With hot weather, people flock to Harford's natural swimming holes

With the persistent high temperatures, friends and families from around the state beat a path to some of the northern Harford County's best known local swimming holes to try and beat the heat.

As Nikki Wooton said, "You almost have to be in some type of water to be outside."

Wooton, of Forest Hill, had just arrived to Rocks State Park Friday afternoon with her husband, Trey Wooton, and their children, 5-year-old Alyssa and 7-year-old Connor.

The group planned on having a picnic first before wading into the shallow waters of Deer Creek. Connor and Alyssa also were both excited about finding "interesting rocks" to take home.

Although they typically come down several times a summer, Trey Wooton said Friday was their first time at Rocks this year.

"It's a pretty day to be out with the family," he said.

High temperatures in Harford County reached 97 degrees Friday with the heat index soaring to 106 in some spots by late afternoon, according to the National Weather Service website, http://www.weather.gov. That meant plenty of visitors to northern Harford's natural areas, some of the most popular in the region.

Bill Waibel and his son, 13-year-old Tom Waibel, of Bel Air, also took advantage of Rocks Friday morning before the heat set in. The pair was fishing in Deer Creek, as Bill Waibel said they try to do every couple of weeks.

At the time, they had caught four to five small fish, but the two were mostly trying to get out of the house and get cooled off.

"We just wanted to get out sort of toward the morning before it got real, real hot," Waibel said.

Coming from York County, Pa., Abby Doniecki was preparing to go tubing with her cousins at Rocks. As residents of Howard County, Megan Grosskopf and Joey Wysocki said they don't have places like Rocks where they live.

It was their first time at Rocks and the group later planned on heading up to Falling Branch.

"This is our first time [and] it's a way to cool off," Wysocki said.

Although Doniecki had just been up for the Fourth of July, she said she doesn't come to the area too often but it was a good way to spend a hot day.

"We will have a lot of fun," she added.

A few miles up the road, the parking lot for Kilgore Falls at Falling Branch, another local swimming hole by the one of the highest waterfalls in Maryland, was already full and people waited for spots to open up. After a short hike down a shaded path, the cooler temperatures and natural beauty of Kilgore Falls greeted the visitors.

Among them was a group of teenagers from Baltimore City, members of the Maryland Conservation Jobs Corps. For many of the teens, it was their first time out of the city, according to Kathleen Phelan, who works with the organization.

"The best part is seeing the kids kind of grow from the beginning to the end of the program," she added.

Phelan bought a group of young women to Falling Branch, including 14-year-old Ka'pree Brantley, who said the waterfall was her favorite part of the experience so far.

Before heading to Falling Branch, Phelan said the girls were at the King and Queen Seat at Rocks as part of their enrichment day.

Working with a group of young men, Ben Dursa, also with the conservation corps, explained that for the first four days, teenagers do maintenance at local state parks, including rebuilding trails and splitting wood.

On Fridays, Dursa said they typically pair with naturalists and do activities with the teenagers.

"It's designed to be fun and educational," he added.

With Dursa was 16-year-old Kenneth Lockwood, who said Friday enrichment days were his favorite in the program.

The teenagers joined a larger group of people already cooling off in the waters of Falling Branch, as several families hiked with their coolers and umbrellas to enjoy the area.

Coming from Bel Air, John Siemsen and his family were just leaving Falling Branch Friday afternoon and said they enjoyed it, although Siemsen disliked all the trash some people left behind.

His wife, Carrie Siemsen, said they had been to the area a few times, having learned about it from a friend.

"[It's] just a family outing in a cool area," John Siemsen said.

Their children, 7-year-old Jake and 5-year-old Liz, were pretty excited about the spot, as both said they liked swimming and playing in the water.

For John Siemsen, the appeal of Falling Branch is the cold water and how quiet the area is, although he added that the hot weather meant the family took breaks more frequently.

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