November 18, 2022Our 5th annual, widely-attended, and FREE Turkey Trot will be held Thanksgiving (November 24) at 10:00 am. The 2.5-mile run/walk starts near the parking lot at the Cabin John Local Park and makes a loop via MacArthur Blvd., 79th St., and the canal. More precisely, it follows the bike path along MacArthur to 79th St., then down to the C&O Canal, back along the canal towpath to the one-lane-bridge footpath, then up and over the bridge back to the park. Don’t worry, there will be signs and course monitors along the route. We start at the Cabin John Local Park (at the one-lane bridge) by the parking lot – follow the crowd. FOOD DONATIONS Please consider bringing non-perishable grocery items to this year’s Turkey Trot. As has been our tradition, we will be collecting food and donating it to Manna Food Center’s Smart Sack program. The Smart Sack Program provides backpacks of food each weekend to some 2,850 Montgomery County school kids. Popular food items include jars of peanut butter, boxes of granola bars, instant oatmeal, and canned vegetables and fruits. REGISTRATION AND VOLUNTEERING As always, the Turkey Trot is free, but we are asking every household to please register online at https://tinyurl.com/mrsc4zbh so that we can plan accordingly. When registering, you also will have the opportunity to volunteer. Please consider signing up to put up course signs before the event or to be a course monitor during the trot.  Questions about registration or volunteering? Contact cjcapresidents@gmail.com. [...] Read more...
November 18, 20222022 will be the 13th year of Cabin Johnners generously providing resources and love-in-action to the 200 families in SOME’s transitional housing, and we want to make it a lucky 13. 2021 was the best year yet, with over 100 CJ families donating a whopping $9,500, so we’ve got a challenge this year to see if we can break $10,000. So Others Might Eat (SOME) is a local, DC-based nonprofit that fights poverty and homelessness by providing housing, healthcare, training, and social services, and this joint effort by the communities of Brookmont, Glen Echo, and Cabin John has become the largest source of holiday-season support, empowering parents to provide gifts under the tree for their children on Christmas morning and basic necessities for themselves. HOW TO GIVE: Gift cards As with the last couple of years, gift cards in $50 increments to stores such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Macy’s as well as gift cards for Visa and Mastercard would be most appreciated.  Purchase the cards yourself and drop them off at Lori Rieckelman’s house or order them from the merchant online and have them sent directly to Lori. Text her (301-655-4404) when you have left cards in the bin on her porch so that she can quickly retrieve them. Her address is 6423 79th Street. You may also give the gift cards to Lori at the CJ Holiday Party. Venmo/Zelle You can send your donation to Lori by either Venmo (@Lori-Rieckelman) or Zelle (rieckell@aol.com) and she will purchase gift cards in your name. After pausing during the pandemic, we will once again have specific wish lists from SOME program children so that CJers can provide the items to make their Christmas wishes come true. We have only eight families with specific lists, so if you want to do some shopping on behalf of one of these youngsters, contact Lori at rieckell@aol.com or call/text her at 301-655-4404. All donations are due by Sunday, December 11 – the day of the Cabin John Holiday Party. By Lori Rieckelman and Heidi Lewis [...] Read more...
November 18, 2022At the October CJCA meeting, the community approved allowing residents to access an online version of the CJCA Neighborhood Directory. The online system will be available in January for authorized residents to view the information. Residents will not be able to edit any information. Only individuals who are both a) in the directory currently, and b) set up an account (see below) will have access. Also, new Cabin Johnners (arrivals after March 2021) can request to be included in the online directory and get online access. Unless you “opt out” of the database, all the information that is currently in the 2021 printed directory for your household will be displayed in the online directory.   To “opt out” please send an email to cjdirectory2020@gmail.com and indicate that you want to opt out. If you opt out, no information will be displayed for your household. If you do not have email access, you can submit your request to opt out in writing and mail to CJCA Attn: Directory, P.O. Box 31, Cabin John, MD 20818. If you want to access the directory online or through a mobile app, you will need to set up an individual account with your email address and password. As part of the initial sign-up, you will also set up a profile that specifies which data elements you would like to display, e.g., names, emails, cell phone numbers, child names. Detailed instructions and an instructional video with screenshots of how to create an account and set up a profile will be available in early January and will be emailed to all residents currently in the database. If you would like to submit any edits to your household information please send an email with your edits to cjdirectory2020@gmail.com. If you have any questions please contact Marcy Harrison, CJCA VP Communications at marcyharrison@earthlink.net or call 301-908-8906. By Marcy Harrison CJCA VP of Communications [...] Read more...
November 18, 2022Friends of Moses Hall, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 11 against the Maryland Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.  The lawsuit seeks to stop additional action on the Beltway expansion project—including any financial commitments to any private partners for the toll-lane construction—while the errors in the environmental review are corrected. The toll-lane project threatens two historic sites of national significance to Cabin John: the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Plummers Island, which has been studied by the Washington Biologists’ Field Club for over a century.  The lawsuit lays out deficiencies in the state’s environmental review, including: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) ignored a requirement that they consider how additional traffic on the Beltway and 270 would increase soot (PM2.5) levels near the highway MDOT is not disclosing details about its claim that the toll lanes will reduce traffic, while the U.S. Department of Transportation said it could not confirm the “plausibility” or “validity” of MDOT’s traffic findings MDOT and FHWA acknowledge that people buried in the 130-year-old Morningstar Moses Cemetery could be in the path of the expanded highway, but failed to perform a simple assessment to determine if the project would, in fact, disturb any graves New piers for a widened American Legion Bridge would occupy Plummers Island, a site considered to be the most scientifically studied island in North America, which could worsen flooding and erosion on the island. Construction on the undeveloped island and the widened bridge’s shadow would damage research plots and rare plants. By Charlotte Troup-Leighton VP of Advocacy, CJCA [...] Read more...
November 18, 2022“Beep, Beep!” As children, we would imitate the sound of the cartoon Road Runner, joining in utter delight as the feathered hero once again foiled the often-elaborate plans for its capture by the bird’s arch-enemy, Wile E. Coyote. And the more technologically advanced the scheme to catch Road Runner, and the more awful the outcome for Wile E. Coyote, the harder we laughed. “Beep, Beep!” Cartoon animals are never portrayed as they are in real life; too “savage” for young eyes to bear. Let’s start with the footrace of roadrunner vs. coyote. Even going flat out, its body parallel to the ground, using its tail for balance, the real roadrunner barely exceeds 20 MPH, while a coyote can reach speeds double that. Advantage coyote. If we wanted to see this engagement unfold in real life, we in Maryland would have to head west. The roadrunner, a largely terrestrial member of the cuckoo family, ranges no further east than western Louisiana; it is mainly a desert dweller of the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. Coyotes, in contrast, range across North America and are now in our backyards. And that is where our real story begins. It was not until the early 1970s that the first coyote was spotted in Maryland. Since then, coyotes have spread across the state, reaching Montgomery County in 1990. Today, coyotes are thought to number in the thousands in Maryland alone. Coyotes are believed to be resident in Rock Creek Park and probably live in the Cabin John Creek Park and along the Potomac. With so much small-mammal and bird prey available for their omnivorous diet, coyotes are built to become the suburban wolf, or at least what many biologists more rightly consider as the ecological equivalent of the Eurasian golden jackal, which is a jack of all trades when it comes to eating whatever it encounters.  The big question that ecologists ask, and is still unanswered, is what took the coyotes so long to reach Maryland, the Hudson Valley, Cape Cod, or many Eastern locales? There were always plenty of white-tailed deer fawns and small mammals. Why did they take so long to be part of our local fauna? It is not because they are especially secretive, and thus rarely spotted or counted. People often mistake coyotes for wolves, but coyotes are much smaller. The average male coyote weighs from 18 to 44 lbs. (the female slightly less) while in comparison, the average male North American wolf weighs about 80 lbs. The carnivore biologist Randall Eaton once described the wolf as a pair of jaws with track shoes. The same image can be applied to coyotes who are even faster than wolves although slightly smaller in the jaw department. Coyotes top out at 35 to 43 mph and wolves at 31 to 37 mph. Coyotes have to be fast because wolves will kill them if they intrude on wolves’ territories or try to scavenge a carcass. The hostility between wolves and coyotes must have periods of truce, because the emergence of the coywolf, a hybrid between wolves and coyotes suggests some degree of hanky-panky. Coywolfs have been sighted regularly in eastern Canada and New England but not in our parts.  Coyotes will eat just about anything, including lots of grass, fruits, and even caterpillars in their seasonal diets when birds and small mammals are scarce and no roadrunners are available. Coyotes hunting in packs can even bring down larger prey such as adult deer, although as far as I know, there are no reports of them hunting in packs locally. Has any reader of this column seen a coyote in Cabin John? It would be my joy to end this year of natural history columns on animals that move in the night with my own sighting along 78th St., or down by the Potomac. I hope such a sighting will come soon. Since moving to Cabin John 28 years ago, it has become much more common to hear breeding red foxes vocalize in the backyard. Perhaps some night in the next few years we will hear the soulful sounds of our own resident coyotes. Far more poetic than “Beep-Beep.” By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
October 18, 2022Agenda for the Next CJCA Meeting The next CJCA meeting will be held Wednesday, October 26, 2022, at 7:30pm at the Clara Barton Community Center.   Feel free to join remotely as well.  We will be using Google Meet to allow remote users: https://meet.google.com/fhf-grxw-ndo.  For more information on Google Meet – https://support.google.com/meet/ Agenda: Discuss possible merchandise options and uses of the Cabin John poster created by Trudy Nicholson; the framed original was presented to former CJCA President Susan Shipp at the Crab FeastShare and discuss ideas for the Turkey Trot and Holiday PartyDiscuss and vote on making the Cabin John Directory available onlineInterview artists Trudy and Mike Nicholson, Cabin Johnners of many decades, and view their art display Village News Seeks New Production & Layout Editor Noelle Tower, who has been making the Village News look great for the last 6 years, will be moving to California with her family at the end of 2022, so we are looking for someone to take over the layout of the Village News.  If you have a flair for graphic design and have familiarity with Adobe InDesign or similar programs to layout the stories, pictures, and ads that make up the Village News, please contact Heidi Lewis at cjcapresidents@lawbc.com or VN editor Loretta Devery Ingalls at VNeditorial@gmail.com. Successful Blood Drive The Blood Drive held on Sunday, October 2, yielded 40 pints! And that’s with no double reds because Inova was not able to provide the machine. Our drive goal was 32 so that’s a terrific outcome. The total includes most of the 33 who signed up in advance online, plus 14 walk-ins. One pint of blood can save up to three lives so the efforts of the donors and volunteers that day will make a profound difference for up to 120 people. Many thanks to Karen Melchar, Burr Gray, and Justin Weber for organizing and running the blood drive, and Clara Barton Center Director Barry Jones and his staff for opening and operating the community center.  Email cjblooddrive@gmail.com to be included on emails related to future blood drives. Volunteers Wanted to Help Re-Imagine the Holiday Party The Cabin John Holiday Party, which will be held on Sunday, December 11 at the Clara Barton Center, has been a community tradition going back several decades. Like all long-running events, there is a periodic need for new ideas and new volunteer coordinators to ensure the event remains vital and meaningful for the community. If you would like to help re-imagine and relaunch the Holiday Party, please contact Heidi Lewis at cjcapresidents@gmail.com. Minutes from September CJCA Meeting CJCA Secretary Kelly Banuls prepared the minutes from the September meeting, held online due to a Covid case on the board. There were 15 people in attendance. 1. Crab Feast Preliminary Results – presented by Scott Lewis511 meals were sold this year, which is down about 40 meals from 2021, but with supplies on hand from previous years and increased beverage sales, the 2022 feast netted around $2,000 more than 2021.The CJCA was short on block coordinators, which may have attributed to lower advance ticket sales door-to-door, though online sales increased year over year.Carl McCabe has volunteered to be coordinator of future Crab Feasts. Thank you, Carl!2. Pedestrian Safety – presented by Charlotte Troup Leighton Vision Zero, Montgomery County’s future bicycle and pedestrian safety plan, includes a set of recommendations to help the County prioritize investments, including a goal to eliminate accidents by 2030, but limited funds are available.CJCA has been advocating for more crosswalks, specifically on Seven Locks Rd. at the entrance to Seven Locks Park and Palisades Pool. The County has not yet approved a crosswalk, and it will be a continued uphill battle to get the funding.There will be a short sidewalk addition on the west side of Seven Locks Rd. connecting First Agape AME Church and the entrance to Morningstar Moses Cemetery.During open discussion, neighbors mentioned the success of Tomlinson Ave. in petitioning for speed bumps many years ago and the idea of neighborhood funding for the crosswalk, but no specific actions were decided.Charlotte’s presentation will be shared with the community via the Cabin John listerv. 3. CJ Directory Online – presented by Marcy Harrison (see story on page 9) The CJCA has the option to move the directory online, with mobile access as well.The online directory would be password protected and searchable.The plan is to keep the directory centrally managed by CJCA VP of Communication to maintain data consistency and accuracy.There will be a community vote on whether to provide an online version of the directory at the October meeting. 4. Palisades Swim Hours Palisades Pool Association has requested a change to Cabin John residents’ free swim periods, moving from 11am-1pm (Tues/Thurs) to 10am-12pm (Tues/Thurs).Free swim periods for Cabin Johnners were a condition for the Palisades Pool Association to receive support needed from CJCA to build the pool.Discussion included concerns that new hours would limit lunch-hour use and warmer pool hours.Call for vote was motioned by Heidi Lewis and received a second from Darla Cable.There were 0 votes in favor of approving the requested change in hours, and 15 votes against approving the request. CJCA will respond to the Palisades Association. [...] Read more...
October 18, 2022The Cabin John Neighborhood Directory is a valued, helpful resource for residents. CJCA has published and distributed a print version of the directory to all 700+ residents for many years, the most recent being in the spring of 2021. CJCA will publish a new print version in 2024 or 2025. Publishing every 4-5 years means that new members of the community are not included in the print version for often several years.  Some community members have inquired about the possibility of making the directory available online, in a way that could be updated more frequently. The vendor used to print the most recent directory, AtoZ Connect (atozconnect.com), does have that capability. AtoZ Connect is the vendor currently used by Walt Whitman High School and other local schools. A vote on whether to make the directory available online will be held at the October 26 meeting. Anyone attending either in the room or online can vote. Online directory FAQs Who could view the online directory? Only Cabin John residents already listed in the directory will be allowed to create a unique, individual, password-protected account to access the information electronically. All passwords are hashed. The CJCA VP Communications must manually approve any new users. Can Cabin Johnners update their own information in an online directory? Information can only be viewed online; residents cannot edit their own listing information online. All edits will be made by the CJCA VP Communications. CJCA will provide instructions for submitting changes to the directory listing information. Can we choose what information is available online?  When you set up your account to view the online directory, you can indicate which items of information (adult names, phone numbers, email addresses, children names) you want to be displayed in the online directory. The default is that the same information currently displayed in the print version of the directory will be displayed online. Can we choose to not have ANY of our information available online? If you do not want ANY of your information to be displayed in the online directory you can “opt out,” i.e., your information will be deleted from the database so that it will not be available for display by anyone accessing the directory online. CJCA will provide instructions for how individuals can opt out. Your information can still be included in the next print directory if you so choose. How is the online database secured? Please refer to AtoZ Connect’s website to review their data privacy and security features, https://atozconnect.com/terms/. The decision to participate in the online directory is solely the responsibility of the individual. CJCA makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or security of AtoZ Connect.  Can we look up residents by street as well as by name? The online directory information is displayed alphabetically by last name and can be easily searched for any name or for listings by street name. On the mobile app you can also set up “favorites” for a quick display of residents you often want to view. If you have any questions or concerns, or to see how the online or mobile app directory works, please contact Marcy Harrison, VP Communications at marcyharrison@earthlink.net or call 301-908-8906. By Marcy Harrison CJCA VP Communications [...] Read more...
October 18, 2022October is upon us, which means pumpkins and witches are cropping up around the neighborhood in anticipation of celebrating the spookiest holiday of the year! Up first, don’t miss out on the Haunted House at the Clara Barton Community Center (CBCC) on Sunday, October 30 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, presented by the Friends of the CBCC and the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. Free for all ages, though children up to age 10 are most likely to be spellbound. Little ones may want a hand to hold as spooky guides bring visitors along the path. Teenagers can earn SSL hours helping create a spooky atmosphere for brave attendees. Go to www.FriendsCBCC.org to learn about the Community Center, located at 7425 MacArthur Blvd. in Cabin John, and for more information on the event, call the Center at 240-777-4910. The thrills and chills won’t end there, as Halloween follows the next day, Monday, October 31. The pandemic forced Cabin Johners to get creative for Halloween in 2020 and 2021 so that sweets could be doled out while keeping trick-or-treaters, their families, and treat-givers safe. The resulting plan, which encouraged Cabin Johnners to set up their treats on tables or in other creative ways outside their homes, created an incredibly festive and fun atmosphere throughout the community, and Cabin Johnners are welcome to continue the tradition. Treat givers can opt to sit outside with their treats and enjoy chatting with neighbors as they come by. As always, if you’d prefer not to participate, just turn off your lights or put a sign by your mailbox. Please send any pictures you take to VNeditorial@gmail.com by Nov. 1 for possible publication in the November issue of The Village News. Happy trick-or-treating! [...] Read more...
October 18, 2022Hands-down, the favorite TV show for kids growing up in a previous era was The Mickey Mouse Club. The spell those creatures with big ears cast over children continues to this day, now as the cartoon characters draw masses of children to the vast Disney empire. But what if Uncle Walt had had a different inspiration? What if while passing by a clear-running stream on his morning walk or stopping near a patch of cattails bordering a pond, he spotted a cartoon-like rodent from real life, with a pointy nose and whiskers, webbed feet, and a long tail? Would we be watching reruns of The Mickey Muskrat Club? We’ll never know why Walt Disney chose such an ignominious rodent as the mouse to elevate to global icon status when perfectly lovable large rodents with outsized personalities went unclaimed—marmots, prairie dogs, beaver, capybaras, or even porcupines. But let’s fantasize for a moment that cartoon editors presented Walt Disney with sketches of our local muskrat, and it had won the charm contest. There is much to be said for this semi-aquatic mammal, Disney might be told. Living alongside beavers that also prefer marshy habitats, it can readily be distinguished from the latter by its smaller size and its distinctive narrow, long tail whereas the beaver has a broad flat tail; both use this appendage like a rudder. To swim, both use their powerful hind webbed feet. Muskrats can stay under for a long time, too, as much as 17 minutes similar to the beaver. Their bodies, like marine mammals, can tolerate the build-up of CO2 and lactic acid in the muscles. Muskrats run only about 16-28 inches long, with half that length being their whip-like tail so about half as long as beavers. They are much lighter, too: beavers can reach 60 lbs. while muskrats only weigh between 1.4 and 4.4 lbs. Even so, muskrats are the largest member of the family of rodents known as the Cricetidae which includes deer mice, lemmings, hamsters, and voles (but not true rats which are part of the Muridae family; beavers belong to the family Castoridae in the Order Rodentia).  Muskrats have reddish brown fur, attractive enough that a fur industry developed around this species. For a time muskrat lined coats were in fashion. Muskrats may look cute, but be careful, inside that body is a musk gland, from which the animal’s name came, that can stink up a place. The scientific name is Ondatra zibethica; Ondatra being the Huron word for this species, and the specific epithet, zibethica, refers to the word civet or civet musk, another species with scent glands. Muskrats, like the mustelids such as skunks, wolverines, and weasels, use their special glands to scent-mark their territories.  If you are trying to spot a muskrat in the Potomac, watch the river and look for a v-shaped chevron with a nose at the tip of the arrow, making its way across to Virginia or back, especially around dawn or dusk. Another way to find them is to look for their dens. The muskrat abode has a charming name, just like its inhabitants—the dwelling is called a “push-up” because the shelter, constructed of sticks and other material, looks like a forest igloo. The entrance to the push-up is from underwater, giving the muskrat some privacy and serving as a safety feature from predators. Lots of creatures will eat muskrats, especially baby muskrats. The long list includes most North American carnivorous mammals and birds, snakes, reptiles, and even large fish. Another good place to find muskrats is in a wetland or in part of the canal that is rich in cattails—one of their favorite food items. Muskrats live mostly on vegetable matter, but like most mammals, they are opportunists, occasionally dining on small animals. Like beavers, they can heavily influence local vegetation composition and structure by their selective feeding.  Muskrats are native to only North America, but were introduced widely in Europe in the 20th century for reasons unknown, perhaps to encourage economic use of another fur-bearing mammal for the fashion industry. They have taken root in northern Europe where they are considered a pest species, but attempts to eradicate them have proved difficult.  I was not yet a biologist when I was first introduced to Mickey and Minnie, but now it occurs to me that Walt must have kept them on contraceptives as part of their contract: they never had offspring during their Disney run. It’s hard to restrain libidinous muskrats who can have two to three litters per year with six to eight muskrateers per litter. Most rodents, except for prairie dogs and a few others are prolific breeders. It’s part of what is called their life-history strategy—life spans are short, in the case of the muskrat of about 3-4 years, so pump out the young while you can to pass as many genes as possible into the next generation. Reports of muskrats surviving to 10 years exist, but most are probably taken by predators before they reach the golden years. The population of muskrats in our area seems stable, so long after Mickey and Minnie are gone, there will be muskrats chewing on a cattail or gathering sticks and reeds for a new push-up, preparing to house the next generation of pups. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
September 19, 2022We are pleased to announce the calendar for CJCA Events for the rest of 2022 through June 2023. Here are some highlights: In keeping with previous years, we will have three Blood Drives, all on Sundays – October 2, February 5, and May 7 (starting at 10am).The still new-ish Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot will be on November 24 at 10am (on Thanksgiving of course).Our annual Holiday Party will be on Sunday, December 11 starting at 5pm.The original and world-renowned CJCA Trivia Night triumphantly returns – Saturday, January 28. Time TBA.Our Spring Egg Hunt will be Sunday, March 26 (one week prior to MCPS Spring Break). Time TBA.Our Wednesday night CJCA Meetings – September 28, October 26, November 30, January 25, February 22, March 29, April 26, and May 24. All at 7:30pm. Chronologically we have: 2022 Saturday, September 17 – 52nd Annual Cabin John Chicken and Crab FeastWednesday, September 28 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pm Sunday, October 2 – CJ Blood Drive, 10am to 3pmWednesday, October 26 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pm Thursday, November 24 – CJ Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, 10:00amWednesday, November 30 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pm Sunday, December 11 – CJ Holiday Party, 5:00 pm 2023 Wednesday, January 25 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pm Saturday, January 28 – Trivia Night, time TBASunday, February 5 – CJ Blood Drive, 10 am to 3 pmWednesday, February 22 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pmWednesday, March 29 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pmSunday, March 26 – CJ Spring Egg Hunt, time TBAWednesday, April 26 – CJCA meeting, 7:30 pmSunday, May 7 – CJ Blood Drive, 10 am to 3 pmWednesday, May 24  – CJCA Meeting, 7:30 pm We hope you will join us for as many of these activities as you can. As always, thank you to our many volunteers who make all this happen! [...] Read more...
September 19, 2022For those of us untuned to the natural world, our first brush with bats may well have come via Halloween costumes or horror films featuring Count Dracula, Transylvania’s most infamous castle owner. The last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed all that. Those who follow popular accounts of the fieldwork of epidemiologists and virologists researching the vector of the COVID-19 virus have seen bats brought to center stage—in particular the diminutive, cave-dwelling horseshoe bats of China. Many Chinese eat bats, as do people in other countries, and the most common hypothesis for much of the past two-and-a-half years appeared to be that horseshoe bats carrying the disease captured in caves near Wuhan, China were brought to a wildlife market where, after slaughter, they were consumed by locals, who subsequently became infected. Another hypothesis is that, prior to their being killed, the bats would have been held in cages, possibly sitting stacked on top of enclosures containing other wildlife species destined for the pot. The stress of captivity and close confinement with other species probably led to the bats to excrete their urine and feces more often and possibly causing other species caged below them, when consumed, to become a source of the disease.  If this description of the Wuhan wet market sounds like a far cry from a farmer’s market in Bethesda or Brookmont, well it is. On display to be killed and chopped up at a wet market typically are a menagerie of birds, reptiles, amphibians, civets, weasels, forest rodents, and a canid called the raccoon dog, along with whatever bats are in season. The prevalence of wildlife markets in much of southeast Asia, and most commonly in China, have been the conservationist’s nightmare. For years, tigers were raised on farms in captive crowded conditions then killed for their body parts, to be served to customers at high prices. This practice has been largely controlled, but the wildlife markets for other species still flourish. In fact, the raccoon dog is such a popular delicacy that thousands are raised in captivity on farms dedicated to that purpose to supply markets such as those in Wuhan. This is where things turn deadly. A study published this summer in Science magazine claims that not only was the Wuhan wet market COVID-19’s ground zero, but the most likely species to transmit the virus was the raccoon dog and not the Chinese horseshoe bat. Whatever the source, the occurrence of this inter-species disease transmission is a testament to our increasingly disturbed relationship with nature. We should not be eating wild animals, especially kept in conditions like in the Wuhan wet market. Had people not eaten raccoon dogs or horseshoe bats, there is a good chance the world would not have changed so dramatically over the past three years.  The COVID-19 outbreak is not a one-time viral animal-to-human transmission event. In fact, scientists have documented at least 14 serious outbreaks of viruses since the year 2000, all zoonotic spillovers, a term used when a disease jumps from animals to humans. One famous example is the deadly Ebola virus, jumping to at least some of the humans who ate the meat of great apes in West Africa. An example of secondary transmission occurred in the case of the MERS virus, where camels were eaten that had been dripped on and contaminated by the feces and urine of bats roosting in palm trees above them. But let’s get back to bats. You will never see a horseshoe bat here in Cabin John except in articles about COVID-19. About 100 species of horseshoe bats occur across the world, but not in North or South America. They are tiny fellows that have funny faces, eat insects, and cluster in caves. If you have read about bats and COVID-19 or bats and viruses, you will have learned that bats are a source pool for many kinds of viruses. But that perception could be due to a simple numerical relationship: among mammals, bats are second only to rodents in the diversity of their species. Nearly two-thirds of all mammal species are either rodents or bats. So, we should expect a largely tropical group like bats or rodents to harbor lots of viruses. It is all but guaranteed that more zoonotic spillovers will occur in the years to come. How many will trigger pandemics, like the SARS-2 or COVID-19 viruses, remains to be seen. But one way our species can avoid more outbreaks is to stop eating wild animals, especially, bats, rodents, primates, and carnivores. Easier said than done on a world scale, but look at what our ignorance has caused us.  Bats may also teach us a great deal about how to live with not only COVID but other potentially deadly viruses. For some reason, bats are unaffected by the viral diseases that wreak havoc when passed to humans. Some biologists say it is because bats run hot: their higher body temperatures during flight make their bodies unsuitable for the viruses to work their will. We don’t really know. But it makes sense to learn all we can about species that can harbor and cope with nasty viruses, in anticipation of COVID-25 and COVID-31.  I want to end our summer salute to bats on a more uplifting note. Rather than thinking of bats primarily as a source of disease, I prefer to think of them as a source of wonder. The space for these columns is too limited to expound on the evolutionary marvel that bats are, the only true flying mammals. As I watch our mosquito-eating bats emerge into the dusk, wheeling and darting on fluttery wings in pursuit of insects that also carry diseases like Dengue fever, I think of them more as guardians than as a source of fear. Fly on little bat! By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
August 17, 2022Chicken and Crab Feast 2022Saturday, September 17, 20222:00 — 6:00 PMClara Barton Community Center You don’t want to miss the gustation of the crustacean, the fire-grilling of the fowl, the simmering of the sides, the valor of the volunteers, the swinging of the band, and especially the fellowship of friends and neighbors swapping laughs and stories while cracking those crab claws. BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW:Buying tickets in advance saves money and helps us plan quantities. ADVANCE TICKET SALES ARE NOW CLOSED. PLEASE PURCHASE TICKETS WHEN YOU ARRIVE. TICKETS AND PRICES:Chicken + 3 sides: $18 advance | $20 at door3 Crabs + 3 sides – OR – 6 Crabs (no sides): $25 advance | $30 at doorSides only (6 sides): $18 advance | $20 at door HOW TO BUY: Contact your CJCA Block Coordinator — checks only. Don’t know your block coordinator? Contact CJCAcommunityoutreach@gmail.com to find out. Fill out the online form and pay online via PayPal/Credit Card or Venmo. Your tickets will be held at the door. CAN YOU LEND A HAND?Attending the Crab Feast is lots of fun – but what’s REALLY fun is volunteering for an hour or two! We need at least 20 new volunteers this year to replace those who have stepped down or moved away. You’ll never regret getting to know neighbors better and feeling the sense of belonging that comes with volunteering. We need the following help: servers veg preppers kids’ activity planners ticket sellers kitchen crew setup/cleanup helping hands If you can volunteer a couple of hours on Saturday, Sept. 17 or the days leading up to it, email volunteer coordinator Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net. SSL hours are available for Friday, Sept. 16, 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm and anytime on Saturday, the 17. [...] Read more...
August 17, 2022After almost three years of study, Montgomery County Planning released its first-ever Pedestrian Master Plan last month. The 59-page draft plan puts forth dozens of recommendations aimed at improving pedestrian safety and increase walking rates throughout the county. Montgomery Planning is now inviting the public to hear from the planners and provide feedback at two September meetings: A virtual meeting Tues., Sept. 7 at 7:00 pm (you must RSVP to attend) An in-person meeting, Tues., Sept. 13 at 7:00 pm at their offices in Wheaton The Cabin John Citizens Association has been advocating for improved pedestrian safety, including crosswalks and LED street lighting, in Cabin John for the past decade or more with limited success. The CJCA urges CJ residents to attend the meetings and ask for more crosswalks and improved lighting in Cabin John. Our neighboring Glen Echo community has successfully landed marked and/or signaled pedestrian crosswalks at several points on MacArthur Blvd. in recent years. The only additional MacArthur Blvd. crosswalk Cabin John secured in the past six years has been at 79th Street. While the Pedestrian Master Plan does not get into specifics on where improvements should go, it does call for better pedestrian connections to county parklands. This clearly argues for a crosswalk from the sidewalk on the southside of Seven Locks Rd. across Seven Locks to the entrance driveway for Seven Locks Local Park. The county must have intended this as it left an opening in the guardrail and a cutaway in the curb at this point. Yet, it never bothered to put in the crosswalk that would make for safe pedestrian access to the park. The plan states that students should be able to ”safely and directly walk” to school. For years, the CJCA has been asking the county to make it safer for CJ students to walk to their bus stops. In Sept. 2019, the CJCA sent a detailed request to county officials. It explained how the community of Cabin John has three main roads—MacArthur Blvd., Seven Locks Rd., and Persimmon Tree Rd. where the speed limits are 30 or 35 mph. We asked for six crosswalks to connect a side street with one of the seven school bus stops and/or seven Ride On bus stops along MacArthur Blvd. The only one we received was at 79th Street. Due to the dramatic increase in commuter traffic on these main roads, we also asked for the following crosswalks on Seven Locks and Persimmon Tree: Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Carver Rd. to allow the 20 homes on Carver access to the sidewalk on Seven Locks as well as the school bus stop Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at the service road for Seven Locks Park/Palisades Pool for access to those facilities Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Cypress Grove Lane so that the 27 households on Cypress Grove have safe access to the side walk on Seven Locks Crosswalk at Persimmon Tree Rd. and Caraway Rd. for residents of Caraway and 81st to access sidewalk, school bus stop, and Ride On bus stop They were all denied, in part, using the Catch-22 logic that there was not enough pedestrian traffic to justify them. The notion that pedestrians avoided trying to cross these busy roads because there is no crosswalk, did not seem to be part of their consideration. Please reach out to Charlotte Troup Leighton at troupleighton@gmail.com if you want to help push for additional crosswalks and other pedestrian safety measures in Cabin John. By Charlotte Troup Leighton CJCA Vice President of Advocacy [...] Read more...
August 17, 2022Since its announcement in the March 2021 issue of The Village News, the Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy Corp (MICC) has been hard at work. The MICC is officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charged with the “preservation of the ecological, architectural, scientific, and humanist legacy of Minnie’s Island,” an eight-acre island located in the Potomac River, approximately 100 yards off the shore from Lockhouse 8 on the C&O Canal. MICC legally owns Minnie’s Island, and it is open to the public—mainly accessible via kayak. We’ve cleared trails, removed invasive vines, and dedicated conservation areas of the island, which consist of boulders and a variety of trees, plants, and wildlife. We’re working with George Mason University to schedule a BioBlitz to identify as much of the wildlife on the island as possible. We’re also rebuilding the foundation of the cabin located on the island, which now has a fully functioning wood burning stove. MICC is also working with the National Park Service to try to restore and maintain Lockhouse 8, the lock, and the surrounding areas. We welcome any insights from Cabin Johners on successfully navigating that process! Our goal is for Minnie’s Island to be a place where community families (including you!) can come to camp, barbecue, and generally enjoy the bucolic environment. MICC is a local resource for the enjoyment of the community, and our mission priorities are to make the island accessible to Wounded Warriors, frontline workers, first responders, and under-funded regional schools. In the next 18 months, we hope to install a solar array and composting toilet and refurbish the existing well on the island. We’re also launching Minnie’s Kayaking Lessons since it’s easiest to access the island to volunteer via kayak. We’re also planning to offer fly fishing lessons. More information about this and the MICC can be found on our website www.MinniesIsland.org. None of this would be possible without the support of the Cabin John community in the form of volunteerism, donations, and advice. We have more than 180 volunteers and supporters, so thank you! Thanks also to the folks who live between 81st. St. and Riverside Dr. who are getting used to my dog Cayenne barking as I drive to Lockhouse 8! If you would like to find out more about accessing the island, volunteering, or our work in general, stop by our table at the upcoming CJCA Crab Feast on Sept. 17 or check out our website. We can’t wait to have you on the island! By Pascal Pittman Chairperson, Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy Corp (MICC) [...] Read more...
