Water plant on Mattawoman Creek


Mattawoman Creek, Nanjemoy Creek, and Mallows Bay
September 2007

Last updated September 27, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

In the autumn of 2004, I spent a couple days at Smallwood State Park in Charles County, Maryland. I remember it well because I tried to organize a kayak car camping event with some long distance paddling. This was right after I bought my first wing paddle. I explored Mattawoman Creek and much of the surrounding Potomac River.

Back then, I remember kayaking directly towards some hunters to investigate their decoys which I thought were real at first. Of course I didn't see the hunters. As I got closer, I realized my mistake. Paddling into the line of fire is not a good thing.

By the end of that day long past, I paddled about 33 miles. One can think of it as a crash course in getting used to the wing paddle. Since then, I've grown so attached to the wing paddle that I'd rather paddle a slow boat with a wing than a fast boat with a Euro paddle.

I decided to organize an outing in this same area to show Norma the beautiful woman known as the "Matta-woman." I contacted fellow paddler Dan and asked him about the upper Nanjemoy Creek and he told me that too was quite scenic. I asked around for suggestions to do a third day trip which prompted Lisa and Mark to tell me about the Ghost Fleet at Mallows Bay.

I made my campground reservations, studied the tide table, put together a plan, and sent it out to the group.

This was to be my last overnight kayak trip of the year. Hopefully it would also be my best.

Day One: Saturday, September 21, 2007

Despite my sending out so many invitations, I got very few positive replies. I was competiting with Greg's popular Tall Pines event which I did back in 2004. It was a great trip though I'm more inclined to see something new if I can.

Norma and I checked in at Smallwood State Park. The park takes its name from General Smallwood, a native born Charles Countian. He received the highest ranking of any Marylander who served in the American Revolutionary War. During his fourth term as Governor of Maryland, he was responsible for making the arrangement with Virginia, which gave Maryland the property rights to the Potomac River. The park was dedicated in 1958 as a historic park. Today, Smallwood consists of 628 acres and functions as a multi-use park.
- from park brochure

At 1100, we were at the boat ramp. I knew Susan Justice and her husband, Vince, would be there. Mark also said he would try and join us and by golly he did. But much to my surprise was David, someone Susan brought. David paddled a twin of my boat...a light blue Futura C4. I've never seen another C4 before, let alone one the same color as mine.

The six of us launched at 1120, heading downstream on the south side of the Mattawoman. Just before reaching the Potomac, we crossed over to the north side and paddled upstream on the Mattawoman. The area was heavily forested. Much of the lower part of the creek is owned by the U.S. Naval Propellant Plant.

While paddling on the Mattawoman, I thought about an article I read a few weeks earlier. The Autumn 2007 issue of "Chesapeake: Maryland Chapter Sierra Club" mentioned the following:
State studies document Mattawoman as a key to the Potomac River's largemouth bass fishery and Maryland's most productive nursery for migratory fish, to such a degree that fisheries biologists have advised Charles County government that it is "the best, most productive tributary to the Bay."

Though David was new to paddling a surf ski, he did so like a pro. I think the only other person I know who adapted to a surf ski so quickly was Brian. David and I kept the same pace much of the time too.

There was a good deal of vegetation in the water but it also appeared very clean. This came as a surprise to me because a few weeks ago, there were some concerns about the water quality and there was even a health warning for the Mattawoman and Nanjemoy. I and several others paddled in the Nanjemoy in my surf ski during the broad period of time when the health advisory was in effect and suffered no health problems so I was a bit skeptic. I did some searching and Norma made some phone calls. She spoke to someone from the Charles County Health Department. The woman she spoke to said that the level of bacteria fluctuates and is increased significantly after rains. The health advisory was recently lifted for the Mattawoman and it was just slightly over the limit for the Nanjemoy. However, the official said that we should have nothing to worry about, even if we're kayaking in sit-on-tops. There would be no further water tests prior to our trip.

