By Lily Fountain and Zelda Bell
Ready to try something new? Paddling around in a canoe or kayak is fun, easy, inexpensive, and family- and senior-friendly, too. You’re outdoors, with built-in social distancing. We have been exploring paddling opportunities in and around College Park, and we’re excited to share what we’ve learned.
You can start at our beloved Lake Artemesia, so beautiful this time of year. Get a close-up look at the aquatic plants and wildlife by joining a 1- to 2-hour kayak class offered by Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation (pgparks.com — go to classes and enter “kayak” in the search box). The county’s upcoming events include Kayak With a Ranger (Sept. 4 and Oct. 2) at Lake Artemesia, rent a kayak and receive paddling instruction and safety training, and venture on a guided tour of the lake — all at a cost of only $5 for residents. At this website you can also register for a guided kayak tour of the Patuxent River for seniors (Sept. 8), a guided kayak trip to see fall foliage along Mataponi Creek (Oct. 29) and kayak lessons at Bladensburg Waterfront Park (Sept. 11 and Oct. 9).
You can also kayak and canoe at other nearby spots. Some that we think look especially interesting are Buddy Attick Lake, Duckett Dam, and the Patuxent Research Refuge.
Greenbelt’s Buddy Attick Lake, named for one of the community’s early residents and first firemen, is a small lake, which makes it a great spot for beginners. It’s also a good choice if you’re using an inflatable kayak, since there is no boat ramp. You’ll need to bring your own boat and a boating permit, which you can obtain from Greenbelt’s administrative coordinator (301.397.2200). You’ll also need a parking permit; contact the Greenbelt Department of Planning and Community Development for one (301.345.5417).
You can also bring your own boat to Rocky Gorge Reservoir, also known as Duckett Dam (named for T. Howard Duckett) and Supplee Lane Recreation Area, which is a paddling spot that is a WSSC reservoir near Laurel. You’ll need a daily or seasonal permit, which you can get online at wsscwater.com/watershed or by calling 301.206.4386. (Permits for seniors are not available online; seniors must go to WSSC building at 14501 Sweitzer Lane in Laurel or to the Brighton Dam visitor center in Brookeville to obtain them. Bring an ID to verify your age.)
And if you’re eager to combine paddling with fishing, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Patuxent Research Refuge may be just the spot for you. You’ll need a State of Maryland non-tidal fishing license, which you can obtain at the state’s Department of Natural Resources (dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/service_license.aspx). The refuge is just up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway; you can read more about it on the FWS site (fws.gov/refuge/patuxent).
If you’d like to avoid permit fees, head to Bladensburg Waterfront Park. There is a put-in very close to the parking lot and a lovely boardwalk along the river. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is just a short paddle away from the park. Every time we paddle from the park to Kenilworth, we see turtles, osprey, herons and an abundance of aquatic plants — with nothing between our boats and nature. You can rent canoes and kayaks at the park.
If you use your own boat, be sure to also bring a personal flotation device for each person in your party, along with sunscreen and your phone in a waterproof phone bag. Wear a hat and closed-toe water shoes, and carry along a first aid kit, map and whistle. Bring water and snacks, especially if you’re planning a long paddle, and a dry bag for supplies. If you’re venturing into a local river, you should always check tides (tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/tide_predictions.html — select Maryland and then scroll to the nearest station).
Many folks wonder about the differences between kayaks and canoes. Kayaks seat one or two people and are lightweight, agile and fast. Canoes, which are generally quite stable, seat one to four people.
While you’re on the water, it pays to be quiet and keep your eyes open. Your silence will allow you to observe wildlife — a group of turtles sunning on a log or bald eagles soaring overhead — as you float through aquatic plants along the way. Lessons can be helpful, and experienced paddlers can also teach you the basics. Two great references are Paddle Maryland, by Bryan McKay, and Quiet Water Mid-Atlantic, by Rachel Cooper.
We hope you enjoy exploring paddling resources within easy distance of your College Park home.