Prettyboy Reservoir Day on April 27 celebrates region's liquid asset

Since the 1930s, warm weather and sunshine is a signal for many in Carroll and Baltimore counties to venture outdoors for biking, hiking fishing and boating trips in the Gunpowder River and Prettyboy watershed in the Hereford area.

Spring has arrived just in time to help celebrate Prettyboy Reservoir Day this Saturday, April 27, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This year the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance, Carroll and Baltimore County have joined forces for the one-day event as a part Earth Day celebrations and Baltimore Green Week.

According to the website for the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance, this is the first time Baltimore City has joined with the Alliance to dedicate a day of activities to draw attention to the history and importance of Prettyboy Reservoir -- one of the three reservoirs providing drinking water for over a million persons in the metropolitan area. The other two reservoirs are Loch Raven and Liberty.

Attendees tour inside the dam, and learn about Baltimore's drinking water system, resource issues and conservation efforts, and also participate in a mass tree planting.

There will be a number of exhibitors including Scales and Tales - the Maryland Park Service environmental education program that includes native birds and reptiles, DPW Reservoir Natural Resources, Prettyboy Watershed Alliance, the Gunpowder Riverkeeper, Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability and the Carroll County Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, and more.

“The Gunpowder is a river of many distinct moods. Big Gunpowder Falls rises in Pennsylvania and runs through rugged terrain only to be locked twice by reservoirs as the city's water supply for more than 1.3 million people,” according to a series of articles on the Gunpowder River, ‘The River You Drink,’ in the Baltimore Evening Sun, in February 1977, by Michael Wentzel and Michael Shultz.

The article explains, “The Big Gunpowder Falls, the source of much of the Baltimore area's drinking water, was harnessed by a bureaucracy that made an unusual step 60 years ago and looked forward instead of standing still… Loch Raven and Prettyboy resulted…

“Big Gunpowder Falls rises in the hills of York county in Pennsylvania just above the Carroll county town of Lineboro…

The article notes that the history of the Baltimore City water system and the city’s interests in utilizing the Gunpowder River as a municipal water supply can be argued to go back to a, “young Baltimore, (when) in 1737, springs and wells had proved adequate, not for drinking water but for firefighting.

“The General Assembly authorized a private company to supply water to the city, but nothing happened until 1799, when a lottery, the frequent form of support for colonial projects, was authorized to raise money for the water system…”

A “severe drought in the fall of 1869 sent the city looking for more water. The Water Department finally decided on the Gunpowder. A 36 inch cast iron pipe, a temporary measure, was laid between the Big Gunpowder and Lake Roland. In 1875, a stone dam was constructed across the Big Gunpowder…”

Prettyboy Dam was completed in 1932.

“At 4:51 P.M. April 10, 1933, water began filling the Prettyboy Reservoir, according to the 1977 Sun article. “The 130 foot dam crest helped form a 1,500 acre reservoir holding 20 billion gallons of water. The city's 150-year drive for a more secure water supply was achieved, if the city could protect it….”

On Saturday, the event will highlight the history of this reservoir and its importance. Exhibitors that are involved in any way with the reservoir will be present. The event site overlooks the front of the dam so it is a special opportunity to view the spillway.

George Lang, a Prettyboy historian, will have a booth with documents and photos of the building of the dam.

Parking and the day’s events are free of charge and will be held at the Prettyboy Dam, 18100 Prettyboy Dam Rd. Parkton, MD 21163. For more information contact 410-545-6541 or

When he is not hiking in Prettyboy Watershed, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at


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