After seeing how clean the water appeared, I wondered if much dirtier areas such as the Baltimore Inner Harbor (which I paddle often) ever get tested. But all my concerns were put at ease once I found out there was a triathlon scheduled in the Mattawoman on September 22 and 23. If many people were scheduled to swim in it, then it can't be too bad.

Susan was in her Custom Kayaks surf ski. She practiced kayak re-entries and got lots of coaching while Norma and I took photos of the area. The day was perfect for taking photos. Check out the first photo at left for an egret Norma shot (with my camera, not a gun). In the second photo, Norma paddles amongst the piles.

We kayaked to Mattingly Park, which is a nice public launch site with a porta-john. Check out the view from the park in the third photo at left. This was the end of the line for Mark and his Tarpon surf ski since he parked his car here. He took off and the rest of us ate lunch. Then we posed for a group picture. From left to right in the fourth photo at left is David, me, Norma, Vince, and Susan.

We saw a snake skin in the water.

This was an unusual group in that out of 6 of us, there were 4 surf skis. Norma paddled my Cobra Expedition plastic sit-on-top while Vince paddled an Old Town sea kayak.

Upstream of the park, things became quite scenic. The river got a good deal more narrow too.

We passed an unusual plant that I've seen sold in craft stores. It also grows at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. I've never seen it growing wild, however. I wonder if it is an invasive species. See fifth photo at left.

A large beaver hut was spotted but no beaver. See Susan scare away any beaver that might be present in the sixth photo at left.

We saw a bald eagle.

David played around on the rope swing while sitting in his boat and the rest of us joined in on the fun later. He took a nice photo of Norma and me (seventh photo).

Eventually, we got as far upstream as we would go though Vince managed to push a little further and make it to Hawthorne Road (route 225).

High tide was a little after 1500 so we didn't have much problem exploring the shallow east side of the river.

We headed back downstream and eventually made it back to the start a little after 1700.

According to my global positioning system (GPS), I paddled a total of 18 miles that day.

Afterwards, David, Susan, Norma, and I went in search of dinner. We found nothing in Indian Head so we ate at an Applebees in La Plata.

Susan, Norma, and I went back to the campsite and turned in for the evening. No energy to build a fire. Sleep was the only thing on our minds.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: September 22, 2007

It rained during the night which came as a surprise since none was predicted.

Susan, Norma, and I drove out to Friendship Landing Park and launched on Nanjemoy Creek from the beach next to the boat ramp.

Last year, I launched from this same place on a trip led by Dan on August 19, 2006 but back then, we only paddled downstream. Today, we would explore upstream.

The creek twisted around a good deal. It was quite scenic though a bit too wide for Norma's liking at times.

We saw a pair of bald eagles.

As we got further upstream, the waterway narrowed more to Norma's preference.

Eventually, we came to Port Tobacco Road (route 6). Here, we got out of our boats and ate lunch.

It started to rain again. A goat on a nearby property made quite a fuss about getting wet.

We continued upstream for a short distance. Norma's shorter, plastic boat was better suited for exploring these scenic, narrow sections. My long boat with the flip-up rudder was second best. Susan's long boat with the fixed under-stern rudder was least suited for such exploring as it needed about 7 extra inches of water depth.

As we paddled back downstream, the rain stopped and the sky cleared.

The sides of the river were lined with millions of pretty yellow flowers. See first and second photos at left.

Once again we saw our eagles and I managed to take some not-so-good photos. See third photo at left.

Back at the boat ramp, Susan and I talked Norma into paddling my surf ski. She's tried it once before and managed to paddle in a full circle without falling out on her second try. On Norma's first attempt today, she stayed in for about 10 seconds. But on her second try, she paddled about 5 minutes! This was quite an accomplishment considering Norma only began kayaking last year. See fourth photo at left.

Our day's total was 12 miles.

Norma pointed out a paw paw tree near the parking lot.

Susan headed out while Norma and I headed back to the campsite, then to Applebees again.

After dinner, we took a drive out to Saint Ignatius Church at Chapel Point State Park. This church, founded in 1641, is the oldest continuously serving Catholic Parish in the United States. It is here that the mother of a friend of Norma's is buried.

