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Want to Lose Access Below Great Falls, VA?

Posted: 01/13/2004
by Jason Robertson

BACKGROUND

The Park Service is proposing to change the regulations for allowing access to Mather Gorge below Great Falls on the Potomac. It is very important for you to submit comments.

The proposed alternatives are to (a) maintain status quo, (b) eliminate access to fisherman's Eddy, control river access to AA Gorge, provide no public access at Sandy landing, or (c) provide limited access to Fisherman's eddy, improve river access at AA Gorge, allow for car-top boat access at Sandy Landing and provide parking at the quarry through concessions permits.

I just got off the phone with the planner (Deborah Feldman) and site manager (Walter McDowney). Here's what I learned. Please share far and wide.

Comments are due January 15th, 2004. Your comments will be viewed as supplemental scoping comments prior to release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will occur in April 2004. At that time additional comment and review will be encouraged, and the Park will hold a public meeting.

Comments should be creative. Express alternative means of addressing the issues. Pick and choose portions of the alternatives from A, B, anc C that you feel are appropriate. This is not a vote, so do more than simply say "I support" or "I oppose". Explain why!

Here is the planning document to review: http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/gmp/newsletter/

Specifically, read "recreation management" on http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/gmp/newsletter/Page2_low.pdf.

In case you were wondering:

Fisherman's Eddy is the put-in on the VA side just below Great Falls at the Great Falls Overlook.

AA Gorge ("Double-A Gorge") is the Rocky Island Surf Wave take-out.

Sandy Landing is the excavated take-out formerly used by the canals on the VA side below the play spot at Wet Bottom.

AW will generally support Alternative Concept A (no change) and C (Recreational Enhancement). We will also support portions of B (Resource Enhancement) such as expanding restroom facilities at current locations.

ITEM FOR COMMENT #1: The concern about kayaker access at AA Gorge appears to be related to erosion and trail maintenance. Suggest ways to protect the site and continue to allow access. One idea would be to build a stable stairway at the AA Gorge Bridge.

ITEM FOR COMMENT #2: The concern about kayaker access at Fisherman's Eddy is that there are remains of an old iron forge at the top of the Fisherman's Eddy under the gravel and scree pile where the trail goes down to the river atop the rusty pipe. The concern is that people treading on the site could be harming the ruins. It is very important to suggest ways to protect the site and continue to allow access. One suggestion I made was establishing a floating walkway similar to the one used across the river on the island to protect the vegetation. Other suggestions included routing the access trail and path around the site on the base rock. Be creative.

Hopefully our combined efforts will protect access to this incredible section of river for experts and beginners.  At risk are lost access to S-Turn, Rodeo Zone, Rocky Island Surf Waves, Wet Bottom, and more!

-=jason

SAMPLE LETTERS

Comments are due today (1/15/2004). Even if you can't submit your comments in time, go ahead and send them anyway. It is important to be heard.

Please send a copy of your comments (Jason@awa.org) to me and I will integrate them into AW's letter. Also be sure to send your comments to GWMP_Superintendent@nps.gov. Every email the park receives is critical -- please send what you can. Crib what you want from these emails, but give your own spin -- the superintendent will treat form letters as a single letter.

SAMPLE 1 (By Tim Nanof) I am writing as a concerned kayaker and holder of a National Parks Pass for the past decade. The kayaking community in the Washington area relies on several access point to the Potomac River. As I am concerned about continued access, I also understand the issues that need to be addressed to ensure that all of the resources are protected. Identifying an alternate route to the river that could be changed periodically might make sense. Also, methods of creating a more permanent and protective walkway can address the issue of protecting resources while maintaining or even enhancing access for kayakers and other people who enjoy the recreational aspects of the Potomac River. Thank you for considering my thoughts and feel free to contact me if I can do anything to continue the wonderful access to the river that currently exists or to support your efforts at protection of resources and access at the same time.

SAMPLE 2 (Adam Cramer)  This email responds to the Park Service's request for comments regarding the future management of Great Falls Park (the "Park"). I am a Washington, D.C. resident and have kayaked in the Park (from the falls to Old Anglers) on a regular basis since 1997. I am also a member of the board of directors for American Whitewater (though this email reflects my personal views). The Great Falls section of the Potomac river is a tremendous resource for the region and especially the metropolitan area. The Potomac affords year-round whitewater in close proximity to one of the major metropolitan areas in North America. Indeed, the connection between Washington and kayaking is not unlike Denver and skiing or San Diego and surfing. This connection is reflected in the high concentration of Olympic and professional paddle sports athletes that grew-up and continue to live and train in the area. Maintaining (or improving) access to the Potomac is thus critical for the local and national whitewater communities. Many kayakers access or "put-on" the river via Fisherman's eddy and take-off at Rocky Island. Though passable, these access points are unimproved and do not appear to be maintained on a regular basis. Because of their popularity, the access points are somewhat worn.

