GARRETT COUNTY is as much water as mountain. It is where rivers are born, and lakes are made. The eastern continental divide runs along the crest of Backbone and Meadow mountains; thus some waters of Garrett County flow into the Atlantic, some into the Gulf of Mexico.

Three river systems are born here: the Casselman, the Youghiogheny and the Savage. The Potomac trickles from a spring just a lawbook's toss across the state line in West Virginia.

The Youghiogheny feeds the Ohio Valley and eventually the Gulf, while the Potomac rolls to the Chesapeake and the Atlantic.

They are fierce waters, aerated white by steeply pitched rocky streambeds, magnets for rafts and kayaks, and fed by shallow coldwater steam-licks and runs and creeks where trout play -- and by deep quiet streams flowing out of the marshy glades.

The Youghiogheny is famous for whitewater, mostly for stretches of the lower Yough in Pennsylvania.

In Garrett County, though, above Friendsville, the Yough is beyond famous. It is one of the most -- some argue the most -- intense and demanding whitewater rafting rivers on the east coast.

The Savage River, a tributary of the Potomac, is known among whitewater racers all over the world. This big water, fiercely intimidating, has been chosen for the world whitewater racing championships in 1989, the first time ever for an American river.

The races will take place below the Savage River Dam. Above the reservoir, the Savage is one of Maryland's "premier trout streams," according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Savage also may be Maryland's purest river. Its waters are used to upgrade the quality of the north branch of the Potomac before it reaches Luke and Westport.

Deep Creek Lake -- built in 1924 to produce electricity for Somerset County, Pennsylvania -- is the largest freshwater lake in Maryland. The narrow lake is 12 miles long, but has 65 miles of shoreline because there are so many fingers. When it is full, it has 3,900 acres of surface area.

It's the tourist hub of Garrett County, with year-round accommodations in chalets, cottages, condos and motels and more restaurants than most vacationers can sample in a week -- predominantly a middle-ly resort with an emphasis on outdoor activities, particularly water sports.

The lake is famous for water skiing and fishing. You'll find almost every type of small boat there, many for rent, from jon boats to fast runabouts.

The symbol of the lake, though, is the elegantly simple and fast Flying Scot sailboat, made in nearby Deer Park by the Gordon Douglass Boat Company. There are more than a hundred moored on the lake, according to Eric Ammann, president of the company.

Several other recreational lakes have been created in Garrett County by damming rivers:

Savage River Reservoir: In Savage River State Forest; 350 acres with a shoreline of 17 miles; fishing and boating, no motors.

Broadford Recreation Area: A park outside Oakland, off Pittsburgh Avenue in Mountain Lake Park, it has a 138-acre lake created by damming the Little Youghiogheny; with 600 feet of beach, a bath house, concessions, boat ramp for rowboats, fishing and picnicking. Operated by the town of Oakland.

Herrington Lake: A 53-acre lake in Herrington Manor State Park. Stocked for trout and largemouth bass. Swimming, picnicking; private or rental boats, electric motors only.

Bloomington Reservoir: A 5.5-mile lake created by a water quality and flood control dam on the north branch of the Potomac above Bloomington. Recreational access from West Virginia only. Overlooks: in Maryland via Chestnut Grove or Walnut Bottom Roads off Route 135.