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Itinerary:

A Peacetime Paddle in the Shadow of Fort Washington

During the War of 1812, a British diversionary fleet squadron came up the Potomac and destroyed Fort Washington (called Fort Warburton at the time) before sacking and setting fire to Washington, D.C. Not only is this event notable for being the only time in the Nation’s history that a foreign expeditionary force has occupied the Capital, but what is perhaps more astounding is that the British fleet was able to successfully navigate the Potomac River. As river enthusiasts know, the Potomac is notorious for its shoals, shallows, and serpentine channel.

Navigating the Potomac from the cockpit of a kayak or canoe is far more straightforward than piloting a large vessel upriver. When you put in at Fort Washington Marina, you can paddle out to see the imposing walls of Fort Washington and look downriver to imagine a squadron of warships making their way up the Potomac. Then duck into Piscataway Creek and enjoy the natural scenery of a protected shoreline.

While you’re in the area, pay a visit to Fort Washington Park to compare the view when standing on the fort’s bulwarks.

Paddling Notes

  • Kayak rentals are available seasonally on Saturdays and Sundays or by reservation. Atlantic Kayak Company also offers group tours and environmental education programs.
  • Paddlers have several options for routes and lengths of trips when launching from Fort Washington Marina. Piscataway Creek provides a more sheltered route and may be the best option on windy days or times when there is a lot of powerboat traffic on the river.

     

Navigational Hazards

  • The channel for motorboat traffic at the marina goes along the end of the piers. Stay out of the channel when paddling near the marina.
  • The main river channel passes very close to the point of Fort Washington Park. Be careful not to venture into the busy channel and stay with your group when motorboat traffic is present. Make yourself visible and avoid paddling into the oncoming path of powerboats.
  • Passing motorboats will throw off large wakes that can capsize a kayak. Take caution around powerboats and watch out for boat wakes.
  • Though relatively protected, this section of the Potomac River can experience strong, sudden summer storms that bring strong winds. Check the weather forecast before your trip and keep an eye on the skies. Be prepared to quickly head back to shore if the weather changes.
  • Strong tidal currents are common at the mouth of Piscataway Creek. Paddlers can overcome the current by paddling against it, but be aware of the tides – paddling against the tide will tire you faster.

Water Safety

Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The National Park Service, Chesapeake Conservancy and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.

Marine Forecast

We STRONGLY suggested that you review the marine forecast ahead of heading out for a paddling trip. To review the forecast for this paddle trip, visit:

Emergency Information

  • In an emergency, dial 911
  • Report suspicious activity to any park employee or the United States Park Police: (202) 610-7500
  • Nearest hospital: Fort Washington Medical Center (11711 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington, MD 20744): (301) 292-7000

Parking & Shuttles

Since Fort Washington Marina is a full-service marina with a working boatyard, parking can be confusing to newcomers. Dedicated parking spots are generally available near the marina office. If you are not sure about where to park, speak with the office staff or outfitter staff.

Restrooms

  • Full restrooms are located inside the marina office building.

Equipment

  • ALWAYS wear a properly secured personal flotation device (PFD) when participating in paddlesport activities. Make sure that your PFD has a readily accessible safety whistle.
  • A spray skirt is recommended for cold/foul weather.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing that shields you from the sun (sunglasses, sunblock, hat, and a long-sleeved shirt that can get wet) and is safe to swim in. Water shoes with closed toes will protect you from abrasive hazards at launch areas that can cut your feet.
  • Bring water in bottles than can be secured to your craft. Bring more water than you think you’ll need and drink regularly throughout your journey.​

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

  • Water: Restroom facilities have water and showers.
  • Camping: Camping is not permitted at Fort Washington Marina, Fort Washington Park, or Piscataway Park.
  • Concession: Proud Mary Restaurant, located at Fort Washington Marina, is a convenient place to grab dinner after paddling.

Trail History

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

  • Smith visited the area that is now Piscataway Park in June 1608. He met with Piscataway Indians in a town called Moyaone, the political center of the Piscataway nation at the time. Archaeological evidence shows indigenous occupation of the area for approximately 11,000 years. Piscataway towns in this area sustained themselves on the natural riches of the Potomac and Piscataway Creek, as well as game and agriculture. Visitors to Piscataway Park can experience a natural landscape similar to that found during the height of American Indian habitation and the Colonial era.
  • By the end of the 17th century, this land became an integral part of the tobacco culture that remained central to Southern Maryland economy for the next 300 years.
  • Directly across the river from Fort Washington Park, there is a bald eagle nest in Fort Hunt Park. Keep an eye out for osprey and heron near the shallows as well. This section of the Potomac is also a popular destination for recreational fishing: common species include bass and the invasive snakehead fish.

Star-Spangled Banner NHT

  • On August 27, 1814, as Washington, D.C. was burning, the British fleet rested on the Potomac near Mount Vernon. As British forces attacked and burned Washington, a British naval squadron sailed up the Potomac and forced the surrender of Alexandria. Loaded with loot, the fleet then headed downriver. On September 1, the British attempted to run the deep-water channel below the Belvoir Manor. Here, a hastily assembled American force hurriedly began to mount a battery on the bluffs above the river. For four days, British and American forces exchanged cannon and musket fire. The British fleet eventually passed the American positions. British shells demolished what little was left of the old Belvoir Manor.
  • The British ship Anna Maria, which served as a sentry near Swan Creek to make sure that American forces did not re-occupy the strategic point that had been abandoned when Fort Washington was destroyed, took onboard many runaway slaves. The British Army and Navy had been sending out the call that any slave who offered to assist the British in the war would receive a life of freedom somewhere in the British Empire for their service. Upon reaching the Anna Maria, these men were trained with small arms and eventually joined a regiment known as the Colonial Marines. Sixty-five slaves made it to the Anna Maria as it sat anchored in Swan Creek. Today, there are communities in Trinidad, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone that can trace their origins to the Colonial Marines.

Potomac Heritage NST

  • In 1886, Fort Washington was approved for a new defense system consisting of steel guns and concrete batteries. During World War I, the fort was used as a staging area for troops being sent to France to fight in the 53rd Railroad Artillery Regiment.
  • In 1939, the fort was no longer being used for military activities and was turned over for use as a terminal point for a bridge across the Potomac. However, when the United States entered World War II, the fort was again returned to the army and became the home of the Adjutant General’s School. In 1946, Fort Washington was returned to the Department of the Interior.
  • This region has a rich history of land conservation. Piscataway Park was established to protect the historic viewshed of Mount Vernon. Tax credits to local property owners initiated the land trust movement in the United States. The National Colonial Farm is a living museum of colonial farming and a modern-day organic farm that generates its own electricity using solar energy. The traditional farming methods used at the colonial farm demonstrate the life of most tobacco farmers.
  • Marshall Hall, built circa 1725 and destroyed by fire in 1981, is an example of colonial-era land use in the area. Beginning in 1650, the original property was combined with other smaller sites, including a parcel deeded to the Marshall family by the Piscataway Indians. The property stayed in the family until they were forced to sell it after the Civil War. From the late 1800s until the 1970s, the estate was the site of a popular amusement park.  

     

Weather

Main image: Payton Chung