As a regular user of the river, I would be in favor of improving the access points in the form of designing, building and maintaining a footpath. A carefully designed and maintained footpath would: (1) remediate the existing environmental impacts, (2) increase safety for those who use the access points (including kayakers, anglers as well as hikers), (3) increase safety in the context of rescue situations (for all users), and (4) increase the aesthetic experience for all park users. An excellent example of a well designed river access footpath in a natural area is the Tallulah Gorge in north Georgia. I am confident that the local whitewater community here in Washington would be honored to assist in any appropriate way to help preserve or improve access to the river, whether in the form of design comments or even organized volunteer trail maintenance. I trust that these comments will be helpful.

AW COMMENTS

January 15, 2004

Superintendent Audrey F. Calhoun

George Washington Memorial Parkway

c/oTurkey Run Park

McLean, Virginia 22101

GWMP_Superintendent@nps.gov

 

American Whitewater is a national non-profit organization with nearly  8,000 individual whitewater boating enthusiasts and more than 100 local canoe club affiliates, representing approximately 80,000 whitewater paddlers. We represent more than 5,000 boaters within an hour's drive of the Potomac. American Whitewater was organized in 1957 to protect and enhance the recreational enjoyment of whitewater sports in America. The organization is dedicated to safety, education, and the conservation of America's whitewater rivers. Our mission is to conserve America's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.

  

Dear Superintendent Calhoun,

 

I am writing in regard to the proposed alternatives to modify recreational boating access below Great Falls from the Virginia shore of Great Falls Park in the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The proposed alternatives are to (a) maintain status quo, (b) eliminate access to fisherman's Eddy, control river access to AA Gorge, provide no public access at Sandy landing, or (c) provide limited access to Fisherman's eddy, improve river access at AA Gorge, allow for car-top boat access at Sandy Landing and provide parking at the quarry through concessions permits.

American Whitewater generally supports portions of Alternative Concept A (no change) and C (Recreational Enhancement) relating to recreation. We also support portions of B (Resource Enhancement) such as expanding restroom facilities at current locations; however, we strongly oppose Alternative B as it relates to recreational river use. Implementation of Alternative B will effectively eliminate the majority of boating opportunities on the Potomac between Great Falls and Difficult Run. Further, elimination of access under Alternative B will result in the loss of middle Potomac access for most Virginia residents from the shore of their home state, as there are no reasonable alternative access points on the Potomac between Great Falls and Memorial Bridge.

I spoke with the Park Planner Deborah Feldman and Site Manager Walter McDowney on this issue on January 13, 2004 when I learned of the public comment period.  From my discussion with the planners, I only found the planning documents at http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/gmp/newsletter/ to review. If there are additional documents under review at this time, please mail them to my office for comment.

In reviewing these documents, I found that there was some confusion over site names and locations that recreational boaters (canoers, kayakers, and rafters) use.

Fisherman's Eddy is the boat launch or "put-in" on the VA side just below Great Falls at the Great Falls Overlook. This is also called "O-Deck".

AA Gorge ("Double-A Gorge") is referred to as the Rocky Island Surf Wave launch or "take-out".

Sandy Landing is the excavated take-out formerly used by the canals on the VA side and is the take-out for the play spot just upstream at "Wet Bottom." This section of Mather Gorge is also known as "The Jumps".

 

COMMENT #1 (Fisherman's Eddy): The concern about kayaker access at Fisherman's Eddy appears to be the result of the archaeological site and remains of an old iron forge at the top of the Fisherman's Eddy draw. These remains are protected under gravel, scree, and a fabric liner where the existing trail goes down to the river over the rusty pipe. In speaking with Park staff, the concern is that people treading on the site might be harming the ruins. It is very important to protect this trail and continue to allow traditional access at this site. The Park should consider establishing a floating walkway to protect the archaeological site similar to the one used across the river on the island to protect vegetation. Other suggestions included routing the access trail and path around the site on the bedrock. The park should be creative, and should make preserving access to the river at Fisherman's Eddy a priority.

As you know, fishermen, tourists, nature photographers, park rangers, and thousands of whitewater kayakers and canoers access the Potomac River below Great Falls at Fishermen's Eddy every year. Hundreds more make the hike down to the water every May during American Whitewater's Potomac Whitewater Festival event.

