Swimming holes present inexpensive way to stay cool in summer

Hot, hazy, humid days are often the trigger that sends Carroll County friends and families on a quest for cool, clear waters. Local creeks, rivers and ponds offer a free escape from the heat, a cooling dip in a natural setting as well as a place for picnics, games and swimming.

Many gather at the Silver Run–Union Mills Lions Club Park on the corner of Old Hanover Road and Md. 97 to slip into the cool waters of Big Pipe Creek at Union Mills.


Kendra Heard of Union Mills said she brings her family there often. With four kids — ages 8, 11, 12, and 15 — she said it is an inexpensive way to have fun.

"If we go to the pool in Littlestown [Pa.] with the entire family we end up dropping $50 dollars for a few hours of swimming. That's a lot of money. Instead, we come here regularly. We have friends that usually meet us with their family too."

Heard said she and her husband noticed others swimming and picnicking at the creek just after they moved into their Union Mills home in 2002. They stopped by to check it out and they have been coming ever since.

"We don't have air conditioning at home but here it is always cool and shady," she said. "It's clean and the kids have a good time. They are always asking when we are next going to come. Because we are very busy we have to literally put it on the calendar so the kids know."

On Friday, July 1, Heard's mom, Donna Pulis — who visiting from Vermont — came along, joining the family for pizza at the picnic table before the kids headed for the water and mom and daughter settled into watch them. Pulis said it was her first time to come to the creek.

"My husband has come here many, many times before but this is my first time," Pulis said. "The water is very clear. I grew up around Morgan Run and they swim over there too. I like the rural country. Everything is too commercialized these days but this is a good clean place to have fun."

Teen friends Anthony Cegielski and Aiden Stino, both of Union Mills, were also at Big Pipe Creek that Friday. They said they come on a regular basis.

"I've been coming since I was little," Cegielski said. "It's a nice place to come with the creek and the field. Sometimes we play football in the field and then swim. The water is probably close to five feet in the one deep area."

Stino said he believes the water is cleaner than a pool because it is always moving and is filtered by its flow over and through the rocks.

"You're not swimming in someone else's germs," he said. "It's not clean enough to drink but I'd rather swim in this than in a pool."

Cegielski cannonballed into the water. When he came up he shook his head, spraying water droplets into the air. Then he and Stino both dove beneath the water, paddling in circles before swimming ashore again.

"Sometimes we play a game called alligator tag," Cegielski said. "It's like regular tag but you play it in the water. You have to be underwater to tag someone like an alligator would."

Stino said they sometimes bring nets to catch crawdads and they've also caught turtles and fish in the past.

"I like that you are more connected to nature here," Cegielski said.


Twelve-year-old Kathleen Heard, her sisters and a friend splashed their way through the shallow water and underneath the Md. 97 bridge to hear traffic passing overhead. After working their way back toward the picnic area someone instigated a mini water battle, laughing and splashing water at each other.

"I like it that you have both shallow water to wade in and deeper water to swim in here," Kathleen said. "You can catch little critters if you bring a net, and there are never too many people."

Kathleen's friend, 12-year-old Sami Newman of Manchester, said she has come to the park to fish in the pond with her dad in the past and to enjoy the beauty of the creek but it was her first time to swim there with her friend.

"I like how pretty it is here," Newman said. "It shows Maryland's beauty but you can swim and enjoy it too. There is nothing to be afraid of here."

Other local swimming holes in Carroll include Morgan Run, Patapsco State Park and Sykesville's Little Patapsco River.

Eric Scheller, 19, of Sykesville said he and his friends used to meet regularly to swim at their favorite spot in the Little Patapsco River — a branch off the Patapsco River — throughout all four of his high school years. For him, it was a short walk from his home through the woods to get to the spot under the train tracks where the water ran deep enough for swimming.

"It is the same water that runs under the bridge on Main Street [in Sykesville]. If you follow the train tracks going to the right from Baldwin [Station] Restaurant you can find it," Scheller said. "I went quite a bit when I was in high school. It was never crowded but I often see other groups there when I pass by.'

Scheller said he usually met four to six friends at a time whenever he was going to his favorite swimming hole.

"I went to cool off because we didn't have a pool," he said. "It was a place to hang out with friends. Sometimes we brought a ball to toss around but mostly it was just about laying around and enjoying the water. It's a fun little spot, away from everything and it is a good hike or bike ride to get there too. There are a lot of little paths that lead there."

The web site lists several Carroll County swimming holes, including the Syke Water hole in Patapsco Valley State Park near Sykesville and a nearby Henryton Road swimming hole with a rope swing as other places in the county where people meet to swim.

Bruce Bouch, Public Information Officer and a member of the water rescue team at Gamber fire company, advises that no one should ever swim alone, children should always have adult supervision and others should always know where you are going so they can find you in case you do not return.

"You have to be cognizant of anything that could be on the bottom of these swim areas," Bouch said. "You have fallen trees, branches and possibly things that were tossed into the water that could impose a danger like foot entrapment or bleeding injuries. And you never want to dive into an unknown space."

Swimmers should pay attention to any posted guidelines and follow the rules, Bouch said — and remember that Carroll County reservoirs including Liberty do not allow swimming.

"The reservoir is drinking water and it is against all rules to swim there," he said. "You have no idea what you are getting into or what is on the bottom. If you dive in, with the mud and silt you can get stuck and not return to the water surface. It is not only dangerous, the trash and waste from bodily functions [left by humans] can cause contamination to the drinking water."

Bouch said swimmers should always consider safety first, theirs as well as the safety of others.

"We want everyone to enjoy a safe time when they are outside and if we can prevent that 911 call then we truly win," he said.