mountain tops. The clouds had come in and all I could see was the next15 feet of cable as I flew along. In the middle of the valley the clouds broke and I could see the jungle 400 feet below me and the valley stretching out on either side. About 50 feet to my left a Swallow Tailed Kite emerged from the clouds heading in the opposite direction. I glanced over at him as he glanced over at me and for an instant our eyes met and we watched each other go by. It was an incredible feeling being able to share a moment with this bird while on its turf. At least now I know what my spirit animal is.

zipline in Costa Rica
Costa Rica zipline.
Secondary to that I would say raising wild birds as a child. My family would take in baby birds that fell from their nests and were abandon. It’s surprisingly easy to care for and raise a baby bird. Over all, we did this for 2 Sparrows and a Baltimore Oriole.

4. If you could have a conversation with any person in history who would it be, and why that person?

I would want to talk to Charles Darwin. I would like to get his point of view on the resurgence of the argument against natural selection 150 years later. On the same subject I would ask for some tips on how to deal with frighteningly stupid people.

5. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to better experience the natural world?

Similar to Elizabeth’s answer I would say slow down and “be here now”. While hiking my dad would randomly make us stop and observe our surroundings in silence to make sure we weren’t missing anything. This always brought us into the moment. I try to do this a few times during every mountain bike. It also gives me an excuse to stretch more and catch my breath.

Sligo Creek
A stop on Cycle Jerk's commute: Sligo Creek.

Who should we feature next in this series? Leave a comment or email me at thenaturalcapital@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Calendar: Hiking the Ant Mounds, and Other Insect-Related Activities

Sometimes a single activity on the calendar strikes my fancy and generates a whole week's theme. This week, from the Northern Virginia Hiking Club:

...a spectacular 5.4 mile hike along Little Bennett creek through a 3,700 acre park in nearby Montgomery County. We'll pass by an old one-room school house from centuries ago. There is a fun suspension bridge over the wide creek and an amazing end to this hike through a forest filled with hundreds of giant, 3-4 feet tall ant pyramids, the only place in Maryland where giant ant mounds can be found by the hundreds.
Mound Builders
Ant mound at Little Bennett, by grggrssmr
That's on Sunday morning.

What other creepy crawly adventures are there in store for you this week, should you choose to accept them?

On Tuesday evening at the French Embassy, there's a screening of a work-in-progress called Symphony of the Soil, sponsored by the Environmental Film Festival and FRESHFARM markets. This may be more gardening-and-food related than pure nature, but they're sure to talk about all the creepy crawlies that make healthy soil healthy. Tickets are $30 and include a reception with light food and cocktails.

The butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens, Wings of Fancy, will close in September. This hot summer has been rough on them, so they could use your support with a visit.

The two remaining bug activities are aimed at kids:

This is the third and last in a recurring Wednesday evening series at Locust Grove Nature Center in Bethesda called "moth flicks" -- it's not clear whether these are movies about insects, or just expected to draw in the moths...which could be cool too.

On Sunday afternoon, Mason Neck State Park has a program called "Crawly Creatures Beneath Your Feet": learn how creatures live under a log, and look at them up close.

Of course, it's August, so nearly anything you do outside will involve some bugs. See our calendar for more info on these and many other options.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

LOOK FOR: Joe Pye Weed

We're headed out for a few days of camping and canoeing at Jug Bay this weekend. If the last few years are any guide, the Joe Pye weed will be in full force, and covered in tiger swallowtail butterflies.

butterflies on Joe Pye weed
Photo credit: melystu

There are several different species of Joe Pye, all with large umbels of pinkish-lavender flowers. The individual flowers are small and wispy, but the heads as a whole are huge -- Bill Cullina calls them "as big as basketballs," and it's only sometimes an exaggeration.

tall Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum
Photo credit: Janet Powell
Adding to the impressive presence, some stalks grow to as high as 14 feet. That's quite a feat after dying back to the ground every winter! The toothed leaves grow in whorls around those tall stems.

Joe Pye weed is named after a healer (aka Jopi) who pushed the plant as a remedy for typhoid in late 18th century New England. Stories conflict on whether he was a Native American or just pretending to be for the sake of selling more medicine. Either way, he has probably gained more fame than he ever dreamed of.

