All I wanted to do Sunday afternoon was go to a place that had water. At first, I thought about going to Annapolis, but then I remembered: we have a river right here! The Patuxent River, which you've probably driven over a million times going to and from Howard County. But as present as it is in my life, I'd never thought about how difficult it is to go down by the River Pax.
I started at Burtonsville Park, about a mile from the river at Route 198 and Oursler Drive. There was a playground with some kids and some picnic tables, a parking lot or two - and some woods that I figure continued to the water, but no trail, no signs. Okay, I thought. Let me find the next closest place where you can cross the river, which was Ednor Road.
A few more minutes of driving, windows down, these awesome friendly summer breezes that won't hang around for too much longer. Where Ednor Road meets the river are parking lots - one on each side of the road. On the east side is a boat slip; on the west side, a bridle path. Signs for both make it explicitly clear that if you don't have a boat, a horse, or a use permit, you're not welcome there. "POSITIVELY NO LOITERING," says one sign. But isn't that why I'm coming to the Great Outdoors . . . to stand around and appreciate God's green earth? So I took some pictures and gave up. I got shaved ice from the snowball stand outside Kendall's Hardware in Clarksville. (Mmm, summer.)
Nowhere else in Montgomery County are there as many people near the water as there are here. (Sure, there's a good chunk of Bethesda and Potomac along the Potomac River, but unlike us, they have to cross a highway, albeit a very pretty drive, to reach it.) Between Burtonsville Park and Burtonsville's dying Village Center there seem to me a slew of opportunities for us to interact with the water: hiker/biker trails along the shore, little beaches, even fishing piers. And the paths we build could snake over to Old Town Laurel, where they could really embrace the Patuxent with a boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
But, as it stands, we have a river that's largely hidden and inaccessible to the public. The Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission has little claim to the Patuxent, aside from conservation land meant to keep the river's tributaries clean. Of course, our water comes from the Tridelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs, which were formed by dams built in the 1940's. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (you know, the water company) has control over them, and have set up the very unfun-sounding "Watershed Recreational User Program," which enables visitors to go boating, fishing, hunting and horseback riding along the river for a small fee. They have picnic tables, apparently, but when I was at Ednor Road, I didn't see any sign directing me to them.
The Patuxent River State Park starts at Georgia Avenue north of Brookeville and continues west to Damascus. You can go boating, fishing or hunting there - but there are also plenty of picnic areas and hiking trails. This is a place where you can reach the water - with ease, I'm sure - but only if you know to go there. For anyone living east of Georgia Avenue, going down to the river is a much more complicated proposition.
I understand the health of the river is important for protecting our drinking water - and, more importantly, the status of the Chesapeake Bay eighty miles downstream. But for the practical and recreational benefits it provides, it seems like the Patuxent River is woefully underused in East County. There are thousands of people who live within a ten-minute drive of the river itself but, instead, have to go miles away just to set out a picnic blanket.