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Fun in Potomac Part 1

Potomac may lack the nightlife of downtown Washington, D.C., but there’s no shortage of ways for all ages to have fun, both in Potomac proper and the surrounding area. Outdoor recreation abounds, as do cultural opportunities, whether somebody wants to experience the fine arts or become a fine artist themselves. Read on …

* Start a running routine. Montgomery County Road Runners holds weekly workouts for various ability levels in Rockville, Gaithersburg and the Kentlands. They also conduct race training, youth clinics, and regular member events. Membership is $25 per year for individuals and $40 per year for families.

Find out more: Visit www.mccrc.org.

* Start a hard-core running routine. The Montgomery County Road Runners Club offers a six-month program that trains first-timers to run the Marine Corps Marathon. The club also sponsors races, training runs, special events and other activities for runners of all ages and experience levels.

Find out more: Visit www.mcrrc.org/program.html.

* Become a better writer. Looking for guidance in writing the Great American Novel? Interested in composing poetry? Hoping to get travel writing published? The Writer's Center in Bethesda offers workshops to learn different writing styles, such as travel writing, screenwriting personal essays, short fiction and many more.

Find out more: The Writer’s Center is at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda. Call 301-654-8664 or visit writer.org.

* Run for a cause. It’s a Potomac Fourth of July tradition since 2001. Cure Autism Now hosts a 5-kilometer road race or 1-mile walk to help raise money for autism research by Potomac Library every July 4. Runners and walkers enjoy food and music after the race, and random prizes are given out. Registration for the race is required.

Find out more: Visit canrun.org.

* See collegiate baseball. Every summer, the Bethesda Big Train brings a family-friendly baseball atmosphere to Cabin John Regional Park. Bethesda plays in the Cal Ripken, Sr. League, and wooden-bat collegiate summer baseball league. All the fun of a minor-league stadium is here — mascot Homer the Dog, between-inning prizes, and nightly attractions like “Slide into a Good Book Night.” Proceeds from ticket sales go to improving little league baseball and softball fields at schools and in parks Tickets range from $2-3 for children and $4-7 for adults. Admission is free for all children under five.

Find out more: The Bethesda Big Train plays its home games in Shirley Povich Field in Cabin John Regional Park, 10600 Westlake Drive, Bethesda. Call 301-983-1006 or visit bigtrain.org.

* Have a Blast at ‘Blast from the Past.’ Devo’s “Whip It,” Neil Diamond’s “America,” Lenny Kravitz’s “Lady” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” all in one show? It can only be Winston Churchill High School’s annual “Blast From the Past” music and dance revue. Every year, more than 200 Churchill student signers, dancers and musicians perform costumed song-and-dance routines to a range of tunes that offers something for everybody.

Find out more: “Blast from the Past” runs every spring at Winston Churchill High School, 11300 Gainsborough Road. Visit www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/churchillhs for a schedule.

* Go mountain biking. Mountain bikers who crave hills and tricky terrain may grow tired of the C&O Canal’s flat towpath, but they need not despair — two local trails permit mountain bikes. The Cabin John Trail is 10 miles long and runs alongside Cabin John Creek between the Beltway overpass near Seven Locks Road and Montrose Road. Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg offers multiuse trails at Schaeffer Farms that are especially popular with mountain bikers.

Find out more: Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts is a nonprofit organization representing area mountain bikers. For information about the Cabin John Trail and the trails at Schaeffer Farms, visit the MORE Web site at www.more-mtb.org, then click on “Where to Ride.” Another good resource is “Mountain Biking the Washington, D.C./Baltimore Area” by Scott Adams and Martin Fernandez, published by Globe Pequot Press. Find it online or at local book stores.

* See Great Falls. For centuries, visitors from all around the country have come to Great Falls for the breathtaking scenery. In C&O Canal National Historic Park, the closest entrance to Great Falls is located at the intersection of MarArthur Boulevard and Falls Road, mere minutes from Potomac Village. Visitors to the park can enjoy several hiking trails, including the challenging Billy Goat Trail, picnic/snack areas and a museum/visitor center at Great Falls Tavern. There is a fee of $5 fee per vehicle or $3 per cyclist/walker at this entrance. Find out more: For a map of Great Falls, visit www.nps.gov/choh/Recreation/Trails/greatfallstrailmap.pdf.