In addition to inducing sweating for fevers like typhoid, Joe Pye weed has a history of use for kidney, gallblader, and urinary ailments. Reportedly, that's how this genus of plants got the name Eupatorium -- after Mithridates Eupator, a ruler in Asia Minor who was the first to use them as medicine in the first century BC.

Butterflies - female Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed
Photo credit: Vicki's Nature
Several species of Eupatorium share the big pinkish-purple flower heads and the name Joe Pye weed. You can try to tell them apart like this:
  • Spotted Joe Pye (E. maculatum) has purple mottled stems and a flatter flower cluster;

  • Hollow-stemmed Joe Pye (E. fistulosum) is hollow-stemmed, and very tall;

  • Purple or Sweet-Scented Joe Pye (E. purpureum) has solid stems, and is said to smell like vanilla when crushed;

  • Eastern Joe Pye (E. dubium) has finely spotted stems and the leaves have three strong veins.

In the wild: You'll typically see Joe Pye weed growing in wet areas. It grows in several places along Rock Creek; you'll see more in wetlands like Roosevelt Island, Jug Bay, and Huntley Meadows. Once you find some, stick around and see who stops by. I'm telling you, this stuff is a pollinator magnet.

In your yard: We've got 12-foot-tall E. fistulosum growing in our raingarden. But we've also had good luck with a shorter, shade-tolerant variety in our shady backyard. Just be ready for the height: when I say "shorter," I mean about 5 feet tall! Be sure to inquire about the expected height of the variety you're getting.

joe pye weed
Photo credit: garden beth

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trip Report: August Fruits and Flowers on the NW Branch

Saturday was a great day for a walk along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia. We had unbelievably low temperatures in the 70s. And the aftermath of Thursday's powerful storm was apparent, with several downed trees and branches. Perhaps the prettiest was a large chunk of a sycamore across the trail, which gave us a good look at the beautiful bark without being too much of an obstacle.

On our favorite mountain laurel hill, there was a big oak tree that completely blocked the path (it was just about time to turn around anyway). There were several trees down in that area, in fact, which should make for an even more spectacular show than usual next May.

Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella
Wood sorrel has edible leaves and flowers.
Photo credit: by the van
We sampled many flowers and berries (marked with an asterisk below), but the highlight for many? The common garden weed wood sorrel, with its heart shaped leaves and lemony goodness. We'll have to post about that soon.

Here's a list of the things we stopped to look at -- over the course of a walk that was only about a mile, round trip. Links are to previous posts on the Natural Capital. Some photos are from the Creative Commons, because it was awfully cloudy on Saturday.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis
Evening primrose has edible flowers.
Photo credit: Steve Guttman

Asiatic dayflower* (Commelina communis)
Evening primrose* (Oenothera biennis)
Jewelweed* (Impatiens capensis)
Lady's thumb* (Polygonum persicaria)
Water pepper* (Polygonum hydrophilum)

With fruit, berries, or seeds
Black cherry* (Prunus serotina)
Elderberry* (Sambucus canadensis)
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Water hemlock (Cicuta maculata)
Black cherries (Prunus serotina)
Wild black cherries -- edible but not very sweet
Photo credit: peppergrass

Wood sorrel* (Oxalis sp.)
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Sassafras* (Sassafras albidum)
Wintergreen* (Gaultheria procumbens)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum)
Mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata)
Beefsteak mint (shizo)* (Perilla frutscens)

Interesting Insects
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars and butterfly (Papilio troilus)
Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle)
Arrowhead spider (Verrucosa arenata)

Sound fun? Our next hike will be looking for pawpaws on September 11. Sign up here.

Lady's Thumb has edible flowers.
Photo credit: Jerry Oldnettel

Asiatic dayflower also has edible flowers.
Photo credit: titanium22

Elderberry -- valuable for birds and edible for humans

Pokeweed berries -- edible to birds, but not humans

arrowhead spider
Looking for caterpillars, I found a spider.
Arrowhead spider by myriorama
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars curl up leaves to hide in.
Photo credit: poppy2323

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Calendar: In the District This Week

We try to keep our calendar focused relatively close to town, but our picks aren't always in the District proper. So, this week, an all-DC lineup for your outdoor socializing pleasure.

Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park by lightsketch
Rock Creek Park has added some evening hikes to its activity rotation. One is this Tuesday evening, leaving from picnic grove 1 (by Pierce Mill, not too far from Van Ness/Cleveland Park Metros).

Friday evening brings a walk with the Center Hiking Club starting at Rosslyn and heading through Georgetown area parks of Glover Archbold, Whitehaven, and Dumbarton Oaks. Optional dinner afterwards.

Saturday morning offers two more hikes in Rock Creek Park. One with the Sierra Club will leave from the Cleveland Park metro and cover about 7 miles. There's an optional lunch afterwards. Your other option is a shorter ranger-led hike on the Western Ridge trail leaving from the Nature Center.

And Sunday? For ages 12 and up, there's a horseback tour in Rock Creek Park on Sunday morning. I suspect this one fills up -- call and make your reservations!

Rock Creek Park also offers a regular schedule of kids' programming throughout the week, from the planetarium to feeding the animals and walking behind the Nature Center.

More details on all of these and many more options on our calendar. If we missed something you'd like to highlight, drop us a note in the comments.

We'll see you out there!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

LOOK FOR: Meteors

August has been recorded as a peak date for meteor showers for centuries. Tiny grains of sand entering the Earth's atmosphere glow so brightly, they look like falling stars. And every year at the same time, we go through the same field of sand grains, and the show starts all over again.

The Perseids (called that because they originate in the sky near the constellation Perseus) are considered one of the biggest meteor showers of the year. On a clear, dark night, there might be as many as 50 shooting stars per hour. They'll peak tonight after midnight, and may also be visible on Friday and Saturday. Get out there and take a look. Maybe even make a wish.

Photo credit: cestomano

The darker it is when (and where) you're looking for falling stars, the more you should see. The moon phase can make a big difference: the less moonlight, the better your view. This year, we're in luck: the moon is just a sliver, and it will set relatively early. Artificial light is also very important: if you can, go somewhere away from artificial light sources. Your darkest bet in DC might be Rock Creek Park; the Capital Astronomers like to use the field just south of the intersection of Military and Glover Roads NW. (In fact, they'll be there on Saturday night.) The problem is, the park is officially closed after dark. If you've got an idea for safe, legal, less-lighted locations that have open sky, we'd love to hear about them.

In general, you'll see the most meteors in the time between midnight and dawn. (That is, if you're enough of a night owl or early riser to be seeing anything then.) This has to do with how the Earth is moving in space: in the early morning, we're moving toward the part of the sky you can see, and thus there will be many more visible collisions between meteors and our atmosphere.

The final thing you'll have to consider is the weather report. Clouds, obviously, will make it much harder to see the meteors. But so will humidity, which creates a haze that makes it harder to make out anything in the sky. Not to mention, a nice dry night makes it much more pleasant to be outside.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Natural Places To Swim (Somewhat) Near DC

If I had to name my biggest frustration with the nature around DC, the lack of good swimming holes might top the list. Until 7th grade I lived down the road from a little lake -- and went swimming as often as possible. It's something I deeply associate with summer: there's nothing like jumping into the lukewarm, murky, un-chlorinated water, with fish nipping at your toes.

jumping off a rope swing
Photo credit: Kelly Johnson
And so, as swimming season rapidly comes to a close, I've done a little research on places to go. There's nothing that I've been able to find inside the beltway -- at least nothing legal. But listed below are 15 swimming spots that would make a short day trip from Washington, DC. A few are just under an hour's drive from the Capitol. Let us know if you have more to add to the list!

Why no swimming inside the beltway? We have plenty of creeks and rivers running through the city, but they're horribly polluted and often not deep enough for a real swim. The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries can have bacteria levels six times more concentrated than an unflushed toilet. Which leads me to ask: why haven't the people of the DC area risen up to fight for clean, swimmable rivers? Even in these more far-flung locations, call first to make sure they haven't been closed for the day for bacterial contamination -- especially if it has rained recently.

