Rock Creek, District of Columbia, US/Maryland, US
|Usual Difficulty||I-III (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||20 fpm|
|Max Gradient||100 fpm|
|ROCK CREEK AT SHERRILL DRIVE WASHINGTON, DC|
|usgs-01648000||185 - 1200 cfs||I-III||00h40m||91.1 cfs (too low)|
Paddling is allowed in District of Columbia in Rock Creek Park (except during rush hour), but not
in Montgomery Co. (although the ban is not strictly enforced). There are many access points from
Rock Creek Parkway (Beach Drive).
The creek is class I in Mont. Co. and down to Military Road, and then class III for a half mile until the footbridge, with a half dozen good rapids. Below the footbridge, it is class II for a mile. The one dangerous spot, a mile below that bridge, is the 8-foot man-made falls at Pierce Mill, which has a strong hydraulic, which gets worse at higher water. If run, stick to the right side and always have throw ropes ready. Most paddlers put in just above or below Military Road and take out at Pierce Mill, for a quick 2-mile trip. Below Pierce Mill, the creek is class I with a few class II rapids, and very interesting urban scenery (bridges, the zoo, an old lime kiln, homeless people).
This is a popular run for Washington area paddlers with limited time (e.g. for after work). It needs a good rain to come up, drops about an inch per hour at moderate levels, and seldom stays up more than a day. The poor water quality discourages playing.
In 1999 several boaters were escorted off the creek in DC
by Park Service Police. American Whitewater successfully resolved the conflict over access, and it is now legal to boat on Rock Creek. However, it is not legal to swim, wade, or fish in the creek. The swimming restriction is based on the fact that the water quality is low and storm sewers dump directly into this beautiful urban waterway. Stay upright, don't drink the water, and watch out for the dam at Pierce Mill.
January 17, 2000
By Jason Robertson
Great news! Rock Creek Park Police stated today that they will not prevent kayakers or canoeists from boating on the creek in the future. These statements come in response to American Whitewater's discussions with the Park's administrators after two pairs of boaters were prevented from boating on the creek when it was moderately swollen by Hurricane Dennis in September 1999.
In a discussion this morning, Park Police Lieutenant Kass reported that his research confirmed that there is a CFR rule banning recreation in the creek. However, the Lieutenant's research also confirmed that former Superintendent Shields waived this regulation for kayakers and canoeists more than 20 years ago and that former Superintendent Ellerd later dropped all registration requirements in the mid-80's. The Lieutenant added that Assistant Superintendent Cox, representing Superintendent Coleman, respects her predecessor's decisions. The practical result for experienced whitewater canoeists and kayakers is that we will be permitted to continue floating the Class III (IV) creek, regardless of water level and that no special permits or permissions will be required.
NOTE: MR. Kass forwarded a copy of a file to AW dated 4/27/1993, which states "Kayaking is permittted [sic] on Rock Creek- no permit needed. USPP requested that a warning sign be placed along the creek to warn of Pierce Mill Falls ahead. Park stated that they would look at it." This memo also includes a handwritten note by Lt. Kass affirming that the superintendent had upheld this decision.
The Lieutenant cautioned that his staff are not trained in swift water rescue and are not
lifeguards. He also explained that the DC Fire Department is responsible for all emergency calls
on the creek but that the department's river rescue kit only consists of a single foam life ring.
In other words, boaters must continue taking personal responsibility for their actions and
personal rescues. Additionally, boaters must wear lifejackets and helmets, and be aware of the
unique hazards associated with running this urban creek, including strainers, coliform and urban
runoff, low bridges, and the 8-foot dam at Pierce Mill.
American Whitewater wishes to thank: Ron Knipling and Martin Radigan for reporting the access problems on Rock Creek; Lieutenant Kass and Assistant Superintendent Cox for their cooperation in resolving the problem and working with us to address the issue; and Mac Thornton and Ed Gertler for sharing documents detailing the history of the 1980's access agreements with the Park's superintendents.
Contact American Whitewater, if you encounter any future access difficulties on Rock Creek or other streams in the region.
In May 2001, District Health Commissioner, Dr. Ivan Walks, issued the warning, "We are not recommending that people use Rock Creek and enter Rock Creek because of standing high bacteria levels..."
Dr. Walks added that the bacteria levels in Rock Creek are too high for human contact, and have been for the last year.
Beware: below Pierce Mill, this stream is plagued with Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). After recent heavy rains (early June, 2001), a woman plunged her car into the creek. She subsequently died from bacterial infection.
For further info on Rock Creek, check with the good folks at the Monocacy Canoe Club or the Canoe Cruisers.