* Bike to work. For far too many people in the Washington, D.C. area, the morning commute is a miserable, traffic-choked affair. Biking to work — or at least to a nearby bus stop or Metro station — is a more realistic possibility than many people in the Potomac area think. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has an online Bicycle Commuter Assistance Program, an interactive guide that provides commuter information and maps online. Each spring, WABA hosts Bike to Work Day, and provides pit stops, convoy routes and information for those who join.

Find out more: Visit www.waba.org for information about local trails, Bike to Work Day, and the interactive Bicycle Commuter Assistance Program.

* Rediscover canoeing. These days, kayaking may seem to hold more of an “extreme sports” appeal, but for cruising the C&O Canal, or in the Potomac River above Seneca, canoeing may be the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors.

Find out more: Swains Lock rents canoes and kayaks for $10.50/hour or $22 all day. The Canoe Cruisers Association teaches canoeing basics courses at Fletchers Boathouse in Georgetown. Visit www.ccadc.org.

* Meet your neighbors, seriously. Homeowners associations aren’t just for nitpicking about the neighbors’ grass. Potomac is full of associations that play a vital role in county decision making — from school construction and closures to traffic controls to land use. Joining one means you won’t find out about the highway being paved in your back yard when concrete trucks roll in. Sound boring? The groups also host outings, evening social events, and summer barbecues, and many publish their own newsletters.

Find out more: The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission maintains a regularly updated list of civic and homeowners associations, which may be viewed for free at their Montgomery County office, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. A fee is charged for copies. Contact the Montgomery County Planning Board community relations office at 301-495-4600.

* Watch insane kayakers. Some of the world’s best kayakers come to the Great Falls area of the Potomac river to train. One way to see them is simply to go: a summer hike along one of the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s riverside trails is sure to yield some spotting opportunities. The Potomac Whitewater Festival, held annually in July, features dozens of events including dramatic runs over Great Falls. Watch from the Maryland overlook in C&O Canal National Historical Park by crossing the wooden walkway to Olmstead Island near Great Falls Tavern.

Find out more: Visit www.potomacfest.com. The C&O Canal National Historical Park Web site is www.nps.gov/choh.

* Become a sane kayaker. Want to try paddling yourself? Safety first. The C&O Canal, with a closed water system and little flow, is an ideal place to learn, and several outfitters offer lessons there. Inexperienced paddlers and swimmers are injured or killed every year entering the water without proper training and equipment. Learn from professionals at schools like Potomac Paddlesports, www.potomacpaddlesports.com and Liquid Adventures, www.liquidadventures.org, or Valley Mill Kayak School, www.valleymill.com.

* See a high-school performance. Potomac’s high-school students put on dozens of high-quality and often award-winning plays, musicals, revues, and dance performances every year. Seeing high school theater is inexpensive and close to home and supports school art programs. The Almanac previews many of these shows, but keeping in touch with local schools through their Web sites and listservs is the best way to make sure you won’t miss a curtain call.

Find out more: Visit www.waltwhitman.edu, www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/woottonhs, www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/churchillhs, www.bullis.org, www.mcleanschool.org, www.holychild.org, www.landon.net, www.gprep.org, www.heights.edu, www.holton-arms.edu, www.stoneridge.org, and www.saes.org (St. Andrew’s Episcopal School), and other local school Web sites. Most of the Web sites provide information on how to sign up to receive regular e-mails about school events.

* Go to an arts festival. Potomac’s three public high schools all host two-day arts festivals in the spring, featuring live performances; painting, ceramics, photography, and visual art displays; silent auctions and more. The festivals take place in mid-May.

Find out more: Visit www.waltwhitman.edu, www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/woottonhs, and  www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/churchillhs, or call the schools’ art departments.