View Natural Swimming Spots (Somewhat) Near Washington DC in a larger map

Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis offers swimming from the west side of the Bay. In addition to the whole pollution issue, there may be jellyfish. But it's close! Crabbing and fishing are also allowed here; some supplies are available at the marina.
Distance from US Capitol: 38 miles/ 51 mins
1100 East College Parkway
Annapolis, MD 21409-6149
(410) 974-2149
Admission: weekends $5, weekdays $4 per person for Maryland residents -- $1 more for non-Maryland residents

Patapsco Valley State Park allows swimming in the Patapsco River, unless otherwise posted (e.g., not in rapids or near dams).
2090 Daniels Rd
Ellicott City, MD
Distance to US Capitol: 41 miles / 55 mins
Hours: 9am to sunset
Admission: $2/person

Millford Mill Park and Swim Club has a quarry with zip lines and rope swings as well as a swimming pool.
3900 Milford Mill Road
Windsor Mill, MD 21244-3868
(410) 655-4818
Distance from US Capitol: 44 miles / 1 hour
Hours: Sunday-Friday noon-6:30, Saturday 10:30-6:30
Admission, ages 12+: weekends $13, weekdays $11
Admission under 12: weekends $13, weekdays $6

Acquia Landing is a popular little beach that also served as an important supply spot during the Civil War. The park also includes marshland that can make for good birdwatching; it's part of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Brooke Road, outside Fredericksburg
Distance from US Capitol: 52 miles / 1 hour 16 mins
Admission: $4.50 Youth & Seniors; $6.50 Adults)

Beaver Dam Swimming Club is an old marble quarry which has a rope swing you can use, but you're no longer allowed to dive off the rocks. The swimming club also includes two swimming pools, grills, basketball courts, and other amenities.
10820 Beaver Dam Rd
Cockeysville, MD 21031
Distance to US Capitol: 55 miles / 1 hour 17 min
Summer hours: Weekdays 11am-6:30pm; Weekends & Holidays 11am-7pm
Admission Ages 12+: Mon - Sat $14, Sun & Holidays $16
Admission Under 12: $10

Gunpowder Falls State Park offers sanctioned swimming at a beach in its Hammerman area, but there are several other spots that people jump in the river.
Middle River, Maryland 21220
(410) 592-2897
Distance to US Capitol: 55 miles / 1 hour 20 mins
Hours: 8am to sunset
Admission: $3 for Maryland residents; $4 non-residents

Oregon Ridge Park is a Baltimore County-owned park that includes a spring-fed swimming quarry.
13401 Beaver Dam Road
Cockeysville, MD 21030-1530
(410) 887-1818
Distance to US Capitol: 57 miles / 1 hour 19 mins
Hours: Weekdays 10am-5:30pm, weekends 10am-6:30pm
Admission ages 12+: $6 weekdays, $7 weekends (discounted after 4pm)
Admission under 12: $3

Rocky Point Beach offers a 300-foot sandy beach at the point where the Back and Middle Rivers meet the Chesapeake Bay.
Distance to US Capitol: 59 miles / 1 hour 18 mins
Hours: 10am-6pm
Admission ages 12+: $6 weekdays, $7 weekends (discounted after 4pm)
Admission under 12: $3

Greenbrier State Park has a 42-acre lake open for swimming, boating, and fishing. The park also has hiking trails; a portion of the Appalachian Trail passes through.
21843 National Pike
Boonsboro, MD 21713-9535
Distance to US Capitol: 64 miles / 1 hour 28 mins
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Admission: weekdays $3 per person, weekends/holidays $5 per person

Greenwell State Park along the Patuxent offers two beaches for swimming in the river. The park also has 10 miles of trails, including 2 miles along the river.
25450 Rosedale Manor Lane
Hollywood, MD 20636-2925
(301) 373-2320
Distance from US Capitol: 54 miles / 1 hour 33 mins
Admission: MD residents $3/vehicle; out-of-state residents $4/vehicle

Cascade Lake is a 6-acre lake decked out with a couple of waterslides (one is 150 feet long) and docks. There's also a separate water playground.
3000 Snydersburg Rd
Hampstead, MD 21074
(410) 374-9111
(410) 239-4708
Distance to US Capitol: 66 miles / 1 hour 34 mins
Summer hours: Weekdays 10am-6pm; Weekends 10am-7pm
Admission Ages 5+: $8 weekdays ($6 after 2pm), $12 weekends
Admission Under 5: $6 weekdays, $10 weekends

Cunningham Falls State Park includes three swimming spots on 44-acre Hunting Creek Lake. I've also seen people playing in the water around the actual Cunningham Falls, but it's not officially sanctioned. The park also offers trails and camping.
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road
Thurmont MD 21788
Distance to US Capitol: 70 miles / 1 hour 38 mins
Admission: weekdays $3, weekends $4

Elizabeth Furnace is a lovely area in George Washington National Forest; there are several unofficial swimming holes there.
Distance to US Capitol: 82 miles / 1 hour 47 mins
No admission fee.

