Swimming holes celebrated as Carroll tradition

With temperatures reaching into the 90s in the past week, Carroll children and families have been hitting up the pools and swimming clubs to try and keep cool. For those looking for a free dip, though, local creeks, rivers and ponds can provide a refreshing respite from the oppressive heat.

For Colin Welch of Sykesville, these bodies of water are the best way to cool off in the summer. Welch said he hits up lakes, ponds and rivers on an almost weekly basis.


"I love it because it's kind of like an adventure kind of feel," Welch said. "It's not made to go swimming, but you're just out there doing it."

Welch said his favorite spot is off Henryton Road in Woodbine near the Howard County line. He said he loves the rope swing and seclusion of the spot.

Other local favorite places to dip include Morgan Run, Patapsco State Park, Pipe Creek river, the Union Mills Homestead, as well as rivers off of Hughes Road in Finksburg.

For Wanda Cavey, of Union Mills, the Lions Club Park in Union Mills is the perfect place for the family to go on a hot summer day. Though Cavey said she only wades in to her knees nowadays, it's her grandchildren who love to take full advantage of the natural water at the park.

"They live in Ocean City, but in the summer they spend a lot of time here in Carroll," Cavey said. "They love to go down to the creek and swim, or go out and fish in the pond."

Cavey said natural creeks have many advantages over public pools. She loves that they're not as crowded, and close by, but her favorite aspect is the community atmosphere.

"This is such a tight-knit community," Cavey said. "My children are grown now, and I don't see people I used to see as often, but when you go down to the creek, you see other folks with their grandchildren and they all talk and catch up."

The other advantage swimming holes have, according to Carvey, is the variety of wildlife and nature to take in while enjoying yourself.

David Burkhart, of Sykesville, said he prefers the more risk-taking aspects of heading out to a body of water with no authority figures around. He enjoys rope swinging and cliff jumping and other activities featuring what he calls the danger factor.

"With the rope swing, there's this adrenaline rush, where you don't always know if you're going to actually make it to the water," Burkhart said. "Once the rope swing broke and I fell onto my back outside of the water."

Burkhart said he heads out to swimming holes at least once a week, and is constantly being introduced to new ones through his friends. He said his most memorable moment came the first time he jumped off of a cliff into lake.

Though people tend to congregate wherever there's a body of water to swim in, officials emphasize the importance of only wading where signage permits. Bruce Bouch, a spokesman for the Gamber Vol. Fire Company, which does water rescues throughout Carroll and the region, said the frequency of rescues goes up in the summer months, particularly when alcohol is involved.

Bouch, who is also a deputy state fire marshal, said people often overestimate their swimming abilities, while underestimating the potential dangers in the water.

"Someone often feels they're a good enough swimmer, but don't realize how far a distance actually is," Bouch said. "They feel a challenge, but then start cramping up. That's when someone else tries to help them and gets pulled down as well."


In addition to the dangers related to drinking and swimmer error, Bouch said many unregulated bodies of waters house unseen dangers.

"You don't always know what's under the surface," Bouch said. "People like to throw stuff off of bridges, debris changes locations. When we take the divers down, we can only see a couple of feet in front of us with the goggles on."

There are also environmental hazards to consider. While official swimming venues are monitored for water quality, a number of chemicals can enter local waterways, from fertilizers, to weed killers as well as runoff from the highways, including oil, fuels and grease.

According to Bouch, one of the worst, though still highly popular, places to swim is at the local reservoirs. The man-made reservoirs, including Liberty in Carroll County, provide water for Baltimore City. Luke Brackett, of the Baltimore Environmental Police, who monitor the reservoirs, said the reservoirs are both dangerous and illegal to swim in, with penalties ranging up to a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in prison.

Brackett said one of the dangers of the reservoirs is that the water is kept extremely cold in order to maintain optimum water quality. Those who enter, he said, are much more at risk for cramping and drowning. Brackett said his organization has submitted hundreds of citations for people swimming in reservoirs throughout the summer. Despite the heavy use, he said, total numbers are declining.

In addition to the dangers associated with reservoir swimming, Brackett said it contaminates water intended for public use.

"The more access in the area tends to erode the shore line. The sediment goes into the water, and then that has to be treated before it goes to the tap," Brackett said. "The more treatments we have to go through, the more it diminishes the eventual water quality. It's expensive, and that cost is passed onto consumers throughout Baltimore and Carroll counties."