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What’s Afloat on The Monocacy

Blair Garrett

The perfect relaxing day for an August Day Trip lies in the heart of the Catoctin area.

With the sun beating down, not much feels better than sitting on the water surrounded by good people. Fortunately, the Monocacy River is a natural lazy river, which flows from the Mason-Dixon Line around Frederick and all the way to the much larger Potomac River at Dickerson, Maryland. The river bridges Frederick and Carroll Counties, allowing all local kayakers and floaters a short drive for some fun in the sun.

The pace of the river is leisurely to say the least, so for kayakers or those fearful of rapids, the Monocacy is a great place to start learning or adapting to all of your water adventures.

There are entry points scattered throughout nearly every twist and turn, but the farther north in the river that you hop on, the longer the potential float. Popular drop spots include the MD 77 access point, the Creagerstown Boat Launch, Devilbiss Bridge, Biggs Ford Road, and Riverside Park Boat Ramp. Each of these locations grant riders easy access to smooth waters on a sunny day.

The process is easy and a blast with a great group of people. One person parks at an entry point, and one parks at the finish line, so the whole group can hitch a ride at the start on their tubes or kayaks and make it to the end point with a ride back to their cars or back home.

The trip itself can take several hours, or much less depending on where you want to end your ride. Floating is simple, though, and a great way to spend some time with family and friends. Grabbing a few tubes, stringing them together and playing some music while taking an easy stroll down the Monocacy can provide hours of entertainment, and the atmosphere is unbeatable on a nice day.

It’s not uncommon to see families with a big tube in the middle, packed with coolers filled with drinks and snacks, but don’t forget to bring sunscreen and plenty of water to combat those hot August days.

The river flows at an average speed of 2-3 mph, and despite the trees surrounding the river providing shade toward the edges, there is plenty of room in the middle with direct sunlight. So, whether or not you plan on catching some rays, make sure to protect yourself from getting a nasty sunburn.

Depending on recent rainfall, the river may run much faster and may have deeper waters, so it’s important to be prepared and cautious for your day trip on the water. There are few if any rapids at all over the course of the Monocacy, but significant rainfall can and does affect the speed and intensity of the river.

The Monocacy passes plenty of beautiful landscapes and farmlands, but it also runs past a few points of interest that can be seen and heard during a typical floating trip on the northern half of the waterway. The river runs right by the Thurmont Sportsman Club, where they often have competitions and events at their gun range. 

The river also flows under Old Links Bridge, where you may just be able to take a pit stop and grab a bottle of wine from Links Bridge Winery.

Of course, the best part about the Monocacy River float is shutting out the rest of the world and enjoying quality time with loved ones and some of the freshest air Maryland has to offer.

Over the course of the Monocacy’s 58 mile stretch from PA/MD border to the Potomac River, there are plenty of places to fish or swim, so even if a long tube ride isn’t your cup of tea, there’s surely something to do for everyone. The river is also home to several species of bass, trout and sunfish, with each fish posing a different challenge to catch.

With the mountainous and forested landscape covering much of southern Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland, there are plenty of rivers, streams and tributaries that offer the public a great way to cool off over the summer. The Monocacy is just one of a few popular floating destinations in the area. For those of us north of the PA/MD border, the Conococheague Creek is another similar experience for adventurers to have a fun day on the water.

The Conococheague is a tributary in the Potomac River system, running 80 miles from start to finish. The majority of the creek lies in Pennsylvania, with prime floating locations near Greencastle, PA. Just 12 percent of the creek resides in Maryland before connecting to the Potomac River.

While both the Monocacy and the Conococheague eventually connect to the Potomac River, many of the sights to see and points of interest on the Monocacy tour are in and around the greater Frederick Area.

Historic locations like the Buckeystown Dam and the Monocacy National Battlefield run with the river, so a quick detour to do some exploring and to take in the history is an option worth checking out.

Whatever it is that draws you to the water, the Monocacy River float is a day trip the whole family can enjoy. Check out a location near you and grab a tube before the summer is over!

Wade and Alison McGahen kick back for a day of fun in the sun on the Monocacy River.

A group of friends hits the Monocacy waters with their favorite tubes on a hot summer day.

Accesses & Points Along the Monocacy

BY James Rada, Jr.

Depending on who you might talk to and where you are along the U.S. Route 15 corridor that runs through the heart of the Catoctin Region, the highway could be referred to by at least nine different names and that’s not even counting the names of the business routes and auxiliary routes.

U.S. Route 15

This is the official name of the nearly 792-mile-long highway that runs from Waltersboro, South Carolina, to Painted Post, New York. It passes through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The Catoctin Banner region encompasses an approximate 15-mile stretch of the highway from the Pennsylvania/Maryland (Mason Dixon) Line south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to the area north of Frederick, Maryland.          