August 16, 2022In the daytime, Cabin John’s tree-lined streets belong to adults in their cars and service trucks, kids on their bikes, and dog walkers or other pedestrians. But after dark, other mammals join the night traffic. Here on 78th St., one can see strolling white-tailed deer heading for the neighbor’s Hosta. At midnight, a clever fox sniffs around for rats and mice. But by far the most abundant night mammals on our street are the local bats. Stand under a sycamore or some other grand tree and look at the darkening sky; the first sixty minutes after sundown is bat hour. Look up at the right moment and there will be a flutter of something, and if it is light enough and you are close enough, you might see a pair of rounded, mouse-like ears around a furry little body tucked between broad wings. A bat! And if you had in hand a bat detector, a device that picks up the vocalizations of the flying mammals flitting overhead, it would most likely tell you, by the specific frequencies it registered, that you were watching the nocturnal maneuvering and feeding of brown bats in two sizes—little and big. The two most common bats in our neighborhood are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)—we don’t have a medium brown bat, at least here in North America. Although they share a similar common name, the difference in genus tells you that they are not closely related. The little brown bat weighs less than one third of an ounce, and the big brown bat tips the scale at about half an ounce. In both species, females are larger than males. In truth, if you had a little brown bat in one hand and big brown bat in the other, as I have done, the big brown looks like a simply larger reconstruction of the little brown. One aspect in which they differ greatly is their diets. Little brown bats prefer soft-bodied insects. If we only could train a swarm of little brown bats to follow us around at night (they do forage at times in groups), they would make short work of the annoying mosquitoes trying to bite us. Little brown bats can fill their stomachs in one hour while mosquito hunting, eating 150 or more in their initial feeding flight. Each night these bats can eat half their own weight in flying pests. But the real heroes of the evening are the big brown bats—they are devoted beetle eaters. Cucumber beetles, snout beetles, Japanese beetles—big brown bats have the strong mandibles and jaw muscles to crunch through the tough protective outer elytra exoskeletons to reach the juicy bits. And in so doing, big brown bats protect our crops, as cucumber beetles are a major scourge of corn crops, and are among farmers’ best friends. Despite their small size, both the little and big brown bats live a long time. The record for the little brown is 34 years (average 7 years) and 20 years (again average of 7 years) for the big brown bat. Think about how many millions of mosquitoes a single little brown or how many cucumber beetles a big brown would eat in a lifetime? Knowing this, why would we want to remove them from our neighborhoods? But that is what is happening, from forces we can control and one we cannot. If you use pesticides in your yard, you are directly leading to a decline in bats that protect us from insect swarms (not to mention the songbirds in our yards). Do nature and our mosquito-eating bats a favor by finding organic compounds to protect those roses. Or better yet, heed the pleas from last year’s columns and plant natives in your garden—you’ll never worry about chemicals or watering again. There is another more insidious killer of bats: a disease known as white-nose syndrome caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. What a fitting specific epithet: destructans. On the outside, the effect of this disease causes the appearance of a white growth on body parts, including the nose, ears, and wings. Internally, the disease causes bats to use up critical fat reserves during hibernation periods, basically leading to starvation. The disease has become so widespread and with such high mortality that the little brown bat is now considered endangered, and other species of Myotis, like the Indiana Bat, face threats of extinction. Thankfully, the disease does not kill every bat in a colony and has skipped over some altogether. It also appears that some individuals are more likely to survive based on genetic variation: individuals that remain in torpor longer and thus store up larger fat reserves tend to be less affected. And there have been behavioral shifts, too, or selection for certain preventative behaviors. In hibernacula, the term used for places where bats hibernate, those where bats shun each other and roost singly are more likely to avoid infections. Being highly social seems to be a condition leading to disease spread, as white-nose requires close contact between hibernating individuals. It is reported that in some colonies where bat-clustering was the norm before exposure to white-nose, only 1.2% of little brown bats hibernated singly; after white-nose syndrome hit a hibernacula, 45% started finding their own spot.  In contrast, for reasons yet unknown, the big brown bat is unaffected by white-nose, and in many places the populations are increasing. One reason why big-browns may avoid white-nose, even in caves where it occurs, is that they hibernate longer and maintain much larger fat stores throughout the hibernation period. Clearly, in winter, in this age of white-nosed syndrome, it pays to be a really fat bat.  Even in August, our bats are gearing up for winter, swooping and swiveling, dipping and darting after all the flying insects they can eat. Cabin John is richer for them, and we wish them good dining. Let’s make the bats feel even more at home by keeping the big trees in our yards that offer them shelter during the day and shade our streets in the heat of summer. Save a tree, save a dozen bats, our natural bug-zappers. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
June 13, 2022Chicken and Crab Feast In Need of New Coordinator(s) Cabin John’s annual community celebration and fundraising event held each September urgently needs a new coordinator or coordinators to take the over helm from Allison and Patrick de Gravelles who have capably overseen the event for the last five years. Thank you, Allison and Patrick! Allison and Patrick said, “Coordinating the Chicken and Crab Feast has been a highlight of our time as Cabin John residents, and we have thoroughly enjoyed having a hand in the community’s largest annual fundraiser. For the most part, the work of the coordinator is as simple as making sure the supplies are purchased and ready to go on time. The event largely runs itself because of the incredible corps of volunteers that turns out each year.” The position of Crab Feast coordinator has been held by a fantastic cast of Cabin John volunteers and is one of the best ways to get involved in our special community. And many of the volunteers who manage the vegetable prep, chicken and crab cooking, drink sales, setup, serving, and more will carry on for this year. We just need some enthusiastic logistical leadership! To find out more, please call, text, or email Scott Lewis: (202) 257-9957, cjcapresidents@gmail.com. Top Ten Reasons YOU Should Become the Next Crab Feast Coordinator 10) Support CJCA Activities. Funds raised by the Crab Feast support other great CJCA activities, like the Turkey Trot, the Holiday Party, and Fourth of July Parade as well as The Village News and CJ Directory. 9) Perfect Time of Year. It takes place on the second Saturday after Labor Day, when Cabin John weather is at its best. 8) Set Game Plan. It’s been a roaring success for 51 years, so the game plan is tried and true. 7) Experienced Crew. There’s a cadre of experienced crew chiefs to back you up, with long lists of volunteer crew members already recruited. 6) See and Be Seen. You will see and be seen at the most happening event of the season. 5) Learn Secret Recipes. You will learn the secret to making those delicious collards! 4) Find Happiness. Your idea of happiness is a trunkload of Kirkland paper towels. 3) You Cabin John! 2) Built-in Expertise. You will have the expertise of Allison and Patrick available in August to help you get organized. And the number one reason why you should become the next CJ Feast Coordinator(s): 1) We need you! Thank you to former Crab Feast Director Tina Rouse for inspiring this Top Ten list. [...] Read more...
June 13, 2022Invasive Plant Species: Your Garden May Not Be the Oasis You Think CJ resident and ecologist Mark Frey started his talk on invasive plant species by telling the attendees of the June 1 CJCA meeting they were not going to like what he had to say…and he was right! Folks in the audience actually groaned as he described well-loved greenery, including English Ivy, Bush Honeysuckle, Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina), and the Butterfly Bush as plants non grata in the garden.  It turns out the dense ground cover provided by English Ivy also makes a perfect habitat for rats.  The fragrant Bush Honeysuckle produces berries that birds love. But it’s like giving them a diet of Twinkies, said Frey, explaining that the lower nutritional value means birds are undernourished. The early leafing by Bush Honeysuckles also attracts birds building nests. But since they leaf out before other shrubs, there is a less dense protective canopy making the nests more vulnerable to predators, such as racoons and hawks.  Nandina also is bad news for birds, and possibly cats and dogs, as its berries contain cyanide and can be toxic when consumed in large enough quantities.  The Butterfly Bush actually harms the beautiful flying insect it is named after. While its abundant nectar attracts butterflies and other pollinators, the leaves of the Butterfly Bush do not provide caterpillars with the feed and habitat they need to grow into butterflies. These plants and others named by Frey, including Pachysandra, Silver Grass (Miscanthus),  Periwinkle, daylilies, most viburnums, and Garlic Mustard are all problematic because of how easily they spread, crowding out native species that local insects and animals need for their habitat.  Garlic Mustard is especially insidious as it also produces harmful chemicals that can damage the soil, making it harder for native plants to grow. Frey and fellow CJ resident Eric Dinerstein, who writes the beloved Nature column in this newsletter, are on a personal crusade to eradicate Garlic Mustard from the area of Cabin John Creek in our community. If you’ve hiked the forest trail from Seven Locks to the park by the one-lane bridge recently, you may have noticed pulled Garlic Mustard lying on the trail. The plant is easy to identify and pull  when it first comes up, and it must be pulled two years in a row to get rid of it. Next spring, they hope to create a wedding brigade of CJ residents to tackle the Garlic Mustard scourge in this area.  The good news to come out of Frey’s talk is that there are plenty of native plants that can be used in the garden to achieve a similar effect without doing harm to the ecosystem.  For instance, butterfly milkweed also produces lots of nectar attracting butterflies, including the threatened Monarch butterfly, which only lays eggs in the nine milkweed species. It’s easy to grow, but does take several years to flower.  Instead of invasive ground covers, Frey suggests trying Pennsylvania Sedge, a drought tolerant, low-growing plant that provides dense cover. For cover in shady areas, consider Wild Ginger, whose early-blooming hidden flowers provide food to insects. While Wild Ginger goes bare in the winter months, it comes up early to provide cover. Consider swapping out Silver Grass and other invasive grasess for switchgrass, Little bluestem and native sedges, which not only look good but can fight erosion.  Frey provided the following links for more information and purchasing native plants: https://www.earthsangha.org/wpn http://chesapeakenatives.org/ https://www.mdflora.org/plantsales.html/ CJCA Officers Elected for the 2022-2023 Term Four new officers are joining a cadre of dedicated returning veterans to lead the Cabin John Citizens Association for the coming year. Attendees at the June 1 CJCA meeting elected new co-presidents Scott and Heidi Lewis of MacArthur Blvd., who said they stepped up to ensure that Cabin John activities and traditions carry on.  The two other new officers are Kelly Banuls as secretary and Vice President of Communications Theresa Burton. The new officers will be profiled in upcoming issues of The Village News. When you see these folks in the neighborhood, make sure to thank them for their service! • Co-Presidents — Heidi Lewis and Scott Lewis • Secretary — Kelly Banuls • Treasurer — Bob Walsh • Vice Presidents for Activities — Irena Bojanova • Vice President for Activities — Kesha Leets • Vice President for Advocacy — Charlotte Troup-Leighton • Vice President for Communications — Marcy Harrison • Vice President for Communications —Theresa Burton • Vice President for Community Outreach — Stephanie Lai • Vice President for Community Outreach — Heather Tomlinson • Vice President for Community Service — Justin Webster By Susan Shipp CJ Resident, Past Co-President CJCA [...] Read more...
June 13, 2022Although thunderstorms raged the night before, the Cabin John Creek subsided and the sun shone brightly May 28 for the inaugural Cabin John Creek Challenge, which drew some 50 participants including nine Cabin Johners.  Organized by the Friends of the Cabin John Creek (FoCJC), the challenge involved walking the 10 miles of the CJ Creek trail from Goya Drive in Rockville all the way down to the Potomac River. Hikers also had/have the option of hiking the various trail segments over the course of 2022.   A special thanks to Cabin Johner and FoCJC Board member Scott Hoffman for setting up the water and information stations along the trail and to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club for keeping the trails well maintained. Prior to the start of the hike, State Delegates Marc Korman and Sara Love presented a citation provided by the General Assembly in Annapolis and a proclamation crafted by the county. Both documents celebrated the CJ Creek and the efforts of the FoCJC to advocate on the creek’s behalf. FoCJC board member Greg Gurley then spoke about the threats to the creek, especially stormwater runoff, as well as various aspects of the 10 miles ahead. Then the eager hikers were off. An early treat was the evidence of beavers, but none were sighted that day. Prior to the hike, Greg and another board member, CJ resident Jon Putnam, had placed educational QR codes at pertinent spots in the path to educate walkers on particular watershed subjects. Lunch was taken on the benches beneath the large sycamore tree at the Locust Grove Nature Center off of Democracy Blvd. There was a really lovely stretch of mountain laurel in bloom in the section between Bradley Blvd. and River Rd.  In the end, the larger group broke into three smaller groups as they made their way downstream towards the Potomac, thus allowing everyone to hike at their own pace. All participants received the lovely “CJ Creek Challenge 2022” sticker on the basis of either completing all 10 miles that day or with the promise of finishing the remaining segments sometime this year. The Challenge is the first of the outreach and educational events/activities that FoCJC is planning as part of the new $53,000 grant received from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Montgomery County Dept of Environmental Protection. This event seems likely to be repeated each year from here on out.   The hope is that over time the M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks, who were very supportive of the Challenge, along with the County/State DOT offices, will work to make the trail more continuous with improved crossings at the highways and also continue managing stormwater runoff into the creek. The Cabin John community should be extremely proud of nurturing and supporting FoCJC over all of these years. By Burr Gray President, Friends of the Cabin John Creek [...] Read more...
June 13, 2022Halloween comes early to Cabin John: for the summer months the next three columns will focus on some of the most fascinating animals to inhabit our night skies.  Welcome to the world of bats. For some readers, this will be your first introduction to these remarkable creatures, among the most highly specialized of vertebrates. For the more hesitant reader, this is an opportunity to shed your bat phobia, as I did, when I morphed from a young man squeamish about bats to one who gained appreciation for these fascinating, intelligent mammals. Appreciation turned to rapture when I held in my hands the adorable Honduran white bat, which looks like a bat in a clown costume. This bat and other fruit-eaters became the focus of my Ph.D. field research in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.  Once you move past the Dracula propaganda, bats have a lot to like about them: for example, they are the only mammals that have mastered flight. Sure, there are “flying” squirrels and “flying” lemurs, but those mammals can only glide through the forest from one tree to another for a few hundred meters. Bats fly rings around them, and some migrate from here to Central America. Bats are also 1st runner-up to rodents for the title of most diverse group of mammals. There are about 4,000 species of rodents and about 1,400 species of bats. Even so, about one out of every five species of mammal is a bat. In addition, from an evolutionary perspective, the giant flying foxes and smaller fruit bats of Asia are closer to primates than they are to rodents. Think of bats as our very distant cousins.  Bat diversity is astounding—in the tropics you can find in the same forest: bats that catch fish with their feet; bats with long tongues that, like hummingbirds, feed on flower nectar; bats that eat figs, frogs, birds, katydids, lizards, and even other bats. I won’t mention vampires, three species that feed exclusively on the blood of mammals or birds, except to say that they are highly intelligent creatures with complex social lives. As flying agriculturalists, bats are essential for so many tropical fruits whose flowers they pollinate or whose fruits and seeds they disperse, such as the progenitor of the banana, the agave that gives us tequila, and delicious fruits like figs and papayas. Bats also serve as flying pest control agents, consuming tons of flying insects that could destroy food crops, such as the corn borer moths they intercept in the air as the moths move north from Mexico to the U.S. grain belt. The bats that live near us in the Washington, D.C. area, the focus of these columns, eat only insects, from beetles to flies to gnats to mosquitos. So give bats, the most remarkable creatures in nature you may once have found frightening, a chance. Hoary, Hoary Night Sometimes children are handicapped by awful names. It’s the curse of clueless parents. The same phenomenon happens when oblivious naturalists bestow an unfortunate name on an otherwise beautiful species. A case in point: in 1796, on a collecting trip to America, the French naturalist Palisot de Beauvois dubbed a handsome bat covered in dense fur and displaying long narrow wings that he had discovered a “hoary bat” (Atalpha cinerea). The name stuck, and though infelicitous in truth, it is accurate. Hoary is a kind of fur where dark bands end in white tips, giving the animal that sports such pelage a hoary, or frosted appearance. A better descriptor might have been “tree bark bat,” as its fur blends so perfectly against the trunk of a tree or branch that predators cannot spot it. Hoary bats, and their three close cousins, the red, yellow, and chestnut bats, have faces like tiny dogs, with a dog-like muzzle and pointed ears. If the hoary bat’s coat does not have sufficient aesthetic appeal, please Google images of the red, yellow, and chestnut bats. I have held all three of these species in my hand, and they are surely among the most beautiful of mammals. The red bat is a crimson fellow, the yellow bat is a mixture of gold and saffron, and the chestnut bat’s fur is a lustrous reddish-brown.  All four of these insect-eating bats can be found in our region. Their very small eyes are a result of adaptations for echolocation (bat sonar) to navigate through the forest or pick off bugs on the wing. Imagine a Chihuahua that finds its way around or to its food bowl by sending out signals from its mouth and listening for the echo to find objects. Over time, its eyeballs would shrink, too, but maybe its ears would become more funnel-shaped and open. (If you are looking for bats that truly resemble dogs, look at the faces of the fruit bats of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Bats in this group don’t echolocate but instead have developed large eyes, excellent night vision, and a keen sense of smell.)  Female hoary bats weigh slightly less than an ounce (females are 40% heavier than males) and have a wingspan of about 15 inches. Remarkably, when its wings are folded under its body, it can fit in the palm of your hand. But don’t let that small size fool you. These bats are long-distance migrants, here with us for the summer or traveling much further north into Canada to roost before heading back south to spend the winter in the southwestern United States or Central America. Individuals tracked with telemetry devices have been known to fly 25 miles a night. Hoary bats are widespread in North America and even occur in Hawaii, one of the few land-based mammals that reached that archipelago.  All migratory species face great risks during transit. Wind turbines and the energy from wind they harvest are essential if we are to move to 100% renewable energy. But where wind turbines occur along migration routes, which they often do, as they are located on ridges typically used by birds and bats for increased lift or navigation, collision by bats or birds can be common with tens of thousands killed each year. Hoary bats have a higher mortality rate from wind turbine accidents than any other North American bat. One theory is that exhausted migrating bats mistake wind turbines for trees upon which they can roost.  Watch for these bats as you look to the night sky. If the wings seem long and narrow it is most likely a hoary bat, or maybe its cousin the red bat, out for a night of filling its mouth with moths to prepare for the upcoming trip north to Canada or south to Costa Rica. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
May 17, 2022On April 10, after several months of deliberations and conversations with a broad cross section of Cabin John residents, the Cabin John Citizens Association (CJCA) Nominating Committee submitted a slate of candidates, including Heidi and Scott Lewis serving as co-presidents, for the 2022-2023 term.  The Committee nominated Kelly Banuls as secretary, replacing Meredith Griggs who is stepping down, and Theresa Burton to the newly-created position of vice president for communications focusing on the CJCA listserv and other outreach to the community through emails, The Village News, and the website, cabinjohn.org.  Theresa will join Marcy Harrison, the CJCA’s other vice president of communications, whose focus is on the Cabin John Directory. Eight officers are returning to their CJCA positions. Elections for the 2022-2023 term will be held at the Wednesday, June 1 CJCA meeting at 7:30 pm at the Clara Barton Community Center.   Outgoing president Susan Shipp served the Cabin John community in the role for six years. Among her more visible accomplishments was the CJCA 100th anniversary celebration and projects, which include the ongoing  beautification of MacArthur Blvd. and Cabin John sign project, as well as driving CJCA support for the preservation of CJ’s historic Moses Hall and Cemetery.  Less visible to the community is the behind the scenes work Susan led in restructuring the officer structure of the association. Susan split the one vice president position into eight distinct roles, allowing for greater involvement from CJ residents, while lessening the scope and workload of both the president and the vice president roles.   Susan also reintroduced the concept of co-presidents by recruiting Vashi Van Wyke to serve as co-president for this current year. Together Susan and Vashti demonstrated that leadership of the CJCA is a cooperative, collaborative effort that is shared by many. In addition to the elected officers, CJCA has volunteers who have committed their time and talents for specific activities including Chicken and Crab Feast Coordinators, Allison and Patrick de Gravelles; Neighbor-2-Neighbor Coordinator, Judith Bell; and SSL Coordinator, Stephanie Lai.  The community’s two most visible communications tools – CabinJohn.org and The Village News – benefit from the skills and dedication of Robin Sidel for the website and Loretta Devery Ingalls and Noelle Tower for the newsletter. Thankfully, they have agreed to continue as editors! The Nominating Committee included seven Cabin John residents: Amanda Benjamin, Phil Corcoran, Sarah Craven, Amy Elsbree, Andy Fishburn, Marget Mauer, and Neil Shaut. The CJCA is grateful for their work. The full slate of officers nominated for 2022-2023 CJCA leadership includes: • Co-Presidents — Heidi Lewis and Scott Lewis • Secretary — Kelly Banuls • Treasurer — Bob Walsh • Vice Presidents for Activities — Irena Bojanova • Vice President for Activities — Kesha Leets • Vice President for Advocacy — Charlotte Troup-Leighton • Vice President for Communications — Marcy Harrison • Vice President for Communications —Theresa Burton • Vice President for Community Outreach — Stephanie Lai • Vice President for Community Outreach — Heather Tomlinson • Vice President for Community Service — Justin Webster By Amy Elsbree Coordinator, CJCA Officers Nominating Committee [...] Read more...
May 17, 2022The next CJCA meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 1 at the Clara Barton Community Center at 7:30 pm. It will include two important votes: The Election of the CJCA Officers for the 2022-2023 term. (See related story)Approval of an online password-protected version of the CJCA Neighborhood Directory. Invasive Plants in Parks & Your Garden What are they? What can be done? Invasive plant species, like the Kudzu vines and bamboo found in local parks or the Nandina that we planted in our garden years ago, can jeopardize our environment.  To learn more about problematic invasive plants and native plant alternatives, come to the June 1 CJCA meeting for a presentation by CJ resident and invasive plant species expert Mark Frey. If we are lucky, maybe he will also share how he manages to grow grapes, apples, pears, blueberries, and strawberries on his tiny plot in Cabin John Gardens! Mark Frey has been working in natural areas for more than 20 years with much of that time focused on invasive species. Professionally he is the National Park Service lead for Science and Natural Resources Management in the Southeast Region.  Mark has also held roles managing the invasive plant program for the National Capital Region, as the NPS national Invasive Plant Program Manager, as the Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources for Mount Rainier National Park, and as a Project Director for the National Invasive Species Council. Mark’s federal career began in San Francisco where he managed the Presidio Trust’s habitat restoration program.  Frey has lived in Cabin John for ten years. In his spare time he is an active Weed Warrior volunteer for Montgomery County Parks. By Susan Shipp CJCA President [...] Read more...
May 16, 2022Ask an art major what comes to mind when they hear the word “Nighthawks,” and the response is immediate: the name of an iconic Edward Hopper canvas, painted in 1942. The oil on canvas features three customers and a server behind the counter of a well-lit diner, late at night, viewed through the restaurant’s large glass windows and set against a gloomy urban streetscape. It is arguably Hopper’s most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. Even though New York City is full of pigeons, there is not a bird in sight, resting for the night on a lintel or edge of a rooftop. If Hopper had set up his sketchpad, sitting across the street in late spring or summer, and had worked until late afternoon or dusk, he might have heard overhead a loud peent. And if he looked up from his work, he might have noticed a bird flying with irregular wing beats, as if it were injured, darting this way and that. There, above the streets of Greenwich Village, he would have spotted one of the most fascinating birds of our avifauna, the common nighthawk.  Nighthawks, even for seasoned naturalists, are more commonly heard than seen. Here in Cabin John, every Spring around May 5th, I remember to listen for that distinct nasal peent, uttered way above me, and then look skyward for an erratic tapered winged bird beating vigorously across the sky. Peent! Good luck trying to see one when it is perched. Even though the common nighthawk is no hummingbird, measuring almost 10 inches long and with a wingspan of nearly 24 inches, when perched on a tree branch or wooden post, the cryptic coloration of its plumage—as if the bird were coated in flakes of bark rather than feathers—renders it nearly invisible. It becomes one with its perching stand. If it doesn’t move, you could walk by a few feet from the bird and never see it. Another reason people rarely see nighthawks is that even though they breed here, their time in our area is relatively short. They arrive from the south in early May and most stay until the end of summer, though some individuals begin heading south again by end of July. Where “south” is depends. Some of the species fly all the way to Uruguay and Argentina to winter, one of the longest migrations of North American birds, about 4,100 miles. Nighthawks live only around 4-6 years, but still that is a lot of frequent flier miles to put on those wings.  Why would a bird fly so far each year in its relatively short lifespan? To thrive and breed, common nighthawks must eat lots of insects, which they catch on the wing in their huge gaping mouth. Nighthawks are an anomaly, a bird with a tiny beak, but when it opens its mouth it reveals an enormous opening, able to swallow whole insects in flight. By flying to where insects are abundant during the breeding season in our area in June and then leaving before fall when flying insects virtually disappear, the migrating nighthawks take advantage of the austral summer in Argentina, when the flying bugs are fluttering and the tango dancers perspiring in the heat and humidity of December and January.    An interesting physical characteristic of nighthawks and other members of its family is weak legs. This is a bird that is poorly designed to move around much on the ground, yet that is where it builds its nest. It lays its two eggs in a small pile of stones and gravel, and then…blends. A favorite nesting spot is the flat roofs of office buildings in Washington, D.C. The more flat roofs available in a city, the more nighthawks can nest.  Finding nighthawks and their close relatives, called nightjars in Europe, Africa, and Asia, when they are perched and at rest at night is made easier with a flashlight. From far away, the reflective eye shine you see from a perched bird is a bright red dot. In fact, when I was fresh out of college and studying tigers in the wild jungles of southern Nepal, I came upon this field tip in a book by Jim Corbett, the most famous hunter of man-eating tigers and leopards in the British Colonial era. He warned the reader: “One red eye, and it’s a nightjar. Two red eyes and it’s a tiger.” I did see nightjars on the road a lot when driving along the dirt tracks, their single red eye lit up by the pick-up truck’s headlights. Occasionally, to my great delight, there would be two red dots. There are no tigers in my backyard here, only the odd fox and raccoon. But in early May, I stand on duty, binoculars around my neck, ears cocked, for that familiar call of the long-distance flier home from the Argentine. Peent! By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
April 15, 2022Loss of natural habitat, caused by everything from invasive species to climate change, is causing an alarming loss of bird population in Cabin John and throughout North America, Clive Harris told the 45 or so attendees of the March 30 CJCA meeting.  Clive, an avid birder and past president of the Montgomery Bird Club, focused his talk on birds that breed in Cabin John. Using photographs and snippets of taped bird calls, Clive introduced the audience to dozens of bird species, while noting that when out birding about 80 percent of the birds are heard and only about 20 percent are seen.   Roughly half of the 110 to 120 breeding bird species in Montgomery County are migratory, wintering as far south as the Andes Mountains in South America and returning here year after year to breed. This means they are also vulnerable to habitat issues where they winter.  Clive cited a recent study by the journal Science that found North America has lost more than a quarter of its bird population, some three billion birds, since 1970!  In Cabin John, more homes and lawns, too many deer, and the growth of invasive plants are impacting the local bird habitat. Clive explained that all birds feed their young insects and non-native vegetation does not support as many insects as native plants. In the case of Chickadees, if more than 30 percent of the vegetation is invasive, the species cannot maintain its population.  The Wood Thrush, a migratory bird that winters in Central America and crosses the Gulf of Mexico in a single night’s flight as it comes north in the spring, is in jeopardy because of habitat loss in its wintering grounds and here where it breeds. Clive explained that the large deer population feeds on the underbrush where they build their nests, not only decreasing their food supply but making them vulnerable to predators.  But not all bird populations are declining. Pesticide bans in the 1970s have led to increases in Raptor populations. Clive said there appear to be a growing number of Bald Eagles, who partner for life, nesting high in the trees along the Potomac River north of Cabin John. A pair of Peregrine Falcons have been present on the American Legion Bridge for more than 15 years, Clive noted, apparently the first breeding pair in the county since the 1940s. You can follow a track down by the south side of the bridge, all the way to the river to view them. A nesting box was placed on the bridge and is used by the falcons during the breeding season. Clive ended his talk with a list of things we can do to protect birds:  Protect birds from window collisions Over one billion birds die each year due to striking window glass, with roughly half being collisions with windows in homes and other low-rise structures. In addition to screens, decals, and other alterations to the windows, one easy way to reduce threats is to place bird feeders well away from your windows. Keep your cat inside, or outside in an enclosed location Free-ranging cats kill more birds than any other direct threat – some 2.4 billion birds a year in the United States alone, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Improve your backyard habitat Gardens full of exotic and non-native plants do not support the native bird population. The reason is simple – native plants support native insects and with a few exceptions, all birds, even seedeaters, feed insects to their chicks. Native plants also provide the seeds, berries, and nectar to which our birds are adapted. (In fact, berries of some widely planted exotics such as Nandina, are toxic to birds.) Trees and shrubs also provide shelter and nesting sites for birds. Reduce pesticide use Some pesticides pose an immediate threat to birds, while others impact insects upon which birds depend. Neonicotinoids like imidacloprid are widely-used, systemic pesticides which are transferred to all parts of the treated plant, including seeds, leaves, nectar, and pollen.  Wholesale spraying for mosquitoes is also a threat to birds. Despite what their websites promise, the sprays used by “mosquito control” companies promoting “pest-free” yards contain synthetic pyrethroids, which kill all insects that land on the treated leaves. We all are aware of the ongoing decline of insects – “the insect apocalypse” in the words of some scientists – and much of this is due to overuse of pesticides. No insects = no birds.  Provide food, water, and nesting sites Most of us feed birds, and those with sufficient space may also provide water and nest-boxes. In addition to placing bird feeders away from windows, they should be sited near vegetation to provide cover.  Feeders also should also be cleaned regularly to avoid avian diseases passing bird to bird. Sterilize hummingbird feeders regularly, and in hot weather, change the nectar frequently. Birdbaths or fountains need their water changed frequently – daily in hot weather – to avoid mosquitoes and to prevent the spread of bacterial disease. Nest-boxes must be carefully sited to avoid predators and other hazards. Since box designs, which target individual species, vary so much, seek out advice from such websites as NestWatch from The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  By Susan Shipp CJCA President  [...] Read more...
April 15, 2022The Cabin John Citizens Association is seeking community input on whether or not to provide residents with an online version of the 2021 Cabin John Neighborhood Directory. The print directory was provided free last year to the roughly 750 residences and businesses within Cabin John.  As explained to the attendees of the March 30 CJCA meeting, a password-protected online version would allow CJ residents to view and search all the listings, and, optionally, keep their own contact information up to date. The CJCA wants the community to weigh in on whether to proceed with these options.  Please share your thoughts by email to CJDirectory2020@gmail.com. The community will vote on having an online directory at the next CJCA meeting, June 1. The online directory would not replace the print directory, which the CJCA is committed to publishing and distributing free to all residents at least every five years. The primary benefits of an online directory would be its search features and the convenience of being able to access the most up-to-date information from any computer or smartphone. The online search allows you to enter a name or partial name or street name and see all matching resident listings.  Another major benefit is that residents could update their own information online – phone numbers, email addresses, etc. – between print editions of the directory. (The alternative to this is for the database administrator, Marcy Harrison, to keep the online directory information up to date, entering the edits that residents submit via the form on the CJCA website.) An online version would also give folks who move to Cabin John a chance to share their contact information in a timely manner rather than having to wait years for the next print directory.   Please be assured that all your contact information would remain secure online. Our database vendor, AtoZ Connect, has over 12 years of experience in providing safe, secure membership listings to schools, community organizations, and other non-profits. The only information that could be viewed online is the same information that is printed in the directory. Access to the online directory is controlled. Individuals who want online access would set up their own password-protected account. Only residents currently in the directory database are allowed to create accounts. New CJ residents would need to be entered into the database by the administrator. If you have any questions or concerns about the options, please contact Marcy at marcyharrison@earthlink.net or 301-908-8096. By Marcy Harrison VP for Communications [...] Read more...
April 15, 2022What is nature’s signal that spring is here? To the gardener, pink clouds of cherry blossoms and magnolias floating above beds of bright tulips and daffodils announce the start of the season. For naturalists, it is sound that takes precedence over the visual. Our backyard Northern Cardinal has brightened his chirping song, and the Carolina Wren seems to sing with greater gusto. Less melodic is the cacophony of Common Grackles, flocks of them, singing like a hundred small rusty gates swinging in the treetops, announcing it is time to pair up.  I am no herpetologist, but for me nothing marks the change of seasons like the chorus of Spring Peepers. If you want to hear them up close, go stroll along the Potomac at dusk between mid-March and early April. Stop and listen at the nearest pond in the canal bordering the towpath. You will hear the males singing en masse, a swampy symphony of Spring Peepers. An announcement that one of our most charismatic little frogs has come out of cold storage—frogs essentially hibernate during the winter—to resume the great rush to breed.  At first, the song of thousands of these amorous males may strike the novice nature lover as rather unfrog-like, especially if all you know are the boom of bullfrogs or the “ribbet-ribbet” of cartoon amphibians. Let’s work our way up the chorus: A single Spring Peeper sounds much like the chirping of a baby chick. Two singing at once sounds like birds dueting. But a chorus of Spring Peepers, when the number of individuals calling swells into the thousands, transforms into something otherworldly, like the sound of thousands of tiny sleigh bells ringing. Spring Peepers are known to call at other times of year, such as before they enter hibernation, but the early spring is the main amphibian hootenanny.  Their songs can be heard throughout much of eastern North America and into Canada, wherever there are their preferred swamps and ponds dotting the landscape. Despite the loud chorus, when you stand next to a pond of peepers, they are often impossible to spot. For one, they only call when the light starts to fade. Further, they are tiny; about a dozen of these Romeos can fit in your palm. Each one measuring about 1 inch in length and weighing no more than 0.1-0.2 oz. Adult Spring Peepers can be either brown, tan, olive green, or grey. Across the back is a dark cross which gives the species its specific epithet (crucifer). The camouflage coloration makes them look like leaves on the pond bottom.  Males are slightly smaller than females—that is, until they start to sing. Only males sing, and when they do, they inflate a throat sac with air, and the expansion and deflation of the sac, like a balloon, makes the distinct peeping sound. We as humans share a lot of our DNA with other vertebrates and a not insignificant amount with frogs. But an inflatable throat sac is obviously not a feature we share. But imagine if Luciano Pavarotti could inflate a throat pouch to twice his body size and let loose? That is what a male Spring Peeper does.  What are females looking for in a mate? It is apparently the peep that attracts the females. But among a host of peepers, which one is the female likely to select? The one that peeps the loudest or the longest? Or can the females discriminate, and the winner is the male with the most perfectly pitched peep? The answer seems to be which male can call the loudest and most often that gains a chance to breed. Males mate with females, the eggs are later released at the edge of the pond, and after a few weeks, tadpoles emerge and grow into new peepers. Being the loudest and longest singer is not always such a hot idea for an amphibian, however. When I was studying tropical bats during my PhD research in Costa Rica, I traveled to Panama to spend some time at a world-renowned research station run by the Smithsonian Institution, on Barro Colorado Island, in the Canal Zone. At the time, another PhD student, Michael Ryan, who went on to great recognition as an evolutionary biologist, was studying an amphibian called the Tungara frog. These common frogs would gather around shallow bodies of water, and the males would sing and sing in hopes of attracting a mate. But there is more to this story. Hovering over the singing party were large shadows, like black silk handkerchiefs come to life. These were frog-eating bats (Trachops cirrhosis) on the hunt. And as it turned out, Tungara frogs were a favorite prey item. Mike learned this because the bats, which I helped capture for him in mist nets set over the ponds, would, when brought back to the lab and placed in large darkened rooms equipped with speakers, fly instinctively into the speakers if Mike played a recording of the male frog’s calls through them. As it turned out, the Tungara males that called too loud or too often, ended up as bat food. But of course, those that rarely called had no chance of attracting a female. So, the trick was to call just the right amount, at the right moment, even if singing came with a built-in risk.  Why do frogs call at night? One reason almost all amphibians are nocturnal is to avoid the assortment of daytime predators. Every large predatory vertebrate that includes pond edges or stream banks as part of its hunting route eats frogs. At night there are still predators abroad, though: night herons, skunks, snakes, and even diving water beetles that feast on tadpoles and sometimes eggs. Those few amphibians that are active during the day typically live in humid, wet rainforests; many among them, such as poison-arrow frogs with their bright red, yellow, green, and cobalt blue pigments that warn potential predators to leave them alone, incorporate highly toxic compounds in their skin glands.  Being active at night also keeps amphibians out of the sun’s desiccating rays that would dry out their sensitive membranes. It is at night when the Spring Peepers leave the confines of the pond and move around at the base of bushes and up the lower branches to search for invertebrates—food they require to sustain another springtime ringing round of sleigh bells. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
April 15, 2022A 1913 obituary from the Evening Star was recently brought to my attention by a local history buff.* The obituary was for Mrs. Esther Stewart, also known as “Mother Stewart,” who died at her home at Lock 13 at the age of eighty-three. The newspaper clipping is an introduction to one the C&O Canal’s many characters. Mrs. Stewart worked as a lock tender, an innkeeper, and even had a brush with the law for selling alcohol. According to the Evening Star newspaper, “Mother Stewart” lived between Cabin John and Great Falls for more than 60 years, where she was well known to neighbors and boatmen alike along the C&O Canal. During the Civil War, Mrs. Stewart kept the Great Falls Hotel, where both Union and Confederate armies enjoyed her hospitality. (The Great Falls Hotel or Tavern, now the C&O Canal National Historical Park Visitor Center, had operated as an inn and restaurant for many years beginning in 1830).  At some point Mrs. Stewart moved to lock 13, where she worked as both a merchant and lock tender. She is buried at the Potomac United Methodist Church, her large yet modestly decorated headstone towards the back of the chapel. Born in Pennsylvania on January 1, 1831, Mrs. Esther Stewart (also Stuart, Steward) was listed in several censuses, although some entries contradict her obituary. She was widowed by the age of 48, and lived with a son named Charles.  The 1910 census refers to a nephew named Charles Stewart in her household; the obituary notes that her only surviving relatives were a brother in Pennsylvania and a nephew named Charles Zeigler, who had lived with her. However, the administrator of her estate was Charles S. Stewart; he placed a notice to creditors in a 1914 newspaper. He was listed as her son in both the 1880 and 1900 census. The 1910 census notes Mrs. Stewart’s occupation as “Lock Tender,” and Charles Stewart as a “Canal Laborer.” The 1920 census logs his occupation as lock tender at Lock 9. The National Park Service roster, while their records are incomplete, lists Charles S. Stewart as lock tender at locks 10 and/or 11 from 1888-1939, with no mention of Esther Stewart.  Construction of the C&O Canal began in 1828 as a transport route for coal from Western Maryland to Georgetown. The 184.5 mile long canal had 74 lift locks to manage the 605 foot elevation between Cumberland and D.C. The locks were simple, hand-operated gates based on Leonardo da Vinci’s original 1485 design. Lock keepers not only opened gates for passing boat traffic but also offered provisions for boatmen and mules. Women and children were integral to canal life, working as unpaid laborers and helping with lock duties. They tended gardens and flocks of chickens and other animals, for both their own families and to sell. Some lock keepers also sold “intoxicating beverages,” which was prohibited.  Lock tenders were usually married men, as they were considered far more reliable than single ones. The few women who assumed the role of lock tender did so after their husbands died or were drafted into the Civil War. The role was a physically demanding one, and keepers had to be on call from “dawn to dawn” to operate the gates for boats passing through the lock. The Seven Locks area boasted several women lock tenders, who had taken on the role following the death of their husbands. However, records suggest that Mrs. Stewart began her work along the canal as a widow.  So where did the name “Mother Stewart” come from? Could this nickname have derived from Mrs. Stewart’s hospitable nature and lengthy presence along the canal? Or could the Mother Stewart moniker be a tongue in cheek nod to another newsworthy Mother Stewart, Eliza Daniel Stewart, who had been an early temperance movement leader in the 1870s? Perhaps so, for in the July 30,1886 Montgomery County Sentinel, the town of Rockville was “the scene of considerable excitement” when a number of parties charged with “violation of the local option law by selling intoxicating liquors in Potomac district” appeared in court. Those charged included the Cabin John postmaster Michael McQuade, Mrs. Rosa Bobinger of the Cabin John Hotel, and Mrs. Esther Stewart. According to reports, “the crowd became so great that it was necessary to have the proceedings in the Court House.” Witnesses testified that they had purchased whiskey from Mrs. Stewart, and she was held to bail for $200. Mrs. Stewart later had another brush with the court, this time as a victim. In 1911, a local Cabin John resident was convicted of the “larceny of a large number of chickens and ducks from Mrs. Esther Stewart.” The incomplete story of Mother Stewart and her brief historic role as a woman lock tender remains an intriguing mystery. Following her death on June 27, 1913, the census indicates Charles assumed the role of lock tender and lived at Lock 9 (though NPS records indicate he was a lock keeper long before then). Floods and competition from the railroad had a huge impact on the canal, and operations ceased in 1924. Charles remained at Lock 9 until at least 1930.  * With thanks to Mr. William Bauman, a C&O Canal Association volunteer. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [...] Read more...
