Tag Archives: Catoctin Creek

A natural hero – Anne Larson

Anne Larson – a surprised honoree

Anne Larson – a surprised honoree

Among the wonderful encomiums lavished on Anne Larson this past Saturday was that, if it weren’t for Anne, the entire gathering couldn’t meet in her old Taylorstown frame shop to honor her because many years earlier the Army Corps of Engineers had wanted to submerge the area under 81 feet of water; Anne firmly resolved to fight the effort and to achieve what few thought possible.  But Anne would be the first to tell you, she didn’t do it alone.  No one could.

The Catoctin Creek originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Loudoun County, flows northeasterly through the Piedmont, hugs the area around Taylorstown, finally emptying in the Potomac north of Leesburg.

Catoctin Creek snakes along under the Taylorstown Road en route to the Potomac

Catoctin Creek snakes along under the Taylorstown Road en route to the Potomac

Emerson once wrote, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

Judging from the gathering, not only does Anne inspire and lead others, she found fertile ground in the community in the mid-1970s to form a far-flung ensemble of concerned and quite talented friends and neighbors who, together, made a dramatic difference, after a hard fought campaign, of defeating the Army Corps of Engineers.

This should give heart to anyone who seeks to resist a poorly conceived public policy.

In mid-1974, the Fairfax County Water Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that Catoctin Creek was a prime candidate for a dam and reservoir to impound water for a 7-day supply for the Washington, DC area during drought periods.

The plan was to flood more than 3,000 acres of Loudoun County, including Taylorstown, and part of Waterford.

In opposition, the community fought to establish the Catoctin Creek as “scenic,” have Taylorstown added to the National Register, and amend Virginia’s eminent domain statute so that another jurisdiction, DC in this case, would be barred from “taking” land or water to create a dam or reservoir.

In the end, this plan of action enjoyed wide support among regional and local papers and an array of public officials, stopping the Army Corps of Engineer dead in its watery tracks.

Friends and neighbors gather to honor Anne (right, foreground)

Friends and neighbors gather to honor Anne (right, foreground)

Anne has since made her participation in the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee her personal mission, to resist inimical intrusions on the creek, to protect game birds and stream dwellers, and to encourage tree and bush planting, so that there is a “riparian buffer” to guard against erosion and to provide food and habitat for wildlife.

David Ward, a prominent hydrology expert, and Advisory Committee Member, gave a demonstration at the Creek focused on how and why you measure flow and the health of any Creek.

The rate of flow of a stream or creek plainly relates to water supply management, pollution control, irrigation, flood control, energy generation, and industrial uses.

The Catoctin Creek flows freely under a bridge near the Taylorstown store and some outdoor enthusiasts care to know if the water is moving fast enough with deep enough channels to put a canoe in the water.

David used a technique called the “one-orange method” to measure the rate of flow.  But David didn’t use an orange.  He preferred to use a yellow rubber ducky.

David Ward leads a demonstration on creek flow

David Ward leads a demonstration on creek flow

With the orange method, you submerge the orange to the bottom of the stream at the deepest vertical location you can find (and reach), and release the orange.  You see how long it takes for the orange to travel 16 feet down stream, and the calculation is simply the ratio of distance divided by time yielding the rate of flow.  You ordinarily repeat this several times to get a reliable estimate.

But David replaced the orange with a phalanx of yellow rubber ducks.




David Ward waits to make the measure of flow in the Creek

David Ward waits to make the measure of flow in the Creek

“I find that youngsters and adults alike have more fun with little yellow ducks,” said David, “so, we’re replacing the oranges to the same effect.  I’d say the rough estimate of the flow we’re observing for this demonstration today is about 2 feet a second, pretty quick.  But this exercise is less about measurement and more about understanding the principle, how we measure flow.”

Even in the shadow of an impending rainstorm, the flow was free of eddies, slack water or noticeable turbulence.

Another indication of the health of a stream, David showed, was what small creatures are able to live and thrive in the waters.  At a glance, David reached into the Creek and picked up a cray fish to show the signs of a lively Catoctin Creek.  Of course, there is a more formal technique – https://vimeo.com/180512135 .


Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson kept secret the special awards they arranged for Anne.



Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson

Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson

They planned to honor Anne secretly for what she had done so publicly.





An amazing amusing illustration to honor Anne Larson – by Mike Caplanis

An amazing amusing illustration to honor Anne Larson – by Mike Caplanis

Judy Ross presented Anne with an amazing amusing satirical illustration, a caricature of Anne, as “Empress for a day,” and the assembled friends and neighbors lifted champagne glasses to toast Anne.







The festivities concluded with a champagne toast

The festivities concluded with a champagne toast

“This surely was a surprise,” Anne said.

The canary in the stream

Horse fly larva

Horse fly larva

The expression and the actual practice is “the canary in the coal mine,” a means to detect deadly levels of carbon dioxide gas that overwhelms the canary, signaling to the miners that they might succumb next, and so they are fairly warned to escape.

There are comparable early warning signs, using other small creatures, to detect whether the river and stream waters that we drink, fish and swim in may be “impaired,” or significantly degraded.

Unfortunately, we do have “impaired waters” – so this is not an academic question.

All our County’s streams are affected by human activities, especially development, and some do not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Quality Standards for recreational use and aquatic life.

We have to be concerned about Catoctin Creek and Goose Creek and their tributaries, Little River, Limestone Branch, Piney Run, Broad Run and Sugarland Run.  We all have an obligation as stewards to use but not alter or compromise this most essential natural resource, the waters by which we live.

We have pollution from storm water runoff, grazing, failing septic tank systems.  The more impervious surfaces we have, the more our watersheds are compromised.  Nor can we ignore the fecal bacteria mostly due to livestock.  We have to remediate against these polluting practices.

The good news is that there are things we can do to protect and preserve our waterways and we have the means to detect when our streams are “impaired.” Continue reading

Historic bridge remains at risk

johnLewisBridgeYou may wonder what happened to that historic one-lane bridge on Featherbed Lane that VDOT seemed inclined to alter or destroy.

Well VDOT is having another meeting on February 9, 2016, at 6 p.m. at the Old School in Waterford, and the bridge is still on the chopping block.

There is an effort by the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee to preserve the bridge’s historic standing and maintain its listing in the National Registry of Historic Places and in Virginia Landmarks Registry.

In 2003, VDOT “hot zinced” the bridge to preserve it and instead made the bridge more brittle.

According to the Advisory Committee, VDOT now admits that may have been the wrong thing to do.

The challenge is to repair the bridge consistent with the recommendation of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources.

Marc Holma, the Architectural Historian, for the Division of Review and Compliance, wrote on behalf of the Department, that “the Architectural Evaluation Team decided that only Alternative 2A [of VDOT’s proposals] would preserve enough of the bridge’s historic design and materials to keep it listed in the NRHP [Nation Register of Historic Places].”


The Advisory Committee would prefer that this Alternative 2A not have a pier as when there are storms, trees and branches, they accumulate around the pier. The current configuration of the bridge has no pier.

The Advisory Committee said that you have to go out there after every storm clearing out the log jam when you have a pier or piling.

VDOT is distressed that trucks weigh too much and may have trouble clearing the upper trusses.

One resident asked why is a truck traveling on that road, much less the bridge.

Is this really a way to create new paved roadways to facilitate more development, rather than preserve and protect this charming back road and historic bridge?

On the northeast side of Featherbed Lane, just over the bridge, there is Waterford Downs, a development slated to have 93 homes on 3 Acre lots, with 5 built already.

For trucks to avoid the dirt road and the historic bridge, in order to get to the development, requires that the trucks go around on other roads, taking an additional 45 minutes.

These narrow dirt roads are not meant for such heavy traffic.

One member of the advisory committee suggested that, if the bridge is revised and widened, then the dirt road may be next to be widened and paved.

It remains a bitter irony that, while the bridge was named after a preservationist, John G. Lewis, its own chance of preservation is at high risk.

Mr. Lewis had been the local regional representative for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, now known as the Department of Historic Resources.

John spearheaded the Scenic River designation for Catoctin Creek that flows beneath the bridge.

This tension may be resolved, either to preserve or destroy the bridge and its historic nature, at the meeting scheduled for February 9th in Waterford.

We should not squander another historic treasure. We have to make this work and save the bridge.