Visions Differ on Blockhouse

Visions Differ on Blockhouse

Take a Hike

One of the most captivating storytellers of Potomac's environmental, natural, cultural history — as well its role in American history — doesn't speak one word.

Park and Planning staff say that natural and cultural resources at the 621-acres of land along River Road known as Blockhouse Point are among the most valuable in the county.

The park contains a variety of exceptional resources including mature upland forest, floodplain forest, wetlands, streams and river-rock outcrops.

"To date, nine species of threatened, endangered, or watchlist species of plants have been identified in the park along with 25 species of fish, nine species of amphibians, four species of reptiles, 39 species of nesting birds and 10 species of mammals," according to Park and Planning documents.

During the Civil War, the 19th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry built three blockhouses in 1862 to guard Violette's Lock and Pennyfield Lock on the C&O Canal.

WHILE MANY PEOPLE who know Blockhouse Point refer to it as "the jewel of Potomac," visions of how the park should be used or conserved differ considerably.

Some want to keep Blockhouse Point conserved. Environmental activists, for example, want to limit development, even of trails, in the park as much as possible,

"I discovered the area five or six years ago. It is not well marked," said Ron La Coss, of the Sierra Club. "It is probably the best example of upland forest in the county."

The relationship of the Blockhouse Point Conservation Master Plan to other plans approved by the Planning Board is another issue Park and Planning will consider.

"Given the sensitive nature of the resources in Conservation Parks, development is very limited and generally restricted to passive recreational activities such as hiking on natural surface trails, fishing, informal picnicking and nature study," according to the description of conservation parks written in The Park, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan.

OTHERS WANT more access, including those who seek access to trails for bicycling and horseback riding.

"We believe the time is right to add additional recreational trails in the county suitable for active trail users, such as hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and equestrians," wrote Dave Scull, Dave Magill and Dick Pelroy, of Mid-Atlantic Offroad Enthusiasts, to Park and Planning. "This kind of low-density use is well suited for Blockhouse Point Park, some of which is designated by PPC planning documents as a 'conservation area' where development of natural surface trails is encouraged."

CURRENTLY, Blockhouse Point park is traversed by a number of hiking and limited equestrian trails and is served by two gravel parking lots near River Road.

Park and Planning plans include making the park accessible for the study of natural resources and viewing the Potomac River.

The Park and Planning Department began the Blockhouse Point Master Plan process to determine how the park will be used in the future. The department invites all interested citizens the chance to take a guided hiking tour of Blockhouse Point Conservation Point on Sunday, June 2, from 1-4 p.m., to see the park, and discuss potential uses for it.