Sprucing up the Patapsco for paddlers, anglers
When the cork known as Simkins Dam was pulled from the Patapsco River late last year, water flowed freely for the first time in more than a century.
As the water level dropped, strange items began appearing. A huge milling machine with menacing blades. A massive steel tank filled with water and sand. A brick pump house washed from its foundation by the force of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Two sections of ancient sewer pipe near the bridge in Ellicott City.
They posed navigational hazards for paddlers, safety concerns for waders and swimmers and potential line snaggers for anglers.
"Plus they're just, plain ugly," said Jim Palmer, a member of Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park.
So the volunteers hired a tow truck big enough for Paul Bunyan to drive.
A Baltimore County highway crew rolled onto the scene to help.
Two hours later, all of the junk was on its way to the landfill.
"This is terrific for the recreational boaters, the anglers, the kayakers and it's terrific for the river," said Major Daryl Anthony, central regional manager of the Maryland Park Service. "It's all part of the initiative to clean up the river and improve the overall health and beauty of the Patapsco."
That's not to say it was easy.
Palmer, Bruce Clopein, Paul Farragut and John Diamond did all the prep work, attaching heavy chains to the pieces and figuring out a clear path from the water, up the river bank and to the waiting bulldozer and truck along River Road.
James Freeman of Pasadena operated the controls on his tow truck's 75-ton crane with the deft touch of a surgeon. The huge boom swung under power lines and around trees. Freeman has practice. He was called upon in 2008 to raise the tractor trailer that plunged off the Bay Bridge.
After volunteers snapped large hooks to the chains draped around the milling machine, Freeman pushed the winch into gear. A steel cable tightened and slowly the hunk of metal began inching its way toward dry land, leaving a slug-like trench of sand in its wake.
"We'll come back and smooth that out," said Palmer.
Earlier this week, the state, federal and conservation partners that took part in the removal of Simkins walked the site to see if the river was returning to its original state. The concensus: So far, so good.
One obstacle remains between Ellicott City and the mouth of the river: Bloede Dam.
Money is tight, but early planning is underway.
All of the other items targeted by the volunteers were dragged to shore. Bicycles, a vacuum cleaner and a box load of cans and bottles were hauled off as well.
Tires and the messy remains of shoreline parties had to be left behind for another day.
"This is a work in progress," said Palmer. "We'll be back."
Top: A 2,000-pound brick pumping station, torn from its foundation by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, was one of the items pulled from the Patapsco River.
Middle: A storage tank, filled with water and sand, was hauled away by a Baltimore County highway crew.
Bottom: Paul Farragut (left) and Jim Palmer steady the pumphouse as a 75-ton crane drags it from the Howard County side to the Baltimore County side of the river.