Paddling the Patuxent RiverJane Thomas ·
On Monday, I joined the Patuxent Sojourners for the final day of their four-day paddle along the upper Patuxent River.
Organized by the Patuxent Riverkeeper, the Patuxent Sojourn aims to elevate awareness of the Patuxent River's importance to the region and to encourage local residents to play an active role in its restoration and preservation.
I arrived early to the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary in Upper Marlboro, located on Mattaponi Creek, one of the four main tributaries to the Patuxent River. I was greeted by the sight of the Sojourners eating breakfast and breaking camp, ready for the final day of their journey. They had already been paddling for three days and were looking forward to a sunny and uneventful final day of paddling.
"Uneventful" becomes important when you consider the events of Friday, the first day of the Sojourn. Not long after departing the kick-off point at the Patuxent River 4-H Center, the dam upstream of the paddlers was opened, releasing a large amount of water in a short amount of time. The flash flood caught the Sojourners by surprise but despite the media reports to the contrary, the majority of the paddlers "rescued" themselves and at no time was anyone unaccounted for.
But on this sunny Monday — the second day of summer — everyone was relaxed and happy to be continuing their journey. We had a short briefing and did some stretches to warm up, and then we were off.
We were a diverse group — experienced and novice paddlers from all walks of life with one thing in common: a love of the outdoors and being on the water. The Patuxent Sojourn is a participant in the Sierra Club's Baltimore Inner City Outings, providing educational, enjoyable, and safe outdoor experiences for urban youth.
Mattaponi Creek is fairly narrow, allowing the paddlers to get up close and personal with the wetland flora lining the river banks, like these arrow arum and cattails.
We also saw evidence of some local characters, paddling past this muskrat lodge, although it seemed the owners were not at home.
We eventually joined up with the main Patuxent River, and the river here widened as it continued its flow towards the Chesapeake Bay and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean.
A recurring theme for the day's paddle was the dozens of ospreys we encountered along the way. At this time of year, the osprey pair (they mate for life) has newly hatched chicks in their nests. Consequently, they were very protective of their homes and were constantly calling to us to stay away from their nests.
Eight miles, many great blue heron sightings, a couple of bald eagle cameo appearances, and a close encounter with a Northern water snake (not venomous and a very good swimmer!) later, we arrived at Perry Tract a little tired, a little hungry, but very happy and grateful for the experience of paddling the scenic Patuxent River.
Thanks to Lauren Webster, Restoration Projects Coordinator at Patuxent Riverkeeper, and Fred Tutman, Riverkeeper and CEO, for organizing the Sojourn and for everything else they are doing to protect and restore this beautiful river.