Potomac: Quick Reaction Places Tree-Cutting on Hold

Potomac: Quick Reaction Places Tree-Cutting on Hold

Local residents protest loss of trees at Swains Lock campground.

On Friday, Oct. 16, Barbara Brown noticed something awry on her walk along the C&O Canal Towpath by the Swains Lock campground. Several large trees had come down, and more were marked for destruction.

A round of phone calls resulted in quick action, with Kevin Brandt, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park calling for an immediate halt to the tree cutting.

County Councilmember Roger Berliner, who responded to constituent calls on Friday morning was able to reach Brandt right away, although he was apparently not the only one calling the superintendent on the topic.

The superintendent “has agreed to halt the cutting immediately,” Berliner said on Friday. “He is not happy either.”

Next, a certified arborist will evaluate the trees, identifying any with serious defects or that might pose a danger to park visitors. Berliner said Brandt would share that report before the next steps are underway.

Several National Park Service personnel met with Becky Curtis of the C&O Canal Trust, Brown, and Silvia Diss later on Friday, and the group looked at about 50 trees, mostly silver maples, that were marked to be taken down or pruned. The Park Service employees cited camper safety as the key reason for the action.

The trees involved are towering, mature trees, and some appear to approach 100 feet tall.

“Kevin Brandt is not Pepco,” said Berliner. “He’s going about this in a very responsible way.”

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was fined in 2005 for cutting trees between his Potomac house and the C&O Canal National Historical Park just a short distance from Swains Lock. The 100,000 square feet of clearing was in violation of the county forest conservation law, but the scenic easements held by the National Park Service along the canal failed to protect the hillsides from clearing.

“Kevin Brandt is not Dan Snyder, either,” said Berliner.

On Monday morning, Oct. 19, Brown gave this report from the scene:

“All is peaceful [at] Swains this morning. A large family was camped here. It is interesting to note that all the trees around their campsite are marked for either severe pruning or cut to the ground. I walked around and did a count. There are eight stumps (cut even to the ground) and 14 poles (trimmed of all branches in preparation to be cut to the ground). In addition 46 (a rough count) trees have pink markers.”

In response to an inquiry from Ginny Barnes, environmental chair of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, Brandt wrote: “No final decision has been made to go forward or not. We are still evaluating the campground and alternative approaches to ensure visitor safety and natural resource processes are maintained. At this time no timetable has been set to make a decision. We are working on ways to be transparent and communicative with all the interested parties. I hope to have more information soon on next steps.”