The Ups and Downs of the Tridelphia Reservoir

As some of you may know, I made my first visit to the Tridelphia Reservoir this past weekend. This is a spot that I have wanted to visit in quite some time. Over the years, I have driven past the reservoir on several occasions on my way to Ellicott City, but I never really had a chance to explore the area much. I have stopped twice by the dam to view eagles in early winter, but that’s really it. During my last visit, I crossed the bridge from the dam over to the Azalea Garden and noticed some trails leading into the forest. At that moment, I started making plans to come back. There is very little on the Internet regarding the Tridelphia Reservoir and I quickly found out why this past weekend.

Tridelphia Reservoir

Tridelphia Reservoir

The Tridelphia Reservoir is a strange place in many ways in my opinion. Unlike other parks I frequent, this place is managed by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). This is mainly due to the fact that the water in the reservoirs (there are two) is used as a drinking water source by Prince George’s and Montgomery county area residents. It is clear from what I have seen this weekend that the WSSC is mostly concerned with the water safety and quality as well as the good functioning of the dam than the recreational opportunities that the reservoirs offer. In many ways, I understand. Park management is most likely not their core mission. However, I would humbly suggest that more efforts be spent in managing the natural resources found within the watershed. The reservoirs have so much to offer.

When visiting either reservoirs, the Tridelphia or the T. Howard Duckett, for recreation purposes, visitors must first acquire a $6 pass from the Brighton Dam Visitors Information Center. The permits are called Watershed Use Permits and must be purchased for water or land activities such as hiking, bird watching, horseback riding as well as picnicking. I would suggest that you also pick up a paper map at the visitors center as no maps are found on the Internet and many hiking apps do not seem to know about the trails in this watershed. With that said, I am not exactly sure of the use of the maps for hiking and here is why.

My friend and I attempted to hike the supposed 4 to 5 mile trail found on the Montgomery County side of the Tridelphia Reservoir and were not able to hike more than a little over 1 mile before the trail completely disappeared. I must admit that we only explored the Tridelphia hiking trail at the Green Bridge starting point and it could very well be that if you started your hike from the parking lot found on Georgia Ave (MD 97) close to Old Roxbury Rd, you may be able to get a few miles in on the trail that way. The most disappointing part of this scenario was that we told the nice gentleman at the visitors center the purpose of our trip and he would have gladly taken our 6 dollars if it wasn’t for the fact that his computer was not functioning. This let us know very quickly that hiking is not a true priority at the Tridelphia Reservoir and that staff at WSSC have no idea of the trail's condition.

WSSC official map

WSSC official map

For you adventurous souls out there who would still want to attempt at hike in this location, please keep in mind that the signage is rather minimalist at this location. The most you will fill is an orange splotch on a few trees. I would also recommend bringing a trash bag to start collecting all beer cans and fishing paraphernalia that you will find on the trail. This short trail is unfortunately in very bad condition. For as many parks as I have been hiking in lately, this was by far the trashiest place I have ever visited. This saddens me greatly and perhaps something could be done to change that. A few emails and phone calls to local conservation groups could be on my to do list soon.

With that said, there were still some great discoveries to be made. The reservoir itself is very beautiful and seems perfect for leisurely kayak or boating trips. This area is also known for its flocks of Bald Eagles that make their visits in early winter. There were several plant species that I had not seen at other parks. For example, I saw my first Indian pipe or corpse plant (Monotropa uniflora) of the season. I also saw many invasive plant species such as the Wavyleaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius) and the spectacular Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei).

Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Leatherleaf Mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

All in all, I think I came to the conclusion that all wild places are generally worth a visit. Going on exploratory visits to new hiking spots will not always yield a new favorite destination, but will always leave you with deep thoughts and memories nonetheless. Perhaps the visit will even lead you towards a sense of urgency to clean up the place and make a difference for your community. Even with the sour taste of human impacts on the environment, the beauty of mother earth is always there waiting to be found.

Cloud reflections in the Tridelphia Reservoir

Cloud reflections in the Tridelphia Reservoir

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