March 15, 2022First In-Person CJCA Meeting since February 2020!! Come to socialize at 7 pm, the meeting will start at 7:30 pm Time to Learn About Those Birds in Your Backyard One of the few silver-linings of the pandemic is that folks took advantage of Cabin John’s beautiful surroundings and enjoyed walks along the canal towpath and Cabin John creek. Closer to home, they set up bird feeders and let nature come to them.  CJ residents who want to learn about the birds they’ve been watching these past two years should come to the March 30 CJCA meeting where CJ resident Clive Harris, avid birder and past president of the Montgomery Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, will be the featured speaker. Clive, who also is an accomplished photographer, will share his insights on birds and birding in the area.  Since this will be our first in-person meeting in two years, please feel free to come at 7 pm to socialize a bit. The meeting will start promptly at 7:30 pm. Clive will present on the birds that breed in the woods along the canal and the Potomac. His talk and slide presentation will feature both those birds that spend the whole year in our neighborhood as well as those that winter in Central America or further south and come back here each spring to raise their families. An enthusiastic birder both here and abroad, he leads field trips for the Montgomery Bird Club and is also a member of the Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee which evaluates reports of sightings of new or very rare bird species in Maryland or DC to convert them into documented records that can be used reliably for scientific studies of bird distribution and patterns of avian vagrancy.  Clive first became interested in birding with his dad when he was 7 years old and living in Hong Kong. Clive, an economist with the World Bank, moved to Cabin John with his family in 2001, after four years in India. He and his wife Helen had developed an attachment to living near the C&O Canal when they first moved to the United States in the 1990s and lived in Brookmont. Dues Are Critical To Active CJCA A big thank you to the households and businesses that have paid their Cabin John Citizens Association dues. Some Cabin Johners also used this opportunity to make an additional donation to the CJCA or to give funds to the Friends of the Clara Barton Community Center and the Friends of Cabin John Creek.  All of these organizations benefit everyone in the community and we hope you will do your part by paying your 2022 dues as promptly as possible.  There are two easy ways to pay:  Online at www.cabjinjohn.org – Select Support CJCA ($) from the home page.  (You can pay by Credit Card, PayPal, or Venmo) Complete the form in the dues letter you received recently and mail it with your check made payable to the CJCA to: CJCA, P.O. Box 31, Cabin John, MD 20818. By Susan Shipp CJCA President  [...] Read more...
March 15, 2022JANUARY CJCA MEETING RECAP Like the stream itself, the non-profit Friends of the Cabin John Creek (FoCJC) keeps rolling along, doing more and more good work to protect the waterway and its watershed, which runs from Rockville to the Potomac.  Over the last seven years, the creek group has received some $260,000 in public outreach and stewardship grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, FoCJC President Burr Gray told the 27 participants at the Feb. 23 CJCA Zoom meeting. These grant monies have been used to reduce stormwater runoff through rain barrel and rain scape programs as well as other activities to raise public awareness.  The group, which started as a CJCA committee in 1999, is waiting to hear whether it will receive an additional grant of $75,000 for 2022-2023. According to Burr, some of those funds will be used to expand the Creek Keepers program started last November.  Creek Keepers, including Cabin Johners Sarah Cahill, Alexandra Freeman, Doug Pyle, and Judy Welles as well as 25 other upstream residents, have been trained to monitor quarter-mile segments of the creek. They are documenting the general condition of the creek, including erosion issues, fallen trees impeding the water flow, and other criteria. The information helps inform ongoing FoCJC stewardship efforts.  Another goal for the Creek Keepers program is to engage the neighborhoods throughout the whole 25-mile CJ creek watershed. FoCJC wants the program to be the catalyst for more creek cleanups, water monitoring, anti-erosion efforts, and other activities to ensure the ongoing stewardship of the creek and its tributaries.  FoCJC is definitely interested in more Cabin Johners signing on as Creek Keepers. Anyone interested should email Burr Gray at burrgray@aol.com.  The FoCJC is planning a new event this year. The CJ Creek Challenge Hike, slated for May 14, is a nine-mile hike starting at Goya Dr. in Potomac and ending at Cabin John Local Park, with an option to follow the creek all the way down to the Potomac. Participants will also have an option of joining in for smaller hikes comprised of sections of the trail. There will be water stations along the way and refreshments at the end of the hike. Burr promises it will be festive! Burr thanked Cabin John residents for being some of the group’s most loyal donors. On average, Cabin Johners donate some $3,800 annually. Since grant money can only be used for specific programs, the unrestricted donations from CJ residents and others is critical to helping the organization run smoothly and grow, he explained. Donations to the 501(c)(3) organization are tax deductible.   Mark Your Calendar: CJ Creek Cleanup Set for April 9 This year’s creek cleanup, jointly sponsored by the FoCJC and the Cabin John Citizens Association will be held April 9, from 2 pm to 4:30 pm.  Plan to gather at the park by the one-lane bridge at 1:45 pm for equipment and instruction. The clean-up, held rain or shine, is messy and old clothes are recommended. Bring gloves if you have them. SSL hours are available, but children ages 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. The CJCA will send out an email if inclement weather forces us to reschedule. [...] Read more...
March 15, 2022Bannockburn Moms Without Borders, an informal group of moms who have known each other since their now-grown kids were in kindergarten at Bannockburn Elementary School, are working with other groups to provide food to more than 50 Afghan refugee families being housed temporarily at a hotel in Bethesda.  Connecting with Nourishing Bethesda and St. John’s Norwood Episcopal Church in February, the moms pitched in and purchased hundreds of loaves of bread from Yekta Market. The culturally-appropriate bread was a huge hit and so they decided to supplement it with feta cheese, dried fruits, and nuts, explained Sarah Craven of 81st Street. Sarah and Nooshen Amiri of Bethesda brought the idea of aiding Afghan refugees to their mom’s group, which had participated in community service projects together with their kids throughout the years.  The moms have been asked to continue their efforts until the end of May when all of the families are expected to be relocated. They are asking for help to ensure that they can provide enough food so that every family gets what it needs. Each week they spend some $400 and to date they have only raised about $2,500.  They calculate that they need at least another $2,500 to cover the upcoming weeks. Sarah says any additional funds raised will go towards more food and toiletries as these families came to the United States with little more than the clothes on their backs.  To contribute to this effort – Venmo your donation to @Kathy-Oconnor-17151. She is the Bannockburn mom and CPA serving as treasurer for the group. If you would rather donate by check, please contact Sarah Craven at lovecraven@gmail.com to make arrangements.   [...] Read more...
March 15, 2022Our species has a fascination with top predators. Polls repeatedly show that the most popular wild animal in the world is the tiger. Lions also occupy a place high on the list. And the exaggerated alarm about the chances of a shark attack is rekindled in each generation of swimmers and beachgoers. Any animal of another species that could possibly kill a human—grizzly bear, mountain lion, and so on—typically elicits a powerful emotional reaction. There is an innate fear of some large predators, tracing back to the Pleistocene era populated by flat-faced bears and massive dire wolves, when even our ancestors were fair game for a tasty dinner.  Steven Spielberg probably never took a course in evolutionary biology in film school, but in Jaws he certainly mastered the style of tapping into primal fear. When it comes to portraying feathered creatures on film as frightening, Alfred Hitchcock was the first in his classic, The Birds. Thankfully, the Spielberg sequel franchise never branched out to other species: had the director of Jaws decided to go multi-species, he might have named his next opus Claws, starring the Great Horned Owl, among the fiercest predators you can find in the bird world, though not known in nature for attacking humans.  Here is a top predator you don’t have to fly to Alaska to see up close. The Great Horned Owl lives just about everywhere—including in New York’s Central Park and in some parks around D.C. And like the giant shark in Spielberg’s epic, Great Horned Owls will target as prey even species considerably larger than themselves.  The Great Horned, Bubo virginianus, is among the largest of the nearly 250 species of owls. Within the genus Bubo, it is second only to the Forest-Eagle Owl of Eurasia in size. The Forest-Eagle Owl is quite similar in appearance to the Great Horned and plays the same role in nature as one of the top avian predators. Modern genetic analysis, though, shows that the Great Horned Owl’s nearest relative is actually the Snowy Owl. As in almost all owl and many raptorial bird species, females are larger than males. In the case of the Great Horned Owl, females can be fifty percent larger than males, females weighing in at about 3.5 lbs. and males typically around 2.5 lbs. This barrel-chested owl is built for powerful flight: it is almost as fast as the Forest-Eagle Owl, which has been clocked at 40 mph, and almost as strong as the Eagle Owl and another species called the Powerful Owl, the latter capable of catching arboreal marsupials like gliders, possums, and even poor koalas.  But unless the Great Horned Owl gives its deep five-note hoot (the common name for this species in the vernacular is the hoot owl), you won’t easily see one. Aside from strong flight muscles and talons, the Great Horned Owl is a study in camouflage. Barred feathers help it blend in with the trees in which it roosts. What might call attention besides its robust size are the plumes or horns on its head. Like the long-eared owl and the Eastern Screech Owl, the Great Horned’s ear tufts are feathers that may serve a role in attracting mates. Like all other owls, the ears are on the sides of the head, placed asymmetrically to maximize detection of prey scurrying about the ground. Another distinguishing feature of this bird is its massive yellow eyes. Owls have incredibly sharp vision, particularly at night. In fact, proportional to their body size, owls have among the largest eyes among vertebrates, filled with rod-like structures that enhance night vision.  The acuity of their eyesight and hearing far eclipses their sense of smell. In fact, Great Horned Owls have no sense of smell. Some birds—vultures, some fruit-eating birds, and many seabirds, for example—do have a sense of smell, but sometimes a strong olfactory skill could be a disadvantage, especially if part of your diet includes the various species of skunks and weasels that are members of the Mustelid family. Some Great Horned Owls that are avid skunkers reportedly smell like their prey. Better not to smell yourself or your meal in this case. Not just skunks, but virtually every other vertebrate in their territory, must beware, for this owl has been recorded to eat over 500 species of animals, some as large as young foxes and coyotes. Great Horned Owls catch a variety of songbirds and even go after other owls, like the Eastern Screech Owl featured in last month’s column. Falcons, even osprey, are not safe. But the mainstays of the Great Horned Owl’s diet are ground-dwelling rodents and insectivorous mammals that they often hunt at dawn and dusk. Even large insects are eaten when they are plentiful. If not fussy about their food items, Great Horned Owls seem also to make use of a variety of nesting spots. Tree cavities are ideal but Great Horned pairs are more than comfortable taking over stick nests of other raptors like red-tailed hawks, osprey, or eagles. Human-made structures, if suitable and in places with lots of rodents, are also prime nest locations. Perhaps their ability to hunt across a range of habitats and eat a wide variety of prey partly explains their massive range: from the edge of the Canadian and Alaskan tundra to Argentina. The fierce gaze of this species belies a softer side. Great Horned Owls are devoted parents and invest much energy in raising their two young. They even tolerate the young of the previous year hanging around the territory before they move off on their own. When their youngsters do leave they typically travel less than several miles from their natal area. So how did this bird get its Latin name? Bubo was the name of the pet owl of the goddess Athena. As such, owls have long been associated with wisdom and knowledge. That assignation makes sense: in the wild, banded birds have been recorded to live up to 29 years. Time to have accumulated a lot of wisdom and serve as a natural control of vermin on the ground. Fierce in appearance, we need these large avian predators to keep our forests healthy lest an oversupply of rodents eat all the native seeds in the forest, and prevent our forests from regenerating. Bubo the Great keeps nature in balance, and ecologists are thankful. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
February 17, 2022Please keep a lookout in your mailbox for your 2022 Cabin John Citizens Association dues letter. Only $20 per household annually, the dues collected are critical to supporting all the activities and advocacy of the CJCA, which works hard to keep Cabin John the unique and vibrant community we all treasure.  In 2021, dues helped cover the cost of the beautiful and informative Cabin John Directory that was mailed to every CJ household. Dues also helped cover expenses associated with the Cabin John website, the 4th of July parade, our welcome bags for newcomers, the beautification of MacArthur Blvd., and the advocacy work on behalf of a thoughtful Beltway expansion and the preservation of the Morningstar 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery.  Seems like a pretty good return for $20.  In addition to dues information, the CJCA letter will detail how you can make contributions to the Friends of the Clara Barton Community Center and the Friends of the Cabin John Creek. The letter also will give you a way to correct, update, or add directory listings information. Most importantly, there will be a way to indicate your willingness to volunteer to help the Cabin John Citizens Association in the coming year.  The CJCA does not exist without citizen support. Please do your part by paying your 2022 dues as promptly as possible.  Don’t want to wait until your letter arrives to take care of your dues payment? Go to the Cabin John website, www.cabinjohn. org/about-cjca/pay-dues, where you can pay by credit card or Venmo. [...] Read more...
February 17, 2022While the pandemic forced the Friends of Cabin John Creek (FoCJC) to pause most of its community activities, it’s still been hard at work protecting the Cabin John Creek and its watershed. We spent the last two years implementing the $64,000 grant received from the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) in 2020. Please come to the CJCA Zoom meeting on Feb. 23 at 7:30 pm to hear of the FoCJC’s past and the future endeavors focused on our wonderful creek.  But first, many thanks to all Cabin Johners who have supported FoCJC during this past year and before that. Your donations are unrestricted funds which are so valuable and usually go toward the critical task of capacity building. Funds that we obtain via grants are usually targeted to certain specific tasks and have less flexibility.  While we’ll go into detail at the meeting, the highlights of what we were able to accomplish with our last CBT grant includes:  Publication of a FoCJC Rain Planter Instructional Video, intern-created and -produced, available on our website, www.cabinjohncreek.org Publication of a virtual RainScapes Garden Tour, intern-created, also on the website Two FoCJC/Audubon Naturalist Society Creek Critter Water Quality Monitoring events Five creek clean-ups A storm drain labeling program for Bannockburn Estates A rain garden tour with the Bannockburn Community Clubhouse Provided a CJ Creek Watershed Girl Scout Troop with a Watershed Journey-in-a-Box, including planning and educational materials for a multi-badge workshop that the troop will run for itself, with an Each-One, Teach-One component, so older Girl Scouts will be able to lead an event for younger scouts. Developed with our independent school partner St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, a Middle/Upper School Watershed Stewardship curriculum component. Installed, with the help of local Cabin Johner Bruce Lamb, eight rain planters at various homes and a church.  Our largest effort of 2021 was a nine-day Creek Keeper Launch Event, consisting of an ecosystem walking assessment/adoption as part of a new on-going creek stewardship program in partnership with Montgomery Parks and Planning. Fourteen Creek Keeper teams were formed, with 30 participants, representing numerous communities.  We plan to do even more in the coming years. We applied for another CBT grant a couple of months ago. That proposal focuses on the Creek Keepers group as critical in growing awareness and support for the CJ creek upstream. Our hope is that these folks will act as nuclei of energy and ideas and activity in various locations throughout the watershed.  One effort that will definitely occur in 2022 regardless of whether we get the grant is to organize a hike along the entire CJ Creek Trail, from the Potomac as far upstream as possible—or maybe we’ll start up north and walk downstream. We’ll be smart in designing the walk so that people are able to participate in only a portion of the hike if they are so inclined. It will be quite festive!  The hike planning committee has some current and former CJ residents (Jon Putnam, Greg Gurley, and Burr Gray) involved in the effort. Feel free to reach out to Burr (burrgray@aol.com) if you would like to be involved in any fashion.  By Burr Gray President, Friends of the Cabin John Creek [...] Read more...
February 17, 2022It’s been a chilly start to the new year, but Glen Echo Park continues to offer some great programs. The social dance groups are staying warm by waltzing, tangoing, and swinging. Check the website for various opportunities both in person and online.  Classes continue to be offered in painting, pottery, photography, music, glass blowing, etc. Spring and summer class and camp offerings will be published later in February.  The art galleries are presenting new exhibitions through February and March. The Popcorn Gallery features the intriguing and colorful work of DC artist James S.Terrell. His solo exhibition Discombobulation: A Collide of Scope combines the traditional style of color blocking popularized by Josef Albers and images from Terrell’s everyday life. Heavily inspired by quilt design patterns and stained glass, his acrylic and sharpie paintings create illusions that tell a story.  Starting Feb. 26 and running for a month, the Stone Gallery will feature an exhibit by Bethesda resident Jackie Hoysted. Called Symbiotica, the interactive art installation lights up in unison to the heartbeats of participants when they place their fingers on connected pulse-sensors. Hoysted’s installation invites the public to contemplate the concept of symbiosis and mutually beneficial relationships, as well as how we as humans need to cooperate together to become better co-inhabitants of the planet.  On view in the Park View Gallery starting Feb. 26 will be What’s On Your Mind? featuring the work of more than 20 Walter Johnson High School photography students who were asked to share their perspectives on issues of importance to them.  Park View Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM. Popcorn and Stone Tower galleries are open on the weekends 12 to 6 PM. In addition, several resident artists’ studios will be open on the weekends, so come by to check them out!  Glen Echo Park Partnership continues to work with the county and the National Park Service on needed facility upgrades. The Spanish Ballroom is our next big project. We will be assessing for upgrades to the building, including repairs to the historic dance floor and potential climate control options.  Other planning includes the upcoming visit of the Urban Land Institute Advisory Panel in March. The panel consists of architects and urban planners who will be offering ideas on our long-term facilities improvements.  The Glen Echo Park Partnership board will be seeking new members to fill vacant positions starting this spring. Information will be posted on the website. Should anyone have questions, they can contact me at morrism@email.gwu.edu.  By Martha Morris  President, Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture  [...] Read more...
February 17, 2022Even in the dead of winter, nature speaks to us. For the past two months, my wife and I have been charmed by the calls of a most interesting visitor, the Eastern Screech Owl, which has been perching around 78th Street. Every evening at dusk and then between 8:30 and 9 PM, the distinct quiet hoots of this diminutive owl have made me drop what I was reading. I even stopped listening to music on headphones so I could catch the evening nocturne. In 28 years of living here, this is the first time I have heard this owl.  The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) has the distinction of being one of the most misnamed of birds. Unlike one of its prey items, the Mourning Dove, which does indeed utter a melancholy song, this night predator doesn’t screech at all (unless really agitated). Instead, it offers gentle tremolos or soft calls. Far different from the booming sounds of our region’s larger owls, the Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl.  If you are used to the image of big fierce- looking owls, you must downsize your search image to spot this one. Adult Eastern Screech Owls are tiny, ranging from 6 to 10 inches long and weighing in at 4-8 ounces. Diminutive birds that are strictly nocturnal in their behavior, they become even harder to see because they are among the best-camouflaged bird species in our region. Eastern Screech Owls sport a dark gray plumage, but the complex patterns and streaks in the feathers allow it to blend with tree bark. They like to nest in abandoned tree cavities where they hole up during the day. But when they do emerge to stand on the cavity’s ledge, pressed against one wall, they disappear visually into the bark. Further south, where pine trees dominate the forest, you can find reddish members of the species. Some birders say this adaptation enables their plumage to merge more successfully with the tawny bark of pine trees or the bright leaves of some deciduous trees, but this is hearsay and not based on genetics. For either color morph, skilled birders rarely spot them, let alone neophytes.  But their presence is typically unmistakable: a weird roll of a song that someone once described as, “Oh-o-o-o-o that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n!” And you can hear them almost anywhere. Females are larger than males as in most owls and have different vocalizations.  Eastern Screech Owls are generalists in habitat selection: deciduous forests, open parklands, forests bordering rivers, even suburban areas such as here in Cabin John. Find a locale with lots of mice and songbirds and they are content. One of their favorite food items is the aforementioned Mourning Dove, which stands no chance against the sharp talons of this little owl. Nor do over 100 other species of birds that have been recorded in their diet. That said, rats and mice make up the bulk of their menu, so they do us homeowners a favor. But they will eat about any small prey item and love crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects, especially during the breeding season. It’s hard to know what drives habitat selection strategies in animals, and discovering those strategies is a major branch of ecology. For this owl in particular, questions emerge: Is it the presence of lots of easy prey to catch, like birds that hang out at backyard feeders, or is it the availability of tree holes for nesting found in older trees, often a scarce resource? Another possibility is that these owls seek out places where larger, predatory owls such as Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls rarely venture, finding roosting spots near houses and in open areas. Perhaps the desire to avoid predators drives habitat selection more than any other factor.  When dusk falls, our owl awakens. Often it hunts from a perch, swooping down to make a kill. Blessed with sharp nocturnal vision and acute hearing, the Eastern Screech Owl is reportedly able to detect the sounds of mice under a blanket of snow. It is in the “swoop” that their extraordinary evolutionary adaptations for night hunting emerge. Their fine hearing is aided by a feature common to owls, something that would look unusual in humans: ears that are asymmetrically placed on the sides of the head (the tufts of feathers that stick up on the top of the head look like ears but are fake). This slight shift enables the owl to compare the differences between each ear’s perception of sound to lock in on an object. The flight feathers are exceptional too: they are serrated at the tips. This built-in noise damper removes the sound of flapping wings, enabling a sneak attack.  My hypothesis is that the screech owl came to visit us and take up temporary residence to move away from dangerous Barred and Great Horned owls now that February, the start of the owl’s breeding season, is upon us (although our neighborhood is full of Cooper’s Hawks, a diurnal raptor also known to go after screech owls). I would have liked to know the motivation for the visits, but I was still so pleased that the owl faithfully called each night and then again before dawn. Sometimes it would even wake us up at night. It had clearly settled in at home in Cabin John.  Then it happened: Radio silence. During the following two weeks, I strained to listen for the songs of our new friend. Night after night, nothing but silence or the annoying sound of a jet plane headed to National Airport. Had I spoken too soon about our backyard being a Barred Owl-free zone? I was walking out in the backyard forest the other day when I saw a large bird with broad wings flap into the same tree our local Eastern Screech Owl had used as its calling perch! A Barred Owl! I hooted at it angrily and it flew away. Two days later my wife thought she heard our friend calling, but it was far away. I thought I had heard it, too. Maybe wishful thinking, a trait of many birders who, eager to see or hear a special bird, can convince themselves they did. I hope he is still around.  The Eastern Screech Owl can live up to 20 years in captivity, but life is much shorter in the wild. Perhaps our friend has moved to Glen Echo for the time being, to visit other families and scour the ground for mice and voles. That is what I like to think, anyway.  By Eric Dinerstein  Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson  Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
January 23, 2022In summer 2018 the Maryland State Highway Administration held a series of public workshops on the newly proposed $11 billion Beltway expansion plan. The maps they shared at those workshops did not even mark the site of the Moses Hall & Cemetery property in Cabin John.  However, in the intervening years, the SHA worked closely with descendants of the cemetery, the Friends of Moses Hall, the Cabin John Citizens Association, county officials, historic preservation groups, and others to do right by the cemetery. They conducted an archeological survey, cleared invasive bamboo and, most recently, conducted an expensive ground-penetrating radar survey of part of the property to look for gravesites.  The results were stunning: more than 189 probable burials and 188 possible graves within the surveyed portion of the cemetery itself and, shockingly, evidence of 34 likely gravesites in the existing Beltway right-of-way.  Now it appears the SHA is reverting back to its original stance and looking for ways to negate the cemetery.  At a Jan. 4 virtual meeting with groups engaged in protecting the cemetery, the SHA announced that it has worked to ensure that the Beltway expansion would avoid the cemetery; therefore, they are reversing the assessment made earlier in the Section 106 process and finding the expansion would have “no adverse effect” on the property. With this determination, the SHA is no longer obligated to provide assistance or otherwise mitigate impacts to the property. Community groups strongly disagree with this “no-adverse-effect” finding.  Furthermore, Steve Archer, the SHA official presiding over the meeting, announced that the SHA is not responsible for any detrimental impacts to the cemetery and the Gibson Grove community caused by the original Beltway construction, since it occurred before the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 1970 and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966.  The CJCA, Friends of Moses Hall, Montgomery Planning, State Delegate Sara Love, and others have long raised the issue of environmental justice going back to the construction of the Beltway in the early 1960s. In a November letter to the SHA, the National Trust for Historic Preservation summarized the issue forcefully:  “The most important part of the cumulative impact analysis will be the past impacts – the damage and destruction directly and indirectly inflicted on this historic property, as well as on the Gibson Grove AME Zion Church and the wider Black community of Cabin John, by the earlier highway construction.”  The Trust argued that the SHA should “ensure that robust mitigation is developed commensurate with the magnitude of these adverse cumulative impacts.”  The SHA had appeared to agree. In a September 2021 article in The Washington Post, Julie M. Schablitsky, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s chief archeologist is quoted as saying, “We own the faults of the Maryland Roads Commission impacting this community 60 years ago… It’s our responsibility now to repair that damage and come in and do the right thing.”  Assuming the Maryland Historical Trust concurs with SHA’s finding of “no adverse effect” to the historic property, the SHA is not required to address potential impacts through mitigation or to commit to any additional archeological investigations of the property prior to the Record of Decision (ROD) at the end of the NEPA process, which is expected later in 2022.  The CJCA, Friends of Moses Hall, and others are calling on the SHA to do additional GPR survey work for gravesites, especially in more of the Beltway right- of-way and on the cemetery side of the fence line. The state has acknowledged it does not know if additional graves will be found within the areas that will be impacted by Beltway construction; however, SHA says there will be no further investigation until they are closer to final design and construction.  By delaying further archeological investigation, the Friends of Moses Hall and others argue, avoidance options should gravesites be found will be more limited and could result in the relocation of graves, which many descendants oppose.  During the virtual meeting, the SHA did reiterate a few commitments it made earlier.  Most importantly, the SHA said it would transfer the Beltway right-of-way land where the GPR found likely gravesites to the cemetery. The Federal Highway Administration suggested that SHA could delay the land transfer until after the ROD. Ultimately, both highway agencies agree to conclude the Section 106 process with a “no- adverse-effect” finding for the cemetery, since the expansion will not physically encroach on the current boundary of the cemetery property.  As part of the noise abatement wall that will be constructed, the SHA said it will construct a “context-sensitive” design of the noise barrier facing the cemetery. It could incorporate displays helping to tell the history of the Gibson Grove community and the important role the Morningstar fraternal order played in the community from the late 1800s into the 1950s.  SHA also committed to build a sidewalk between Gibson Grove Church and the cemetery. Community groups see these measures as totally inadequate for environmental justice. Absent any commitment to the restoration of the cemetery site, the property will not be safe to receive visitors for the foreseeable future. By Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
January 23, 2022The Clara Barton Community Center has a new exhibit of historical photos on display thanks to the generosity of CJ resident Paulo Lyra and the efforts of the Friends of the Clara Barton Community Center (FCBCC). The new photos featuring Cabin John history are on display in the center’s community room next to the kitchen. Viewing the six images, one can see and feel, for at least a moment, what life was like in the early 20th century on the C&O canal, in Glen Echo Park, and at the Cabin John Bridge and the Bridge Hotel.   Hanging the pictures was the culmination of a project that began several years ago, when Mr. Lyra put a note on the community listserv alerting folks that the images were available. Mr. Lyra, with help from several local historians, had carefully selected the photos from various sources. Only a few historical photos have resolution fine enough for prints this size.  Noticing the listserv post, FCBCC board member Stace Kimmel saw that it was an opportunity to expand the community center’s display of historic CJ images. Under the leadership of Burr Gray, the Cabin John Citizens Association created seven historical panels tracing Cabin John’s history that have hung in the center’s main hallway since 2004.  Stacey contacted Mr. Lyra and alerted the other board members, who made individual contributions to fund the pictures’ restoration. Ritch Kepler laboriously lifted the photos from their old warped backings and supplied new ones that are rigid and smooth. The pandemic postponed further action, and the framed photos remained in storage until November, when Ritch, Barry, and Burr Gray (another FCBCC board member) teamed up to hang the images.  Many thanks go to Mr. Lyra for his gift of these impressive photographs. By Burr Gray, Regular Contributor  [...] Read more...