The Fishermen's Eddy Access is of recreational, cultural, and historic interest to our membership and the local boating community. It is one of only two legitimate Potomac River access points that boaters can use below Great Falls on the Virginia shore. The second is a little less than a mile downriver near Rocky Island and the nationally famous Rocky Island Surf Wave. Boaters who visit the Potomac from the Virginia side generally park, hike down to and launch at Fishermen's Eddy, paddle down to Rock Island, and complete the loop by hiking back to their cars. Many boaters are serious when they say that the hike down to Fishermen's Eddy is the most dangerous part of their whitewater run on the Potomac.

I personally have made the hike both up and down to the river at least two thousand times since I first visited the Park to go kayaking in 1993. As with virtually any river access, this involved humping the boat on my shoulder and then hiking to the river. While I am young and athletic, the footing is not a deterrent for me. However, the access at Fishermen's Eddy is particularly daunting and does pose as a deterrent for many other boaters because of the triple threats posed by the steep terrain, slick rocks, and exposed pipe they encounter on their hike down to the river level. American Whitewater's comments are written on the behalf of these visitors.

The steep terrain would not be especially difficult in its natural state; however years of use and unmanaged modifications have created some uniquely difficult risk exposure for visitors. The trail is composed of loose rocks ranging in size from softballs to basketballs to small refrigerators. I have been witness to the placement and movement of these rocks by Park Rangers, Park Volunteers, and visitors for their personal comfort and aide.

The trail is made more difficult by the water seeping from the ground at the trailhead, which appears to be fed by drainage from the field behind the overlooks. There is never all that much of this water; however, during high use periods of the day, the rocks can quickly become unusually slippery as water is tracked up and down by tourists, fishermen, and boaters.

Finally, access is made even more difficult by the exposed iron pipe, which is located under the undeveloped portion of the trail. The pipe is angled in such a way that it provides especially slick footing for visitors. It is my understanding that this pipe may have historic significance related to the forge. However, I am not clear on why the pipe is exposed in such a vulnerable position.

Trail improvements should be made, and at a minimum, result in (1) a resurfacing of the iron pipe, and (2) redirection of surface drainage on the plateau away from the trail to the river. If plans can be developed for a hardened access trail or stairway for about 30 feet from a point beginning at the approximate soil line before the bouldery scree slope and ending at the approximate point where the upstream cliff face opens to the Fishermen's Eddy Access bench, that would also be of great service to visiting river enthusiasts. I would be glad to survey and walk this site with you and your planning team to discuss the ramifications of different ideas and alternatives.

The funds for developing this access point could be drawn from the collection of Fee Demo dollars paid for by the boating community over the last 6 years. 

Finally, American Whitewater encourages the removal of the garish hurricane fencing at the head of the Fishermen's Eddy trail.

COMMENT #2 (AA-Gorge): The concern about kayaker access at AA Gorge appears to be related to erosion and trail maintenance at the trailhead. Access at this site should be preserved. The majority of the trail is on bedrock where impacts are minimal. The exception is the trailhead at the base of the wooden bridge.  Access can be improved, and the soil can be protected from erosion by the construction of a wooden staircase at this site.  The funds for developing this access point could be drawn from the collection of Fee Demo dollars paid for by the boating community over the last 6 years.  American Whitewater can supply volunteers if they are needed to build or maintain the trail in both the short and long term.

COMMENT #3 (Sandy Landing):  At present, few boaters use Sandy Landing as a river access point for going up or downstream. The site is a significant distance from the nearest parking site and it is a real burden to carry boats to or from this point to the Park's designated parking sites.  If new parking is developed near Sandy Landing, then use would likely increase by kayak schools and beginner boaters.  Improved access to this point would be of real benefit to individuals seeking to avoid the whitewater upstream in Mather Gorge.

COMMENT #4: In the future, please add my name to the mailing list for all Park Service projects affecting recreational boating use, development of the river corridor, or river conservation in the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Please call me at 301-589-9453 if you have any questions about American Whitewater's recommendations for a modified alternative C. I also extend an invitation to call me to discuss (1) any river use management questions you may have, or (2) signage at the Fishermen's Eddy trailhead regarding river safety and shoreside recreation.

Hopefully our combined efforts will protect access to this incredible section of river for experts and beginner boaters.  At risk are lost access to internationally famous whitewater play spots at S-Turn, Rodeo Zone, Rocky Island Surf Waves, Wet Bottom, and more!

 

Sincerely,

{SIGNED}

Jason D. Robertson
NATIONAL POLICY DIRECTOR

 

 

Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349