Archive for the ‘Level Walker’ Category

Dragonfly Hike at Oldtown: June 22nd

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies!  it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies! it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

In the past, Candee and I have stumbled upon certain interests after buying a book with a colorful cover.  That explains our past hunts for wildflowers and mushrooms.  In fact, sometimes it feels like the only things we can sneak up on are wildflowers and mushrooms, but that’s another story for another post.  In the case of dragonflies, our friend and Level Walker Chair, Steve Dean, had a hike scheduled this past Sunday concerning these interesting creatures.

Dragonfly photography.  I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

Dragonfly photography. I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

The watered section of the C&O Canal near Oldtown–known as Battie Mixon’s Fishing Hole–is a great place to seek out dragonflies.  However, this day didn’t have a promising start: the temperature was in the high sixties and it was drizzling, which isn’t perfect for insects that prefer sunlight and heat.

I'm going to start Candee's collection with a Pondhawk--the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

I’m going to start Candee’s collection with a Pondhawk–the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike.  She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike. She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

It's amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

It’s amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

Nevertheless, a group of ten people showed up, and most were armed with much better cameras than ours.  I have to give Candee a lot of credit for getting some great shots with my Samsung phone, and fellow Level Walker Paul Perkus was kind enough to help us out with some fantastic pictures as well.  He has a great eye for photography, and many of his pictures have made it into the C&O Canal Association’s newsletter.  Memo to self: I need to invest in a better camera!

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I'm going to start  Paul's collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I’m going to start Paul’s collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus. This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus.  Check out the eyes on this guy!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Our past endeavors have met with mixed success: we do know a fair amount about wildflowers and have been fortunate enough to identify a number of them, but mushrooms are another story.  As for dragonflies, that remains to be seen.  One way of finding out is to attend the next dragonfly hike at Pennyfield Lock on August 9th.  Checking out these unique insects goes hand-in-hand with the history of the canal and great conversation with people who have a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.  Anyone interested should check out the C&O Canal Association’s website,  There are a number of great hikes and opportunities to volunteer in the park.  What could be better?

Into the Fog (Re-hashing 2013 and Looking Forward to 2014)

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Fog on the Potomac and towpath

Today, we headed out to our volunteer area for our last level walk of 2013,  It was a strangely beautiful day, with an odd combination of light rain and fog that was offset by an unseasonable temperature in the mid-sixties.  We encountered one passerby in a car at Fifteen Mile Creek, but, other than that, we were completely alone for the better part of 3.5 hours, or nine miles.  That’s rare, even in one of the more remote sections of the C&O.

Scene at Indigo Neck

Scene at Indigo Neck

It seems like the warm weather wasn’t enough to awaken any prospective hikers from the spell of the recently melted snow.  Nevertheless, a good samaritan did come along at some point and pick up the fallen trash bag box at the Indigo Neck hiker/biker campsite.  There were a couple of fallen limbs and about a half bag of trash, so we did accomplish something.  Even so, there was plenty to think about and lots of time for doing it.  As the park is concerned, my New Year’s resolutions are to stay in one of the lockhouses and do at least a couple of hikes in Georgetown.  I’ve biked below Mile Marker 12 several times, but I can’t say that I’ve ever hiked it.  Winter might be the perfect time to beat the crowds.  We’ll see. One way to kill both birds with one stone would be to spend the night in Lockhouse 6.  That would be the perfect spot for a long round-trip trek all the way to the end of the line.

Beaver at work

Beaver at work

Yes, I suppose this is the right time of the year for daydreaming and resolutions, but there’s always today, and today turned out to be a great day for a hike.  Off in the distance, we counted four deer.  They were more spooked than usual but that’s probably a result of Maryland’s recent deer season.  Beavers are also very active around Indigo Neck, although we haven’t been lucky enough to see one, and that spans approximately thirty hikes in this area in a four or five year period.

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Eastern garter snake on the towpath

Honestly, every time Candee and I hike between Pearre Station and Little Orleans, I think running into a beaver is a distinct possibility.  But a snake on the 22nd of December?  The garter snake pictured above is one of the largest I have ever seen, and it had a personality to match.  It struck at us on three different occasions–completely unprovoked, unless you consider the fact that I was in its mug trying to get a picture.  I suppose you could say that seeing this unpleasant chap was a pleasant surprise–just not for the snake.  After snapping a couple of pictures, we walked away, and this cold-blooded rascal was nowhere to be found when we headed back down the trail.

Looking back, 2013 appears to have been a mixed bag along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  There was a closure downstream from the Paw Paw Tunnel because of falling rocks, and the park itself was closed for sixteen days because of government cutbacks.  However, I do feel fortunate to have a national park twenty minutes from where I live, and I’m going to continue to try to convince everybody that it’s just as cool as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.  That’s a tall order!  In the meantime, we’re going to try to see and write about places that we’ve missed up to this point, and there’s also a great blog or two that we regularly follow.  When all is said and done, 2014 should be a great year on the canal.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

 

 

Trash and Beyond!