January 23, 2022Night owls: a term we assign to those who keep late hours—carousing, reading, bingeing on Netflix, or engaging in activities best left unmentioned. In general, speaking as a mammalogist, I find that the human species goes to bed early. Maybe a quick trip outside with the dog after dinner or a glance at the moon or the stars. Then it’s back inside, hardly enough time to encounter the world of living things moving, flying, and foraging out there in the dark. We are, in our diurnal ways, an anomaly among the world’s 6,400 species of mammals, as most are nocturnal. The same is true for many species of amphibians, but relatively few birds.  I became a night owl as a result of my research interests. In Costa Rica and Panama in 1980, I conducted my Ph.D. field research on tropical fruit bats. I learned so much about the natural world—and made observations that my diurnal fellow biologists never witnessed—simply by walking around late at night in rainforests while checking my mist nets for captured bats or listening to the sounds. At night, rainforests come alive with the vocalizations of kinkajous, frogs, calling insects, and owls. But, my own knowledge of our nocturnal neighbors back here in the temperate zone has been rather limited except for a spotted owl study in the winter of 1980 on the slopes of Mt. Baker, WA. For these reasons, I have dedicated the Local Nature columns for 2022 to the theme of introducing the nocturnal wildlife of Cabin John so that I can learn more as well.  Among the topics we will explore are how widespread nocturnal behavior is among animals, how this behavior evolved, and the remarkable adaptations species have evolved to navigate life at night.  But first, a plea directly related to appreciating nature at night. Light pollution has been well documented to upset the natural rhythms of nocturnal wildlife. Lights are safety essentials on busy highways and intersections but not continuously in backyards or, for that matter, in parking lots. If you have bright outdoor flood lights that remain on all night, you may disrupt the behavior of many nocturnal animals and increase their mortality by making them more visible to predators, upsetting mating patterns, and causing disorientation. The simple, cheap solution to being a good neighbor and a friend to nocturnal animals while still attending to safety is to rig outdoor beams with a motion sensor and timer so they become active only when needed.  Now please join me in this and subsequent columns this year as we peer into the fascinating lives of the night movers.  GLIDING THROUGH LIFE  As a child, my favorite cartoon was The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The stars were the clever Rocky, a flying squirrel, and his friend, Bullwinkle J. Moose, animated residents of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Every week, the pair matched wits with their antagonists, the devious Boris Badenov and his partner, Natasha Fatale. I never knew at age 7 that flying squirrels actually existed in nature and could be found in the nearby forests in New Jersey where I grew up. When I did become aware of flying squirrels from my mammalogy textbooks, the Rocky connection was apt: they struck me as creatures designed by evolution but with an assist from a cartoonist. The flying squirrel’s enormous black eyes for seeing at night, long black whiskers, soft gray-brown fur, white undersides, and a skin fold that stretches between their paws and limbs allow this mammal to accomplish daredevil leaps and glides between distant trees. At rest, the skin fold fits over its shoulders like a cape. These 8-to-10-inch-long mammals with a flat 4-to- 5-inch tail are arguably the most adorable mammals on Earth. They live among us in the D.C. area but only where there are large tracts of forest. But even if you live next to a large tract, as we do in Cabin John, you probably have never seen one. Besides being active only at night they are also rather shy. Unless one somehow crawls into a cranny of your house you probably won’t encounter them, although you might hear the squeaky- wheel sounds they make.  The name flying squirrel is a misnomer. Bats are the only true flying mammals with about 1,400 species. However, there are several different lineages in the squirrel family (Sciuridae) and under a dozen or so species that, instead of flying, glide long distances through forests and savannas. Outside the squirrel family is another glider, the flying lemur. The flying lemur neither flies nor is a true lemur but instead is placed in its own Family (Cynocephalidae) and Order (Dermoptera, as opposed to the squirrels in the Rodentia). They are restricted to the tropical forests of southeast Asia (the sunda flying lemur) or the southern islands of the Philippines (the Philippines flying lemur).  Although not as maneuverable as bats, the aerial displays of flying squirrels are still impressive, and my first encounter with one of these night gliders was unforgettable. When I was studying tigers in Nepal in the 1970s I would spend the night in tree houses to photograph the giant cats at dawn patrolling their territories on the jungle track below my perch. One night while camped out in a fragrant tree related to frankincense, I fell asleep and woke suddenly to a loud scratching above me. At first, I thought a leopard had climbed up to join me. When I turned on my flashlight, I was startled to see a giant Indian flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista) staring straight at me! It had made its day roost in a cavity in my tree, or his tree. He scampered up the trunk and jumped into the night. I watched in awe as it landed on a tree easily 75 feet away. The scientific literature reports that this species is capable of long-distance glides over 1,000 feet!  Our Cabin John variety of flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) doesn’t glide as far as its South Asian relative, but the leaps of this smaller species are still impressive. They glide up to 200 feet but most “flights” are of much shorter distance. Prior to landing on the next tree, they turn their skin fold into a parachute and adjust the angle of landing to dampen the shock of touchdown. These arboreal mammals, while daredevils in the air, are feeble crawlers on the ground.  Sometimes these gliding mammals sail between trees in small groups in search of food. Flying squirrels live on oak acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts, which they store for winter consumption to tide them over until spring. Both sexes are territorial and males have larger home ranges than females (2.5-16 hectares for adult males vs 2-7 hectares for females). Male and female territories overlap and are often centered around large red or white oak trees or hickories that provide seasonal bonanzas.  Where nut trees are dense, home ranges are smaller; where the trees are more dispersed, the squirrels spread out. In fragmented forests, squirrels must range across several patches. Large tracts of forest, like we have along Cabin John Creek, are preferred for obvious reasons over fragmented forests.  In winter, flying squirrels don’t hibernate but instead roost together in a heap of several related individuals. Home is a cavity excavated by a woodpecker or a crevice in an old tree. Flying squirrels supplement their nut diets with insects, buds, fungi, carrion, birds’ eggs, and even nestlings.  From southeastern Canada to Florida, across the eastern half of North America, this charming member of our night fauna is there for you to find it. But you will have to look hard. The sworn enemy of our local flying squirrels, their real-life Boris Badenovs, are snakes and screech owls (see next month’s column), but also raccoons and probably any mammal or bird of prey that can catch them. But they must catch them first. These nimble acrobats escape with a spread of their skin folds and glide to safety in the next tree, leaving the snake and befuddled raccoon behind. By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
November 14, 2021Members of the Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy (MICC) meeting with CJ residents Oct. 27 shared tales of their multifaceted efforts to restore Minnie’s Island’s natural habitat and refurbish the cabin on the property to comfortably host veterans, educational groups, and others looking to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.  In addition to sharing photos of their work, Pascal Pittman, chairperson of the MICC board, explained that when they started it was impossible to walk the length of the island due to all the overgrown vegetation— now there is a new pathway. They also uncovered a well and hope to install a solar array to power a pump for the well. They plan to have a composting toilet and an overarching goal of a net-zero footprint.  Pascal also stressed a goal of fun and noted that they have hauled a grill out to the cabin deck and already hosted a BBQ for volunteers.  CJ resident Hanna Moerland, who chairs the group’s Natural Resources Committee, stressed that the group has “a mandate to figure out how to balance the community goals with the preservation of the Potomac Gorge’s unique biodiversity.”  She noted that there are 1,400 different plant species in the Potomac Gorge and some 300 species are considered rare, endangered, or threatened. During one recent effort at removing invasive vines, they uncovered a rare Maryland goldenrod plant, which they will protect from island visitors. (See this month’s Nature column for more on the goldenrod.)  Another CJ resident, Neil Shaut, heads up the Physical Facilities Committee, which he describes as the group responsible for safety, whether it has to do with transporting people to and from the island, securing the cabin, or keeping the first aid kit at the ready. This month, they have experts going out to the island to do a forensic survey of the cabin and its foundation to see what needs to be done to ensure its soundness.  The goals are ambitious and the MICC welcomes anyone interested in volunteering or just curious about their work to check out their website, www.minniesisland.org. Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
November 14, 2021Restoration of the historic Gibson Grove Church on Seven Locks Rd. kicked off Oct. 20 with a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the effort and recognize the state officials who helped secure funding for this critical first step. More than 40 people, including a dozen CJ residents, attended the midday event.  As explained by E.S Bankhead, Jr., chairman of the church’s board of trustees, phase one will actually see some of the structure torn down in order to stabilize the belfry and the front of the building, which must be kept intact to keep the church’s historic designation. Construction equipment was at the property as the newsletter went to press.  Phase one is being funded by a $550,000 state bond awarded in April to stabilize and improve the Gibson Grove site. The bond initiative was first introduced by State Delegate Sara Love and strongly supported by Delegate Marc Korman of the Appropriations Committee. State Senator Susan Lee sponsored the initiative in the Senate.  The total cost of the church rebuilding and expansion project is estimated at $3.2 million. The church property suffered significant structural damage in a 2004 fire, just a year after the First Agape AME Zion Church took over the church property and completed refurbishing it. As the church worked to raise funds and address the restoration requirements due to its historic designation, the property sustained further damage when a massive tree limb dropped on the structure in 2015. Additionally, poorly managed stormwater drainage from the Capital Beltway has caused extensive erosion to the site.  The State Highway Administration recently pledged to mitigate stormwater damage to the church property and the church hopes that will include land improvements to allow for a parking lot on the site. To avoid further tree damage, the church is seeking a county permit to remove two trees, but will mill the wood and store it to use in the new building. Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
November 14, 2021You don’t need an advanced degree in plant taxonomy to recognize goldenrod. From the passenger’s seat of a car speeding down the Clara Barton Parkway, there it is: golden fingers waving at you from tall green stalks. The splash of dazzling color in early August from this roadside fixture signals the approach of fall. Well into October, various species of goldenrod combine with asters, wingstem, boneset, and mistflower to make fall flowering a colorful passage into cooler weather. In fact, I used to think of goldenrod, when I was a budding naturalist living in Illinois, as the harbinger of autumn. I had no idea until I started my coursework in biology how much more goldenrod has to teach us about pattern and process in the natural world.  Let’s start with the basics: goldenrod is in the aster family, one of the largest in the world with over 23,000 species. Those zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums in your flower garden, or the artichokes, lettuce, and endive in your vegetable garden—all are relatives of goldenrod. The green liquor known as absinthe in the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec painting is also known as wormwood, another genus (Artemisia) in the aster family. And “Aachoo!!!,” the cause of hay fever and fall allergies? Over there, at the edge of an unmown lawn, is ragweed (Ambrosia).  But don’t point the finger at goldenrod: it is pollinated by insects, unlike the wind- pollinated ragweed. Goldenrod does no harm, meaning it doesn’t trigger any allergic response. Goldenrod is one of the more diverse genera of the aster plants, with about 110-120 species in total, most of them found in central and eastern North America and a few in the United Kingdom. The name Solidago, goldenrod’s genus, comes from the Latin word “solida,” meaning “whole,” and “ago” meaning “to make.”  The cultural aspects of goldenrod are as interesting as the ecological insights its study offers. Goldenrod is a heroic plant in American colonial history. The story goes that after the Boston Tea Party, finding an alternative to the imported tea, Camellia chinensis, became a colonist’s imperative. Enter Solidago, and soon goldenrod tea became known as “liberty tea” (like replacing the French with “freedom” in French fries, I suppose). Goldenrod tea became the only tea rebellious colonists would drink during their protests against British rule and its hated taxes, imposed without representation. Eventually, goldenrod tea became a much sought-after export tea to, of all places, China, the original home of Camellia!  Most impressive of all, at the turn of the last century goldenrod made a short list for the ultimate accolade—national flower—in competition with the columbine, the daisy, and clover. There was drama surrounding the final choice and even fake news: In the 1940s while still a front-runner in the belated decision on a national flower, goldenrod was accused of being the cause of hay fever, no doubt because it shares the same flowering time as ragweed, the true culprit. Despite a later reprieve from plant science as the cause of allergies, goldenrod eventually lost out, but not until 1986 when the rose received the coveted honor of national flower, anointed so by President Ronald Reagan. A poor choice, in my view: one might say that if you have seen one cultivated rose, you have seen them all.  More seriously, the national flower is not even native to the United States! Although there are many native species in the genus Rosa, this was not the type of rose Reagan had in mind. He favored ones more like the cultivated roses that have no native pollinators and don’t produce nectar. In contrast, goldenrod is a native and a staple for nectar feeders, as well as a sign of good luck and fortune in many cultures.  But it is the ecologist who sings the loudest praises for goldenrods, because this wild native teaches us a basic lesson essential to understanding nature: that most species on Earth are rare. Among the 75 species of goldenrod in the United States and, in particular, the 23 species in our local flora, most goldenrods are uncommon—they have very narrow ranges, low population densities, or both. Sure, there is the ubiquitous Canada goldenrod along the highways and byways of the eastern United States, but in North America, these few goldenrod species that are widespread and common are the exceptions. Instead, many goldenrods are unique to rare soil types like calcareous rocks or sandstones.  Perhaps the most impressive of these is an endangered goldenrod species that was recently encountered in our area along the Potomac and part of one of the rarest plant communities on Earth, called a scour community. I wrote about this phenomenon a few years back in this column. The Potomac, like other wild rivers, scours out riverbanks and eddies during flooding events. Left in the exposed soil and scattered on the river boulders are the seeds of plants adapted for the wild river ride. When the water level drops, the floating seeds settle into nooks and crannies, germinate, and take root. Do they ever take root! This rare goldenrod has a thick rhizome that not only helps it to cling tightly to the rocks during floods but to store a lot of nutrients. The nutrient reservoir and the lack of competitors in this narrow ecological niche grant this goldenrod species a fate many of us would like to have: a very long existence. It is likely that the goldenrods you almost stepped on will outlive you and even your children.  But back to nature’s lesson: in any group of plants and animals with lots of similar species—a pattern repeated again and again, from deer mice to fence lizards to goldenrods—there are always a few species in the genus that are abundant and range widely, and a majority of species that are rare. It is this pattern of rarity that drivesus as scientists, and many others as well, to discern it, map it, and save these rarities, the precious gems of nature.  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration by Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
November 4, 2021Once again, Cabin John residents and friends will have a chance to join their neighbors in a family-friendly run/walk at the 4th annual CJ Turkey Trot to be held Thanksgiving morning at 10 am. The free trot will start at Cabin John Local Park, by the one-lane bridge. Folks are asked to gather by the banner at the park. We’ll take a quick commemorative photo and send participants on their way.   The 2.5 mile run/walk, organized by the Cabin John citizens Association, follows the bike path from the park, to 79th Street, down to the C&O Canal, along the canal to the path by the one-lane bridge and back to the park. There will be signs and course monitors along the route. Food Donations Encouraged In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are asking all participants to bring non-perishable grocery items for Manna Food Center’s Smart Sack program. The Smart Sack Program provides backpacks of food each weekend to some 2,850 Montgomery County school kids. Popular food items include jars of peanut butter, boxes of granola bars, instant oatmeal, canned vegetables and fruits. Registration, Volunteering and T-Shirt Orders The trot is free, but we are asking every household who is thinking about coming out, to please register so that we can plan accordingly. When registering, you also will have the opportunity to purchase t-shirts. The 2021 version will be a long-sleeved smoke gray t-shirt with a masked turkey logo. Available in a range of sizes, the shirts sell for $18 for adult sizes and $16 for youth sizes. The deadline for t-shirt orders is COB Nov. 11. During the online registration process, you will also be asked if you are willing to volunteer to put up course signs before the event or to be a course monitor during the trot.  Please consider helping to make this event safe and successful. Questions about registration, t-shirt orders or volunteering? Contact Kesha Leets at kesha.leets@gmail.com. [...] Read more...
October 14, 2021 In March, Pascall Pittman and other founders of Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy (MICC) met with CJ residents to share a vision of an organization “dedicated to the preservation of the ecological, architectural, scientific and humanist legacy of Minnie’s Island.”  Located in the Potomac River about 100 yards off-shore from Lockhouse 8 on the C&O Canal, Minnie’s Island is roughly eight acres of wild habitat with a dilapidated wooden lodge and large deck at one end.  Thanks to the outpouring of support from the community and beyond, MICC has made great strides in the intervening seven months. Come to the Oct. 27 CJCA Zoom meeting for a comprehensive update on this exciting project.  When MICC first started, all of the trails on Minnie’s were completely overgrown and totally concealed. The cabin was replete with debris left by previous occupants, including numerous vagrants. Now, the trails have been significantly cleared and the cabin has been pretty well cleaned of debris and secured. Two structured volunteer days are scheduled for October to continue clearing invasive species and to deliver a 350 lb. wood-burning stove to the cabin.  Other progress includes:  MICC has now been designated by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The Potomac Conservancy has indicated that with this designation, they should be able to convey Minnie’s Island to the MICC by the end of October.  The Natural Resources Committee, under the leadership of Hanna Moerland and technical guidance of Eric Dinerstein, is implementing an Invasive Species Eradication Program. This is a big effort and can really use volunteer assistance. SSL hours are available.  Our Physical Facilities Committee, led by Neil Shaut, along with many volunteers, located the water well, cleaned the cabin, and delivered a propane BBQ grill to the island. The nationally recognized structural engineering firm, Robert Sillman Associates, with an expertise in historic preservation, is providing guidance on structural upgrades for the cabin.  MICC is creating an Arts & Design Committee to ensure that everything we do, while respecting conservation and natural resource considerations, is of the highest aesthetic standards, providing for an enriching environment for our target users: veterans, frontline workers, first responders, and students from local schools. Conversations with the National Park Service continue regarding the use of Lockhouse No. 8.  By Susan Shipp, CJCA President  Juliet Rodman, MICC Development Committee Chair [...] Read more...
October 14, 2021A supplemental study of the environmental impacts to the state’s Beltway expansion plan, released Oct. 1, paints a decidedly mixed picture of the traffic impacts on the 12-mile stretch of highway included in the project as well as with the River Road interchange and other local roads.  It also details adverse impacts to treasured parkland abutting Cabin John. For example, the study calls for a temporary access road off the Clara Barton Parkway that would parallel the C&O Canal “for construction vehicles and materials to build the new American Legion Bridge” as well as for changes to access ramps.  It also talks about impacts to Cabin John Valley Stream Park “to accommodate widening of I-495, replacement of the bridges across Seven Locks Road and Cabin John Parkway” and new interchange modifications at River Rd.  While the study purports to have modified the initial plans to avoid impacts to Morningstar Moses Hall and Cemetery, there are still major issues with regard to the property as well as the historic Gibson Grove Church property.  What all this means for Cabin John, especially with regard to traffic, is something we have to decipher and comment on prior to the Nov. 15th public comment deadline on the study, which is formally called the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).  To aid the Cabin John Citizens Association in its advocacy efforts, the community voted at the Sept. 29 CJCA meeting to approve up to $3,000 to, once again, engage the engineering consulting firm VHBMetroDC to review the SDEIS and provide technical points on traffic and other negative impacts.  The goal is to have VHB provide its analysis by the end of October to give the CJCA time to share it with the community along with guidance on how to submit comments.  By Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
October 14, 2021The challenges of Covid prompted some changes to this year’s Chicken and Crab Feast. But that didn’t stop hundreds of Cabin John residents and friends from coming out Sept. 18 to enjoy each other’s company, the delicious food, and the beautiful music of the Starlight Orchestra.  It was the 10th year the crowd was serenaded by these talented musicians, who generously play only for their supper. Thank you CJ resident and band member Scott Lewis for hooking us up those many years ago!  Safety tweaks to the 51-year-old tradition included moving ticket sales and the serving line outside. The table seating, also outside, was widely spaced and, in some cases, shaded by tents, thanks to community center director Barry Jones, who borrowed canopies from other rec centers. The center also provided all the tables and chairs and staff to help ensure the event ran smoothly and safely. The center is a much-valued partner in so many CJ traditions!  All together some 525 meals were served and at least $5,000 raised through ticket sales and donations. While the final tally is still being calculated, the amount is on par with earlier feasts and will be used to support The Village News, MacArthur Blvd. Beautification, and the many CJCA-sponsored activities that we are looking to start holding again after a 17-month pandemic-induced hiatus.  The Chicken and Crab Feast could not happen without the roughly 100 volunteers who step up to do everything from going door-to-door to sell tickets and preparing vegetables before the event to setting up tables, cooking all the incredible food, dishing up the dinners, serving the drinks, and cleaning up at the end of a very long day.  For a couple of extremely dedicated volunteers the preparation for this beloved tradition starts more than a month before the big event. Since 2016, Allison and Patrick de Gravelles have coordinated this event, purchasing everything from paper goods and wooden mallets to cinnamon for the carrots and lemons for the lemonade. They deal with the permits and ensure that all of the cooking and food handling will pass muster with the county health inspector. This year they contended with the loss of some suppliers as well as the need to rethink how we handled aspects of the event. The tasks before and during the event are too numerous to count, yet Allison and Patrick handle every detail efficiently and without even breaking a sweat!  A new duo of incredibly capable and unflappable volunteers appeared on the scene this year to handle ticket sales before and during the event. Despite being rookies, Stephanie Lai and Heather Tomlinson successfully coordinated the ticket selling efforts of more than 30 volunteers.  All together some 577 tickets were sold, with 52 percent of purchasers opting for crab dinners and 48 percent for chicken. Another shout out goes to Robin Sidel, the CJ website editor, who made it possible for folks to buy tickets via the website, which accounted for 14 percent of ticket sales.  It wouldn’t be a CJ Chicken and Crab Feast without Pete Cousté leading the crab cooking and Richard Hopkins manning the grill. Seriously, is there a better chicken rub to be found anywhere?! Heidi Lewis and Karen Melchar always seem to make a party out of prepping vegetables. The kitchen crew, headed by Kathleen Black, made sure there were plenty of tasty sides for meat eaters and vegetarians alike.  Here are all of your neighbors who stepped up to keep this tradition going. Maybe next year you will consider joining them?!  ADVANCE TICKET SELLERS – coordinated by Stephanie Lai and Heather Tomlinson  Clare Amoruso, Lee Arbetman, Jessica Blake Hawke, Diana Carter, Deb Duffy, Amy Elsbree, Burr Gray, Linda Green, Helen Harris, Dallas Harrison, Marcy Harrison, Jim Heller, Elaine Hornauer, Virginia Ibarra, Dee Jennings, Courtney Krutoy, Charlotte Troup Leighton, Marget Maurer, Lorraine Minor, David Nester, Jenny Perry, Mandy and Tim Rehm, Lori Rieckelman, Susan Roberts, Juliet Rodman, Anne Rothman, Tim Shank, Robin Sidel, Jan Iris Smith, Sherri Stahl, Shannon Steward, Judy Welles, Lee Young  VEGGIE PREP – headed by Heidi Lewis and Karen Melchar  Sally Alain, Crista Gibbons, Marcy Harrison, Kerry, Sam and Clare Mustico, Yoshimi Nai, Lisa Norris, Wendy Rosensweig, Shannon Steward, Oona Stieglitz, Austin White, Barbara Wilmarth  CHICKEN CREW – headed by Richard Hopkins  Lynn Hopkins, Cole Hessman, Melih Karaca, Dennis Pillsbury  CRAB CREW – headed by Pete Cousté  Dan Berman, Joanne Carl, Michele Cousté, Anastasia Donnellan, Chris Enyart, Barry Hubscher, Dave Rosen  KITCHEN CREW – headed by Kathleen Black  Judith Bell, Reiko Berman, Anastasia Donnellan, Marcy Harrison, Sue Pierce, Shelly McKenzie, Andrew Strasfogel  SET UP – coordinated by Burr Gray  Dennis Bensen, Sarah Craven, Mark Gillespie, Greg Gurley, Emily Helmes, Jackie Hoglund, Melih Karaca, Scott Lewis, Anna McGuire, Bruce Meyers, Hanna Moerland, Dan Mustico, Pascal Pittman, Anne and Jeff Rothman, Ilene Rosen DAY-OF TICKET SALES AND CJCA TABLE – coordinated by Stephanie Lai and Heather Tomlinson  Diana Carter, Amy Elsbree, Grace Lai, Heidi Lewis, Lori Rieckelman, Susan Roberts, Clara, Finn and Tatum Tomlinson BEVERAGES – headed by Florence Lehr  Jackie Hoglund  LEMONADE – headed by Anne Rothman  My Lin Bui, Sydney Ishida, Andrea Williams  SERVERS – coordinated by Susan Shipp  Leslie Baldwin, Sarah Craven, Gail Davenport, Janet and Walt Dence, Emily Franklin, Lynn Gertzog, Linda Green, Meredith Griggs, Helen Harris, Lynn Hopkins, Dallas and Judy Harrison, Jim Ingraham, Dee Jennings, Anna McGuire, Karen Melchar, Leslie Meyers, Mark Posin, Jordan Rosenthal, Robin Sidel, Benno Schmidt, Jeff Shipp, Shannon Steward, Austin White, Barbara Wilmarth  CLEAN UP – headed by Allison & Patrick de Gravelles and Burr Gray  Leslie Baldwin, Kathleen Black, Michele and Pete Cousté, Rick Duffy, Amy Elsbree, Ken Eng, Clive and Helen Harris, Richard Hopkins, Marcy Harrison, Jackie Hoglund, Florence Lehr, Mike Liebman, Karen Melchar, David Pillsbury, Jordan Rosenthal, Benno Schmidt, Jeff and Susan Shipp, Shannon Steward, as well as others there at the end who kindly pitched in!  PHOTOGRAPHER – Rick Hatch  Apologies to anyone that we inadvertently left off this list. Please know that your assistance in the success of this event was greatly appreciated. By Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
October 14, 2021The pandemic forced Cabin Johners to get creative for Halloween last year so that sweets could be doled out while keeping trick-or-treaters, their families, and treat givers safe. The resulting plan, pulled together by Robin Sidel and former CJ resident Nancy Russell, created an incredibly festive and fun atmosphere throughout the community.  The Cabin John Citizens Association wants to encourage Cabin Johners to continuethis thoughtful and creative approach to the holiday. Here’s how to participate:  FOR THOSE GIVING OUT CANDY  – Make sure your treats are commercially wrapped.  – Starting at 5 pm on Halloween, set the treats up outside your house in a way that makes it easy for trick-or-treaters to pick one. Some ideas:       – Place treats on a table at the end of your driveway.      – Use wood skewers to decorate your lawn with treat bags attached.      – Hang treat bags from a tree in your yard with string or clothespins.  – If you’d like to enjoy the festivities, set up a chair behind your table or elsewhere that provides safe space between you and the trick-or-treaters.  – Masks are encouraged when unable to socially distance.  – If you’d rather not participate, turn your lights off or put a sign on your dooror mailbox.  FOR TRICK-OR-TREATERS AND PARENTS  – At least one adult should supervise each group of trick-or-treaters.  – Please respect those who don’t wish to participate and only approach houses with goodies set up outside. No ringing doorbells.  – Avoid crowding ⎯ if there’s a group already at one house, move on to the next one and circle back once they’ve moved on.  – Masks are encouraged when unable to socially distance.  – Bring flashlights and wear reflective clothing, lights, or glow necklaces and bracelets to make yourselves visible once it gets dark.  Please send any pictures you take to VNeditorial@ gmail.com by Nov. 1 for publication in the November issue of The Village News.  Happy trick-or-treating! By Loretta Devery Ingalls, Village News Editor  [...] Read more...
October 14, 2021First year, sleep; second year, creep; third year, leap. That’s the advice of green-thumbs for those who decide to plant native species in their gardens. In other words, have patience with your new seedlings.  There may be a less happy corollary to this timetable, though, at least when your focus shifts from introducing a single new plant to filling an entire garden with natives: first year, seeds; second year, weeds; third year, chaos. That was the progression of my backyard botanical garden composed of native species. It descended rapidly from orderly patches of flowering plants, each with their own marker, to a dense undifferentiated tangle along the margins and often around valuable but slow-growing natives, threatening to shade them out. I mistakenly assumed that just by planting natives, everyone would get along. They’d somehow keep to their assigned section and not eye their neighboring plant’s turf with longing. After all, I figured, these plants had tens of thousands of years of evolution to figure out competition and coexistence.  Was I ever wrong! Just because plants are native, they can be as aggressive as any non-native in crowding out the less competitive—I prefer “more sensitive”— members of our local flora. The spillover of one flowering plant may be unwelcome and require the seemingly unnatural experience of weeding out natives and treating them a bit like invasive weeds. There is a great solution to this predicament, though: put the over-extenders in separate pots and share them with your friends. My wife and I, for example, currently have this problem with the magnificent blue passion flower vine, which produces the most spectacular flowers in our local flora. It took three years in a sunny spot for this species to rev up but now it volunteers everywhere. Now we have run out of friends or neighbors to whom to offer pots of this vine. So if you need blue passion flower vine for your trellises or sunny front porches, drop me an email at edinerstein@ resolve.ngo. The bumblebees will love you.  Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is one native that you think would behave given its name. A member of the mint family, the obedient plant sends up 3-foot stems at the end of summer and offers a delightful spray of lilac-to-magenta flowers along its stalks. The name is derived from the plant’s pliancy: if you bend the stem gently, rather than snap off, it will keep that bended shape as it continues to grow. If planted in the right conditions, however, in well-watered areas on fertile soil and in partial sun, the obedient plant can become rather disobedient and wander into the neighboring plant beds.  I don’t mind this overreach because the obedient plant is such a wonderful wildflower to grow, attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees to its copious nectar. Also known as false dragonhead—it resembles snapdragons from childhood gardens—obedient plant ranges from eastern Canada to Mexico. Aside from prompting childhood memories, long flowering time is another great reason to add obedient plant to your garden. Long after the last aster flower has bid adieu in October, deep into November and early December will be the bright magenta flowers of obedient plant.  We all like to be exceptions to the rule, and obedient plant is a prime example. It’s a member of the mint family, the Lamiaceae, which in general is one of the most odiferous families of plants out there. We value fragrant members of the family—basil, sage, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and others we use as herbs—and then there is the stinky dead nettle. With more than 7,000 species in the family, the mint is one of the top 10 families of flowering plants. I would wager that you can tell almost every species, or at least genus, apart by its odor—at least a mint connoisseur could. But you can’t tell obedient plant by its odor. It has none. Like the coleus plant, another mint we use as an indoor decoration, obedient plant has to go by its luxurious flowering stalk to claim a place in our garden and hearts. But it is a noteworthy species to have. When the dark early days of December make spring and summer feel like a distant memory, there is the still-flowering obedient plant telling us to be patient. Winter will pass and there will be flowers again.  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
September 20, 2021Various state agencies are taking critical action on the state’s Beltway expansion plans, prompting what could be the last opportunity for Cabin John residents to weigh in on the massive project.  Most anticipated, is the expected mid- September publication of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), which will trigger the last 45-day public comment period and public hearing of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the Beltway expansion.  The project would replace the American Legion Bridge and add four toll lanes – two in each direction – from the Virginia side of the bridge, up the Beltway to the I-270 spur, and up l-270 to l-370.  Plan to attend the Sept. 29 CJCA meeting, 7:30 p.m. which will be held via Zoom, for a briefing on the latest developments and ways to provide comments. The citizens association also will be asking the community to authorize up to $2,000 to, once again, engage VHBMetroDC, to review the SDEIS and provide technical points on traffic and other negative impacts.  The initial DEIS, produced by the Federal Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation and published for comment in July 2020, was 19,000 pages and yet still inadequate. Of particular concern to Cabin John was its failure to address construction and long- term impacts on our local roads as well as the noise and visual impacts of the planned exit ramp to River Rd. The supplemental DEIS is supposed to address many issues raised in the public comments submitted last fall.  OTHER DEVELOPMENTS THAT WILL BE TALKED ABOUT INCLUDE:  A Sept. 8 communication from the SHA saying it is proposing that the Beltway expansion “completely avoids” the Morningstar Moses Hall and Cemetery as well as the adjacent MDOT SHA right-of-way for the current Beltway after archaeological mapping and ground penetrating radar surveys at the cemetery this summer indicated 14 probable graves and the potential for as many as 34 burials within the current Beltway right-of-way, according to report findings released by the SHA to the CJCA, the Friends of Moses Hall, and other consulting parties to the Section 106 process.  The surveys, which only covered a portion of the cemetery, also found the potential for hundreds more graves than the 80 that have been identified by the Friends of Moses Hall through historical records. Under Section 106, the government is requiredto review the Beltway expansion project’s potential impact on historic properties.  The transmittal letter explained that the state’s selection of a preferred design alternative in January prompted the SHA to update the Section 106 review. Other historical properties near Cabin John in the review include the C&O Canal and Plummers Island. The SHA is asking all consulting parties to provide comments on the updated Section 106 documentation by Oct. 8.  The August 11 action by the Maryland Board of Public Works giving two Maryland Department of Transportation agencies approval to move forward with the Public-Private Partnership Agreement with Accelerate Maryland Partners LLC (Transurban) for pre-development work on the New American Legion Bridge I-270 Traffic Relief Plan.  BPW’s approval is a significant milestone in advancing the Beltway expansion project as the predevelopment agreement gives the go-ahead for Transurban to work towards a 30% design level for the project, so it will be vitally important for community stakeholders to engage during this process.  By Charlotte Troup Leighton, CJCA Vice President for Advocacy  Susan Shipp, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
September 20, 2021Across the Potomac River, the grave of a mysterious young woman who died over 200 years ago rests in an Alexandria cemetery. The legend of the female stranger has been a part of Old Town’s lore for centuries. One hundred years after her death, a romance novel attempted to sprinkle some of the legend’s fairy dust on Cabin John, just as the area was being developed by J.S. Tomlinson’s American Land Company. To this day, the identity of the female stranger remains an abiding mystery.  Alexandria’s Gadsby’s Tavern and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, as well as the valley below the Cabin John Bridge all played a role in the 1912 novel. On a recent weekend, I dragged my family across the Potomac in search of the female stranger’s story, and perhaps to even catch a glimpse of her ghost in Gadsby’s, where she died.  The story begins in St. Paul’s Cemetery, where a large marble slab set upon six rounded legs continues to draw tourists. It’s inscribed with the following: To the memory of a  FEMALE STRANGER  Whose mortal sufferings terminated  on the 14th day of October 1816  Aged 23 years and 8 months.  This stone is placed here by her disconsolate  Husband in whose arms she sighed out her  Latest breath and who under God Did his utmost even to soothe the cold  dead ear of death.  How loved how valued once avails thee not  To whom related or by whom begot A heap of dust alone remains of thee  Tis all though art and all the proud shall be.  To him gave all the Prophets witness that  Through his name whosoever believeth in  Him shall receive remission of sins.  Acts 10th Chap 43rd verse  The story of Old Alexandria’s female stranger and her husband portray them as mysterious upper class figures, often with a British accent. The couple met the end of their tragic tale in room 8 of the City Hotel (now Gadsby’s Tavern), where the young wife died of an unknown illness. The legend of the female stranger was chronicled in countless newspapers throughout the 1800s.  An 1882 book by William F. Carne, The Narrative of John Trust, describes a love triangle between orphans. Another tale recounts a young couple who disembarked from their ship because the wife had taken ill. She succumbed to her illness and her husband, after paying for her tombstone with forged English notes, disappeared.  One popular theory is that the female stranger may have been Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr (the carrot that convinced my Hamilton-mad daughter to come along on our excursion), who went missing at sea in 1813. Some forty years after Theodosia disappeared, a pirate and sailor claimed they had taken her boat and held her captive, then secretly brought her ashore when she fell ill.  What connects the legend of the female stranger to Cabin John? A 1912 romance novel by Charles T. Johnson Jr., The Legend of the Female Stranger: A Tale of Cabin John Bridge and Old Alexandria.  Johnson’s novel depicts the story of a beautiful young orphan raised by an elderly nobleman in England. The lord fell in love with her but was devastated to learn that she loved a young army surgeon named John. After he witnessed the young woman and her lover embrace, heated words were exchanged and the lord accidentally fell, never to recover.  The young lovers, fearful of murder charges, escaped to America with the help of John’s brother, a ship captain. They married en route. Upon reaching the shores of the Potomac, John’s brother took them to a place he’d seen on a previous journey, a place that “should he ever desire a place whither he might hide from all the world, yet remain at the very elbow of civilization, he knew of no nook more ideal than in this valley on the banks of this peaceful brook.”  Along Cabin John’s Run, the couple built a small, rustic cabin and lived happily in the abundant forest. Yet the young woman’s health slowly deteriorated. One September morning John returned from an outing and found his bride delirious with fever. He grabbed his canoe and paddled to Alexandria. The couple were helped to the City Hotel, a distinguished inn which boasted dinner guests that included George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. A doctor was summoned to their room. John’s wife confessed that should she not survive, she wished to remain unknown, a stranger in a strange land.  On October 14th, 1816 the young woman passed away, leaving behind her distraught husband John. As promised, he buried her beneath a slab that memorialized a female stranger; her burial plot and tabletop gravestone would have been a considerable expense. John returned to his cabin in the woods, distraught. He wandered the creek, birds and squirrels his only friends. His unkempt hair and overgrown beard enveloped his gaunt body.  Is the female stranger’s shattered husband the reclusive hermit that gave Cabin John its name? Mr. Johnson’s novel weaves together two legends, borrowing Old Alexandria’s female stranger and placing her alongside John of the Cabin. It is interesting to note that Johnson’s book ends with a “Nota Bene” that details the trip to Cabin John Bridge, “long a favorite jaunt of pleasure seekers. The beautiful valley spanned by the big bridge, which was home to the lovers during their exile, lies about five miles northwest of Washington.” Whether pure fiction or a catchy sales pitch for the new development, the mystery endures. By Rachel Donnan, Regular Contributor  [...] Read more...
September 20, 2021The end of summer cues the flowering members of the Aster family to take center stage. Fall aster, boneset, mistflower, goldenrod, wingstem, and even ragweed turn out for the last big flowering episode of the season. The warm sunny days of late August bring the most colorful aster of all, black-eyed Susans. They appear then seemingly everywhere, especially in garden edges. This local sun-worshipper is the state flower of Maryland, and happily a native species, ranging across much of the eastern U.S.  What sets off black-eyed Susans from other flowers is of course the brilliance of their golden yellow ray flowers (the petals) punctuated by a black or blackish brown disc in the center. The petals appear to have absorbed the sun’s rays so intenselyas to infuse them with a yellow-gold that brings happiness to those who gaze at the masses in the flower beds. The disk flowers attract a lovely visitor to drink the nectar, the American Painted Lady butterfly. This species undertakes long migrations here and in Europe where, across the Atlantic, it is believed some individuals have migrated from Iceland to south of the Sahara Desert. The alternate-leaved plants have hairy leaves, thus earning Rudbeckia hirta as its specific epithet, hirta meaning hairy. Carolus Linnaeus, the namer of most botanical things, named our black-eyed Susan after Olof Rudbeck the Younger and the senior Rudbeck. Olof the Younger was Linnaeus’s patron and a naturalist in his own right. Olof the Elder was a scientist of many stripes: aside from discovering the lymph system, for example, he also created Sweden’s first botanic garden.  The black eyed-Susan is also known as coneflower, so named because the ray petals are displayed downward, showing off the darker center of disc flowers, much like a badminton shuttlecock. Perhaps this makes the seeds in the flower heads more accessible. The American goldfinches are now frequenting our gardens, feeding on those oil-rich seeds of the coneflower to build their fat stores (many of the species overwinter here). In fact, this for me signals summer’s end, the brilliant canary yellow- and-black plumage of the males and the less colorful females performing their looping, up-and-down flight, like seed-fueled stunt pilots flitting from one flower bed of black- eyed Susans to another. The males twitter a melodic finch song as they move from patch to patch, one of the more joyful songs in nature. The bright yellow and black of the birds, the brilliant flowers they seek out for seeds, and their song of summer’s end— together they remind us how good it is to be alive, even in the age of COVID.  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
August 21, 2021The community center is open, the coordinators, crab cooker, chicken griller, and sides chef, along with other key volunteers, are on board, and that means the annual Cabin John Chicken and Crab Feast is back in business!  This year’s event will be held Saturday, Sept. 18 from 2 pm to 6 pm. The same crowd- pleasing menu of delicious grilled chicken, tasty steamed crabs, and classic side dishes will be served. There also will be beer, wine, sodas, and lemonade for sale. Attendees will enjoy the sounds of the talented and generous Starlight Orchestra. The 12-piece jazz and swing band is now firmly part of the Crab Feast tradition having provided the event with live entertainment since 2011! There will be plenty of dining tables set up outside so that folks can relax and enjoy the great food, many beverage options, and live entertainment while visiting with friends and neighbors.  Traditionally, dining tables are also set up inside the all-purpose room in case of inclement weather. Due to Covid, we will not be able to offer an indoor dining option. Should we have rain, dinners will be offered to go. All volunteers working inside at the event will be masked, per current county requirements.  Due to the extremely high price of crabs, we are selling two different meal tickets this year. As always, patrons can save money by purchasing their tickets in advance: A chicken dinner ticket costs $16 in advance and $18 at the door. With your ticket, you get a piece of grilled chicken and three sides, or five sides, if you want a vegetarian option. A crab dinner ticket costs $20 in advance or $25 at the door. With this ticket, you get three crabs and three sides OR six crabs and no sides.  This annual event is not only a wonderful community gathering, but the primary fundraiser for the Cabin John Citizens Association, whose work includes The Village News, the Cabin John Directory, community advocacy, and activities ranging from blood drives and the new neighbor potluck to July 4th festivities, CJ Trivia Night, and the Turkey Trot. [...] Read more...
