Many of us cross the Potomac on our daily commute, but how often is the river a destination in itself? Once a thoroughfare for the area's Native Americans, the Potomac derives its name from an Algonquin phrase meaning either "river of swans" or "the place to which tribute is brought," a reference to the gifts the Algonquin tribe provided to the Iroquois to ensure peace in the area. Here are five possibly unexpected ways to pay homage to the Nation's River.
1 Race an Outrigger Canoe For a communal river experience, look no further than the outrigger canoe, a six-person boat with a lateral float you might remember from the opening segment of "Hawaii Five-0." Originally a Polynesian sport, outrigger canoeing is slowly expanding east, assisted by the National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association, a co-ed group of recreational and competitive paddlers devoted to the Hawaiian tradition of "ohana," or family building. NCAWPA members meet Mondays through Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. and weekends at 8:30 p.m. for paddle sessions, which vary between co-ed, women's and men's groups and explore the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. Newcomers are welcome to practice with the group before deciding whether to become dues-paying members ($40 to $360). Anacostia Community Rowing Center, 11th and O streets SE. 202-425-3759. www.ncawpa.org/index.html.
2 Build a Boat When the Alexandria Seaport Foundation found itself priced out of waterfront land eight years ago, the nonprofit did what came naturally and built its headquarters on a floating barge in the Potomac. And then they kept on building. Its main mission is teaching boat-crafting skills to at-risk youth, but ASF opens the doors of its floating workshop every Tuesday between 7 and 9 p.m. for free community sessions, which are open to people of all experience levels. On one recent Tuesday, an Inuit master builder directed the construction of a traditional kayak. On the water between Queen and Cameron streets, Alexandria. 703-549-7078. www.alexandriaseaport.org.
3 Barhop Via Water Taxi Tired of sitting in traffic on a Saturday night, wondering how many zones your taxi will cross between Georgetown and downtown? Leave the zone system behind and hail Harbouritaville, an on-call water taxi that makes stops at the Georgetown waterfront, Old Town Alexandria and the Southwest waterfront at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (1330 Maryland Ave. SW) and Cantina Marina (600 Water St. SW). The boat generally picks up within 40 minutes of a call, and a roundtrip ride from the Mandarin to Georgetown will run you $25 ($15 one-way or less if you have a group of 10 or more). The night view of the monuments from the Potomac comes free with the ride. Capital Yacht Charters, 1300 Maine Ave. SW. 202-554-0677. www.capitalyacht.com.
4 Beachcomb for Fossils Not all the fossils around here are in Congress. In fact, if relics are your yen, then the Potomac is the place to be. At Purse State Park in Maryland, about 40 miles south of Washington, eagle-eyed beachcombers can find shark teeth, bones and other vestiges from the Miocene era (5 million to 23 million years ago) at the water's edge during low tide. Be sure to check the tide chart before you go, or you'll wind up empty-handed and all wet. Riverside Road (Route 224), south of Liverpool Point Road, Nanjemoy. 301-743-7613. www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/purse.html.
5 Discover an
Indian Village Three hundred years ago, the Piscataway tribe made their home on Conoy Island in the waters of the Potomac outside Harpers Ferry. Paddle back in time with "Indian Summer on the Potomac," a canoe tour led by historian John Phillips and experience the river as it might have looked to its earliest inhabitants and interlopers. Check out the stone remains of their fish traps as well as river ferry landings dating back to colonial times. Tours cost $63 per person and are scheduled for July 17 and Sept. 24. Groups of seven or more can schedule a private trip. River & Trail Outfitters, 604 Valley Rd., Knoxville. 703-771-1770. www.rivertrail.com/HistorytourIS.html.
Bridget Bentz Sizer