Garbage at Town Creek

Garbage at Town Creek

Candee and I are fairly well-involved in volunteering in the C&O Canal NHP.  We have both been level walkers (the oldest volunteer group in the park) with the C&O Canal Association for four years, and we recently joined the Canal Steward Program and help out at the Town Creek Aqueduct.  I’ve only been doing that for a couple of months and have  put in a grand total of three hours at the aqueduct, so mentioning that one is still kind of embarrassing, but it’s a work in progress.  In all, that’s a solid effort, and volunteer groups in national parks across the country are an enormous asset to the National Park Service.  But let’s stick with a few facts and figures in regard to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal…

All along the 184.5 miles of the C&O, there are 34 volunteer groups performing duties that are far too numerous to mention.  However, just to toss out a few ideas, there are librarians, interpreters, docents, weed warriors, trash collectors, etc.  I hope the NPS doesn’t mind me borrowing some stats from the blurb on the volunteer calendar, but 4,789 people contributed a combined 72,322 hours during FY 2012, making the C&O’s volunteer program one of the largest in the nation.  That’s staggering!  The end result of this work plus the outstanding effort of the park’s paid staff (rangers and maintenance) help to make the C&O a great destination for anyone interested in the perfect venue for a hike or bike ride.

 

Back to Level 52

Rockin' the fanny pack!

 

 

In a Dos Equis commercial, the most interesting man in the world is asked about fanny packs, and his response is less than flattering: “You lost me at the word fanny.”  However, when hitting the trail and volunteering on the C&O Canal, one can’t juggle two bottles of water, a saw, a small notebook, etc.   Actually, the pack comes in pretty handy, and I can’t say that anybody has made fun of me yet.  At least not as I’ve heard.  On this particular occasion, there was a vine hanging at about eye level over the towpath.  It was an easy fix.  really, life is a series of easy fixes, and volunteering makes me feel pretty good at the end of the day.

 

 

I suppose the first thing that I’d like to stress is that the C&O Canal NHP is a trash free park, and every plastic bottle, candy wrapper, MRE container, and empty propane cylinder has to be carried for up to five miles and then taken home and put out on the curb with the rest of the trash.

On the other hand, Candee and I (and dozens of other volunteers) spend a lot of time in the park, and being locals, our detail allows us the opportunity to give something back.  Besides, we received a good-looking free hat from the C&O Canal Association and a pin from the National Park Service.  Pretty cool, huh?

'Walking Canoe'

 

 

Today, we ran into Chuck and Michele from Mt. Airy, Maryland, and they were having a bit of a problem.  They parked at the Fifteen Mile Creek Campground and paddled downstream to Indigo Neck with their camping gear, but the Potomac River wasn’t being cooperative as they tried to paddle upstream.  Finally, they had to give up and carry their gear up the towpath.

Candee and I decided that we should help, and that led to a pleasant half-hour conversation as we toted some of their gear back to their car.  Like most people who enjoy outdoor recreation, we had plenty to talk about, and at the end of the line, they shared a couple of cokes with us.

 

 

There was a time a few years ago when we were biking many miles away from Hancock when one of us got a flat tire.  Our handy-dandy CO2 pump failed us, but a few minutes later, a man rode up to us and offered the use of his pump.  I offered him a token of my appreciation, but he answered by saying, “Pay it forward.”

We’ve had a few opportunities to do just that since, and we’ve benefited from a little help from some friends too.  That’s the way it is on a rough trail that’s hard on tires–or a temperamental river that sometimes has a mind of its own.

Lending Chuck a Helping Hand

 

 

Know what though? After a second look, that fanny pack does look pretty ridiculous, and I’m thinking that the Dos Equis guy might have a point.

Oh, well.  At the end of the day we picked up two bags of garbage and removed several hanging snags from the trees.  At the end of the trail, we were surprised to see that the improvements being made at the Fifteen Mile Creek Campground have reached a standstill.  I’ve since heard that it’s a joint project of the NPS and the State of Maryland, and at the moment money is pretty tight.  Hopefully,  the funds will be available soon.

 

 

Most people work pretty hard and deserve a bit of recreation when the weekend comes.  Anyway, at the end of the day we were able to look back on a good walk.  We met some interesting people and contributed to the greater good of the C&O Canal.  Mission accomplished.

 

Floodplain Debris

Just the beginning

On first glance, it appears that we were off filming Belle the Wonder Beagle vs. The Giant Blob, but the fact is that the grass that hid much of the garbage on the Potomac River floodplain for the past nine months is dormant for the winter.  As a result, lots of ugly trash has become visible between the towpath and the river.  I don’t recall seeing a kitchen sink on the bank, but we saw just about everything else, including tires, basketballs, and propane cylinders.

During the warm season, we have an antagonist nicknamed MRE Man who scatters meal packets throughout our volunteer area.  We have no idea who he is, but we can’t blame him or anybody else for the garbage located on the river side of the towpath.  The fact is that the mighty Potomac picks up large amounts of human and natural debris during floods and deposits it along the river bank.

Just below Little Orleans the river makes a long, sweeping right hand turn, and between mile markers 140 and 141 we have a natural trash depository.  The winter months are the best time to take care of the mess because snakes and other animals aren’t hidden in the long grass waiting for unsuspecting volunteers.  Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but cleaning up the park and safety should go hand-in-hand.  I’m guessing that we’re about halfway done with our winter cleanup, and we’re hoping that our new friend Belle stops by to keep us company again soon.