August 21, 2021While the historic Gibson Grove Church on Seven Locks Rd. may look abandoned, it is not. Pastor Edgar Bankhead, his wife Judi, and the congregation have been working tirelessly with local and state officials, and the Cabin John community to restore the Gibson Grove Church, which was tragically destroyed by fire 17 years ago.  A great deal has been spent on pre- construction surveys, civil engineer evaluations, historic filings, and reports. After much work, numerous meetings, applications, submissions, and revised building plans, the 1st Agape AME Zion Church at Gibson Grove has been awarded a legislative state bond initiative that will allow substantial construction to begin. The congregation hopes the restoration will start this year.  The Bankheads have been leading the church for close to 20 years. In 2003, after Cabin John’s historic AME Zion Church lost membership due to parishioners moving out of the community, Bishop Williams of the AME Zion Conference appointed Pastor Bankhead to bring his congregation to the historic AME Zion Church at Gibson Grove for continued use and restoration. The inside of the church was restored in 2003 with hopes of upgrading the heating and plumbing systems in the spring of 2004. Unfortunately, the historic church was destroyed by fire a week before that upgrade was to take place in the spring of 2004.  As efforts to rebuild and upgrade the historic church got underway, the restoration efforts were impacted by setback after setback, including additional damage caused when a massive tree fell on the building. But Pastor Bankhead and his congregation, who held services at Adat Shalom on Persimmon Tree Rd. until the pandemic forced them online, have persevered.  Shortly after the fire it was discovered that the church has asbestos siding which requires special guidelines for removal; the historic siding is still under the asbestos. Another challenge is due to the county’s historic designation given to the church on the 100th anniversary of its 1898 founding by Sara Gibson, a freed slave. The historic designation has made approval for building plans exacting, time consuming, and expensive.  To complicate matters further, the State Highway Administration has been involved due to the beltway’s drainage ditch that is so close to the church that it has eroded church land and requires stabilization/upgrade before church building can commence.  The highway administration and church representatives are working diligently to coordinate and synchronize construction. The church now has a tree preservation and removal plan approved by the historic commission. For more information on the Gibson Grove Church visit their website www.1stagape.com.  By Angela Coppola, CJ Resident  [...] Read more...
August 21, 2021KESHA LEETS Vice President, Activities  WHAT BROUGHT YOUR FAMILY TO CABIN JOHN? My husband, Ryan and I were researching preschools in the DMV area after Ryan accepted a job in Bethesda. We fell in love with Clara Barton Center for Children (CBCC), and knowing preference is given to Cabin John residents, we rented the only house available and crossed our fingers our daughter, Evelina, would be accepted (we now have a happy Hummingbird!). We moved from Philadelphia in April 2020 and had our son, Van, in July 2020.  AFTER LIVING HERE FOR A YEAR, WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT CABIN JOHN? We’ve found the trails and river activities hard to beat!  WHAT CJCA ACTIVITIES HAVE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY PARTICIPATED IN? The only event we’ve been able to participate in so far is the 4th of July parade – it was a blast! We’re also looking forward to the infamous Crab Feast this fall.  WHAT LED YOU TO VOLUNTEER AS VICE PRESIDENT OF ACTIVITIES? As a newcomer (especially during pandemic), it’s hard to find ways to contribute and connect with the community. Volunteering (even virtually, to start) has helped me meet other Cabin Johners and get involved in CJ’s most loved activities.  ARE YOU EMPLOYED, JUGGLING ANY OTHER VOLUNTEER WORK? I work full time as a Project Manager at a media firm in DC. I’ve also joined the board of CBCC for the coming school year.  WHEN NOT IN CABIN JOHN, WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO BE? On a ski trip anywhere.  READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY? I just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  WHAT IS SOMETHING FOLKS MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU AND/OR YOUR FAMILY? My husband and I own an indoor bike-to- the-beat cycling studio in Colorado!  JUSTIN WEBSTER Vice President, Community Service  WHAT BROUGHT YOUR FAMILY TO CABIN JOHN? My family moved to Cabin John in August of 2019 from downtown DC. We were attracted to the area because of the proximity to our work, the access to nature, and the history of Cabin John. My husband Brandon, our dog Charlie, and I felt at home in CJ right away!  WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT CABIN JOHN? We like the close friendships we have created with our wonderful neighbors and that there is SO much to do in the area.  WHAT CJCA ACTIVITIES HAVE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY PARTICIPATED IN? We have been fortunate to participate in the 2019 Crab and Chicken Feast and the 2021 Fourth of July Parade. We look forward to joining many more activities!  WHAT LED YOU TO VOLUNTEER AS VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICE? I wanted to be part of bringing people in our community together to create meaningful relationships and to better our community for all. I have been involved with many health-care related councils and organizations and have found that having a presence on these councils has allowed growth both for myself and for others.  ARE YOU EMPLOYED, JUGGLING ANY OTHER VOLUNTEER WORK? I have worked as a Registered Nurse at Sibley Memorial Hospital for the past five years. I recently started a job with a transport company managing their Specialty Care Transport Nurse division. That has kept me quite busy over the last month or so.  WHEN NOT IN CABIN JOHN, WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO BE? We love to cruise around the world. We are excited to get back to cruising after this long pandemic!  READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY? Recently I’ve finished The Promised Land by Barack Obama and Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden, and I’m currently reading What Happened to You by Oprah and Bruce Perry. I have also read way too many books on healthcare related topics.  WHAT IS SOMETHING FOLKS MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU AND/OR YOUR FAMILY? We are very down to earth and enjoy a nice glass of wine. If you are in our neighborhood, you probably know our house by the solar on the roof or the color changing lights.  HEATHER TOMLINSON Vice President, Community Outreach  WHAT BROUGHT YOUR FAMILY TO CABIN JOHN? Sidewalks, libraries, nectarines, crickets, and Poppy brought me to Cabin John. To be fair, they brought us back to the Bethesda area more generally because this is where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ghana; Southern California; Nashville; Athens, Georgia; Cleveland Park and Capitol Hill; and, for the eight years prior to moving here, Jakarta, Indonesia.  At the center of those far-flung places was always the DC area. Being near my dad (Poppy) and extended family again is a major draw to living here, especially for my three children, Tatum (14), Finn (12), and Clara (12).  Most importantly, we came to Cabin John to live on the corner of Tomlinson Terrace and Tomlinson Court because of our long Tomlinson family history as founders of Cabin John…just kidding. We arrived in the summer of 2018, and the issue of our name and address is an (epic) coincidence. I welcome ideas for stories to explain the synergy.  WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT CABIN JOHN? Having the trails, greenery and water within minutes of our front door is the best part of Cabin John. It’s unique to live in a place that gives almost equal access to culture, history, art, nature, and restaurants that serve both bubble tea and Ethiopian food. I love the sense of community, the eclectic philosophies of residents, the yard art and gardens, and the common value of simplicity in living. Pandemic parenting was made easier by having wide, quiet streets for four- square courts, BLM chalk art, and Tomlinson Terrace Gang music video productions. I love Cabin John and feel extremely fortunate that we found our home here.  WHAT CJCA ACTIVITIES HAVE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY PARTICIPATED IN? The Chicken and Crab Feast was the first neighborhood event I attended and loved because of the amazing combination of meeting people, eating rice krispie treats (and a little chicken), and listening to live jazz. One of the funniest events we attended was “ice skating” on large foam pads at Clara Barton Community Center at a winter festival. My favorite events are the trivia nights for adults.  WHAT LED YOU TO VOLUNTEER AS VICE PRESIDENT OF ACTIVITIES? Susan Shipp kindly invited me to participate, and Stephanie Lai is a friend of mine. Stephanie is the actual Vice President, and I plan to remain a deputy VP; is that a title?* I am aware of the quiet, behind- the-scenes work it takes to pull off a few “simple” neighborhood activities. As a relative newcomer, I am grateful for the opportunities these activities provide to meet people and for my children to feel connected and rooted, so I want to do my part to support them. Having volunteers is like having Bisquick in the pantry: helpful and under-appreciated.  *CJCA notes that this is not an official title.  ARE YOU EMPLOYED, JUGGLING ANY OTHER VOLUNTEER WORK? I’m an early childhood development specialist for The World Bank. I recently worked for a regional NGO and developed a strategic plan for early childhood education for the state of Maryland, and now I’m working on a strategic plan for early childhood development for Pakistan. I’m on two boards for an NGO I co-founded in Indonesia to support refugees, Roshan Learning Center and YICF. Before Covid melted my brain, I was involved at our church, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. Throughout this weird year, I was part of the Montgomery County Public Schools Family Engagement Advisory Team (no small FEAT, as it were) and on a Maryland Advisory Council Tech Equity and Access Committee.  WHEN NOT IN CABIN JOHN, WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO BE? I wouldn’t pass up the chance to be at Deep Creek Lake, in Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz or Monterey, Tuscany, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, a cabin in the Poconos, Bali, or my mother’s garden.  READ ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY? I recently read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  WHAT IS SOMETHING FOLKS MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU AND/OR YOUR FAMILY? My son suggests that I mention that my father Robert J. Biggar is “a famous scientist,” who helped discover the epidemiology and treatment for HIV/AIDS, especially reducing maternal-child transmission, and just wrote a piece about the parallels of the experiences of AIDS to Covid-19. [...] Read more...
August 21, 2021Tall oaks, hickories, tulip trees, hackberries, or maples create a lovely canopy in a yard and a veritable ecological umbrella: as food for an abundance of caterpillars that attract birds; shelter for bats that eat mosquitoes; protection from soil erosion during our increasingly violent rainstorms; and in summer, a much-welcomed ecological service—natural cooling of our houses by shielding them from the sun. In the current climate crisis, those trees store a lot of carbon in their trunks and roots, so homeowners that coexist with trees are thereby doing their part to draw down greenhouse gases and maintain a livable biosphere for future generations. But one inescapable ecological consequence of a tree canopy is the dense shade it creates for any plants below. What among our native flora can we plant that appeals to the eye and flourishes without need of abundant sun?   There are several shade-loving plants to welcome to our gardens such as the wild ginger covered earlier this year. This month’s topic plant offers a most striking gardening solution: Jack-in-the-pulpit. This plant looks like it belongs in the tropical rainforest rather than in Cabin John; in fact, most of its relatives live close to the equator. Yet, there it is, growing happily along forest trails in the neighborhood park. Arisaema triphyllum, as it is known, is a native species of the understory of the Eastern Deciduous forests ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Texas. Also called bog onion, brown dragon, or Indian turnip, Jack-in the pulpit grows to a height of about two feet. It is a perennial, meaning that once you plant it, it will keep coming back. Some of the Jacks growing along the Cabin John trail may be older than the adults who hike past them.  The most striking feature of the plant, and its namesake, is a large purple-striped “hoodie,” called in botanical lingo a spathe. That is the pulpit. Standing in the pulpit is “Jack,” the eight-inch long flowering stalk, called a spadix, resembling a miniature corn cob in yellow-green. This spadix-inside-a-spathe, or Jack-in-the-pulpit, is characteristic of Jack’s plant family, the Arums (Araceae). So now you can think of the more familiar Philodendron, Monstera, Dieffenbachia, Spathiphyllum, or Anthurium occupying a pot in your living room as an indoor Jack-in- the-pulpit.  Also interesting about this plant, aside from its sensuous looks, is its reproductive sex story. Spoiler alert: there is a Jill-in-the pulpit. Lining the spadix are densely packed flowers that are either male or female. But here is where it gets complicated. The plants start off the flowering season as male. As the plant ages and grows larger, however, the spadix starts making a lot more female flowers on the stalk so Jack becomes Jill. We call this in the botanical parlance sequential hermaphroditism. Enter the fungus gnat attracted to the male flowers by the peculiar scent. They are trapped temporarily inside, where they become sprinkled with pollen grains. The fungus gnats make their escape from the male plants, but once they find the female plants they fall inside and cannot escape. Crawling up through a female stalk, the fungus gnats deposit their pollen on the stigmas of the female flowers. The plant is unable to self-pollinate because by the time the female flowers on a plant have matured, the male flowers have withered and died. Thus, the female flowers need to be pollinated by the male flowers of a different plant. This mechanism prevents inbreeding and contributes to the genetic vigor of the species. The fruits are smooth, shiny green berries that cluster on the spadix. They ripen to a bright red in the fall and are eaten by wild turkey and wood thrush. If you gather 0the seeds in the fall from your garden you can scatter them on the soil and they will germinate, creating more baby Jacks and Jills. It may take several years before a flower appears, but with a bit of work you can cover an area with these beautiful plants. The fruits ripen in late summer and fall, turning a bright red color before the plants go dormant. Each berry produces 1 to 5 seeds. If the seeds are freed from the berry they will germinate the next spring, producing a plant with a single rounded leaf. Seedlings need three or more years of growth before they become large enough to flower.  Underneath that mysterious looking stem and flowering part is a corm, an underground storage organ common to crocuses, gladioli, or cyclamens. This part can be dried, cut thin, and fried like potato chips, but it’s better to leave it in the ground to make more Jack-in-the-pulpits. The plants are a bit toxic, though, which is why the deer seem to avoid them, another plus of the species for the deer-persecuted gardener. If you really want to go wild, there is an even more sensuous-looking native member of this genus, the green dragon (Arisaema dracontium). It grows several feet taller than the Jack version, and has a long snake-like spathe. (When it comes to related snake-like plants, Arisaema speciosum is the famed “cobra lily,” a non- native from Asia that could scare young children.)  With a host of elegant Jack or Jill-in-the- pulpits or green dragons, the shadiest part of your garden could also become its most mysterious.  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
June 27, 2021Cabin John’s rich history was recognized at the national level this month when the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced their selection of the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall site as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2021.  “Saving the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall site is how we make good on promises to expand our infrastructure in an equitable way without further destruction of communities of color,” said Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation on announcing the list June 3.  In referencing the original Beltway construction in the 1960s, Malone-France went on to note that “past disregard for the heritage of the community of Gibson Grove in transportation projects has already resulted in the loss of an important part of our full American story. This endangered listing challenges us to do the right thing today as we expand our infrastructure, so there will be no additional wrong to correct in the future, and it also calls attention to the threats facing African American cemeteries across the country.”  Friends of Moses Hall, a coalition of neighbors, descendants, and others experienced in archaeology, genealogy, historic preservation, research, and advocacy have been working tirelessly to lead the effort to save this Cabin John treasure by advocating that any Beltway expansion avoid the cemetery and by working to preserve the site. Having the property recognized at the national level brings critical attention to this irreplaceable site and further supports these efforts.  On May 12, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced a new scaled-back version of its Beltway expansion plan. The new recommended preferred alternative (RPA) focuses solely on “building a new American Legion Bridge and delivering two high occupancy toll (HOT) managed lanes in each direction on Phase 1 South: American Legion Bridge I-270 to I-370 with no action at this time on I-495 east of the I-270 eastern spur,” according to MDOT.  The new RPA will be the focus of a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement anticipated to be published in September. The Supplemental DEIS will trigger a 45-day period for public comment, including a public hearing.  The new RPA also has led to changes in the timeline for the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process for the project. Friends of Moses Hall, the CJCA, and other consulting parties have been told by the State Highway Administration (SHA) that they will update the limits of construction and development disturbance to reflect the new RPA as well as to include design minimization efforts on the historic Gibson Grove Church and Moses Cemetery and Hall properties.  The state’s latest archaeological report on the cemetery site was released on May 25 and acknowledges that there is evidence of burials within or adjacent to the current Beltway right-of-way, warranting additional archaeological investigations and the incorporation of mitigation options, including the relocation of remains.  Advocacy efforts by Friends of Moses Hall are not limited to saving the cemetery from ground disturbances at the site. The group believes the state is giving short shrift to environmental impacts and past racial injustice. This is an ongoing effort that will call on the SHA to right past wrongs.  One very positive step for the community is the collective push from consulting parties and Montgomery County Planning for a pedestrian connection between the historic Gibson Grove Church building and the Moses Cemetery and Hall site. SHA has agreed to include a new sidewalk between the two resources as well as a widened path on the east side of Seven Locks, within the state right-of-way. Seven Locks is a county road, so any improvements outside the state right-of-way are the responsibility of Montgomery County.  All of this is part of a broader effort to renew the physical connection between these historic properties. Perhaps a Gibson Grove Community historic district designation could be a reality one day?  By Charlotte Troup Leighton  CJCA Vice President for Advocacy  [...] Read more...
June 27, 2021The community gave a literal thumbs up to the Cabin John sign design unveiled at the May 25 CJCA meeting—with the meeting held on Zoom, the 25 or so participants were asked to vote with their thumbs on screen. The design, created by CJ resident Jack Mandel of Carver Rd., was unanimously approved. Jack is a stone mason with a stonework design/build business.  As Jack explained to meeting participants, the sign design incorporates the iconic Cabin John Bridge in two ways. One is the shape of the base, which has an arched opening similar in shape to the bridge. The other bridge element is that he has acquired a piece of the Seneca red sandstone that was left over from the bridge repairs done some 20 years ago. Additional sandstone that is the same color as the bridge will also be used. The rest of the base is likely to be made of local Carderock stone.  To reflect the community’s love of nature, a planter will be built into the base under the archway. Meeting participants suggested that native species be planted there. After consultation with CJ’s historian Judy Welles, it was determined that the established date for Cabin John should be 1878, which is the year the first Cabin John postmaster was appointed. The CJCA acquired the original appointment certificate, dated March 18, 1878, last year.  CJCA Vice President Greg Pawlson, chair of the sign committee, detailed next steps, including approval from the shopping center, county permitting, and a more detailed cost estimate. He also noted the goal of refurbishing and lighting the existing CJ sign at the community center and of posting simple metal Welcome to Historic Cabin John signs at the various entrances to the community.  It could cost close to $20,000 for all of these sign efforts to come to fruition and that is with Jack donating his design services. CJCA President Susan Shipp explained the 100th anniversary fundraising efforts netted some $5,000 toward the sign project. She also believes the CJCA has the reserves to provide an additional $3,000. That means additional fundraising will be needed.  If you would like to help with the fundraising, please contact Darla Cable at darlacmd@yahoo.com or Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net.  By Susan Shipp  CJCA President  [...] Read more...
June 27, 2021A glorious benefit of living in the tropics is the wide variety of trees and vines that delight the eye with explosions of vivid blossoms. Often these large showy flowers, designed to attract bees and other pollinators, cover all the branches or stems. Even the names of these trees are suggestive or mysterious: Golden rain tree, Golden Trumpet, Yellow Bells, Flamboyant, Flame of the Forest, African Tulip, Jacaranda, Coral Bean, Rosy Trumpet. These trees and their displays are even more spectacular when the flowers precede the flush of new leaves. In contrast, it is rare to find native trees in the temperate zone covered by clouds of flowers in the spring. For sure, there are the ornamental cherries at the Tidal Basin or planted in Kenwood, but those are imports. There is the ubiquitous redbud, but its flowers are tiny compared to the African Sausage tree. Trumpet creeper is an aggressive native climber and that counts, as does Catalpa. Our best native candidate for most spectacular flowering tree, however, is the White fringe tree, also known as the Virginia fringe tree.  That species grows very well in our area but ranges north to New Jersey. There are even specimens found in New York City. But its stronghold is in the southeast to central Florida where every spring, adult fringe trees issue forth a seasonal wedding dress of lacy white fringy blossoms. Arborists tell us that the more sun the fringe tree receives the more prolific the flowering.  When you drive by one in a car it is as if the wedding dress is suspended five feet above the ground minus only the bride. The four white petals of the blossoms are unusual in how thin they are. Masses of them, though, cover the crown of the tree before the tree fully leafs out in May. Male and female flowers typically occur on separate trees but sometimes on the same tree. On female trees, a bright blue fruit appears in the late summer or early fall and is devoured by the American robin.  The fringe tree is a member of the olive family, with its characteristic four petals and opposite leaves, and the fruit is somewhat reminiscent of a blue olive. More familiar to us are green ash and white ash, which are also members of the olive family. And herein lurks a small concern. In the western part of its range, the fringe tree seems to be affected by the Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native jewel beetle from Asia that is finishing off our ash trees but so far has left the fringe trees alone. Experiments are underway with the introduction of a parasitic wasp from Russia that controls ash borer. The wasp burrows into the tree and lays its eggs on the ash borer larvae, killing them as its own wasp larvae feed on the host.  The fringe tree is a little-known wonder, and in my opinion not planted enough. I see so many vacant (only grass front lawns) lots in our neighborhood, in full sun, where a well- placed Virginia fringe tree would bring decades of joy and an appreciative warble from the robins in the neighborhood. Do you want to beautify Cabin John? Easy, plant Chionanthes virginicus and amaze your neighbors.  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer  Illustration By Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist  [...] Read more...
May 29, 2021Like many Cabin John residents, my dog Toby and I know Alpine Veterinary Hospital well. This particular site along MacArthur Boulevard has served the Cabin John community for nearly a century. Long before it started welcoming pets through its doors in 1973, it was a center of Cabin John’s social life—a grocery shop and gas station that went by various names including Benson’s and Sid’s, as well as a soda fountain, barbershop, and laundromat. Judge Charles E. Benson, an administrative judge and county commissioner, was one of the early residents of this area and played a substantial role in the development of Cabin John as a community. In 1907, he purchased part of Thomas Tuohey’s property along Conduit Road and Halifax Street (now MacArthur Blvd and 78th Street). Benson owned a number of structures including a store, stable, blacksmith shop, garage, and home.  Benson’s shop was a vibrant neighborhood place; it was a meeting here in 1930 that led to the establishment of the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department. Judge Benson was also known to hold court in the back of his store, where he’d administer the occasional fine to drivers caught speeding along Conduit Road (or let them go). Benson’s market later morphed into Cohan’s. In 1940, Louis Cohan and his wife Jenny lived in Cabin John where Louis was manager of a retail grocery. His 1942 draft registration card lists his employer as the “Community Store” of Cabin John and Charles E. Benson as his main contact.  Shortly thereafter the market was known as Sid’s. “If you were looking for someone, that was where you went to find out where they were,” recalled Millie Ransome in 2011 while reminiscing to Judy Welles about Cabin John in the 1940s and 1950s. Here you could find out “anything about anybody.” Millie had grown up on 78th Street and frequented the market when she was a teenager.  Recently, local Cabin John history buff Rich Hirsh came across an interesting find on eBay: a 1954 Sinclair Service Station promotional calendar for Lachman’s Cabin John Market, purveyor of “Meats, Groceries, Frozen Foods & Sundries.” The question is, who was Lachman? Mary Morgal and Evan Mater, two long time Cabin John residents, remember this market and gas station as “Sid’s.” While the market bore a sign out front saying Lachman’s, customers in the 1950s never called it that. Whether or not Sid was the Lachman of the sign remains a puzzle; so far, no Sid Lachman, or any other Lachman, has been found living in or near Cabin John at that time.  Evan Mater recently recalled the shop during the 1950s: “Gas pumps. And a big tank with kerosene. It was your basic small grocery store of the day…Next to the store, to the east, was a small diner. It was all one building, the diner and the store. Served the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” He remembers a barbershop where he went for haircuts as a young boy, located downstairs below the diner. There was also a car and motorcycle repair shop run by Walter Spates located out back.  While the gas pumps remained, rowdy teenagers who hung around the diner eventually led to complaints and its closure. The local kids moved on to the nearby Dickerson’s Grocery (once the Good and Quick and now the Captain’s Market), a short stroll down MacArthur and Cabin John’s only other gas station at that time. More importantly, according to Evan Mater, was the free air for your bike tires at Dickerson’s. “An important point to bicycle riding kids in that day.” By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2021 May Newsletter] [...] Read more...
May 21, 2021When Pandora White was a young girl, her grandmother Mary White would march her and her siblings along a path in the woods that ran behind 19 Carver Rd. to the Moses lodge and cemetery where she would put them to work. They would either clean up the lodge for some adult function or a funeral or they would tidy up around the family graves.  Pandora, 71, still lives on Carver Rd. On April 10, she was back at the cemetery, along with 22 others who have relatives buried in the historic African American cemetery at the edge of Cabin John. The descendants were gathered by the trustees of the newly reestablished Morningstar Moses 88 ownership group to have a tour of the cemetery now that the bamboo and debris have been removed by the state.  The other important reason for the meeting was to inform the descendants that in the course of clearing the bamboo, the state found indications of possible gravesites within the right-of-way of the existing Beltway. While Pandora was pleased with the cleanup efforts, she is concerned about the possibility of graves outside the cemetery fence.  “I’m very pleased about how it’s been cleared out.” she said, noting that she didn’t realize how far back the graves went. Should the state determine that there are graves in the right-of-way, she wants them left alone. “I don’t think they should disturb the graves, but they should go around them,” turning that land over to the cemetery, she added.  Steve Archer, cultural resources team leader at the Maryland State Highway Administration, said they are still completing their archeological investigations of the site for a report that will “provide detailed surface mapping of the cemetery as well as historical research to understand what we can from an archival perspective.” He expects the report to be released this summer.  However, the report will not address whether there are gravesites in the Beltway right-of-way. To determine that, Archer explained that they would have to do a two-step investigation. First, they would dig just deep enough to determine if there are any grave shafts. If they find any, they would work with the descendants and the community to determine a proper course of action. Only then, if it is determined that any human remains are to be relocated, would they dig deeper to unearth those remains. Archer gave no time frame for when they might start this investigation.  For now, the cemetery remains closed to the public while the state completes its current assessments. The Friends of Moses Hall, a group comprised of descendants, historic preservationists, and Cabin John community members, also requests that the public stay away as they are starting a bamboo remediation project June 7 that requires the use of chemicals to kill the bamboo. In some cases, bamboo that the state cut in January had already sent up new shoots that stand six feet tall or more.  The Friends of Moses Hall has another request of the public. They are asking people with any ties to Moses Hall to go through their family photo albums, letters, and other documents. They are hoping that folks might find photographs of events held there, letters that might mention a Moses Hall function, or other documents with reference to the property. Any information, from any source, in any format, that mentions the lodge or cemetery, even if it’s just in passing, would be of interest to the group.  Friends of Moses Hall can be reached via email at morningstarmosescj@gmail.com.  SUSAN SHIPP, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
May 21, 2021After multiple years and a pandemic, the Cabin John sign committee is excited to be able to share a recommended sign design with the community at the May 26 Cabin John Citizens Association meeting. CJCA officer elections also will be held during the Zoom meeting, which will begin at 7:30 pm.  The community endorsed a Cabin John sign project as part of the celebrations for the CJCA’s 100th anniversary in 2019. In addition to civic pride, the idea for a prominent Cabin John sign stemmed from community frustration that, as part of the revamping of the Cabin John Shopping Center at Seven Locks and Tuckerman Lane, the developers decided to rename the shopping center and planned townhouses Cabin John Village.  After some debate about how best to plant our flag as the REAL Cabin John, the decision was made to come up with a sign that simply says: Historic Cabin John, established 1912. The only other guidance was that the sign be placed somewhere along MacArthur Blvd.  With those marching orders, the CJ sign committee, led by CJCA Vice President Greg Pawlson, has been working diligently, although somewhat sporadically, throughout the pandemic. The group’s work became inspired when Jack Mandel, a stone mason and owner of his own stonework design business, recently joined the effort. Other committee members are Darla Cable, Dallas Harrison, Charlotte and Russ Leighton, and Susan Shipp.  Thanks to Greg Pawlson’s efforts, the MacArthur Plaza shopping center has tentatively agreed to allow a Cabin John sign to be installed on the grassy area between the landscaping and the stop sign at the corner of Seven Locks and MacArthur Blvd.  The committee hopes that CJ residents will join in the Zoom meeting for the design unveiling and a discussion about next steps, including the additional fundraising that will be needed to make this sign a reality. A link to the meeting will be emailed prior to May 26.  2021 CJCA OFFICER ELECTIONS  – 2021 CJCA Officer Elections also will be held at the May 26 meeting. The slate is still being put together, and we are still looking for officers to serve in a number of positions. So, don’t be shy, reach out to Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net and let her know that you are ready to volunteer your time to give back to our wonderful community.  SUSAN SHIPP, CJCA President  [...] Read more...
May 21, 2021In nature’s beauty pageant, what is the most stunning wildflower native to Maryland? There are spectacular candidates like Calypso orchid and Shooting star. But my vote is for a wildflower that shares our state name—Spigelia marylandica—known more familiarly as Woodland pinkroot or Indian Pink. With  its spectacular 2-inch-long, crimson-tubed flowers on the outside contrasting with creamy yellow tips, it will stop you in your tracks. The flowering display at the tips is set off against a strikingly symmetrical arrangement of leaves—pairs are born opposite each other and emerge right out of the stems, with the leaves rotated 90 degrees to the pair above or below them. Botanists call this pattern of leaf arrangement “decussate”—a great word for novices to name-drop to show their chops. Such decussate leaves are in turn marked by an elegant venation pattern of deep grooves in the upper leaf surface. Elegant leaves, stunning flowers—this is the kind of plant that can convince doubters of Darwin’s theory that evolution is capable of producing living organisms of extraordinary beauty.  The beauty of Woodland pinkroot is perhaps accentuated because it is relatively rare in our area, even though it bears the epithet “marylandica.” In fact, I have never seen it in the wild during my Maryland nature walks, even though white-tailed deer, the notorious native wildflower remover, avoids pinkroot. Woodland pinkroot can be found throughout the greater southeastern U.S., but wherever you look it is never common. Woodland pinkroot prefers rich, moist woods and wooded stream banks. Although in nature it is typically found in partial to full shade, it requires well-drained soil.  Plant breeders know beauty when they see it, so Woodland pinkroot has been brought into the garden trade, aided by its long flowering period and ability to tolerate shade. You can even order it online. There are showier cultivars for sale, but I would stick with the original. Some report it can do well in sunny spots, forming dense clumps and exploding with more flowers than the plants stuck under shade. But from personal experience, I suggest heeding the warning of horticulturalists: this species requires well-drained soils. To be able to admire this beauty at home, under the canopy forest in my backyard, I planted five Woodland pinkroots. They flowered prolifically for a few years and then died. My backyard, like many here in Cabin John, is underlain by dense clay, not the preferred soil type for this species. So a rich deposit of deep topsoil mixed with some gravel to enhance drainage might be the ticket. I will try again.  There may be a good reason that deer know to avoid Woodland pinkroot. Some botanists put Spigelia in its own family, the Spigeliaceae, but most consider it part of the Loganiacieae, a mostly tropical family. Not familiar with it? Many plants in this family store highly toxic alkaloids such as strychnine in their leaves, repelling herbivores, deer among them. Spigelia was also known as wormgrass because it was once used as a concoction to rid humans, children especially, of worms. The dire consequences of inappropriate doses, however, is well documented, leading to cramps and severe pain in various parts of the body. Spigelia isn’t even a particularly pleasant name for a plant genus, but that’s simply coincidental.  Botanists have a penchant for naming genera or species after…fellow botanists, and Spigelia is no exception. None other than famed 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus, known as the Father of Taxonomy, named this plant in honor of Adrian van der Spigel, a Brussels doctor whose 1606 text described the creation of herbaria using dried plants.  Unlike the rest of the plant, the nectar of Woodland pinkroot is not toxic, however, and a favorite of our ruby-throated hummingbirds. So what could be a better occupant of your garden? A gorgeous plant that attracts one of our most charismatic birds, the diminutive hummer. Enjoy the summer with this exquisite pairing of nature and honor Maryland’s name by introducing it to your yard. ERIC DINERSTEIN, Contributing Writer  ILLUSTRATION BY TRUDY NICHOLSON [...] Read more...
April 16, 2021The CJ founders of a newly created entity that aims to assume control of Minnie’s Island, received near universal support from the roughly 50 people who listened to their plans at the March 24 CJCA Zoom meeting. Minnie’s Island, located in the Potomac River about 100 yards off-shore from Lockhouse 8 on the C&O Canal, is roughly eight acres of wild habitat with a dilapidated wooden lodge and large deck at one end.  Led by Pascal Pittman of 80th Place, the Minnie’s Island Community Conservancy (MICC) is being formed to receive ownership of the island from the Potomac Conservancy. The other founding members of MICC are CJ residents Burr Gray, Jack Mandel, and Mac Thornton.  A day after the meeting MICC became a registered corporation, allowing it to begin working on its 501(c)(3) status. The organization “is dedicated to the preservation of the ecological, architectural, scientific, and humanist legacy of Minnie’s Island,” according to its mission statement. To achieve its aims, MICC is counting on community awareness, volunteerism, and donations to support the refurbishment of the cabin, the removal of non-invasive species from the island, and on-going maintenance, Pascal told meeting participants.  For the structure, he envisions bringing to working order the composting toilet, a woodburning stove, and a well. The addition of solar panels would allow for electricity. It will take a couple of years, he noted. But then the island would be ready to host six to eight people at a time for recreation, educational programs, conservation, and scientific research.  MICC also is in discussions with the National Park Service to take on maintenance responsibility for Lockhouse 8. Pascal explained that its role would be two-fold: the lockhouse would serve as a staging area for access to Minnie’s, primarily by enabling the canoes and kayaks needed to reach the island to be stored in its basement. It would also allow the group to schedule more educational programs as they would be able to use the lockhouse as meeting space if inclement weather kept the group from transporting people to the island.  Pascal said they are hoping to raise funds initially by having folks donate $250 a year and volunteer time working on island projects. But he stressed that Minnie’s would not be “a Sycamore Island private club” and that its fundraising is not part of a “pay to play” plan. He assured meeting attendees that the public would have access to the island “in a controlled manner.”  To find out more about MICC, email Pascal Pittman at pascaldpittman@gmail.com. By Susan Shipp, CJCA President [...] Read more...
