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Take Action to Help End DC Area Paddling Ban

Posted: 05/04/2022
By: Kevin Colburn

Montgomery County Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington DC, does a strange thing. The County prohibits paddling without a permit in county parks, and does not offer any permits. So through a bureaucratic sleight of hand, paddling is banned on the rivers flowing through public lands. On paper, these closures affect popular sections of the Potomac, but they’ve also had real impacts on preventing and criminalizing paddling on smaller streams like Seneca, Cabin John, and Sligo creeks. We make it really simple to take action and send a letter requesting a fix for this defacto paddling ban – use our easy-action form and please perosnlaize the template, it makes a big difference. 


Local paddling icon Ed Gertler has been painstakingly leading a diplomatic effort to understand and change this backwards policy for well over a decade. Ed, along with American Whitewater staff, local paddling leaders and river management experts, renewed these efforts in 2016. Through thoughtful dialog and well-informed proposals we finally got a formal response from Montgomery Parks. The answer was no. The Director of Montgomery County Parks recently shared in a letter.


“Unfortunately, the Parks Department is not in a position to permit this kind of activity on our streams and waterways. While some residents of the county may be highly skilled in whitewater canoeing or kayaking, most of our park users do not have such a skillset. Allowing any kind of boating on our waterways presents many risks to both our park visitors and our staff.” 


River safety - and recreational safety more generally - is a common issue across all rivers and parks. Some risk is inherent to all recreation, and it is not a reason to prohibit an everyday form of outdoor recreation. This is especially true when one purpose of the Parks is to “offer various enjoyable recreational activities that encourage healthy lifestyles.” Paradoxically, the public can enjoy all rivers and streams in the County except when those streams flow through County Parks that are managed for outdoor recreation.  


While we are disappointed by the decision, one thing is clear: Montgomery Park’s paddling prohibition is inappropriate, unnecessary, and out of step with river management norms. After over a decade of failed diplomacy at the Parks Department level, it is time for paddlers to begin working with the County Council that oversees Montgomery Parks.


We strongly encourage Montgomery County residents to send respectful emails to the Council, asking for an end to the prohibition on paddling on these public waterways.

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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