Route 15 is one of the earliest U.S. Highways, opening in 1926. However, the original U.S. Route 15 did not enter Maryland. What is currently Route 15 from Frederick, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was called U.S. 240 at the time. In 1927, U.S. 240 became the major route between Washington, D.C., and Frederick and Route 15 was extended from Leesburg north into Maryland through Point of Rocks, Maryland, and connected with U.S. 240 in Frederick, and U.S. 240 from Frederick north became U.S. Route 15.

Journey Though Hallowed Ground

From Gettysburg to Charlottesville, Va., U.S. 15 Route has been designated The Journey Through Hallowed Ground. It is a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide National Heritage Area that includes 9 presidential homes and sites, 18 national and state parks, 57 historic towns and villages, 21 historic homes, hundreds of Civil War battlefields and thousands of historical sites. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground bills itself as “Where America Happened.”

“With more history than any other region in the nation, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground was recognized by Congress as a National Heritage Area and offers authentic heritage tourism programs and award-winning educational programs for students of all ages,” according to HallowedGround.org.

James Monroe Highway

The northern portion of Route 15 in Virginia is also known as James Monroe Highway. Monroe was the fifth President of the United States who lived in Loudon County, Virginia at Oak Hill. To make matters confusing, the highway later changes from James Monroe Highway to James Madison Highway, named after the Virginian who was the fourth President of the United States.

Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway

Along most of its nearly 38 miles through Maryland, Route 15 is known as the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway. This is because along that route, the highway runs along the east side of Catoctin Mountain. The break in this designation is from the U.S. Route 340 intersection to the Maryland Route 26 intersection north of Frederick. Route 15 was originally called Catoctin Mountain Highway beginning in 1974. The entire length of Route 15 in Maryland became a National Scenic Byway in 1999. It became the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway in 2005.

Jefferson National Pike

Route 15 and Route 340 run concurrently for a few miles in Frederick. This stretch of U.S. 15 is known as Jefferson National Pike. This is due to the fact that Route 340 through Frederick is also known as Jefferson Boulevard.

Frederick Freeway

From the Route 340 intersection to the MD 26 intersection, Route 15 is sometimes called the Frederick Freeway. This is the stretch of Route 15 that runs north-south through Frederick. It is the busiest section of Route 15 in Maryland.

115th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway

The Maryland General Assembly designated Route 15 the 115th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway. The 115th Infantry Regiment is a unit of the Maryland National Guard and it was a regiment of the U.S. Its history dates back to the Revolutionary War. The unit saw service in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. A large stone marker was erected in the median of the highway near Emmitsburg in 2006 to mark this designation.

Blue AND Gray Highway

The first of the two designations that Route 15 carries as it begins its trek through Pennsylvania is Blue and Gray Highway. This designation comes from the fact that the first 12 miles of Route 15 in Pennsylvania takes you from the Maryland border to Gettysburg, site of the most-famous battle in the Civil War.

Marine Corps League Highway

The Marine Corps League is made up of Marines and former Marines who support the United States Marine Corps. They are perhaps best known for the “Toys for Tots” Christmas toys program. Route 15 through much of Pennsylvania is named in their honor.

Business Routes and Offshoots

The above names cover the main route from Gettysburg to Virginia. However, Route 15 once passed through some small towns. As traffic increased, the decision was made to divert the highway around the towns and the original route through the town was designated Business Route 15.

Along the area The Catoctin Banner covers, this happens in Emmitsburg and Gettysburg. In Emmitsburg, Business Route 15 is known as North Seton Avenue and South Seton Avenue. In Gettysburg, the route is known along different sections as Emmitsburg Road, Steinwehr Avenue, Baltimore Street, Carlisle Street, and Old Harrisburg Road.

Route 15 also has five auxiliary routes in Maryland designated 15A, 15B, 15C, 15D, and 15G. These are all very small sections of road adjoining the main highway. The longest is less than .2-miles.

Call it what you will. U.S. Route 15 is still a beautiful highway to travel to see natural beauty and historic sites.

wivell pond hockey

For four generations, the Wivell family has strapped on ice skates and taken to the ice for some pond hockey.

Deb Spalding

 Many of you can probably recall a memory of sitting by a camp fire, enjoying the glow of the flames, the toasty warmth on your legs, and the occasional pop of a spark. Just imagine. Despite the pesky mosquitoes, isn’t that a nice place to be?

To generations of the large-extended Wivell family in Emmitsburg, this scenario is commonplace. In summer, they go camping. In winter, they snuggle close to a camp fire, while warding off a stiff sub-freezing chill on the non-toasty side of their bodies. They’re dressed in layers for warmth, thick gloves, and… ice skates. Every now and then, when a skate starts to smoke, they check the bottom to make sure it didn’t melt much, then return to the family pond for more ice skating and pond hockey.

As many as four generations of Wivells have been represented on the pond at one time in recent years. 