April 16, 2021Every spring, Mother Nature rolls out her most exquisite carpets for a limited time only. Rarely is it a red carpet, but throws in shades of yellow, blue, purple, and white on a green background are plentiful. There are the displays of Virginia bluebells, the lacy green foliage and peculiar pantaloons-like flowers of Dutchman’s breeches, the sprawl of wood violets. Nature only keeps these carpets out to catch the sun’s rays for a short while: return a month later and they will have disappeared, buried below ground until the next year.  Botanists call these spring beauties (an actual common name of a common wildflower called Claytonia) spring ephemerals, ephemeral because the whole life cycle of the plant—emergence of leaves, flowering, fruiting, and dieback of the aboveground tissues—happens in a month or less. The early flowering is triggered by several cues: growing day length and increasing warmth of the soil, availability of nutrients, and the buzzing of pollinators like bees and flies. But most of all, it is sunshine—an abundance of it flooding the forest understory with photons between the Ides of March and the leafing out and closure of the canopy trees by mid-April. As one botanist put it, the spring ephemerals emerge during the short time when the forest is not a forest, but more like a prairie.  My favorite spring ephemeral has a shorter time on stage than almost any other— the American trout lily (Erythronium americanum). First come the alluring mottled brown and green leaves, the pattern resembling the sides of a brook trout. Emerging above the splayed leaves is a comely yellow flower with six fused petals. Jump to see this display when you hear of it in the neighborhood because nature doesn’t wait around for your procrastination. For about one week after the first blossoms emerge—which seems to be the duration of flowering—a carpet of yellow on green blankets parts of the Cabin John Creek Trail (the flowers close up at night, so nocturnal botanizing is fruitless). A few days of rainy weather and deep mud on the trail, and all but the most avid hikers can miss this impressive display.  Making the carpet of these blossoms even more scarce is the fact that many trout lilies rarely flower until at least four years of age. Even then, sexual reproduction in this plant is rather scant, with less than 10% of the population producing seeds; most spread by underground bulbs branching off from a full-grown plant. Another fascinating challenge is that trout lily puts much more effort into deeper penetration of the bulb into the soil than do other members of the lily family, more than two feet down.  Barring blockage by some impenetrable surface, the plant will continue to grow downwards rather than upwards. A tip to gardeners: if you want to force your trout lilies to flower, dig a six-inch hole and place a flat rock at the bottom and fill it with rich soil. Once the plant’s bulb encounters the rock, it sends up a flower rather than trying to force its roots through or around the rock.  Trout lilies die back every year, but how long do these perennials live? Some colonies of trout lilies are as ancient as they are vast; some are estimated to be 300 years old. Imagine, wildflowers that far outlive humans.  Perhaps the most interesting ecological feature of the trout lily, though, is that this species, like many plants featured in this column and in our flora of spring ephemerals, has evolved to have its seeds dispersed by ants. Attached to each seed in the pod is a fleshy fatty tissue called an elaiosome that attracts several species of intrepid ants. These ants carry the seeds to their burrows, away from seed predators lurking in the colony, and give the seeds a safe spot for germination. In return for their labors, the ants feed the fatty tissue to their larvae.  Mother Nature rolls out her trout lily carpet each spring but not exactly like clockwork. Climate change is likely altering the emergence time of spring ephemerals and possibly the life cycles of the pollinators—flies and bees—and seed dispersers, the ants.  Scientists, naturalists, and citizen scientists are closely monitoring the timing of ecosystem cycles of germination, flowering, and the arrival of pollinators to study how climate warming may be affecting their synchronization. Japan reported last week that its famous cherry trees blossomed this year on the earliest date in 1,200 years.  Will we see trout lilies and other spring ephemerals appear earlier in the calendar? Will the bees be there to greet them?  By Eric Dinerstein, Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson, Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
March 29, 2021While we’ve all become armchair travelers this past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us take daily strolls across what was once a must-see tourist destination, the subject of postcards, photographs, and letters. At the turn of the 20th century, the Cabin John Bridge was on the itinerary of the capital’s visitors and locals alike. “We went to Cabin John Bridge,” wrote Mabel Hubbard Bell to her “darling Alec” in 1899. “We really had an awfully good time, and the heat was tempered by breezes and clouds.” Leisurely drives to the Cabin John Bridge were mentioned on several occasions in Mabel’s correspondence to her husband, Alexander Graham Bell, when they lived in Washington D.C. The industrious photographer Alexander J. Yowell took every advantage of this popular tourist attraction and moved to the area in 1891. He set up his photography studio in a rustic wooden house under the elegant bridge, where one could purchase “a beautiful photogravure of Cabin John Bridge sent to any part of the world, post paid, for 15 cents, or a photograph for 30 cents.” In a stroke of marketing genius, Yowell deemed himself “Successor to John of the Cabin” after the legend of the mysterious stranger who lived along the creek. He put out a twelve page pamphlet entitled The Cabin of John: A World-renowned Architectural Structure, A Famous Hotel and Pleasure Resort in which he described the history and specifications of the Cabin John Bridge.  The pamphlet recounted in great detail the story of “John” the squatter, clothed in animal skins, who lived in a cabin in the woods and from whom Cabin John and its creek, bridge, and hotel all derived their names. It praised the first class reputation of the Cabin John Hotel resort and included a page of “Questions Answered” that covered any curious query a tourist might have had. Designed by Montgomery C. Meigs and completed in 1864, the Cabin John Bridge was the world’s largest single arch span bridge with a span of 220 feet. Sightseers flocked to the spot to view the bridge and enjoy the hotel. Yowell concluded, “I will cheerfully give any information I can, and will accord you every courtesy that will tend to make your visit profitable and pleasant, and should you desire to have a picture of yourself taken under the largest stone arch Bridge in the world, rest assured that you will be fairly and honorably treated.” Who wouldn’t pay 15 to 30 cents after such a sales pitch? There may be many images by Alex J. Yowell out there—in his pamphlet he noted the “thousands of specimens” of his work around the world. Perhaps Yowell’s most widely recognized photograph, at least by Cabin John residents, is a view downstream with the photographer’s quaint cabin on the right side of the frame, the arch of the monumental bridge containing the tranquil scene.  Richard Cook has two wonderful examples of Yowell’s tintypes in his private collection. Tintypes were popular throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and commonly used by open air and street photographers. The negatives were applied to black enameled metal plates, so the image could be processed within moments and handed to the customer on the spot.  One image shows three gentlemen in waistcoats and ties, holding their bowler hats while posed below the bridge’s arch. Another tintype, dated 1893, depicts four young women perched on a bench in a classical pose against the stonework of the bridge. Wearing long dresses and decorative hats, one of the women holds a parasol; another raises a piece of fruit in her hand, plucked from the upside down hat in her lap, the hat perhaps that of the nearest young lady in the foreground. Each of the tintypes are mounted in a mat paper frame that included Yowell’s calling card of sorts: a description of the Cabin John Bridge and its impressive dimensions, compliments of the photographer.  Alex J. Yowell was born on April, 15 1857 in Virginia. He and his wife Sarah had five sons. His eldest, Leroy, was also a photographer in 1900, and perhaps helped run his father’s studio. After the heyday of the bridge and hotel, Yowell remained in Washington D.C. where he worked as a printer and was a member of the Freemasons. He died November 22, 1939. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2021 March Newsletter] [...] Read more...
March 21, 2021Some 60 people, mostly Cabin John residents along with members of Carderock’s citizens association, a smattering of activists, and a couple of government officials joined the Feb. 24 CJCA Zoom meeting that provided an update on the flurry of activity surrounding the intertwined efforts of the preservation of the Morningstar 88 Moses Hall & Cemetery and the state’s massive Beltway Expansion plans.  Charlotte Troup Leighton, CJCA vice president for advocacy and a founding member of the Friends of Moses Hall, provided a detailed and insightful update. One of the important takeaways was that the State Highway Administration’s selection of Preferred Alternative 9, which calls for two managed toll lanes in each direction on I-495 and I-270, as well as its choice of a pre-development public-private partnership (P3) partner, now shifts the focus to the state’s Board of Public Works (BPW) and its upcoming vote to approve the pre- development partner and the next phase of work.  The swing vote on the board is Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has announced his candidacy for governor in 2022, and Charlotte suggested that a writing campaign to him may at least force more stipulations in the BPW vote. Her full presentation, which details numerous other efforts and points of interest, is linked to this story on the Cabin John website.  Meeting participants also benefited from the wisdom of Carol Rubin, Special Project Manager for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) dealing with the Beltway expansion, who joined the call to hear more about the community’s concerns. In February the M-NPPC voiced opposition to the state’s selection of a preferred alternative that does not use any tolls to fund mass transit. The commission has also raised a wide range of environmental concerns about the expansion plans.  At the meeting, Rubin answered a host of questions about the massive project’s potential impacts. She noted that the National Park Service is “just as upset as we are at this point” and mentioned specific concerns they have about the Clara Barton Parkway and Plummer’s Island. She believes any P3 contractor that comes in should be told they have “to respect the church and the cemetery,” adding that she wants developers to create an interpretive walking museum at the cemetery.  The community will have the chance to meet again with Rubin later in March. The Cabin John Citizens Association and the Friends of Moses Hall also will be participating in a March 10 meeting with state officials concerning a preliminary draft of how it intends to minimize or mitigate any impacts to historical and cultural resources as part of the Beltway Expansion project. Stay tuned…  By Susan ShippCJCA President  [...] Read more...
March 21, 2021Spring is just around the corner and that means it’s time to collect the plastic bags, cans, and other trash that has collected along the Cabin John Creek since our last effort. We need a lot of volunteers this year as we are expanding the cleanup to include the new 1.3-mile forest trail that runs between Seven Locks Rd. and the park by the one-lane bridge. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Cabin John Creek and the Cabin John Citizens Association, this year’s cleanup will be held Saturday, April 24 from 2 pm to 4:30 pm. (If inclement weather forces us to cancel, we will try again on Saturday, May 1.) Due to COVID, all participants must pre-register. Pre-registration will be done through the county’s volunteer website. You will need to create an account and complete a COVID-19 waiver form. Unfortunately, due to contact tracing and other requirements, we cannot allow people to participate who have not pre-registered. The CJCA will send out an email with the signup link as soon as it’s available. The deadline for pre-registering is April 23 at noon. If you are under 18 years old, you still need to pre-register on the website, print out the COVID-19 waiver, have your parents sign it, and bring it to the park. This event is preapproved for SSL hours. Children ages 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Please plan to meet at Cabin John Local Park by the one-lane bridge at 1:45 pm. The clean-up, held rain or shine, is messy and old clothes are recommended. Sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet are also a good idea. Masks are a must, and a personal water bottle is highly recommended. Gloves will be provided, but to ensure a better fit you may want to bring your own. Once you are signed in you will be given some trash bags and a portion or the creek or trail to clean up. There is a lot of creek and trail to tackle so we will have no trouble maintaining the required six feet between people of different households. For more information, please contact Greg Gurley at ggurley1@gmail.com or Susan Shipp at jsjsshipp3@verizon.net. By Susan ShippCJCA President Greg GurleyDirector, Friends of the Cabin John Creek [...] Read more...
March 20, 2021While we’ve all become armchair travelers this past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us take daily strolls across what was once a must-see tourist destination, the subject of postcards, photographs, and letters. At the turn of the 20th century, the Cabin John Bridge was on the itinerary of the capital’s visitors and locals alike. “We went to Cabin John Bridge,” wrote Mabel Hubbard Bell to her “darling Alec” in 1899. “We really had an awfully good time, and the heat was tempered by breezes and clouds.”  Leisurely drives to the Cabin John Bridge were mentioned on several occasions in Mabel’s correspondence to her husband, Alexander Graham Bell, when they lived in Washington D.C.  The industrious photographer Alexander J. Yowell took every advantage of this popular tourist attraction and moved to the area in 1891. He set up his photography studio in a rustic wooden house under the elegant bridge, where one could purchase “a beautiful photogravure of Cabin John Bridge sent to any part of the world, post paid, for 15 cents, or a photograph for 30 cents.”  In a stroke of marketing genius, Yowell deemed himself “Successor to John of the Cabin” after the legend of the mysterious stranger who lived along the creek. He put out a twelve page pamphlet entitled The Cabin of John: A World-renowned Architectural Structure, A Famous Hotel and Pleasure Resort in which he described the history and specifications of the Cabin John Bridge.  The pamphlet recounted in great detail the story of “John” the squatter, clothed in animal skins, who lived in a cabin in the woods and from whom Cabin John and its creek, bridge, and hotel all derived their names. It praised the first class reputation of the Cabin John Hotel resort and included a page of “Questions Answered” that covered any curious query a tourist might have had. Designed by Montgomery C. Meigs and completed in 1864, the Cabin John Bridge was the world’s largest single arch span bridge with a span of 220 feet. Sightseers flocked to the spot to view the bridge and enjoy the hotel.  Yowell concluded, “I will cheerfully give any information I can, and will accord you every courtesy that will tend to make your visit profitable and pleasant, and should you desire to have a picture of yourself taken under the largest stone arch Bridge in the world, rest assured that you will be fairly and honorably treated.” Who wouldn’t pay 15 to 30 cents after such a sales pitch?  There may be many images by Alex J. Yowell out there—in his pamphlet he noted the “thousands of specimens” of his work around the world. Perhaps Yowell’s most widely recognized photograph, at least by Cabin John residents, is a view downstream with the photographer’s quaint cabin on the right side of the frame, the arch of the monumental bridge containing the tranquil scene.  Richard Cook has two wonderful examples of Yowell’s tintypes in his private collection. Tintypes were popular throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and commonly used by open air and street photographers. The negatives were applied to black enameled metal plates, so the image could be processed within moments and handed to the customer on the spot.  One image shows three gentlemen in waistcoats and ties, holding their bowler hats while posed below the bridge’s arch. Another tintype, dated 1893, depicts four young women perched on a bench in a classical pose against the stonework of the bridge. Wearing long dresses and decorative hats, one of the women holds a parasol; another raises a piece of fruit in her hand, plucked from the upside down hat in her lap, the hat perhaps that of the nearest young lady in the foreground. Each of the tintypes are mounted in a mat paper frame that included Yowell’s calling card of sorts: a description of the Cabin John Bridge and its impressive dimensions, compliments of the photographer.  Alex J. Yowell was born on April, 15 1857 in Virginia. He and his wife Sarah had five sons. His eldest, Leroy, was also a photographer in 1900, and perhaps helped run his father’s studio. After the heyday of the bridge and hotel, Yowell remained in Washington D.C. where he worked as a printer and was a member of the Freemasons. He died November 22, 1939.  By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer  [...] Read more...
March 19, 2021Protecting precious topsoil by avoiding erosion is the guiding principle of every responsible farmer. Gardeners should heed the same commandment. In bright sunlit gardens, a wide variety of plants can effectively shield the exposed earth from washing away in a heavy rainstorm. But because much of Cabin John is still covered by trees, the challenge emerges when the canopy shades out sun-loving plants. In these spots the soil surface sits bare, exposed to heavy rains and wind, unless you find a shade-loving ground cover.  Fortunately, native plant species in our area have evolved to thrive under a dense tree canopy. Two such species could become the foot soldiers in an effort to repopulate the gardens of Cabin John with native vegetation that offer beautiful flowers, lush evergreen foliage, or both. And each has a fascinating ecological story to tell.  One of the most interesting species in our entire native flora is wild ginger, sometimes known as Canada wild ginger (Asarum canadense). It bears no taxonomic relation to the cultivated ginger plant of the tropics or to its relative, turmeric—both members of the Zingerberaceae, the true ginger family. Canada wild ginger belongs to the Dutchman’s pipe family, a group largely tropical and known for its bizarrely shaped flowers that resemble deep-bowled curved tobacco pipes. Many members of this family (Aristolochiaceae) are vines or lianas. Canada wild ginger grows solely prostrate and in the dense shade in areas along Cabin John Creek, covering the ground layer with heart- or kidney-shaped leaves. But it is the flowers that are most amazing: dark, mysterious, hairy, purple blossoms with three petal-like structures that are tapered at the tips and fused at the base to form a cup. Right out of a dark fairy tale.  After pollination, a pod emerges inside the flower that splits open upon ripening to expose seeds covered in a fatty tissue. That fatty tissue is attractive to ants that carry off the seeds to their lairs, feed the fatty tissue to the larvae, and thereby disperse the seeds unharmed. Wild ginger is but one of the  p to 25% of our early spring ephemeral wildflowers in our area that rely on ants to disperse their seeds (these were covered in the April 2015 Local Nature column entitled Ants in our Plants). Now you can bring this star of local nature into that shady spot in your yard.  A companion of wild ginger in the shadiest parts of our Cabin John Creek trail is partridgeberry. It’s easy to spot in winter, a ground-hugger with evergreen, opposite leaves that sport white stripes down the mid-vein of each leaf. In winter there is often a bright red berry, tasteless to us but gobbled down by wild turkey, partridge, quail, and other overwintering birds, and even foxes, skunks, and mice.  Partridgeberry is one of our most diminutive plants but spreads beautifully and would make an excellent garden- border plant mixed with an edging of rocks. Partridgeberry is one of the few temperate-zone plants, along with bedstraw and buttonbush, that belong to the tropical family Rubiaceae, known also as the coffee tree family. The miniature flowers of the partridgeberry even slightly resemble the much larger flowers of coffee and its allies in the family.  Quinine is another famous plant that belongs to the Rubes (as botanists affectionately call them). The Rubes contain some of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world, including my favorite, a species called Captaincookia, found only on the island of New Caledonia.  There’s not much to eat on a partridgeberry, so don’t grow it for its fruit. Canada wild ginger, in contrast, was sought out by Native Americans for the underground tubers that served as a spicy seasoning. Not recommended these days as further biochemical research shows that the plant contains some noxious chemicals. However, the Native Americans gave Canada wild ginger an important place in their natural apothecary. They treated a variety of ailments ranging from urinary tract infections and tuberculosis to convulsions with its roots.  But it’s that ant-bait that really intrigues me. I have yet to do this, but someday, this spring while waiting for the pandemic isolation to lift, when the ant-attracting seeds are out, I am going to lay prone and be eye-level with the wild ginger I have in my backyard forest and wait for the ants to arrive. Even in 2021 you can still feel like Charles Darwin about to encounter an evolutionary spectacle in miniature.  By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer  Illustrations by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
February 27, 2021A walk along the lower trail bordering Cabin John Creek requires a bit of boulder hopping. A relatively flat path gives way in a certain section to a world of jutting rocks, exposed roots, and low-growing trees—the most enchanted part of our local forest. The boulders are often topped by Polypody ferns, also known as rock cap ferns for their penchant to grow in depressions on rocks. If you stumble on a root and reach for a nearby shrub to keep your balance, more likely than not, you would be grasping the leathery evergreen leaves of the mountain laurel or a broom- like branch of witch hazel. And if you did fall, you might find yourself lying prone next to mapleleaf viburnum. These three shrubs—mountain laurel, witch hazel, and mapleleaf viburnum—are among the most common in the wildest reach by the creek, but only where the geology underlying the path beneath your feet is different from the rest of the trail.  An expert on the flora of the Great Smoky Mountains, the botanist Dan Pittillo, once shared this insight with me while on a nature hike: “If you want to be a botanist, become a geologist.” It turns out that this puzzling piece of advice makes more sense the longer you spend in nature looking at plants. If you know the underlying geology and soils of an area, you can often predict the plants and plant communities to be found there. A lot of plants, especially the more rare ones, prefer, or are limited to, a distinct substrate where they compete best for resources. And where the boulders composed of schist and gneiss— two common coarse-grained metamorphic rocks—create an obstacle course along the creek, the rarest plants along the Potomac grow: crane fly orchid, Adam-and-Eve orchid, rattlesnake plantain orchid, hepatica, and spotted wintergreen. And shading them from above is that trio of shrubs worthy of our attention as ecologists and a place in our gardens as restorationists. Fortunately for us, while all three of these plants are most common in the rocky stretches, they are easy to grow in the flat smooth soils of backyard Cabin John.  Mountain laurel is typically a plant of the mountains and the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. For anyone who has hiked or driven along the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain near Comus, Maryland in early May, the magnificent white or pink blossoms of mountain laurel greet you. So to see so much mountain laurel in the lowland forests around us is a botanical treat. It is likely the distinct geologic conditions of those schist and gneiss outcrops that allow the shrub to grow at this lower elevation. The abundant flowers attract the interest of native bumblebees and the fragrance of the blossoms has been compared to that of grape bubble gum (that was meant as a compliment by a gum chewing botanist). The mountain laurel is in the same family as Rhododendron (in Latin, the rose trees). If you’re thinking of planting in your flower bed some rose bushes this year, please reconsider. Roses attract no native insects. Mountain laurel does, it is much lovelier, can grow in partial shade, is evergreen, and so much easier to care for, requiring no pesticides like fragile roses typically do.  Witch hazel, you probably know, is famous for its exceptional properties as a natural astringent. We covered this shrub in a previous column in the November 2015 issue because it has a remarkable behavior not seen in almost any other plant: it flowers in winter (only the native witch hazel does this—the imported Chinese or Japanese witch hazel flowers in spring). What better way to add mystery and diversity to your garden than to plant witch hazel? This is a marvelous shrub that in late November sports bright thin yellow petals that stand out against snow and dark grey skies. It is pollinated by tough all-weather flies, bees, moths, and even beetles that venture out in the late fall and early winter. And laying their eggs on the witch hazel are the beautiful striped hairstreak and harvester butterflies, as well as the witches hat aphid.  Mapleleaf viburnum is so named because the paired opposite leaves resemble the leaves of maples, just like a gardener’s favorite, oakleaf viburnum, and has foliage resembling that of white oaks. The mapleleaf viburnum doesn’t receive the same attention as other viburnums, a number of which are planted in local gardens and are not native. Yet its fall fruits attract white-throated sparrows, cardinals, and other birds. Its delicate white flowers are my favorite among the viburnums. But the mapleleaf viburnum earns a first prize among all of our native shrubs: most beautiful fall foliage. In autumn, the leaves of mapleleaf viburnum turn exquisite hues from purple to blue or magenta. When the afternoon sun backlights this viburnum, it is one of the visual pleasures of my early November walks along the creek. Just as the mountain laurel can sub for rose bushes, the mapleleaf viburnum can take the place of the invasive burning bush planted so frequently in our neighborhood. Do the eye test from the images on the internet for fall foliage and watch your preference shift to the native.  And the runner-up for the most beautiful fall foliage? I offer witch hazel. Unlike mapleleaf viburnum, which is a solid purple, witch hazel leaves can come in shades of purple, yellow, red, or orange, on single leaves or all on the same leaf. It is a blaze of fall color condensed to a single bush.  Set against the cheery evergreen foliage of the mountain laurel you have several gorgeous native shrubs that give pleasure over the seasons, require no care once planted, and will prosper for decades. Better still, you can purchase these plants online or at local nurseries like Nature by Design in Alexandria, where I bought most of my native plants. And, in this era of COVID-19 and home delivery, Nature by Design brings plants to your door. Go to www.nature-by-design.com to find these three stalwart shrubs and virtually all of the natives that I’ll write about and Trudy will illustrate in this year’s columns. Late February or March is an excellent time to put them in the ground.  We are lucky to be living so close to wilderness. And with the addition of these three plants, we can bring a parcel of wilderness right into our yards. ERIC DINERSTEIN , Contributing Writer  ILLUSTRATION BY TRUDY NICHOLSON  [...] Read more...
February 14, 2021Cabin John Goes to the Dogs, Cats and Rabbits During Pandemic Like the rest of the country, the pandemic has prompted residents of Cabin John to adopt dogs, cats, and other pets. Here are some of the furry friends that have joined families in the neighborhood over the past year. Buster joined the Gibbons family on 75th Pl. and is curled up in his fur beanbag, one of many favorite pandemic nap spots.Degie, a goldendoodle, joined Amy Ross and Bob Wilkoff on Macarthur Blvd. in August when he was three months old. He is very goofy and is amazed by how many of his long-lost “doodle” cousins also live in the neighborhood. One individual not so happy that he’s joined their household is Ms. T, a very spoiled 10-year-old cat.The Thomas family of Cabin Rd. adopted two rescue bunnies (sisters!) in June from the House Rabbit Society. Their names are Tia Tofu and Gigi.Seventy-fifth Place is also the new home of Maise, a rescue pup from Louisiana adopted by the Harris family in late December after being fostered by the Holland family of 79th Place. Foster mom Jill brings her dog Dexter for the occasional visit with Maise and mom Helen.In July, goldendoodle Ellie joined mom Maybe and the Cohen/Liebman family of 79th Pl. and enjoys playing with all her neighborhood puppy pals.Andy, Meredith, Tenley, and Phoebe Fishburn of Tomlinson Terr. adopted Boxer puppy Taffy in April. Taffy has a lot of energy, so she is out and about on at least three walks a day. She says “woof woof” to all her new doggie friends.Rocky was adopted by Tom Wilmarth of 75th Pl. in June 2020 when he was eight weeks old. He and Tom split their time between Cabin John and Arizona.Harry is a six-month-old coonhound adopted in November by the Shirzad family of Seven Locks Rd. He is an energetic and playful puppy, and they feel very lucky for him to be part of their family.Diane Dompka of MacArthur Blvd. adopted pandemic sidekick LuLu on March 20 from the Humane Rescue Alliance. She has been the best stay-at-home pal one could wish for. She looks and acts like Diane’s former pet LuLu.Marlene Beckman and Ken Speckler of 79th St. welcomed a new “grand pup,” Stella. Their daughter had been fostering puppies for Lucky Dog Animal Rescue prior to the pandemic, and her four previous rescue pups were immediately adopted. She met Stella and knew she was “the one.” The two of them live in Vienna, VA.On 83rd Place, the Patt-Corner family’s six-year-old pup Julian had become lonely during the pandemic, so they adopted nine-month-old rescue Aussie, Koda, through SOHO Dog Rescue, which saves herding dogs and mixes. They became fast friends. Koda is a delight! By Loretta Devery IngallsVillage News Content Editor [...] Read more...
February 14, 2021A Brief Explanation of the CJCA Financial Statement As you can see from the 2020 CJCA Financial Statement (below), the Cabin John Citizens Association is fiscally sound even though we were unable to hold our big fundraiser, the CJ Chicken and Crab Feast. The last CJCA-sponsored event before the pandemic shut everything down was our Trivia Night fundraiser, which netted close to $1,200 towards the CJ Signage project. The signage committee, spearheaded by Greg Paulson, a CJCA vice president, is hoping to have a couple of design options to share with the community this spring. The generous $1,500 100th Anniversary donation in this year’s financials was given to support the MacArthur Blvd. Beautification Project. The statement, prepared by CJCA Treasurer Bob Walsh of 81st Street, shows that 2020 income primarily came from dues and donations. A big thank you to all the duespaying community members and those that generously donated additional funds totaling $3,843 to the CJCA as well as $2,091 to the Friends of the Cabin John Creek and $1,456 to the Friends of the Clara Barton Community Center. It is disheartening that only half of the roughly 750 CJ households and businesses make the effort to pay the $20 annual dues. I hope when you receive the dues letter shortly, you will consider all that the CJCA does and take the time to pay your dues. Of note, The Village News came within $500 of breaking even this year, with revenue topping $12,200 and printing and mailing expenses coming in at some $12,700. On the expense side, some $3,300 was spent on advocacy tied to the state’s Beltway expansion and the preservation of the Morningstar 88 Moses Hall and cemetery. Our balance on hand at the start of 2020 is impressive at more than $28,000. The CJCA does have outstanding obligations of more than $7,000 for the 2021 CJ Directory and likely $800 or so for additional work on our website, www.cabinjohn.org. By Susan ShippCJCA President [...] Read more...
February 14, 2021Marcy Harrison: Retired but Not Retiring Longtime CJ volunteer Marcy Harrison of Cypress Grove Lane took on the role of CJCA vice president of communications and editor of the 2021 Cabin John Directory in late 2019. Now that the directory project is just about wrapped up—look for your directory in the mail this March — Marcy is adding to her Cabin John volunteer duties. As of February, Marcy is the business manager for The Village News. In that role, Marcy will be managing all of the newsletter’s display and classified advertising, subscriptions, andthe master mailing list. Marcy will also continue to serve as a CJCA vice president of communications, focusing on maintaining directory listing information and helping with the Cabin John website. The Cabin John Citizens Association would love to add a second vice president of communications. This volunteer would be responsible for publicizing CJCA events and other activities in the newsletter and on the CJCA listserv. Anyone interested in learning more about this position is urged to contact CJCA President Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net. The Village News recently interviewed Marcy about her new role and life in general: Since we last interviewed you in late 2019, you retired from your job in the healthcare industry. How is that going? I love, love, love it! Every day is a Saturday! I get great joy from little things that are new for me now—like how much easier it is to do errands during the week when there are few people out. I have the time to reconnect with friends, and to pursue new learning on miscellaneous topics. I have always wanted to assume more volunteer service roles, such as the CJCA business manager, and to be more available to help out with our three daughters and our grandkids. Now I can. My youngest daughter is taking full advantage of my newly available time to help her plan her October wedding. I have not yet started all the home organization projects that are waiting for me, but I have been able to take up some new hobbies. Tell us about that. I’m diving deeply into birding. I’ve taken trips with the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Montgomery Bird Club. I’m participating in the backyard bird count and other bird counting efforts. I’m taking up bird photography. There is so much to learn! Like a lot of people in the pandemic, I am doing more reading. I found the Diane Rehm Book Club online, and I am enjoying it a lot. I also plan to re-start piano and banjo lessons. Do you have any post-pandemic retirement plans? My husband and I hope to get back to doing more traveling. We were supposed to go to Portugal last October. I’ve been studying Portuguese online for a year! I also hope to find a local book club, movie club, and game night group. If you have any suggestions for finding these, please let me know! Nancy Russell: Leader of Spirited Community Outreach Did you receive a CJ welcome bag when you moved to Cabin John? Have you attended the annual New Neighbor Potluck or bought a ticket to CJCA’s annual Chicken and Crab Feast fundraiser from a block coordinator? If so, you have Nancy Russell to thank. For more than four years, Nancy has served as the CJCA’s vice president for community outreach. Nancy took the newly created position so that she could focus on creating community cohesion. Elected in May 2017, Nancy had the CJ Block Coordinator Program up and running before the end of the year. After breaking down the community into 31 “blocks” of one to two dozen households, Nancy recruited one or more volunteers for each area. In addition to welcome bag deliveries and ticket sales for the crab feast, block coordinators are occasionally asked to share important community news, such as when the revamped Neighbor 2 Neighbor assistance program — another Nancy led effort — was launched. In 2018, Nancy coordinated the inaugural New Neighbors Potluck held each spring. Nancy has enriched the community well beyond her official role. Nancy and her husband Craig have been active members of the community since 2004 when they moved into their home on 76th Street, lending a hand at crab feasts, Fourth of July celebrations, and CJ holiday parties. In March, Nancy and Craig will be moving to Sonoma, CA, which will surely benefit from their enthusiastic community spirit. The CJCA wishes them well in their new adventure and offers a heartfelt thanks for all the ways they enriched the community over the years. BY SUSAN SHIPPCJCA President [...] Read more...
February 14, 2021Moses Hall Fieldwork Underway As State Moves Forward With Beltway Plans The State Highway Administration started to clear bamboo in mid-January at the Morningstar Moses Hall & Cemetery site as part of additional field investigations required under theenvironmental review process tied to Gov. Hogan’s Beltway expansion plans. But even though the final environmental impact statement is not expected until the fall, on Jan. 27 Maryland highway officials announced their pick for a plan to expand I-495 and I-270 that would add four toll lanes to each roadway. As currently envisioned, the plan also would include a managed lane flyover access ramp at River Road that would cross Seven Locks Rd. and encroach on the Moses Hall property. Furthermore, the Maryland Department of Transportation expects to choose a predevelopment contractor for the multibillion-dollar project this month. While it’s still too early to know what these choices might mean for Cabin John, the Moses Hall property is already dealing with a number of issues driven by the state’s Beltway expansion efforts. The Cabin John Citizens Association will host a Zoom meeting Feb. 24 at 7:30pm to provide an update on the state’s expansion plans and all the work going into preserving the Moses Hall property. Please look for a CJCA email with the Zoom meeting link a few days before the meeting. Reconstituting Morningstar Tabernacle Number 88, Inc. A critical piece to protecting the Moses Hall property has been to reestablish an ownership entity. In 1885 Cabin John’s African American community established Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88, a local branch of the Ancient United Order of Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters of Moses, a black fraternal organization created by Peter Paul Brown in 1868 in Pennsylvania. Most of this small community, early on known as Gibson Grove and later as simply No. 10, belonged to Morningstar 88. It built the Moses Hall lodge, a two-story structure, on land formally conveyed to Morningstar Moses 88 by John D.W. Moore in 1901. (Earlier in 1887 George and wife Surilla— aka Cyrilla—Scott had conveyeda portion of their land to Morningstar 88 to create a small “road” to reach the burial site and hall.) Like other benevolent societies in this era, Morningstar 88 played a critical role in the post-Emancipation era by providing to its members funds in case of illness, education to orphans,and, uniquely in Montgomery County, a burial place for its members not requiring specific church affiliation. (While most of its members were part of the local Gibson Grove AME Zion Church, there were some who belonged to area Baptist churches.) Morningstar’s Moses Hall was not only used for lodge meetings, it also served as a social center for the community and at times housed the Cabin John School for black children. By the mid-1990s, the need for Morningstar 88 dwindled as insurance and other services became more available to the community, but lodge members continued to be buried in the Morningstar Moses Cemetery well into the 1970s. Over time, however, Morningstar 88 became defunct. Moses Hall descendants and volunteers have worked diligently with pro bono counsel over the past year to appoint substitute trustees to reestablish the ownership entity, address tax issues, and bring it in good standing with the state. The three substitute trustees are Moses Hall descendant Austin E. White of Carver Rd., local preservationist Eileen McGuckian, and archeologistDr. Alexandra Jones. They will work to establish by-laws and add trustees while moving forward with meaningful preservation and advocacy efforts for this historic site. Ensuring the State’s Fieldwork Does No Harm Most immediately, this effort enabled trustees to appear at the Dec. 29 court hearing to request that the state’s attorney more carefully define and limit the state highway administration’s(SHA) access and work at this sensitive site. As part of the environmental assessment, the SHA must complete additional field investigations, monitored by an on-site archaeologist, within the Limits of Disturbance (LOD) area of the potential Beltway expansion. A number of known burial sites and the foundation of the hall — the only known physical remains of an Order of Moses Hall in Montgomery County — fall within the LOD. To complete its investigations, the state must first remove the bamboo from the property. As of early February, the cutting was well underway, but the state still needed to work out the complicated logistics for removal of the cut bamboo from the property. Beltway lane closures will be required for the project. The cemetery and hall site is currently closed to the public. Friends of Moses Hall Continues Its Preservation Efforts Friends of Moses Hall, a group comprised of descendants of Moses Hall, historic preservationists, and Cabin John community members, has been working tirelessly since fall 2019 to preserve and protect the property. In 2020, the Cabin John Citizens Association provided $2,000 to haul away mounds of debris cleared by volunteers. With the state now required to clear out the remaining bamboo on the property so that its assessment can continue, Friends of Moses Hall is focusing on ensuring the bamboo does not growback. The group brought in a landscaper that does bamboo remediation. He expects it will take several years of treatments to fully eradicate the bamboo. The cost estimate for the first year of treatment exceeds $4,000. In late January, Friends of Moses Hall received a $3,000 Trader Foundation grant from the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites. This grant money is earmarked for bamboo remediation and to cover filing fees to bring Morningstar 88 Moses Hall in good standing with the state. In the coming months Friends of Moses Hall, the Cabin John Citizens Association, and others will be working with the SHA and the private contractors it selects to avoid and mitigateimpacts to the property as part of the next phase of the environmental process. Please visit Friends of Moses Hall’s recently launched website www.friendsofmoseshall.org to learn more about Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall and the ongoing efforts to preserveand protect this historic treasure in Cabin John. By Charlotte Troup LeightonCJCA Vice President for Advocacy [...] Read more...