We then went to Zekiah Swamp to check for a place to launch off Budds Creek Road (route 234). Studying the maps, it looks like the upper part of the Wicomico River would be interesting to explore but there are no public launch sites that I know of. Unfortunately, we saw nothing that vaguely resembled a launch site off route 234 either.

Back at the campsite, I thought how much different the Maryland lowlands are compared to the highlands in West Virginia, where I was at on September 15-17, 2007. The latter had cold, mosquito-free, silent nights whereas our area was warm, mosquito infested, and had very loud insects. Unfortunately, mosquitos were especially drawn to our tent and me.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, September 23, 2007

As Norma and I packed our gear, my friend Yvonne showed up.

We left Norma's car at the campsite and we all drove to Purse State Park. Mark scouted out this area a couple of weeks prior and verified that we could launch there. Unfortunately, there was a quarter mile portage and none of us brought kayak carts. But I was with two strong women and I knew they would take care of me.

I ended up driving past the park because I was expecting an actual entrance road. It turns out the park was just on the side of Riverside Road (route 224). There was a small dirt parking lot and a small sign but that was it. I put on my running shoes and went to go scout things out while Yvonne drove north to look for a better place to launch. Yvonne drove back and reported that she found a private residence where the owners would let us launch. Miss charming strikes again!

This private residence had a very nice boat ramp and room to park along the edge of the property. This was truly a gem. It also put us about 2 miles closer to our destination.

We launched at about 0930 and paddled north to Mallows Bay. This worked perfectly as low tide was around 1000.

As we rounded Liverpool Point, we caught our first glimpse of a half sunken ship. This was a steel ship that was half rusted through. See first photo at left. I landed on this, climbed aboard, and took photos. Great photography weather. See second photo at left for what appears to be some type of engine or machine. Notice my surf ski peeking through the window. At the bow of the boat was a very large bird nest with a dead fish in it. See third and fourth photos at left.

Norma and Yvonne explored the other wrecks. While I'd seen a satellite photo of the area, I'd never expected to see quite so much. Photos really can't do it justice!

I paddled to another wreck on which Norma landed. See fifth photo at left. There was a large bird nest on this one too. From this boat, we were able to see the area pretty clearly and get an idea of just how many wrecks there were. Too many to count. See Yvonne and I in photos six and seven at left.

Standing a few feet above the water, we were also able to see the ship-shaped outline of some of the wrecks. See eighth photo at left.

Norma and I spent a good deal of time atop this one elevated boat on which a significant amount of vegetation grew. See ninth and tenth photos at left.

As we paddled around, we had to be very careful about not damaging our boats. Fortunately, we all paddled old boats. The wooden wrecks carried many metal spikes that either stuck out of the water or just below its surface. Definitely not an area to go speeding by. I know my C4 got a few scars that day but no structural damage. See eleventh photo at left.

We paddled near a cliff and ate lunch. We looked for sharks' teeth but found none.

Norma paddled back to our launch site (only about 0.75 miles away) while Yvonne and I continued north.

There was a mild wind and a few waves though nothing difficult.

Just north of Chicamuxen Creek, we found another steel shipwreck. Unfortunately, there was no place to easily board this one. See twelfth photo at left.

Yvonne and I paddled into Mattawoman Creek and landed at Sweden Point in Smallwood State Park. Norma met us there in my car a few minutes later.

After loading the boats, we were off to retrieve Yvonne's car.

We were done at about 1500.

Yvonne and I paddled about 12 miles.

This was definitely one of the more interesting trips I've done. I've seen a few shipwrecks but never more than a few. This really was a ghost fleet.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Kayaking has been my favorite outdoor activity for the last several years. One thing I like about it is that it lets me explore places few others get to see. This was especially the case over the last 3 days. We paddled some places where a power boat could certainly not go. At Mallows Bay, we got to paddle through and board a piece of history. Though a power boat may have a dollar value much higher than a kayak, days like this make my kayak priceless.