Overall Run is a popular Shenandoah National Park destination for hikers from the DC area because of the pools you can jump in when you're done hiking.
Distance to US Capitol: 82 miles / 1 hour 46 mins

Lake Anna State Park is one of the largest lakes in Virginia, at 13,000 acres. Nonetheless, the parking lot fills up quickly on summer weekends; you may need to arrive before the lake opens to be able to swim. The park also offers trails, camping, and cabins.
6800 Lawyers Road
Spotsylvania, VA 22551-6404
(540) 854-5503
Distance to US Capitol: 84 miles / 1 hour 46 mins
Weekends and holidays: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; weekdays 10am-4pm
Admission, ages 13+: weekdays $3, weekends $4
Admission under 13: weekdays $2, weekends $3

Have an opinion about one of these spots, or one to add to the list? Leave us a comment!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Calendar: Astronomy and Survival

There are still a few spots left on the walk we're leading on Saturday morning along the Northwest Branch in Silver Spring. We'll focus on late summer fruits, flowers, and (hopefully) fungi. Register here.

After you've learned about your wild edibles, on Sunday afternoon you'll be all ready for a class at Rock Creek Park on an introduction to building basic shelters for backcountry survival.

Photo credit: zach kowalczyk
But before any of that, the Perseid meteor shower will peak this Thursday night. Mark your calendar to keep an eye out for shooting stars! (The best time to see them is actually after midnight, or early in the morning before the sun rises.)

Saturday night is the National Capital Astronomers' monthly expedition to Military Field in Rock Creek Park. Come peer through their telescopes at the Andromeda Galaxy, or spread out a blanket and see if you can catch any leftovers from the meteor shower. If you want to get away from the city lights, you can head way out to Sky Meadows -- folks from the Air and Space museum will also be having a skywatching event on Saturday. The sky is much darker out there, making it easier to see things in the sky.

More details and lots more great sounding hikes and other events are listed on our calendar. If you've got anything else you'd like to highlight, feel free to leave a comment.

We'll see you out there!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Places to Rent a Canoe or Kayak in the Washington, DC Area

Summer calls out for being on the water. We've found more than a dozen locations where you can rent a canoe or kayak in the Washington, DC, metro area. What surprised me is the significant price differences depending on the place you pick. One hot spot is twice as expensive as anyone else! Get out there and explore some of these lesser-known spots, and you may find a new favorite. Click on any of the placemarks in the map below, or keep reading for a little more info about each location.

(Note for later in the year: many of these places shut down from October through May or so. The water's just too cold to risk people falling in.)

View Canoe and Kayak Rentals in the Washington, DC Area in a larger map

On the Potomac River:

Fletcher's Boat House (4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington DC, 202-244-0461). On the C&O Canal, south of the Chain Bridge. 7AM-6PM, last rentals at 5:00.

