Potomac paddling: the row less taken
Maps chart paddles on small creeks
Brent Walls is the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, dedicated to helping people enjoy and protect the Potomac and the waters that flow into it.
He spends a lot of time outdoors, but he has also spent time inside a mall near Martinsburg, WV, staffing an information booth during a home show.
“We talked to about 500 people over four days,” Walls said. “Over half didn’t know Opequon Creek flowed through the Martinsburg area, and they’ve lived here for years. That was astonishing to me.”
Walls is leading an effort to create maps for people who want to paddle lesser known creeks in the Upper Potomac watershed, which are typically very rural stretches bounded by forests and farms.
He had the maps at his booth, and a lot of people took them.
“This is an important project for me because we’re trying to promote access to the rivers, to help people know and enjoy their local rivers,” Walls said. “These water trail maps are one way to do that and maybe even revitalize these areas with some tourism.”
Walls has published two maps so far. The first is for Opequon Creek, created with help from the Opequon Creek Project Team, a local watershed group. The second is for Patterson Creek.
Opequon Creek flows north from Virginia, through West Virginia to its confluence with the Potomac River northeast of Martinsburg in Berkeley County. The map covers the West Virginia portion, about 35 miles of stream that are routinely stocked with trout and smallmouth bass.
Walls said it’s a perfect float for beginners, is family-friendly and has enough water flow to paddle nearly year-round, including the summer. You’ll be treated to woodland scenery along most of the shores, with lots of deer, a heron rookery and huge sycamore trees.
“It’s a very mild, gentle float, with beautiful geological formations,” Walls said.
The map pinpoints 12 public access sites for launching or taking out canoes or kayaks, which means lots of options for paddles of different lengths. The distance between most sites is approximately 1 or 2 miles.
Patterson Creek is a smaller stream; its best depths for paddling occur in the spring and late fall after rain. It flows about 37 miles from Lahmansville, WV, until it joins the North Branch of the Potomac River near Cumberland, MD.
“Patterson Creek has a beautiful eastern mountain ridge for a backdrop, and lots of bald eagles,” Walls said.
Fort Ashby is the main town along its course. A popular float with local residents is the stretch between Fort Ashby and the mouth of the creek at the Potomac River. Eagle’s Nest Campground, which Walls describes as an up-and-coming place to go, is along the way on the west bank of the stream.
Some stretches require a little more paddling skill than does the Opequon, and distances between the seven access points tend to be a bit longer, ranging from about 2.5 miles to slightly more than 5 miles.
“Patterson Creek is beautiful and very, very rural. Not many people know about it,” Walls said.
The maps are free — waterproof and clearly labeled to show places where you can park your car, launch a canoe or kayak, fish, go tubing or swim. They also show the distance between access points and information about river gauges that indicate if the flow is high enough for a good float trip.
Walls’ work is still under way “The idea is to develop a pack of these maps for all of the trips in the upper Potomac,” he said.
The maps for Patterson and Opequon Creeks will soon be available on-line in Adobe Acrobat format (pdfs) at www.potomacriverkeeper.org.
Until then, Walls welcomes your map requests (either pdf or hard copy) by phone or e-mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-707-4095.
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