CARETAKER'S LOG


Friday -- January 19, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.6     Water Temperature: 32


The ferry is closed. For the second day in a row I woke up to find the ferry trapped in the ice. The weather forecast looks pretty good so I think the ferry may be running tomorrow but no promises. There is still a lot of ice in the channel between the Island and the mainland.

Thursday -- January 18, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.89     Water Temperature: 32


The ferry is closed again today because of ice.

Wednesday -- January 18, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.07     Water Temperature: 32


The ferry is open. The ice in the channel is slowly melting and it looks like I'll be able to run the ferry today, unless a big slab of ice happens to break free and block the way again.

The cool thing is that as soon as the channel cleared up, two male hooded merganzers arrived and I watched as one of them ate a small fish that it had just caught in the cold murky waters. The way that they survive out there in the winter is just incredible.

Monday MLK Day -- January 15, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: 3.74     Water Temperature: 32


Whites Ferry is closed again today because of ice, and our ferry is also closed today because of ice. All is as it should be.

The initial clearing of the ice took place on Saturday, and on Sunday the river was high and muddy but not Icy. Today is a totally different matter. Today the channel between the mainland and the Island is chuck full of giant pieces of ice that have congealed into one huge ice dam. While the rest of the river seems to be flowing fine, the channel has an inch of solid ice from beyond the top of the Island, all the way down past where the Island ends.

I really wasn't expecting the river to refreeze so quickly. I thought that the rising waters from the rain would keep the ice from reforming so I wasn't worried when I left for the night last evening. But, once again, the river has shown me that I need to learn to expect the unexpected. I arrived at the ferry landing this morning and my plans for an easy ferry ride were dashed. When I jumped onto the ferry it didn't budge and I realized that I might not be going home today.

I was about to climb back up the hill when I remembered an old trick that I used before. One time I used a bunch of members to stand on one end of the ferry so that I would be able to pop a wheelie, so to speak, and that way get on top of the ice where we could break it with the weight of the ferry. Well, today there were no members around and dancing with the ferry over dangerous ice was not something that I would ask a stranger to do. Again I was about to give up but instead I moved all of the roofing shingles and cinder blocks that I use to balance the ferry and put them at the back of the ferry. This counterweight got the front of the ferry above the ice and with the addition of my 135 pounds I was able to get the bow high enough, and up onto the ice. I was a little nervous leaving the safety of the mainland behind but I slowly and methodically heaved the ferry forward toward the Island, making ice-breaking noises the whole way. It took me almost an hour to push through the one hundred and fifty feet of ice, but I made it home safely. Thankfully there was little wind and no frostbite temperatures.

Sunday -- January 14, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: 4.05     Water Temperature: 34


It may seem a little crazy but I let myself get stranded on the Island on Thursday night and I haven't been to the mainland for over two days. Coming and going on the Island can be a potentially dangerous issue when the river begins to freeze, and also when the river begins to thaw out again. We were able to walk to the Island last Sunday but with the forecast of warm weather and rain, walking on the ice would not be an option, and it was going to be a while before the ice was clear enough to run the ferry again. I had to make a choice, get stranded on the Island while I could still make the crossing, or get stranded off the Island and wait until I could canoe over. I have seen first-hand just how damaging and destructive ice flows can be, so, since I am such a dedicated caretaker, I sat on the Island, ready to jump in case of an ice-related emergency, like the ferry being crushed by ice. Also, since I would be worrying about what might happen while I was gone, getting trapped on the Island seemed better than being trapped off of the Island.

Thankfully, I did not run out of provisions and thankfully, the ice did a gradual melt and there were no major ice flows to worry about, whew! It was also a treat to be here for the awesome fog event. The air was so warm that it made the icy river look like a giant smoldering fire.

So here we are, one week after being able to walk across the river to Virginia, and the river is the highest it has been in months, muddy brown, and completely thawed out!

Watching the river has been a preoccupation of mine this week, not unlike most weeks, and when I heard that White's Ferry was running while our ferry was trapped in six inches of ice, I had to drive up there and take a look. I was expecting to see a narrow path through the frozen river for the ferry to pass through, but when I arrived there on last Thursday I saw a river that was completely ice-free! Seeing all of that open water in the bright sunshine made me a little concerned about our little ferry downstream. I didn't get it, how did the river ice disappear? Maybe the power plant upstream was warming up the river. Even stranger, I thought, was to hear that today, White's Ferry is closed because of ice and our ferry will be open.

Wednesday -- January 10, 2018
Water Level at Little Falls: ICE     Water Temperature: 32


I must say that it has been an interesting week down here on the Island, A.K.A.,frozen tundra. It is so rare that we have this much ice on the river that it is hard to get used to. There is no river barrier around the Island now, and since people can just walk over here, it's like we're an extension of the Park. We haven't heard the sound of the ferry bell for ages, which is strange, and now I have to actually lock my front door.

This past Sunday was crazy. It was like the entire river was one big ice-skating rink with people coming and going in all directions. There were people on the ferry-landing stairs putting on their skates. There was a family camped out on the side of the ferry where they piled their coolers and packs. There was even a hockey game going on out in the middle of the river just down from Rupperts Island! Some brave souls courageously skated over to Virginia and others ventured down close to the dam.

That's when the police helicopter showed up, flying extremely low and barking out warnings to everyone. Party poopers. The police couldn't stop the fun and on Monday there was a person mountain biking across the river and yesterday there was an adrenaline junkie attempting to kite-skate. Sadly the incredibly perfect conditions that we had on Sunday couldn't last (the ice was so clear that schools of fish could be seen swimming below the surface.) and the smooth, black ice has turned to slush.