  • Canoes and kayaks: $8/hour or $24/day
Thompson Boat Center (2900 Virginia Ave NW, 202-333-9543). Seven days a week, 8 AM to 5 PM. Also rent small sailboats and rowing sculls.
  • Canoes: $12/hour or $24/day
  • Single kayaks: $10/hour or $28/day.
  • Double kayaks: $17/hour or $40/day. 
Jack's Boathouse (3700 K St NW, 202-337-9642). Rents canoes and single and double kayaks. Maximum rental is three hours. 8:00AM-8:30PM on weekends, check website for weekdays.
  • $12 per person, per hour, for all kinds of boats.
Atlantic Kayak Company (13600 King Charles Terrace, Fort Washington, MD, 301-292-6455). This company is located at the Fort Washington Marina on Piscataway Creek, which is located across the Potomac from Mount Vernon. Weekends only, 10AM to 5PM.
  • Solo kayaks: $25 for 2 hours, $35 for 3 hours, $50 all day
  • Double kayaks: $35 for 2 hours, $45 for 3 hours, $65 all day
Mason Neck State Park (7301 High Point Rd, Lorton, VA, 703-339-2385). A limited number of canoes, solo, and double kayaks. Seven days a week, 10 AM to 5 PM, at the Visitor's Center.
  • Canoes: $12/hour, $50 for more than four hours.
  • Solo kayaks:  $10/hour, $50 for more than four hours.
  • Double kayaks: $15/hour, $60 for more than four hours.
Pohick Bay Regional Park (6501 Pohick Bay Drive, Lorton, VA, 703-339-6104) is also on the Mason Neck peninsula. Weekends and holidays, 10AM-6PM.
  • Canoes: $9.50/hour, $41/day
  • Solo kayaks: $8.50/hour, $37/day
  • Double kayaks: $10/hour, $41/day
On the Anacostia:

Bladensburg Waterfront Park (4601 Annapolis Road, Bladensburg, MD, 301-779-0371). Rentals are available Saturdays & Sundays, 10 am-6 pm. The park also leads tours on a pontoon boat (free, and no work for you!).
  • Canoes or kayaks: $5 per hour, $12 per day for PG County residents; $6 per hour, $15 per day for non-residents
On the Patuxent:

Jug Bay/Patuxent River Park (16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, MD, 301-627-6074). Reserve a canoe ahead of time by phone. Open from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM; call to inquire about overnight rentals or the possibility of starting further upriver and stopping at Jug Bay.
  • Canoes or kayaks: $15 per day.
On the Occoquan:

Fountainhead Regional Park (10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station, VA, 703-250-9124) rents boats for exploring the 1700-acre Occoquan Reservoir.
  • Canoes: $9.50/hour, $41/day.
  • Single kayak: $8.50/hour, $37/day.
  • Double kayak: $10/hour, $41/day. 
On Lakes:

Black Hill Regional Park (20920 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds, MD, 301-972-6157). Little Seneca Lake (505 acres) has a marked boating trail, with a guide you can print and take with you. Its boat rental also has one of the earliest weekend starting times on our list, good for wildlife viewing, fishing, or just beating the heat. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, 6:30 AM - 6:00 PM; Tuesday - Friday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM.
  • Canoes, kayaks, or rowboats: $8/hour or $27.50/day.
Lake Needwood at Rock Creek Regional Park (15700 Needwood Lake Cir, Redland, MD, 301-762-9500) also opens early on the weekends, but it's much smaller (just 75 acres).  Fridays, Weekends, and holidays 6:30 AM - 6:00 PM; Mondays 9AM - 2PM, Wednesdays and Thursdays Noon - 5:30PM.
  • Canoes, kayaks, or rowboats: $8 per hour or $27.50 per day.
Clopper Lake at Seneca Creek State Park (11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, MD, 301-924-2127). I wasn't able to confirm, but I bet they have similar hours and prices as the previous two spots, which are also in Montgomery County.

Lake Fairfax Park (1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston, VA, 703-471-5415) has perhaps the smallest lake, at only 18 acres. Still, it can make for a nice jaunt with kids.
  • Canoes: $6/hour 
Want some training before you enter the water in a boat? Check out lessons with Potomac Paddlesports, Calleva, or Liquid Adventures. Several local parks also have ranger-led canoe and kayak programs, like the ones at Lake Artemesia.

Have any experience with these rental spots? Any we missed? Leave a comment!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Calendar: Exploring the Potomac

The Sierra Club has two hikes along the Potomac next weekend. On Saturday,they'll hike 12 miles on the Potomac Heritage Trail. Sunday it's 10 miles from the Catoctin Aqueduct to the Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal.

Photo credit: 1sock
On Sunday morning, the Potomac Conservancy is offering a program by eco-historian Hayden Mathews, who will give "an interactive talk which will weave regional history, natural history, and geology to interpret the forces and events that shaped both the Potomac River and the people that have lived on its banks for the past 12,000 years."

Coming up - Register now for the walk we're leading on August 14, focusing on late summer fruits, flowers, and fungi on the Northwest Branch Trail, Silver Spring, MD.

More details and many more options for the week ahead are on our calendar.