January 29, 2021Thoreau cherished his Walden Pond. We, the fortunate residents of Cabin John, live closer to wilderness than the reclusive Henry David. To the south is the wild Potomac and its luxurious riparian forest, which form the C&O Canal National Historic Park. A fact few know: the Potomac is one of the three wildest (i.e., undammed) rivers to flow through the capital city of any nation. To the north, protecting us from the noise and motor madness of the Beltway, is Cabin John Local Park, which hugs Cabin John Creek and serves as refuge for many rare plants of Maryland.  But in between these two parks, where has the wildness gone that not so long ago was in evidence? The truth is that Cabin John has been transformed in the past 25 years from a village of small cottages underneath majestic shade trees and patches of wild to large houses with extensive lawns and many fewer trees. This is not a condemnation but simply an observation of a trend, one that plays out in many of the suburbs of large metropolitan areas of America.  Another trend some of us have noticed: with the increase in the cover of our yards by monocultures of grass lawns kept green and thriving by chemicals and fertilizers, populations of bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles—what E. O. Wilson called, “the little things that run the world”—are plummeting rapidly. Even those who don’t like beetles or flies or are scared of caterpillars falling from tree canopies probably love the songs of birds in our backyards. But in fact, those songbirds—our beloved catbird, the spunky Carolina wren, the proud American robin, the ethereal flutist known as the wood thrush—are made primarily from bugs. And these songsters require lots of bugs to feed their young and themselves. In September, when insects become scarce, a helping of wild fruits is also a draw for those species needing to tank up before migrating south for winter. (Of course, the other vital role that insects play besides being a convenient meal is their central role in pollination of our crops and garden plants).  Perhaps Cabin John residents have become more tuned in to birds than ever before, given how much time we have spent this past year staring out into our backyards. As the world ponders how to build back better after the coronavirus pandemic, what can we, as good citizens of Cabin John, do to aid in this effort? My suggestion is that, in addition to whatever else we might plan to do, we become good ecological citizens as well. And more specifically, I suggest we join the growing global movement to restore nature by turning a fraction of our expansive grass lawns and city parks into homegrown wildlife preserves.  Entomologist Doug Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware and the leading proponent of bringing nature into our backyards, identifies the scope of the problem and what we can do to rectify it:  “It’s actually quite simple—abandon the age- old concept that humans live here and nature is somewhere else and embrace the concept that we need to share our spaces with nature. We enjoy a walk in the woods; we enjoy seeing butterflies, birds, beautiful flowers, etc. Research has shown that spending time in nature is the very best way to recharge your attention span and deal with the stresses of life. Living with nature is a healthy necessity, not a sacrifice we must endure.  We have 45.6 million acres of lawns and it is growing by 500 square miles each year. That’s an area 8 times the size of New Jersey from which the species that run our ecosystems have been removed. Now that we see the big picture, homeowners can take action.  Lawn should be restricted to the areas on which we walk in our landscapes; it is a mechanism for guiding us through our landscapes. Lawn should not be our default landscaping practice. If we cut the area of lawn in half, we could create the equivalent of a new national park that is 20 million acresin size. That alone would create the biggest natural area in the nation, bigger than most of our national parks combined.”  In Cabin John, most residents have large yards, a rarity inside the Capital Beltway. We don’t have to go so far as to cut the land area of our yards in half, though. Creating a garden bed devoted to native plants would be a good start.  To guide the ecological citizens among us, the columns for this year will have a common theme: What are the most beautiful native plants we can grow that feed the bugs and butterflies that feed the birds and help prevent the extinction of life on Earth?  Each month’s column will feature a favorite that is easy to grow, is available from local nurseries, and that contributes to rewilding your yard. Can you imagine an archipelago of wild gardens across Cabin John, serving as a safe haven for Monarch butterflies and Luna moths? Where American Goldfinches gather seeds and catbirds imitate the bird songs of the neighborhood? When it comes to nature, isn’t this the very essence of building back better?  We’ll build up to the end point, the last column of 2021, for creating your own backyard forest preserve. But for the first installment, let’s start small with that flower bed or patch of yard turned over to nature. This month considers the ground cover we gardeners often plant or allow to spread to avoid weeding. The most common invaders, English ivy and winter creeper (covered in last year’s columns on alien invasives) crowd out native plants in our forests and in our yards. Let’s yank them out, and in their place, try these two spectacular ground covers: Woodland stonecrop and Allegheny spurge. Many people are familiar with stonecrops: with their thick succulent leaves they are popular indoor and roof- garden plants as they require little care and store water in their tissues. The non-native varieties planted on roofs are covered in sprays of flowers of vivid colors. Our single native, Woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), has a pure white corolla. It thrives in bright sun and is about the easiest plant to propagate: if you inadvertently slice off a stem in planting or transplanting, stick it in the ground. The plant spreads quickly over the surface and in the spring, you will enjoy a carpet of lovely foliage and white flowers (you can even eat the leaves in salad or put the flowers in jars of pickles). Make your bees happy; those that come will pollinate other flowering species in your garden.  Then there is the Allegheny spurge, one of the most beautiful ground covers in the region, sporting male flowers rising in spikes of white above attractive scalloped leaves dotted in purple and silver. It is much more attractive, in fact, than the ubiquitous non-native Japanese spurge that chokes out all below it. The Allegheny, or mountain, spurge spreads more slowly than Japanese spurge so you can plan out your garden and move it and stonecrop around.  If you have picked a sunny spot to start your very own wildlife preserve, stick in plugs of woodland stonecrop stems a few inches apart. If you have a shady spot, go with the Allegheny spurge. Above all, don’t give the periwinkle (a highly toxic plant that is all over gardens in Cabin John) an inch of space and keep out the English ivy.  With these native ground covers, we can beautify Cabin John and offer food for our dwindling bee populations as well as all the other insects threatened by the chemical warfare that rages in suburbia. ERIC DINERSTEIN, Contributing Writer  ILLUSTRATION BY TRUDY NICHOLSON  [...] Read more...
January 29, 2021The new 2021 Cabin John Directory is on track to be in the mail by the end of February. While this represents a delay from our original goal of publishing in 2020, the Cabin John Citizens Association hopes you will find it worth the wait. The CJ Directory, last published in 2015, is mailed free of charge to every household in Cabin John. For the 2021 version, we are adding email addresses and cell phone numbers for adults listed. Like previous directories, there will be the ability to look up names by street, a local talent section, and information on local businesses and services. While the pandemic precluded house-to-house canvassing for resident information as was done for previous directories, every attempt was made to reach all 715 or so households in 2020 through notices in The Village News, letters, emails, and phone calls. The listings are comprehensive for Cabin John and include 20817 residents living within the geographic boundaries of Cabin John (the triangle created by the Capital Beltway, Cabin John Parkway and the Potomac River) who were previously listed in the 2015 directory and/or who are dues paying members of the Cabin John Citizens Association. ATTENTION NEW CABIN JOHN RESIDENTSThe directory editors are concerned that folks who moved into Cabin John during the pandemic may not have had a chance to express their interest in being included in the new directory. If you became a CJ resident in 2020 and have not yet shared your name, address, and any contact information you want to be in a directory listing, please send an email to the editor, Marcy Harrison, at cjdirectory2020@gmail.com. She will be happy to answer any questions and work with you to be included. By Marcy Harrison2021 CJ Directory Editor [...] Read more...
November 29, 2020This past spring, as Covid-19 lockdowns began and people worried about the availability of fresh food, victory gardens and backyard chickens became a growing trend. In Cabin John, raised beds and deer-proof fencing became more common. But what many of Cabin John’s backyard farmers may not have known is that their newly cultivated gardens revisited a pastoral community tradition. Today’s Cabin John was originally parcels of land owned and farmed by a handful of families during the late 1700s and 1800s, with few houses dotting the landscape. In 1870, Joseph and Rosa Bobinger purchased 100 acres west of the Union Arch Bridge, and the legendary Cabin John Bridge Hotel was born. Joseph had worked as a stonemason on the bridge, while Rosa operated a nearby refreshment stand, selling drinks and cakes and later her chicken dinner, which cemented her reputation as an excellent cook. Across from the hotel, where the tennis courts and baseball field are located, were once stables, a smoke house, dairy building, an ice house, a red brick gas house (which still stands today), poultry houses, a large garden, and perhaps most interestingly, one of the largest asparagus beds in the country.  The hotel was famous for its elaborate and freshly cooked meals, a turn of the 20th century farm to table restaurant. From Maryland fried chicken to a small-mouth bass platter, with the bass split down the middle, golden brown and garnished with tartar sauce and boiled new potatoes, meals were fresh and local. Some of the wine was made from local vineyards on both sides of the Cabin John Branch (though the Bobingers prided themselves on their far more sophisticated European wines). The hotel’s homemade biscuits were famous. Special enclosures were built in the creek, which held bass caught in the river, and many vegetables were grown in the gardens across Conduit Road (MacArthur Blvd). Rosa Bobinger’s famous chicken dish, advertised as “fried spring chicken, Cabin John style,” made the leap from her small food stand during the construction of the Union Arch Bridge to their grand hotel. And it made an appearance in Edith Armstrong’s 1958 historic novel, Days at Cabin John, a story of family and neighbors in Cabin John during the 1920s. Though the characters are imagined, the book captures the community’s history and anecdotes through Armstrong’s eyes. Strolling by the hotel one afternoon, the narrator decides to knock on the door and is met by Rosa Bobinger’s daughter in law: “Is it true Maryland fried chicken originated at the hotel?” I asked. “Yes, indeed it is.” She told us how the chicken was served quartered on a platter with curled bacon on top, and around it was brown gravy and golden brown corn fritters. In 1912 the American Land Company, owned by J.S. Tomlinson, purchased 600 acres for the development of a new community called Cabin John Park, “Farmlets for Pleasure and Profit” near Cabin John Bridge. Thus began Tomlinson’s sales pitch of 100-foot-wide lots, 15,000 to 40,000 square feet in size, and “specially arranged for comfortable homes and suitable places to raise chickens and to grow all kinds of fruit and vegetables for family and market purposes.” A July 1914 sales ad promoted Cabin John Park’s features: perfect drainage, fertile land, fruit, vegetables, apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, sweet & Irish potatoes, lettuce, kale, cabbage, grapes and melons, all garden crops, and chicken farms.  A brochure touted “Big Profits in Little Crops” and tells of an old gentleman who “turned special attention to the cultivations of lettuce,” which made him thousands of dollars. The American Land Company also offered a free course through the Home Correspondence School to those who purchased lots to learn the best crops to grow. The area had over 30 species of trees, and a “splendid variety of shrubs, plants, weeds, ferns and all kinds of growth to fascinate a student in botany.” Armstrong’s novel upholds that selling point:  We shared much of the bounty of late autumn. We gathered hickory nuts, large and paper shelled, from our yard, enough of them to fill a round reed basket. They would enhance the flavor of cookies, cakes and candy throughout the winter. Persimmons tumbled tender and ripe from a slender tree near the hickory… down by the canal we found walnuts scattered beneath the tree like fallen apples. Many of the residents’ recollections in Elizabeth Kytle’s 1976 Time Was: A Cabin John Memory Book also described a village of farms and gardens and an astonishing abundance of home grown food. Lena Brown recalled her father’s farm during the years before 1912: a 4 acre parcel that stood where Carver Road now is, filled with “cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes and corn. There were peppers, watermelons, cantaloupes.” Norman Tuohey recalled how flour from the mill in Seneca traveled along the C&O Canal and was unloaded at Cabin John, where it could be collected by Potomac merchants. Other residents mentioned a “big grove of pawpaw trees right down past Cabin John Creek” and “collecting chestnuts to take home for roasting.” In the early 1920s, when Mrs. Josephine Havens was a college student, “everybody had vegetable gardens, and you worked in your family’s garden and helped….We had asparagus, we had beautiful tomatoes, gorgeous strawberries—we used to sell those beautiful strawberries around the neighborhood. String beans and corn and everything. Fruit trees too, peaches and apples and cherries…Mother used to can—oh, killed herself canning all summer long.” By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [...] Read more...
November 29, 2020The new trail high above Cabin John Creek is a wonder. On my first hike along this route, I marveled at the stunning views from on high, looking down through the forest canopy. Birding in spring from there will be a joy if one can keep an eye out for mountain bikers. The route winds its way past majestic trees that escaped the loggers’ saws. These cove forests harbor massive tall tulip poplars and chestnut oaks, probably because they grew up on slopes too steep to log. But absent is a most sorely missed resident—the American chestnut. Once upon a time, about 200 years ago, the forests in Cabin John and along the entire Appalachian Mountain chain looked much different than today. They were filled with giant American chestnuts—a hundred feet tall and up to five feet in diameter. The American chestnut is a native to eastern North America, a member of the same family as our lovely beech and oak trees. Like these other species, they produced an annual abundant crop of nuts, often three to a cluster, that fell to the ground where they provided nourishment for deer, turkeys, bears, pigs, and humans (of course). Unlike oak acorns, the nutritious nuts of the chestnut could be eaten raw,  and were far more tasty. And the wood, although not as valuable as some oaks or cherry, had a straight grain, was easy to work, and was highly resistant to rot. It served as the basis for entire industries such as the production of railroad ties, railroad-car construction, and, from its extracts, tannins for the leather industry. The species was once so abundant, it is estimated that in parts of Pennsylvania, for example, chestnuts accounted for 30% of all the individual trees in the forest. Some historians believe that it was the demise of the American chestnut that led residents of Appalachia to abandon the dying forests and turn to another resource found below the ground—high-sulfur-content coal.  Officially, the cause of the demise of the species’ abundance was discovered in 1904 officially but perhaps the decline occurred even earlier informally. The American chestnut is a part of a genus (Castanea) that includes species native to Europe, China, and Japan (the chestnuts you buy in the market today are C. sativa, a smaller version of the edible nuts). It is estimated that from the start of the decline in 1900 to the last standing chestnuts in the 1930s, over 30 billion trees died. What caused this valuable tree species to disappear and the forest to turn over, its place filled by other trees? Ironically, a place erected in part to save endangered species—the Bronx Zoo—became the entry point of the American chestnut killer. Asian species of chestnuts were imported to plant on the zoo grounds, and with them came a fungus called the chestnut blight. The Chinese chestnut is resistant or even immune to this blight, a fungus known to science as Cryphonectrica parasitica. But within about 20 years, the fungus spread to native American chestnuts, which had no resistance to it. The spores of the fungus could live on neighboring oak trees and infect its chestnut neighbors. The effects were so devastating that virtually all of the chestnut trees in the eastern U.S. were wiped out. Here is the odd discovery: the fungus eschews the roots of the chestnut, only infecting the above ground tissues. Even more surprising is this: when the mature chestnut becomes infected and apparently dies a few years later, it’s not really dead. If the base is left intact in the ground, the American chestnut is a vigorous stump sprouter. New leaders emerge quickly and the shoots, well, shoot up. Saplings can grow for about a decade or two and then, wham!, the fungal infection returns and the young tree saplings die back again. It’s an American tragedy: the trees try to recover only to be felled as an adolescent, the cycle repeated over and over. For decades, devoted chestnut lovers have tried to bring the trees back, using cross-breeding techniques developed for other plants to create a blight-resistant chestnut. These efforts have borne little success. But we live in a world of rapid scientific evolution both in theory and technique. New genetic methods have been applied to transfer disease-resistant genes to American chestnut seedlings. Infection, or resistance to the blight, appears to be controlled by just a few genes, and if the right mix can be found, in theory we can regrow our chestnut forests. Enter the ethical dilemmas: should scientists “play God” and alter the genetic structure of the American chestnut to make it blight resistant? If successful, would it become a genetically modified organism, known as a GMO, or a GRO, one of the first genetically recovered organisms? My vote is full speed ahead with the genetics program. We already have so altered our forest structure and composition; for example, losing ash trees to the imported emerald tree borer and Eastern hemlocks to the hemlock wooly adelgid (a beetle and a sucking bug, respectively, both native to Asia and covered in earlier columns).  In some places our forests are described as senescent, decimated by over-abundant, browsing white-tailed deer that prevent edible seedlings of native trees from becoming established. Humans have long modified plant traits dating back at least 10,000 years. Transgenic trees are created today using more sophisticated techniques. And just as we hope to create an American chestnut resistant to chestnut blight, perhaps we can someday genetically modify a blight by making it so much less virulent that it is rendered virtually harmless. As we live in a world of novel coronaviruses, and other pathogens that infect humans via zoonotic spillovers from other mammals, we may wish for the scientific expertise to rapidly create vaccines, not only for humans but also for American chestnuts.  Perhaps someday, 50 years from now, future residents walking along the Cabin John Creek trail will hear the thud of chestnuts falling to the ground from mature replanted, blight-resistant trees with bears and turkeys eagerly waiting below. And so ends this year’s articles. The shared theme has been invasive species that threaten or whose spread diminishes our local nature—an ecological downer. Next year returns with a much more hopeful theme: a year of articles featuring glorious native plants to plant in your yard (you have the time). Your family can create your own private national park, be it five square feet devoted to natives, or your entire backyard. And in these articles Trudy Nicholson and I will introduce a marvelous nursery of plants attractive to native pollinators, fruit-eaters, and your own sense of aesthetics. By joining us in planting natives, you will not only be beautifying Cabin John, you will be helping the world by drawing down carbon. And life on Earth needs all the help we can give it right now. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
November 18, 2020The Cabin John Community Listserv serves as CJ’s informal neighborhood listserv that lets all members share information, post items for sale, ask questions, make recommendations, report missing pets, and otherwise reach out to the community. Since its inception, the Cabin John listserv has been hosted on Yahoo Groups, which announced it is shutting down effective Dec. 15. The Cabin John Listserv is now on Groups.io. To join this listserv, send an email with your name and street address (to verify residence) to: cabinjohn+subscribe@groups.io. Membership is open to current and former CJ residents. The purpose of this listserv is to share information and have discussions that are hyperlocal to Cabin John and that are non-commercial/non-political in nature. Anyone wishing to advertise their business to the CJ community may want to consider The Village News. Classified ads are 30 cents a word. The community listserv differs from the Cabin John Citizens Association listserv, which remains the go-to source for timely news and information about upcoming community events and important issues of possible interest to CJ residents. The CJCA listserv lets the association keep CJ residents informed without overloading the inbox – usually just a few emails a month. CJCA listserv members cannot communicate with each other. To join this list, send an email to: cjca-official-news+subscribe@googlegroups.com. More information on local listservs is available in the Get Connected section of the website. By Susan ShippCJCA President [...] Read more...
November 17, 2020THE DEADLINE FOR DONATIONS IS DEC. 5For Info: rieckell@aol.com This year marks the 10th anniversary of Cabin John’s Giving Tree Project. Like many things in 2020, the pandemic is redefining this community service effort, which provides gifts to children and adults in need through SOME (So Others Might Eat), a Washington DC organization that helps the poor and homeless through services, such as training and shelter Instead of gifts for the upcoming holidays, SOME is asking for gift cards for the people in its transitional housing. In previous years, CJ residents have provided generous gifts for 50 to 60 people living in SOME’s transitional housing. The community traditionally raises an additional $500 or more for SOME through the raffle at the holiday party. SOME says the switch to gift cards is to minimize donor risk of COVID through shopping. Recipients can make their purchases online, and no one involved has any increased exposure. Gift cards in $50 increments to stores such as Target, Walmart, Macy’s, and Amazon, as well as Visa and Mastercard would be most versatile. But cards for any retailer of any denomination are appreciated. It will take about $5,000 worth of gift cards for Cabin John to be as generous as in previous years, says Lori Rieckelman of 79th Street. Rieckelman coordinates this effort with the Brookmont and Glen Echo communities. Given the economic hardship faced by so many during this difficult year, wouldn’t it be great if we could give even more? Gift cards should be brought to Lori’s house. Email Lori at rieckell@aol.com to arrange a drop off time. By Lori RieckelmanCJ Resident [...] Read more...
November 16, 2020In the last month, politicians and the media have focused their attention on Cabin John’s Moses Hall and Cemetery. The historic African American property off Seven Locks Rd. is threatened by the state’s planned Beltway expansion. Maryland State Delegate Sara Love and the Friends of Moses Hall hosted a private tour of the Moses Morningstar Cemetery, Moses Hall lodge site, and Gibson Grove Church Oct. 17 for county and state officials as well as members of the media. The event aimed to draw attention to efforts by descendants of Moses Hall as well as the CJ community and preservationists to protect these important historic sites. If the Beltway expansion moves forward as currently designed, project maps and reports show graves and portions of the Moses Hall foundation would fall within the construction Limits of Disturbance. In a Sept. 24 Maryland Matters article on environmental justice, Delegate Love described how the construction of the Beltway in the 1960s decimated the Gibson Grove community and stated that the government has a responsibility “not to exacerbate prior injustices, but to reverse them.” Love wants the Hogan administration to “stop its mad dash to widen I-495 at all costs.” The tour came about in response to her article. Picture perfect fall weather greeted the 30 tour guests, which included Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Maryland Senator Susan Lee, Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando, and a number of officials from Montgomery County Planning, M-NCPPC, the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, and the National Capital Planning Commission. Members of the press from The Washington Post and The Economist also attended. Descendants of those buried at Moses Morningstar and members of the Gibson Grove First Agape A.M.E. Zion Church community, including Cabin John residents Austin White and Shannon Stewart, shared family stories, along with a rich collection of artifacts, photos, memorabilia, and historical records with inquisitive tour guests. Some public officials were moved to tears by the impassioned remarks of Washington DC archaeologist Dr. Alexandra Jones, a staunch advocate of the property since writing her doctoral thesis on the Gibson Grove Community in 2010. Delegate Love said that the event was “powerful, humbling, and enlightening” and shared her commitment to supporting efforts to preserve, protect, and restore these sites. The Oct. 18 Washington Post article written by tour participant Katherine Shaver described the cemetery as “hardly peaceful with Beltway traffic roaring just past the bamboo grove” at the edge of the cemetery. The article noted that historians combing through death notices, burial records, and family histories have documented 78 burials there between 1894 and 1977. The Post story caught the attention of Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who joined with Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Jamie Raskin and David Trone to urge the Federal Highway Administration and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to avoid possible physical impacts to the Moses Morningstar Cemetery and Hall, as well as Gibson Grove Church. Their Oct. 26 letter went on to suggest that such a major infrastructure project should “promote recovery from earlier impacts by enhancing the visibility and access of the cemetery site and its connection to the community.” Spurred by the Post’s coverage, the CBC Radio, Canada’s national public broadcaster, aired a segment Oct. 29 featuring DC resident Diane Baxter, whose great grandfather was buried in the CJ Moses cemetery in 1894. The ongoing advocacy and growing public awareness have prompted the State Highway Administration to conduct additional field investigations at the cemetery. To do so, the SHA will remove bamboo with hand tools so that the Moses Hall lodge foundation and any gravesites remain undisturbed. SHA officials estimate the bamboo removal process will take up to a month and require daily monitoring by field archaeologists. Friends of Moses Hall will also have representatives on site monitoring the work. Friends of Moses Hall (FMH) is a dedicated group of volunteers, including descendants, members of the Cabin John community as well as others with expertise in archaeology, genealogy, historic preservation, research, and advocacy. FMH was organized in 2020 with the purpose of saving Moses Morningstar Cemetery and Lodge Hall from destruction by the I-495 Beltway expansion. FMH aims to preserve the site as a hallowed resting place and an important African-American historical site. By Charlotte Troup LeightonCJCA Vice President for Advocacy [...] Read more...
October 29, 2020If only the founding fathers had decided that the walls of all academic buildings in New England colleges be covered in Virginia creeper, our vibrant native climber. How much more intense our autumn color would be if this woody vine—a study in scarlet foliage—were the main attraction. In fact, the only other native plant that out-crimsons the Virginia creeper is another native, poison ivy. But among the three most common climbing woody vines in our area that occasionally strangle trees, the third, English ivy, is an exotic invasive. You might be partial to Downton Abbey, or to Westminster Abbey, but English ivy is one entity of the sceptered isle we and our forests can live better without. If you walk or bike along the towpath from Washington, D.C. to Cabin John, you will see an ecological demarcation at the border between the District and Maryland. On the D.C. side, thick columns of English ivy twine around the trees between the towpath and the Potomac River. The funds or effort have not been mustered to rid the forest of this plant pest. Yet once you cross into Maryland, English ivy has been snipped at the base, yanked, and stripped from the trees once draped in this climber. Forest stewards of the local conservancies have so far kept pace with attempts of this freeloading vine to re-establish itself.  There are more than 250,000 species of flowering plants in the world, and about 2,500 make their living as climbers rather than as free-standing plants. Those that have green, herbaceous stems we call vines and those with woody stems like poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and English ivy are termed lianas. Native climbers can take over tropical forests in areas of little or no human disturbance and account for as much as 40% of the leaf canopy. In most forests, though, native trees have learned to cope with hitchhiking vines and lianas. Except where the hitchhiker is an alien species like English ivy.  English ivy and other non-native climbers can so overload the host tree that they shade out its foliage, sometimes leading to death of the tree. In some instances, the added weight of the lianas growing up its trunk can topple a tree. The fallen liana, meanwhile, does not die but keeps spreading, searching out a new host to climb.  A walk through our local forest shows that English ivy is far more destructive than Virginia creeper or poison ivy as both of these natives tend to be more common only at the edge of the forest. English ivy can attack anywhere. How did English ivy become such a headache to maintaining the health of our native forests? It was first reported in the 1800s in Virginia, but it was likely brought earlier to these shores by the first colonists. Later, perhaps in an effort to add Old World luster to the campuses of some of America’s most renowned and oldest colleges in the Northeast, the walls of academic institutions were covered in English ivy. This gave rise, of course, to the group name of a set of these colleges. Not to be outdone, other colleges, private schools, and public schools followed the style. English ivy soon spread to gardens and stately houses.  Once established, English ivy fruits in abundance; its bluish berries full of seeds ingested and then spread by the cedar waxwing, American robin, and mockingbird and the imported and ubiquitous European starling and house sparrow. Now every gardener in the East is familiar with English ivy. Another reason English ivy has proliferated is that it is evergreen. While Virginia creeper and poison ivy shed their leaves, English ivy is a tough customer, holding on to its green foliage and photosynthesizing even in the dead of winter. It is the grip and the heavy load of vine and leaf material, though, that threaten the host trees the ivy clings to as it races skyward to grab a better position in the sunlight.  So the best thing to do is to learn to recognize English ivy as a citizen scientist, and then take the next step and become a citizen pruner. In its place, the beloved Virginia creeper and the less-loved but colorful poison ivy vine are likely to appear: two climbers that the native flora evolved with and can coexist alongside.  As we live in the era of climate disruption, one important solution to retaining a living biosphere—one where the inevitable increase in average global temperature stays below a 1.5 degrees Celsius—is to plant more native trees. Trees are the greatest invention in millions of years of evolution for drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But to give them a chance, we should weed out the destructive, invasive species, like English ivy, that don’t belong here.  I am not anti-English ivy. In its natural environment, in western and eastern Europe, it is an important food source for native birds. English ivy also has historical significance: the early Romans recognized ivy as a symbol of intellectual skills, and ivy wreaths were awarded to those who won poetry and athletic contests. But let’s remove the crowns of English ivy on our native trees along the Potomac and help to save our forests. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
October 19, 2020The leaves are turning, the nights getting cool, and pumpkins are populating the roadside stands. Yep, Halloween is just about here. Sadly, with the Clara Barton Community Center still closed, the Friends of Clara Barton C.C. will not be running the Haunted House this October. But what about trick-or-treating? Many neighbors have asked the CJCA what is happening in Cabin John. The association has never endeavored to organize Halloween events, but they did open this topic up for discussion at the Sept. 10 CJCA Zoom meeting. The neighbors in attendance generally felt trick-or-treating could proceed, but the community should be encouraged to follow guidelines to increase safety and show respect for neighbors who don’t wish to participate. In early October, Montgomery County issued guidance discouraging trick-or-treating and offering safer alternatives. The CJCA considered a number of ideas, but concluded that many still risk folks gathering in unsafe numbers or are difficult to implement safely in our small neighborhood streets. The association hopes folks will still get in the Halloween spirit by carving pumpkins, making festive chalk drawings, and decorating their houses and yards. The Village News would love to have photo submissions of your Halloween décor as well as costumed people and pets. Please send your photos to VNEditorial@gmail.com no later than Nov. 3 for possible publicationin the November newsletter. WHAT ABOUT TRICK-OR-TREATING?Despite the county guidance against it, the CJCA expects that some CJ residents will opt to let their kids hit the streets, and others will gladly make treats available. Should you choose to trick-or-treat, the CJCA encourages everyone to follow these important guidelines to minimize the risk of spreading COVID while participating in this Halloween tradition. FOR PEOPLE PASSING OUT GOODIES Only offer commercially-wrapped treats. Skip the bowl and spread the treats out on the table or make individual grab-n-go bags.Put your goodies on a table in front of the house or at the end of the driveway so there is no touching of doorbells or crowding by entryways.Put hand sanitizer on the table, and encourage trick-or-treaters to use it before picking up their treat.If you are outside with your treats, wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from the table and the trick-or-treaters.Encourage trick-or-treaters not to linger and discourage any congregating. FOR TRICK-OR-TREATERS & PARENTS At least one adult should supervise each group of trick-or-treaters to ensure that social distancing and other guidelines are followed.Show respect for neighbors who don’t participate. No doorbell ringing! Only approach neighbors who have set up their offerings outside.Wear the right masks. Costume masks do not necessarily provide protection. Incorporate a cloth mask into the costume. (A fun pre-Halloween activity might be to get a white or black mask and have your child paint or draw on it to make it work with their costume.)Trick-or-treat only with family members or those kids that are part of your quarantine pod. Do not invite folks outside of Cabin John into the neighborhood to trick-or-treat with you.Maintain six feet of distance between groups and from neighbors passing out treats.If a particular street becomes congested, trick-or-treating groups should stay to the right side of the street in the direction they are moving.Candy and treats should not be eaten while trick-or-treating. Better to wait until home after hands are washed. With Halloween falling on a Saturday AND a full moon, we hope our CJ ghouls and goblins can have some safe outdoor fun however you choose to celebrate. Remember: keep wearing masks, stay six feet apart, and wash hands! We’re headed into flu season, and this is no time to let up! BY NANCY RUSSELLOutgoing CJCA Vice President of Community Outreach Addendum:A map is being developed to mark homes that have agreed to participate in safe, socially-distanced trick-or-treating. To add your house to the map, fill out this short google form. The map will be shared with the CJ Neighborhood and CJCA listservs no later than Saturday morning (October 31). [...] Read more...
October 18, 2020Cabin John residents have until Nov. 9 to submit comments in response to the the 19,000-page draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the state’s massive plan to expand I-495 and I-270 using variablepricing toll lanes. Given the size of the DEIS and the complexity of all the potential impacts to our community, the Cabin John Citizens Association hired VHBMetroDC, a transportation, design, engineering andconsulting firm in mid-September to provide guidance. The consulting contract came after a Sept. 10 emergency CJCA meeting, held via Zoom, during which the community authorized up to $2,000 for consultants to develop technical points that focus on the negative impacts to traffic on MacArthur Blvd., Seven Locks Rd. and Persimmon Tree Rd., both during construction and in the longer term. The community also approved $1,000 to be given to help CJ’s Evergreen neighborhood on Cypress Grove Lane with their efforts to oppose any property takings on their street as well as to argue for noise barriers, storm water management and tree canopy replacement. The Carderock Springs Community Association also contracted with VHB for assistance with their comments. VHB is also providing pro bono consulting services to the Friends of Moses Hall & Cemetery to develop their written comments. Final comment letters from all of these groups will be posted as they become available. The concerns raised in the DEIS are many. There is the overarching question of whether this project, estimated at $11 billion or more, is needed given the commuting changes brought about by the pandemic. Other serious concerns for Cabin John, including property takings, noise pollution, stormwater runoff, local road congestion, parkland loss, and negative impacts on ourcultural resources, such as the Moses Hall & Cemetery site and the C&O Canal. (See below for the various points that you could raise in your comment letter.) Cabin John residents are urged to submit comments either via email to MLSNEPA-P3@mdot.maryland.gov, or by letter to: Lisa Choplin, DBIA, I-495 & I-270 P3 Program Director, MDOT State Highway Administration I-495 & I-270 P3 Office, 707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop P-601, Baltimore, MD 21202. Whichever way you comment, it is most impactful if you share a copy of your comments with County Executive Marc Elrich and members of the County Council as well as our state delegates and congressional delegation. The CJCA would also be interested in a copy of your comment letter. Please send it to Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net. Comment Letter: What to Say? Here are points you could raise in a number of key areas: CONSTRUCTIONThe replacement of I-495 bridges over local roadways and the reconstruction of local roadway bridges over the highway could have substantial impact on our community’s commutes and quality of life. The Final EIS must detail potential roadway closures and needed modifications in these locations. The current construction analysis fails to explain how construction materials would be stored and staged along I-495 between the C&C Canal and Seven Locks Rd. as well as the means and methods of constructing the new River Rd. (MD 190) off-ramp. A Supplement DEIS and Final EIS needs these disclosures and a Construction Management Plan. Cabin John would object to any staging/storage that causes disruption for our residents and/or affects sensitive areas like parkland and seeks a commitment to avoid such uses in the Final EIS. LONG-TERM TRAFFICThe induced traffic created by the project could cause substantial long-term harm to our community. In the Traffic Technical Report, Figure 5-73 indicates that the Clara Barton Parkway and River Rd., would see greater than 10% increases in delays with the project. Despite this clear impact, this effect is not reported in the Draft EIS and is not proposed for mitigations. This failure must be addressed in a Supplemental DEIS with community impacts substantively resolved. The analysis of arterials that do not intersect I-495 is limited and inconsistent, as reported in Figure 5-73. While MD 410 is analyzed for traffic impacts, other state highways like Wilson Rd. (MD 188) and Goldsboro Rd. (MD 614) are not evaluated. MacArthur Blvd. and Seven Locks Rd., both critical non-state road commuter routes, do not receive any traffic impact analysis. This glaring omission is especially egregious as Appendix A of the Traffic Technical Report, states that the River Rd., Cabin John Parkway, and Clara Barton Parkway exit ramps will seeincreases of up to 55% over existing volumes and up to 40% over volumes in the No-Build Alternative. No substantial modifications to the parkways are planned by SHA, Montgomery County, or the National Park Service. A Supplemental DEIS is needed to model the traffic impacts on Seven Locks and MacArthur and the Final EIS needs to include appropriate mitigation. Future Clara Barton Parkway traffic would make use of MacArthur Blvd. at the Cabin John and Glen Echo exits, which are at unacceptable peak-hour operating conditions today. The constrained infrastructure in the area, including the one-lane Union Arch Bridge and the reversible lane management at Glen Echo, means limited ways to address the increased volumes. The Supplemental and Final EIS must include mitigations to minimize the impacts of commuter traffic spillover into our community. NEW RIVER RD. OFF-RAMPThe noise impacts as well as the visual impacts of the new MD 190 off-ramp are inadequately analyzed in the Draft EIS. More detailed noise analysis and a Visual Impact Assessment should be prepared and incorporated into a Supplemental DEIS for review and comment. The MD 190 off-ramp would negatively affect sensitive wetlands and parkland, as shown in Appendix D. Section 4(f) considerations require the evaluation of approaches to avoid the use of such parkland. Because of the unacceptable visual and property impacts, the Final EIS should remove an eastbound flyover off-ramp onto MD 190 and replace it with an at-grade exit. NOISE ANALYSIS & BARRIERSPast promises to provide noise barriers along I-495 in our vicinity have not been kept. While the Noise Analysis Technical Report (Appendix J) indicates it is feasible and reasonable to construct noise barriers along both sides of I-495 between Persimmon Tree Lane and Seven Locks Rd., the Final EIS, Record of Decision, and project implementation need to include a commitment by the SHA that noise barriers are constructed at no direct cost to residents. The noise barrier design should include information about the location, height, grading, tree takings and its acoustical effectiveness so that it can be assessed by our community. Even if the project does not move forward, we implore SHA and Montgomery County officials to develop a program and associated funding for “Type II” noise barriers to address the unconscionable onslaught of noise already subjected on our community. MOSES HALL & CEMETERYThe Moses Hall & Cemetery property is described in the DEIS as being “adversely affected” by all build alternatives. As currently designed, the limits of disturbance (LOD) would significantly impact the historic property, including portions of the Moses Hall foundation wall, a section of the access way from Seven Locks Rd, and grave locations. This is unacceptable and the final EIS must offer mitigation that protects this historic property. PARKLAND & TREE CANOPYWe are concerned by the impacts to parks surrounding our community and insufficient efforts to avoid their use. Consistent with Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, use of Federal and local parkland should be avoided wherever possible. As indicated in the Environmental Resource Mapping (Appendix D), the construction of the project would affect meaningful portions of the C&O Canal. The off-ramp from I-495 to MD 190 would require substantial use of Cabin John Park. The Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation (Appendix F) fails to document any efforts to avoid this use. Further avoidance measures must be pursued and described in the Final EIS. The tree canopy and bucolic setting define Cabin John and substantial tree removal would alter the visual character of the community. Avoidance measures must be taken to reduce the number of trees affected by the project and should be documented in detail. STORMWATERThe stormwater analysis in the Draft EIS is inadequate to ensure that existing and future stormwater issues associated with the project are properly managed. According to the Natural Resources Technical Report, the Cabin John Creek watershed would see substantial impacts (Table 2.3-8). These impacts would result from additional impervious surfaces from the Alternatives (Table 2.9-60). The Final EIS must contain more detailed information regarding the Preferred Alternative approach to addressing stormwater in Cabin John and its environs. BY SUSAN SHIPPCJCA President [...] Read more...