It was a little weird though, having all of these non-members strolling around on the Island, but what are you gonna do? Most people were very respectful and chill, and you can't blame them for being curious. Some people wanted to bring their dog into the clubhouse so Mary made a very polite, "Members Only" sign.

This deep freeze hasn't been all fun and games and I've had to stay on my toes to keep the pipes from freezing and to be ready for the possibility of crushing ice flows and flooding ice dams. When blocks of ice that are eight inches thick come rolling down the river at five miles an hour, it's no joke.

I moved all of the boats and life rings away from the shore in case of flooding. The two mini docks that are stuck in the ice will be at the mercy of the ice since I can't move them now.

My main concern is the ferry, and not only the ferry but the ropes and cables that support the ferry. Before the river froze I made sure to have the safety chains out of the water. That way I can detach them from the ferry and secure them safely on shore. I was afraid that if the chains were locked in an ice flow it could potentially bring down the overhead cable and even the support poles on the shore. I added another tether to the ferry and tied it tight to a tree, never under estimate the power of the river and it's ice flows. My motto this week is prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

The worst part about the river freezing is that we can no longer enjoy observing the abundance of winter water fowl that we had here last month. We still have our little buddies at the feeders, but gone are the small flocks of scaups, buffle heads and hooded merganzers. Even our resident geese have been forced to find open water somewhere else.

Sunday -- December 31, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.7     Water Temperature: 32


Happy New Year everyone! The Island is keen, in 2018!

I may decide to abandon the Island for a couple of days and wait for the river to freeze nice and solid, coming and going has become an issue. And judging by the frigid forecast it looks as if we'll be able to simply walk to the Island before too long.

The canal and towpath are popular places when it gets this cold and we see a lot of people walking down here with their skates. The canal above lock seven is a good place to skate but you can also skate all the way from lock seven down to Sycamore Island. They'll be skating right on the river soon, if this cold continues.

Tuesday -- December 27, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 35


It is about to get real cold and soon the river will freeze and I will have to close the ferry. It will probably be tonight, right about the time that the wind stops blowing.

I turned off the water to the clubhouse and the ladies room. I winterized the men's room and it is now the "Winter Restroom".

Friday -- December 15, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.8     Water Temperature: 35


The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes this morning was a sharp-shinned hawk perched on a branch outside my window, just above the bird feeder. It flew away when I went to the window and all the other birds, woodpeckers, doves, wrens, etc. returned to begin feeding again. I ambled into the living room to look at the river and there I saw a dozen hooded mergansers, also known affectionately as hoodies, one of my favorites. I love seeing our winter visitors on the river and it's so cool to be able to see 8 varieties of birds even before I have my coffee. Winter life on the Island isn't so bad after all.

There is a bit of ice on the surface of the river but I haven't turned off the water to the Clubhouse just yet. It's supposed to warm up next week so I decided to hold off for now.

Tuesday -- December 12, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 40


Good news! There is hope that the canal will be rewatered along our stretch of the towpath. The C&O Canal Park received nearly $2.5 million for rewatering a stretch of the canal in Montgomery County. Construction to fix the locks and waste weirs is anticipated to begin on or about December 4, 2017 and extend until spring 2019 (weather dependent). Project work will focus on eight different areas between Little Falls and Swains Lock (Milepost 5-17). The exact time frame for work will be determined soon.

Monday -- December 11, 2017
Water Level at Little Falls: 2.9     Water Temperature: 40


The river is nice and low right now but the water temperature is also very low so be careful if you get on the river.

Attention: The stove/oven in the Clubhouse is no longer working. Well actually, it works but it is unusable. When I turned on the oven last Sunday the entire kitchen began to smell like stale urine, like under the bridge type, strong urine smell. When I turned off the oven, the smell went away and I knew then, what the problem was. Obviously some mice were nesting in the stove somewhere. The next day I took the stove apart, thinking I could remove the nest and all would be OK. Unfortunately, when I opened up the stove I found that the mice had made tunnels and nests all though the insulation of the stove. I began to clear out the soiled insulation but I soon realized that it would be impossible to make the stove sanitary enough to want to use it again. It was decided that we will need to buy a new stove/oven. It's too bad that we have to buy a new one since this one was working fine but I think we got our money's worth out of our existing stove since it was over 25 years old, before they had digital clocks. The funny thing is that even though the stove was a mouse hotel we don't seem to have an infestation of mice. There are no droppings or other evidence of the mice chewing into the food containers. I set up some mouse traps and I caught two mice the first night but none in the week since. The mice that I caught were white-footed mice, not the usual pest, the house mouse. That might explain why there are no other signs of infestation. These mice live on hickory nuts and are looking for lodging and that is all.

We had a nice snow cover here on Saturday. I'm so glad I was able to get up all of the leaves before our first snowfall.

I've also been working on installing the lights along the trail down the hill. I ran a new cable across the canal and I installed a junction box and three new light fixtures up in the trees. It was a lot of hard work, setting up the ladder on the steep hillside and fighting all of the branches, but the lighting has been restored on the trail! It's been a long road back to having lights on the trail and I'm quite proud of the professional-like job that I did reinstalling them.

I have some generous donations to report. First of all, The Potomac Conservancy was cleaning out the cellar at Lockhouse 8 and offered us a canoe so I went up there to retrieve a nice little Mad River 12 footer. Then, Club member Marc B donated two decent canoe carts and I went and picked those up at his house in nearby Mohican Hills. Finally, yesterday I drove out to Arlington and picked up a donation of two kayaks and some other gear from long-time Club members Amanda and Peter. Thanks people, I'm sure that this new/used gear will be put to good use.

I just learned that the Potomac Conservancy is abandoning their interpretive center at lockhouse 8. They had a nice long run of welcoming visitors to the Park, the river and the canal. Many thanks to the Potomac Conservancy, we will miss our upriver neighbors.