Sarah (Wivell) Bryson said, “My dad was one of thirteen children and his dad was one of twenty.”

Skaters of all ages show up to skate. The family’s ‘elders’ are just as fast on skates—if not faster—than the youngsters. Sam Wivell and Roy Wivell, Jr., both in their 60s, are two of the most advanced skaters on the pond. They zip around the ice with ease, handling the puck with proficiency.

When a large crowd shows up, teams are created and games are timed (usually five to eight minutes), with the winners of each match staying on the ice. There are plenty of falls, sprains, bruises, and challenges; however, the physical discomfort becomes insignificant compared to the foundation of heritage created in these treasured times.

“You’ve got to be prepared to bounce and go to work on Monday with a lot of bruises,” said Chris “Chic” Wivell.

The ice is rarely perfect. The wishy-washy temperatures on the Mason Dixon line guarantee a challenge to keep the ice in a useable state. The winter of 2014 was a consistently cold winter, during which the occasional snow was quickly pushed off the ice with a snow plow. This season, however, the ice has been suitable for skating on only two days so far.

The Wivell pond was built in 1954, through the Maryland Soil Conservation, by Roy Wivell, Sr. 

When conditions allow, pond skating takes place day and night. In earlier days, lanterns were used to light the ice at night; today, the Wivells use stadium-like lights, tied high in a tree to light up the ice. Music blasts from a nice sound system, and everything is powered by a generator, except the camp fire and the skaters. Even with today’s technology evident, you can get to the ice only one way: by walking through the pasture among the goats, cattle, and chickens.

The Wivells are generations of farmers. The descendants of those original 20 siblings number 536 these days.

 “Chic” Wivell said, “Growing up, it was go to church, milk the cows, and pond hockey on weekends. In that order.”

With such a large family today, many family members hold full-time, non-farming jobs, but they return to the farm when they can to help out.

A video called The Magic of Pond Hockey was created by Danny Favret and Jason Pugh. It showcases the Wivell family’s unique heritage of pond skating. The video was part of a documentary that NBC-4 aired in 2014, leading up to the Washington Capitals Winter Classic game that was played outside at Nationals Park on New Year’s Day. View the documentary at  www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/1224-pugh-ice-sports_Washington-DC-286798701.html.

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Issiah “Bub” Wivell is shown tying on his skates for an afternoon of skating in January 2015.

James Rada, Jr.

museumAs the Confederate Army retreated from Gettysburg on July 4, 1863, they encountered Union troops in the area of Blue Ridge Summit. A two-day battle ensued in the middle of a thunderstorm that eventually spilled over the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland.

“It is the only battle fought on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line,” said John Miller, Director of the Monterey Pass Battlefield Museum in Blue Ridge Summit.

While lots of books, movies, and stories have focused on the importance of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, little light has been shed on how the Confederate Army made its retreat south from the battlefield through enemy troops with weary men. The Battle of Monterey Pass involved about 4,500 men with 1,300 of them winding up as Union prisoners and 43 soldiers being killed, wounded, or missing. Major Charles K. Capehart of the 1st West Virginia also earned his Medal of Honor during the battle.

Through the efforts of Miller and other volunteers and supporters, Blue Ridge Summit has a small museum and a growing area of protected land dedicated to educating the public about the battlefield.

The museum opened last October on 1.25 acres along Route 16 in Blue Ridge Summit. The Monterey Pass Battlefield Museum displays a collection of artifacts related to the Battle of Monterey Pass. It has galleries that look at different aspects of the battle, such as the overall Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and Washington Township at the time of the battle. Outside the museum is a marker erected by the State of Michigan commemorating the participation of Michigan troops in the battle.

“It is one of only five such markers outside of the state of Michigan,” Miller said.

Most of the uniforms, weapons, pictures, and other artifacts were donated to the museum, and the attractive building was built through the hard work of volunteers.

“The purpose of the museum is to educate people about the battle,” Miller said, “but it also can set a standard for other community organizations along the retreat route that want to see how they can do it.”

Places like Hagerstown and Falling Waters are among the towns looking at doing something similar in their communities.

Although the museum wasn’t open in time to catch a lot of the tourist traffic in 2014, more than 300 did visit.

“It’s been slow at first, but the number of visitors will grow as more people learn about it,” said Miller.

The Friends of Monterey Pass have been working with tourism councils in the surrounding counties to tie the museum into the counties’ Civil War tourism plans.

When it reopens in April, the Friends of Monterey Pass hope to add 116 acres of land over which the battle was fought to the museum. Miller said that before the museum reopens for 2015, he hopes to have some additional displays in the museum as well as some interpretive panels for a driving tour of the new piece of land.

Monterey Pass Battlefield Park is located at 14325 Buchanan Trail East, Waynesboro, PA 17268. For more information, visit their website at www.montereypassbattlefield.org.