The Potomac River islands downstream of President Trump's golf course (on the Virginia side) and Seneca Creek (on the Maryland side) are home to a wonderful variety of wildlife. Beavers, muskrats, raccoons, foxes and deer are regulars. My grandson once saw an otter here. There are more types of birds than I can list, but they include eagles, ospreys, several types of herons, egrets, mergansers, cormorants, hawks and owls, including screech owls. Sometimes wild turkeys visit. A couple of years ago, an enormous flock of snow geese rested here for a couple of hours before pushing south. The river holds carp, smallmouth bass, bluegills, suckers and channel catfish.
There also is an astounding amount and variety of trash. Most visible are the 30- and 50-gallon plastic drums that once contained everything from apple juice to toxic chemicals. Plastic bottles crowd together by the hundreds in caches on the islands’ interiors, brought together by the centrifugal force of periodic floods. My grandkids and I haul big sacks of them away in canoes each year. We also gather the heavier glass bottles, which we break on rocks, trusting the river to grind the fragments back to sand.
Then there are the exotics. I have a collection of 435 golf balls, thanks mostly to my grandkids, who never tire of plucking them from the riverbed. A friend of mine and I once removed a refrigerator that had an intact takeout Chinese dinner inside. My brother and I got some looks as we paddled our john boat up the canal with a plastic port-a-potty (scoured clean by floodwaters) we had taken off an island. My son and I once wrested a 50-gallon barrel filled with fuel oil off the river.
But, this fall I saw something we won’t be able to retrieve. It could be that nobody will.
Sitting near the top of the Seneca Breaks rapids is an 18-foot Glassmaster motorboat. Its bottom has been ripped open by rocks. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, someone dumped the boat in the river. A spokesman said department officials think they know who did it, but they don't have enough evidence to prosecute. The Maryland Abandoned Boat and Debris Program has a small budget. It prioritizes derelicts that interfere with navigation, which this boat does not do. The process for removing abandoned watercraft is complicated and slow. In all likelihood, in the next flood, the river will pick the motorboat up and smash it into hundreds of bits of fiberglass and plastic, some of which will end up in the ocean where, according to the World Economic Forum, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050.
More than 9,000 volunteers working with the Alice Ferguson Foundation removed 404,549 pounds of trash from the banks of the Potomac in April. Last year, they got even more. Next year, they will be at it again. And so will the polluters. Each flood brings a fresh supply.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of the government the delegates had created. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
We have been given a spectacularly beautiful river. Now, can we keep it?
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