* See an art show opening. The Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery is part of Glen Echo Park, the cultural center and former amusement park. It offers classes and workshops for all ability levels throughout the year and hosts regular art shows featuring the work of Yellow Barn students and local artists.

Find out more: Visit www.yellowbarnstudio.com. The site also features on-line exhibitions.

* Shop for antiques. Potomac’s country-town history makes it a haven for antique enthusiasts. Local shops selling antiques include Potomac Village Antiques and Flora’s Feathered Nest.

Find out more: Flora's Feathered Nest, 12211 River Road, 301-765-0003. Potomac Village Antiques, 9906 River Road, 301-983-0140. Many private antiques dealers work out of their homes. Find them on the Web at sites like http://antiques-usa.com.

* Go bird watching on the C&O Canal — Potomac is a great place to take your camera or binoculars and go bird watching. The canal has river, forest, marsh and field habitats alongside the towpath, and Rileys Lock and Lock 7 (near Glen Echo at the intersection of Goldsboro Road and MacArthur Boulevard) are favorites of local birders. A local bird guide and a hike in C&O Canal National Historical Park is a great start for those who wish to go solo. The Lockhouse 8 River Center, located between Great Falls and Glen Echo on the C&O Canal operated jointly by the Potomac Conservancy and the National Park Service, holds regular events including “Second Saturday” nature programs on the second Saturday of every month. The programs include nature walks and bird walks.

Find out more: The Potomac Conservancy’s Lockhouse 8 River Center Web site is www.potomac.org/action/ctg/lockhouse.

* Learn about birds with the experts — The Audubon Naturalist Society conducts free bird walks, bird counts for research and bird watching events for charity. It also oversees three local nature sanctuaries, including Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase. Locust Grove Nature Center in Cabin John Regional Park has naturalists who lead bird watches in the area. The Montgomery Bird Club is a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society that sponsors bird field trips and holds monthly meetings.

Find out more: To participate in Audubon Naturalist Society birding events, visit www.audubonnaturalist.org and click “Birding” or call 301-652-1088 for recorded information, which is updated weekly. Woodend Sanctuary is located at 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase. Locust Grove’s Web site, www.mc-mncppc.org/parks/nature_centers/locust, lists upcoming events. The Montgomery Bird Club’s meetings are on the third Wednesday of every month at Potomac Presbyterian Church, 10301 River Road, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Visit www.mdkinc.com/mccbird.

* Go road biking locally. Every weekend, Potomac’s roads fill up with hard-core and not-so-hard-core bikers enjoying the area’s scenery and open roads. The most popular routes are along MacArthur Boulevard, Falls Road, and River Road, which conduct bikers to popular and less-trafficked areas upcounty. Montgomery County Bicycle Advocates (MOBIKE) and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) conduct bicycling advocacy and provide maps, safety information and other resources for bicyclists.

Find out more: Visit www.waba.org or www.internetigloo.com/mobike.

* Go road biking upcounty. Poolesville, 15 miles away from Potomac Village, has roads better suited for bike riding than many of the narrow and busy roads in Potomac.

Find out more: Montgomery County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation has a bikeways map that includes a route along roads in the Poolesville area. Visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dpwt/, then click on “Sidewalks & Bikeways.” The Washington Area Bicyclist Association publishes the “Greater Washington Area Bicycle Atlas,” with suggested routes for 67 bike tours. Available in local bookstores, or visit www.waba.org/new/paths/gwaba.php

* Bike part of the C&O Canal. The C&O Canal towpath is 184 miles of biker’s paradise. It is almost completely flat, making it great for families, children, and inexperienced bikers. For most of the 22 miles between Georgetown and Seneca, the towpath is smooth and wide — it’s rougher and narrower above Seneca.

Find out more: Visit the C&O Canal National Historical Park Web page at www.nps.gov/choh or the Bike Washington towpath bicycling guide at www.bikewashington.org/canal for a biker’s guide to canal features.