September 29, 2020A beginning naturalist’s pop-quiz: Wintercreeper. Does the name refer to: A) a forest bird that overwinters in the northern hemisphere, maneuvering up and down the tree trunks in search of insects hiding under the bark?B) derogatory epithet for a birder who moves too slowly on the fast-paced Christmas Bird Count?C) an invasive alien ground cover from China threatening our native forests and gardens? If you have been following the themes for this year’s columns, you will know that the correct answer must be “C.” We are nearing the last of the tales of the dirty dozen or so alien invasive plant species that threaten our natural habitats.  One of the worst of these invasives is also, perversely, one of the most attractive, which partly explains its broad reach. Wintercreeper, also called Fortune’s spindle, is a spreading vine native to China that was first brought to the U.S. around 1907. Cultivated as a garden favorite for the bright purple undersides of its leaves and its rapid growth as a ground cover, horticulturalists created lots of variants. Some sport golden-edged foliage or white trimmed margins. Over the decades, a horticulturist’s delight has become an ecologist’s nightmare. Wintercreeper is one of our fastest growing invasive plants and can rapidly climb over bare areas of the soil and penetrate deep into the forest, even in areas of dense shade. Not satisfied with an earthbound niche, the vines routinely climb up trunks to strangle trees. And when sticking to the horizontal, it can shade out any living ground plant that lies in its way. Probably every gardener in Cabin John has come upon wintercreeper. American robins, attracted to their bright orange seeds with fleshy arils attached, devour the fruits and drop seeds in the garden. So, no matter how vigilant you are in your backyard weeding, every spring you can find baby wintercreepers sprouting from seed. Even more likely, if you fail to pull out the entire root system when you yank out wintercreeper, it will return to say hello next spring. Wintercreeper is not just a Maryland phenomenon; it is considered a serious invasive across the Eastern U.S. and ranges far into the Midwest and south to Texas.  Wintercreeper belongs to the same genus, Euonymus, as strawberry bush, the native shrub that, in my last column, I encouraged local landscapers to plant in place of Leyland cypress. All members of the genus have the same attractive types of fruits and bright green leaves, but we want to see strawberry bush flourish in our neighborhood to feed our local birds because it is native and not destructive of the local ecology. To round out other members of the genus Euonymus in our area, we also have wahoo or burning-bush (E. atropurpureum) and winged burning-bush (E. alatus). Both of these species offer brilliant fall foliage, especially winged burning-bush, which turns a vivid pinkish purple. When the leaves are turning, you can spot winged burning-bush along the towpath. When sunlight backlights the foliage of the non-native winged burning-bush, it is among the most beautiful in nature. China is its native habitat; here it is just another problem species, however lovely. And beneath the winged burning-bush, its companion interloper, wintercreeper, can often be found growing in mats over the floodplain forest of the Potomac. I have yet to see wintercreeper climb up the stems of winged burning-bush, but it would be fitting ecological fable—one invasive taking out the other. Let’s take them both out but leave the wahoo, the strawberry bush, and the native flora of our Potomac forests. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
September 11, 2020The Cabin John Citizens Association and two CJ residents testified Sept. 3 at a virtual hearing to provide comments on the possible environmental impacts of Governor Hogan’s massive planto expand I-495 and I-270 using variablepricing toll lanes. This was one of six public hearings collecting oral comments on the 19,000-page draft environmental impact statement for the project. Speakers were given three minutes for their statements. Charlotte Troup Leighton of Cypress Grove Lane spoke on behalf of the Evergreen community, which backs up to the Beltway. There are 27 homes on Cypress Grove Lane, and a number of them would be directly impacted as the expansion plan is currently defined. (See Charlotte Troup Leighton’s testimony.) In addition to expressing general concern about the project being ill-conceived and fiscally irresponsible, Charlotte raised very specific issues with the lack of detail in the plan when it comes to stormwater management, the effectiveness and placement of noise barriers, and the harmful effects on the neighborhood of living through years of construction. Charlotte also expressed opposition to a flyover access ramp that looks to be located on part of the Moses Hall & Cemetery property, which is also off Cypress Grove Lane. Kara Cunzeman, also of Cypress Grove Lane, spoke to some of the same issues. “We ask that a more detailed plan be put together that mitigates negative consequences to our properties, local wildlife, and the environment during and after the construction,” she said. (See Kara Cunzeman’s testimony.) Kara also called the plan a “complete failure of innovation” that does not address the root of the congestion problem and contributes to climate change. Speaking on behalf of the Cabin John community, CJCA President Susan Shipp said it stands with the Evergreen families in opposition to property takings and the flyover access ramp. She also stressed the need for effective noise barriers and stormwater management. (See Susan Shipp’s testimony.) She also said it is unacceptable that the Moses Hall & Cemetery property, including grave locations, are identified as “adversely impacted” by the expansion plans. Susan’s testimony raised a number of concerns about the projected traffic impacts both during construction and in the longer term. Traffic analysis in the 19,000-page draft environmental impact statement indicates that both River Road and the Clara Barton Parkway will see a greater than 10% increase in delay with managed lanes on I-495. She also noted the lack of documented impacts on Cabin John’s local roads, including Persimmon Tree, Seven Locks Rd., and MacArthur Blvd. She said, “The impacts to these roads must be thoroughly evaluated in the final EIS and mitigation incorporated through improvements to these roadways and policies to reduce their levels of traffic congestion.” The CJCA, Evergreen neighborhood, and Friends of Moses Hall and Cemetery will now shift their focus to putting together more extensive written comments, which must be submitted by Nov. 9. If there are community members willing to help with this effort, please contact Charlotte Troup Leighton or Susan Shipp. Individual community members are also encouraged to submit written statements. CJ RESIDENTS PLEASE SUBMIT COMMENTS! With the years-long construction slated to take place at our doorstep and the project’s possible impact on neighborhood park lands and the historic African American properties in our community, now is the time for Cabin Johners to educate themselves and voice their opinions about this project. The full DEIS, including all technical reports, can be found at: https://495-270-p3.com/deis/. The county’s planning department analysis is available at https:/montgomeryplanningboard.org/i-495-and-i-270-managed-lanes-study/. Cabin John residents are urged to submit written comments on the DEIS comment form, via email to MLSNEPA-P3@mdot.maryland.gov, or by letter to: Lisa Choplin, DBIA, I-495 & I-270 P3 Program Director, I-495 & I-270 P3 Office, 707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop P-601, Baltimore, MD 21202. Whichever way you choose to comment, it is most impactful if you share a copy of your comments with County Executive Marc Elrich and members of the County Council, as well as our state delegates and congressional delegation. Contact information for all of these folks are available in the PDF below. BY CHARLOTTE TROUP LEIGHTONCJCA Vice President for Advocacy [...] Read more...
September 11, 2020The county is asking Cabin John residents and others who live in communities under the flight paths from Reagan National Airport (DCA) to complete an airplane noise questionnaire tohelp determine priorities for proposing new arrival and departure procedures. Participants have until Sept. 21 to complete the survey. As we all know, Cabin John has on average more than 11,000 planes creating noise overhead each month. It is very important that our community’s perspectives on this noise be well represented in this survey. While responses are anonymous, you will be asked to put your zip code in at the end of the questionnaire. The survey is part of a joint effort by Arlington and Montgomery counties to identify, evaluate, and propose ways to reduce the impact of aircraft noise on communities to the north of Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Earlier this year, the two counties hired a consulting team to provide the technical expertise to evaluate flight procedures and noise exposure prior to and following the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) 2015 implementation of its NextGen procedures at DCA. As part of their study, the consultants also will be developing alternative flight procedures designed to meet FAA criteria and mitigate airplane noise in our communities. While the consultants have been hired by the two counties, they will be working with DCA’s Community Noise Working Group, which includes 15 members and their alternates split evenly between Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. Two CJ residents, Bill Noonan and Susan Shipp, are in their fourth year on the working group. The goal of the noise working group is toidentify practical aircraft noise solutions and make recommendations to the FAA. Formed in fall of 2015, the DCA noise working group has struggled to engage the FAA in any meaningful action to mitigate airplane noise on the ground despite putting forward 18 recommendations for the agency’s consideration. The technical expertise provided by the consultants is expected to ensure the FAA’s ability to act on any new working group recommendations that come out of this joint county-sponsored effort. To keep up with the study updates, visit Arlington County Aircraft Noise page. Go to Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition to sign up for key updates on FAA developments and other airplane noise news of importance to Cabin John residents. [...] Read more...
September 11, 2020Last month, in the story I wrote about our wonderfully redesigned CabinJohn.org website, I made a terrible blunder. I forgot to thank Bob Epstein of Arden Rd. for the use of the phenomenal photo he took of Cabin John community members on the Cabin John Bridge. To me it’s an iconic image that captures both the uniqueness of place and the esprit de corps that makes ourcommunity so special. I remember when the photo was taken, in the fall of 2001. We had moved into the neighborhood in July and our daughter was born a month later. We read in The Village News that there would be a party Nov. 17 to celebrate the reopening of the one-lane bridge, which had been shut down for several months for repairs. As the photo will attest, the weather was glorious. In typical Cabin John fashion, there was a low-key parade, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and refreshments. Jeff and I, with Jackie in her stroller, were swept along with the crowd to stand on the bridge for this photograph to be taken. At the time, we only knew a handful of Cabin John families, and they had not come out for this event. At that moment, standing in the midst of the welcoming crowd, is when I started to fall a little bit in love with this community. We have a framed copy of Bob’s picture hanging in our house. It makes me exceedingly happy to have it on the homepage of the Cabin John website. I hope when you take a look at it, youwill pause to consider all that the image says about our home. So, thank you Bob for capturing a beautiful image of an iconic structure and a window into the community of Cabin John. Read a 2001 Washington Post story about the Cabin John Bridge.   Susan ShippCJCA President [...] Read more...
August 29, 2020I was delighted to receive a wonderful handwritten letter a couple of days before the deadline for this column. Though Mr. Jesse J. Crook’s correspondence began by expressing doubt as to whether anyone in Cabin John would remember him, his name is certainly familiar to me within the context of Cabin John history, and I’m sure it will ring a bell for other residents too. Mr. Crook wrote to me about my last column on Cabin John’s Post Office history. His letter added some engaging personal insights to this story, as he worked at the post office while a young man. Jesse J. Crook was born in 1935 in his grandmother Mary Tuohey’s house on 79th Street, in “the upstairs front room over the porch. My mother Loretta Cynthia Tuohey was born in the same house, same room, June 9, 1915. Fast forward to 1955, my first son when he was 3 days old also lived in the same room.” He lived in Cabin John until 1958, when he moved to the Eastern Shore after graduating from the University of Maryland. The house on 79th Street was built around 1913 by Mr. Crook’s grandfather, David Tuohey, and was one of only a few houses in Cabin John at that time. Mr. Crook’s great-grandparents lived on Conduit Road in a charming house that served as the general store and post office for many years. Dennis Tuohey, his great grandfather, was postmaster from 1894 through 1919. David Tuohey later took over the shop and called it Tuohey’s Restaurant. As Mr. Crook recollects in his letter, family lore indeed confirms that the “first real post office in Cabin John was at the store which later became, as we knew it, the ‘Beer Joint’” following Prohibition in 1934. In 1927, the post office moved to the 5th Street (77th Street) shop run by Mr. and Mrs. Scott, then Mrs. Irene Carper became postmaster when she and her husband took over the shop. Mr. Crook’s aunt, Mrs. Ruth (Tuohey) Shuff, served briefly as postmaster and according to Mr. Crook she gave up the position after she married Charles Shuff, a widower on 6th Street. It was Ruth who convinced Eloise Laura Linkins (McKelvey) to apply for postmaster in 1945. Mrs. Linkins had two children from her first marriage, including a son Robert whom Mr. Crook knew well. Robert married Carol Fudge, a Cabin John Gardens neighbor and classmate.  In 1955, Mr. Crook rented his grandmother “mom mom” Tuohey’s house, in which he was born, as she’d had a stroke and moved in with his aunt Ruth on Brickyard Road. “At that time there were four houses between MacArthur Boulevard and Falls Road.” While submitting a change of address with Mrs. McKelvey, Mr. Crook saw an advert for sub postal clerks for Cabin John (3rd class post office) and Glen Echo (2nd class post office), at $1.53-1/2 per hour. Having experience delivering the Christmas mail a few years earlier, “I took the required postal test, passed and went to work.”  He continues: “Cabin John was allowed 4 clerk hours a day, Mrs. McKelvey told me I could work a flexible schedule, but had to work every Saturday morn, as we were swamped writing money orders. There were no banks in Cabin John, Glen Echo, Potomac, closest bank was in Bethesda and Cabin John people did not use banks. When I had extra time Mrs. McKelvey would take leave, which allowed me to work extra hours. She was a great person, fair/kind to everyone and dedicated to doing things right, and by the book. I worked there from 1955-1958. Without her help I would have been at Md. several more years.”  Mr. Crook and his wife bought a house in Cabin John Gardens and befriended their neighbors Jimmy and Shirley Shuler, a young couple with a daughter. “As I was graduating from Md., I recommended Shirley apply for my job at the post office. Eloise hired her right away.” Shirley worked with Mrs. McKelvey for 14 years and became postmaster from 1972 until 1988.  These personal anecdotes bring life to the story of Cabin John. What a pleasure it was to receive this unexpected letter. My reply to Mr. Crook is in the mail. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [...] Read more...
August 29, 2020Of the many uses of plants, enhancing the privacy of one’s property by growing a border of thick impenetrable trees or shrubs is a common phenomenon, especially in the modern suburb. A favorite planting of local landscapers is Leyland Cypress, a non-native that is cheap, grows quickly, and is evergreen—and therefore is widely used (even if flimsy, prone to being blown onto roofs in heavy snowstorms, or to dieback where water collects). You can understand the basic rationale: why erect an ugly expensive chain link fence to demarcate your property line when, with a few years of patience, a row of plants, especially if they are evergreen, gives you the seclusion you are looking for? Another addition to border botanicals is non-native yew, or boxwood, which also forms a green “hedge” against peeping Toms and Tanyas.   But among the worst choices for a boundary planting is privet. Privet is a genus of shrubs and small trees in the Olive family (Oleaceae) that also contains another non-native hedge favorite, Forsythia. Forsythia, like privet, is highly invasive but, unlike privet, captivates us with its beautiful flowers and willowy branches. Privet is certainly among the uglier plants in our flora: its blunt-tipped leaves give way to white flower clusters at the tips of branches that give off the odor of old socks. The fruits are shiny blackish-blue berries containing one-to-four seeds, and like the conspicuous fleshy fruits of a number of invasive trees and shrubs, they are food for birds. Robins and other thrushes spread the seeds from the yard’s edge into the forests. Privets germinate well in disturbed soils on the edges of forests or even in the forest interior.  Of the 50 species in the privet genus (Ligustrum), eight are found in our area, all from somewhere else, as indicated by the specific epithets of Ligustrums named sinense, japonicum, or amurense, the last species referring to the Amur region along the border of Russia and China, home to the Amur (Siberian) tiger. L. vulgare, the common privet (vulgare or vulgaris meaning common in Latin) is from southern Europe; it was planted in Elizabethan gardens in the time of Shakespeare, became a favorite edge demarcation in English gardens, and is often featured in hedgerows. In fact, the name privet became associated with the word privacy. In my walks through our native forests, I come upon privet now and then. If the invader is small in stature, say less than two feet high, I try to pull it out. Further south from us, the invasion of privet into native forests, particularly L. sinense pictured here, has become a major problem for park managers, crowding out native plants and affecting not only their growth but survival. If that is not enough reason to carry a pair of tree pruners in your forest forays, here is another: the fruits and leaves of this plant are full of toxic terpenoid glycosides that can fatally poison humans as well as our beloved dogs if ingested.  Seeking seclusion through plantings fulfills a landscaping urge and an often burning desire to be left alone. For those who choose to maximize their privacy and still want to stay with native plants, the choice is limited. Aside from Eastern red cedar—also known as Eastern juniper—or Virginia pine, we have very few native trees and shrubs that are truly evergreen and thus block the view year-round. Even bald cypress trees, the most graceful tree we can grow, is a conifer that drops its needle leaves in winter. So let me make a recommendation that solves the problem: a native, evergreen shrub that forms a dense hedge, has shiny attractive foliage, and produces fascinating fleshy red and orange fruits beloved by songbirds: Strawberry bush. And with its patriotic specific epithet, Euonymus americanus, what more can you ask for? A dense row of strawberry bush offers food for migratory songbirds and shelter for residents in the snows of winter and the breeding season. Within a few years, a row of seedlings planted in the fall becomes a dense, tall hedge. Strawberry bush shows that privatization is possible, even while being ecologically correct. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
August 14, 2020The proposed $10+ billion beltway expansion project reached an important milestone in July with the release of the much-anticipated draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Now it’s time for the public to submit comments, and Cabin John residents are being urged to raise their concerns before the Oct. 8 comment period deadline. The close to 1,800-page draft DEIS includes traffic, environmental, engineering, and financial analyses of the six build alternatives, in comparison to the no-build alternative, along 48 miles of Interstates 270 and 495. The DEIS also describes existing conditions and anticipated impacts — as well as conceptual mitigation — to the community, environment, natural resources,and cultural resources. All of the six build alternatives retained and analyzed in the DEIS include the addition of two lanes in each direction on I-495, incorporating a dynamic tolling managed lanes network with either express toll lanes (ETL) or high-occupancy toll lanes (HOT). Build alternatives will also include new managed toll lanes on I-270 and the full replacement of the American Legion Bridge. The CJCA has a number of ongoing concerns related to the beltway expansion that have been shared with state officials and local agencies over the past 12 to 18 months. These concerns include property takings, noise and air pollution, stormwater runoff, arterial road congestion, loss of parkland, and the negative impacts on our cultural resources, such as the Moses Hall and Cemetery site, Gibson Grove Church, and the C&O Canal. A number of Cabin John neighbors in the Evergreen subdivision are expected to be directly impacted. In its 63-page analysis of the DEIS, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns significant park land along I-495, criticized the DEIS for underestimatingits impact on natural, cultural, and recreational resources, and not taking into account local traffic considerations. The review also raised major concerns about its assessment of stormwater treatment, saying that the stormwater management “approach presented in the DEIS is insufficient and ignores decades of degradation that the existing highways have inflicted on local land.” Many in the region are questioning the need for this expensive project in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation patterns. MDOT SHA touches on this in the DEIS, but is clearly committed to moving forward with what they consider long-range transportation improvements. CJ RESIDENTS PLEASE SUBMIT COMMENTS! With the years-long construction slated to take place at our doorstep and the project’s possible impact on neighborhood park lands and the historic African American properties in our community, now is the time for Cabin Johners to educate themselves and voice their opinions about this project. The full DEIS, including all technical reports, can be found at: https://495-270-p3.com/deis/. The county’s planning department analysis is available at https:/montgomeryplanningboard.org/i-495-and-i-270-managed-lanes-study/. The state will be holding four online and two in-person public hearings between August 18 and September 10. Cabin John residents are urged to submit comments at one of the public hearings, on the DEIS comment form, via email to MLSNEPA-P3@mdot.maryland.gov, or by letter to: Lisa Choplin, DBIA, I-495 & I-270 P3 Program Director, I-495 & I-270 P3 Office, 707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop P-601, Baltimore, MD 21202. Whichever way you choose to comment, it is most impactful if you share a copy of your comments with County Executive Marc Elrich and members of the County Council, as well as our state delegates and congressional delegation. Contact information for all of these folks are available in the PDF below. BY CHARLOTTE TROUP LEIGHTONCJCA Vice President for Advocacy Contact-Information-for-Your-Government-Officials [...] Read more...
August 14, 2020More than 500 residents of Cabin John, Bannockburn, Glen Echo, and surrounding communities recently joined with millions around the world to peacefully protest against police brutality and an end to institutional racism. The local Black Lives Matter event, held June 6, 2020, was organized by Cabin John resident Debra Budiani-Saberi with the support of local mothers Brandy Swayze and Jen Jordan. The concept quickly evolved from Debra’s poster-making gatherings into what materialized as a stunning community based, peaceful, child-family-senior-friendly demonstration with protesters socially distanced over four miles of the bike path along MacArthur Blvd., stretching from the Brookmont neighborhood to Persimmon Tree Rd. After some 45 minutes of standing in solidarity with BLM protesters elsewhere, many of the demonstrators made their way to the park by the one-lane bridge to observe a moment of silence for black lives lost due to police brutality and to hear from a number of speakers. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, fired up with the U.S. Constitution in hand, outlined new legislation to hold police accountable that was being drafted in the Maryland House of Representatives. Two brilliant Bethesda Gen Z-ers, Ian Shayan and Sam Smith, shared their perspectives as did a number of other speakers. “I’m proud to see such a diverse mix of people here today. Your support is indeed inspiring,” noted Sam’s dad, Michael Smith. “But now that we’re all together, we need to have some honest conversations with one another. We can’t ‘get there’ if we’re not willing to ‘go there.’ So let’s all go there together.” The community showed up to listen to black persons’ experiences of racial targeting and violence, reflections on white privilege and to ally towards making change. The road to ending injustices and narrowing disparities is long and uphill. Yet new and renewed commitments are in the making. May we forge ahead with courageous conversations and actions to deepen our healing and expand privileges. May this indeed be the darkness of the womb and an era of rebirthing. Taking a collective and public stand, here in our own community with family and neighbors, for an end to racial profiling, police brutality, and systemic racism is a small and important step forward. All ages young and old came together to say— enough is enough. A challenging road still lies ahead, and hashtags and social media posts are not where the work lies. We need each other as a source of strength to walk the talk and hold each other accountable in the long haul. May we continue to act on our convictions. Thank you to Cabin John residents Susan Shipp, Deborah Duffy, and Burr Grey for your logistical assistance. This spontaneous event would have not been possible without your quick and timely help. Deep appreciation for the Bannockburn PTA Diversity and Inclusion Committee for endorsing this event. BY JEN JORDAN AND BY DEBRA BUDIANI-SABERI [...] Read more...
August 13, 2020By the end of the month Cabin Johners should have a new natural surface trail to enjoy on walks between Seven Locks at Cypress Grove and the park by the one-lane bridge. A five-person crew has been working the better part of two months to build a new roughly 1.5 mile section of the Montgomery Parks Cabin John Stream Valley Trail, according to Bob Turnbull, Montgomery Parks Natural Surface Trails Construction Manager. Turnbull estimates the cost to be about $60,000, including an $18,000 bridge that is the final piece of the trail to be built. With its completion, the whole 8.8 mile Cabin John trail, which runs from Cabin John Regional Park at Goya Rd. to MacArthur Blvd., will be a multi-use trail for bikers as well as hikers. There will be updated maps posted at the kiosk at the MacArthur Blvd. trailhead as well as at the Cypress Grove entrance to the trail. In addition to the bridge installation, the crew is still working on some safety tweaks. “We’ve ridden the trail, and in a couple of places, it is too fast downhill. So we are going back to slow it down and improve the sight lines for shared use,” said Turnbill. They will also be curtailing access to some of the old trail that has become too dangerous due to erosion. However, they are maintaining several access points to the creek where the new trail intersects with the old one. Turnbull says they have gotten better at building natural surface trails in difficult terrain, and he believes this section will now be more sustainable. Turnbull is asking the community to help maintain the trail by: Reporting safety issues, such as downed trees and other serious trail concerns at service.center@montgomeryparks.org or by calling 301-495-2595.Curtailing your use of the trail after heavy rains. He suggests calling the RainoutLine phone at 240-270-0008, and selecting ext. 6 for the Cabin John Creek Trail to hear an automated message about trail closures due to weather.Becoming a Trail Ranger volunteer for this section of the trail. Trail Rangers inspect and perform light trail maintenance work on assigned trail(s) once every three months and after major storm events. (You must be 18 years old to be a ranger.) BIGGER TRAIL PROJECT POSSIBLY COMING SOON Turnbull is hopeful that Montgomery Parks will be back in this area late next year working on a bigger project to recreate a trail that would let hikers and bikers go back into the woods from Seven Locks and River to a new crossing directly opposite where the Cabin John trail runs from River Rd. to Bradley Blvd. Currently, trail users have to leave the park at Seven Locks Rd. shortly before the River Rd. intersection. They then have to cross the intersection and stay on River Rd. until after the Quarry Springs condominium development, where they pick the trail back up again. If Parks is able to secure this $200,000 donation, said Turnbull, it will be able to build a natural surface trail through the 57 acres of park land from River Rd. up near Carderock Springs Rd., where a safe road crossing with flashing beacon lights will be built to connect with the rest of the Cabin John trail. BY SUSAN SHIPPCJCA President [...] Read more...
August 12, 2020Cabin John’s treasured Moses Hall and cemetery site was largely ignored early in the state’s initial efforts to characterize possible impact zones for the beltway expansion. Consequently, as part of NEPA/Section 106 process, the site was misrepresented in the state’s Cultural Resources Technical Report, putting it in significant jeopardy. But thanks to the diligent efforts of a number of Moses Hall descendants, county historians, community volunteers, and Cabin John residents over the past year the state has reclassified the property. Officially, as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), there has been a “determination of eligibility for the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery, finding it NRHP-eligible.” Subject to Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) concurrence with this finding, this is a big win for this important cultural resource. Unfortunately, despite this recognition of historic significance, the Moses Hall & Cemetery property is still described in the DEIS as being “adversely affected” by all six build alternatives. According to MDOT SHA, the work proposed at this location includes widening along the outside of the I-495 inner loop to construct two new managed lanes and a new ramp to connect the managed lanes with River Road at the existing interchange. As currently designed, the limits of disturbance (LOD) would impact the historic property, including portions of the Moses Hall foundation wall, a section of the former access road from Seven Locks Road, as well as potential grave locations. MDOT indicates that the agency is continuing to examine engineering avoidance alternatives at this location. Limited additional surface mapping and investigative studies are expected at the Moses Hall Lodge and cemetery property in the coming months. Advocacy and preservation efforts related to the Moses Hall property and the Gibson Grove Church, which sits on the other side of the beltway along Seven Locks, are likely to be stepped up in the coming months. If you are interested in helping to work on these preservation efforts, please contact Charlotte Troup Leighton at troupleighton@gmail.com. [...] Read more...
June 29, 2020It’s early June and in our area the fragrance of honeysuckle clings to the roadsides. When I was a child growing up in coastal New Jersey, my first memory of the natural world was the wild honeysuckle growing in an abandoned lot across the street. We would gather at dusk, when the aroma of honeysuckle was most powerful, and pick the alternating yellow and white blossoms. Biting into the spur at the end of the flower, we became nectar robbers, stealing the reward that nature (evolution) had offered the actual pollinators.  Little did I know that our nectar-robbing gang was plundering an exotic species—Lonicera japonica—or Japanese honeysuckle. In Cabin John, if you’re on the sidewalk along Seven Locks Road in early June, it is impossible to avoid the inviting odor of this invader, even with a makeshift Covid-19 mask over your nose. We have nine species of honeysuckle in our area, only one of them native (see Village News, September 2013). The rest are all introduced, and a few of those are botanical terrors.  The Japanese species is a sun-worshipper. You will only find it along the roadside or at the edge of abandoned lawn, often growing next to Common Privet, another invader from Europe, also flowering right now but not as fragrant. But the worst species of the lot is our subject, the Tatarian Honeysuckle. This aggressive, vibrant shrub or small tree is native to Siberia and other parts of East Asia. It is safe to say that there may well be more individual plants of Tatarian Honeysuckle in North America than back in the old country. Like many of our invasive plants, Tatarian Honeysuckle was introduced to the U.S. as an intriguing ornamental; that happened way back in 1752, so I suppose it has deeper roots in the country than most of us. This honeysuckle’s vigorous growth of the species would have made any novice gardeners back in the colonial era proud of their efforts. But this invasive has subsequently taken local nature hostage across the entire continental United States, reaching all the way to Alaska. The Tatarian Honeysuckle grows in any disturbed patch of land; it reaches these new germination sites easily as numerous birds and mammals ingest its berries and spread the seeds.  Unlike the Japanese honeysuckle, alternating with white and yellow flowers, the Tatarian corollas range from white, to pink, to crimson. Tubular in shape, they are attractive. But for our native plants, this is all a deception: they are experiencing one stage or another of Death by Honeysuckle. Unlike the Japanese version that stakes out territory along sidewalks, the Tatarian can tolerate dense shade. So it roams into the forest interior, spreads thanks to the native fruit-eating fauna, and eventually shades out all that grows under it. No more forest recruitment under Tatarian rule. There is always controversy over invasive plants, and one can almost hear the refrain from live-and-let-live ecologists, “There are good plants among exotics, too.” At one of the birding hotspots for spring migrants in the D.C. area—Monticello Park near Ridge Road in Alexandria, VA—birders are divided. When a campaign was underway to remove the English ivy, Periwinkle, and other invasive plants along the warbler-rich hillsides, there was also a plan to rip out the Tatarian Honeysuckle lining the stream that is the lifeblood of this park. The stream is very shallow and forms pools, and in the spring, warblers, orioles, grosbeaks, vireos, and thrushes drop down from the canopy to take their daily bath—sometimes probably more than once a day for a few individuals. In the spring, we joke that in many birding hotspots like Rock Creek Park, there is a rash of Birder’s Neck Disorder—a condition brought about by craning one’s neck for hours at a time to examine the treetops for that singing Blackburnian or Bay-breasted warbler. Or was it a Cape May? Those species that prefer the upper canopy grace us with their presence as they rather boldly take their bath in the Monticello streambed. Like Land Rovers converging on the lion pride coming in for a drink around a waterhole, the avid birders descend around the bathers and gape in awe or click away. I am one of the wicked. Some aficionados even stake out a particular puddle that is known to be a favorite and sit all morning in front of their cannon-like telephoto lenses on their tripods waiting for the perfect shot.  The Tatarian Honeysuckle is perhaps the most common shrub along the stream (for a complete list of plants here see the inventory on http://www.mpnature.com/). Those who care for birds believe that the presence of the invasive honeysuckle actually offers splendid perches for post-bath preening for the birds (not the birders) and a staging platform to await their turn at the preferred pool while another is taking the waters. Some land-use managers point to the presence of these robust invasive shrubs as protecting the banks from erosion that might otherwise soil the bathing pools with silt after heavy rains. From this perspective, pulling out these Tatarians or cutting them down would likely do more harm than good. My view is that it might shake things up for a year or two, but other native shrubs—spicebush, dogwood, burning-bush, and others would take its role. The birds wouldn’t care.  Thinking more broadly, we can add the Tatarian Honeysuckle to our list of Ten Most Wanted for Removal List. If we could only tend our natural areas like we weed and prune our front yard gardens, we would restore the ecological imbalance. A chainsaw applied by a knowledgeable invasive species manager could perform wonders in a weekend. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
May 29, 2020The slightly yellowed paper is about the size of a diploma. Folded into eighths, Post Office Department is authoritatively spelled out in Old English font. Swirling cursive proclaims the appointment of Joseph Bobinger to Postmaster on the 18th day of March, 1878 by the Postmaster General of the United States, David M. Key. “Now know ye, That confiding in the integrity, ability, and punctuality of the said Joseph Bobinger, I do commission him a Postmaster, authorized to execute the duties of that Office at Cabin John…” The lower left corner bears the raised red seal of the Post Office Department, used between 1837 and 1970: a galloping horse and rider, mail bag strung to the saddle, encircled by the words ‘Post Office Department United States of America.’ The lower right bears a small signature ‘D.M. Key.’  America’s postal service was created in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress. By 1885 postage cost about 2 cents per ounce, and there were nearly 43,000 post offices in the United States, including one right in Cabin John. With the assistance of local historian Richard Cook, the Cabin John Citizens Association acquired the Bobinger postmaster certificate for $177.50 at a Feb. 1 eBay auction. The seller, a dealer in old paper items, stumbled across this document some years back at a local flea market.  Joseph Bobinger and his wife Rosa are better known as builders of the legendary Cabin John Bridge Hotel, which began as a modest guest house and refreshment stand along Conduit Road (now MacArthur Blvd.). He migrated to the U.S. from Germany, and came to this area to work as a stonemason on the Union Arch Bridge. With his artistic temperament and business acumen, Bobinger was a prominent local figure. In the mid 19th century, candidates for Postmaster were proposed by the community or previous employer. The Postmaster was often a sideline to a primary job such as shopkeeper, or in Bobinger’s case, hotelier.  In 1890 nearly 41 million people, 65% of the American population, lived in rural areas and had to collect their mail from a post office. According to records, Bobinger was the Postmaster at the hotel for a mere five months. As the hotel’s popularity as a summer resort rose, the post office was moved closer towards the canal,  and Michael McQuade took over the mail. By 1891 Andrew J. Jackson assumed the role of Postmaster, and the post office was relocated back to MacArthur Blvd. near its current location. That building burned down in 1893.  Beginning in 1894, another prominent name in the Cabin John story was named Postmaster. A 1917 Evening Star newspaper article wrote, “A pretty cottage with a wealth of flowers and big gardens. That is the home of the postmaster, though the post office building and general store are a few yards farther on and set somewhat back from the Conduit Road, so that a semicircular drive, beaten by the hoofs of many horses and ground by the wheels of many country wagons and carriages, leads up to the store porch.” That general store was Dennis Touhey’s, “a place where people could let off their political opinions. People would just go after their mail, and they would meet here casually, like around the cracker barrel in the good old days,” said local resident Charles Smith in 1913. Touhey served as Postmaster for thirty years during boom times for the mail. In 1900, the Post Office Department operated over 76,000 branches, the largest number in its history, though that number had fallen to 59,000 by 1910.  During the late 1800s demands for goods by mail grew. In 1912 Congress authorized the Parcel Post service, which allowed the posting of goods up to 11 pounds. (An Ohio couple actually mailed their 8 month old baby to his grandmother a few miles away for 15 cents!) Marketing and merchandising through Parcel Post boosted the growth of mail-order houses, and that same year Sears saw a five fold increase in orders. At one time at least 20 different models of Sears mail order homes were represented in Cabin John, though many have since been demolished.  From 1925 to 1936 Charles Scott and his wife ran the post office within their small shop at 77th Street and MacArthur Blvd. Mrs. Irene Carper took over as Postmaster and shopkeeper in 1936. Dennis Touhey’s granddaughter Ruth Shuff briefly served as acting Postmaster when Mrs. Laura McKelvey took over in 1944 (initially under her maiden name Linkins). Mrs. McKelvey built a small frame addition to her home on 77th Street, and as noted in a 1976 Village News article she “originated the graceful custom of wrapping stamps in waxed paper.” Mrs. McKelvey retired after 27 years, and the newsletter honored her long service with a poem: Our Little Post Office Have you been by The house on the hill Where the colors fly proudly At the wind’s will? In a small room Three ladies about From morning to noon And evening thereabout Our mail handling, With care and proficiency, ‘Tis time we are saluting Our ladies, gratefully. Thank you Mrs. McKelvey, Mrs. Shuler, Mrs. Clark Organizational challenges in the 1960s led to the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act, and the transformation into today’s United States Postal Service. Mrs. Shuler, having helped Mrs. McKelvey for 14 years, took over as Postmaster in 1972 and helped move Cabin John’s post office to the north end of the Clara Barton School. The post office moved to its present location in the 1980s and LaVerne G. Baptiste assumed the postmaster role in 1989. The current postmaster, Jonathan Black, started in 2007.  Panels depicting Cabin John’s history hang from the walls of the post office today thanks to the efforts of several residents back in 1998. The postal service continues to play a fundamental role not only in American life but in the community. The Cabin John Post Office even delivers and picks up the mail at 91-year-old Mary Morgal’s front door so that she does not have to climb down the stairs to her mailbox. A little bit of the “cracker barrel in the good old days” in that.  By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2020 May Newsletter] [...] Read more...
May 29, 2020Staying indoors much of these past two months has probably led many lockdowners to confront one of the most foul-smelling creatures to invade the United States in the past fifty years: the brown marmorated stink bug. You have seen them on your sofas and curtains. Maybe one landed on your head while sitting in your favorite chair, you crushed it inadvertently with your hand, and it emitted a defensive odor that would make you think twice before disturbing another one. Originally from Asia and first discovered in Pennsylvania in 1996, this stink bug is now ubiquitous—present in 44 states.  Not just invasive bugs, but invasive plants can smell foul, too. Growing in abundance along the towpath is last month’s stinker, the garlic mustard. Perhaps the worst smelling among the local flora is the perfectly named dead-nettle, a mint that reeks of dead animal when the leaves are crushed. You can find it in your garden or in any grass median along a sidewalk. In fact, many mints, one of the largest families of flowering plants with over 7000 species, smell rather “off.” Sure, the mint family contains lovely cultivated plants like lavender, thyme, and lemon-balm, but most wild mints have a deep musky smell, stemming from chemicals called secondary compounds that likely evolved to avoid a plant’s greatest threat—some large-mouthed four-legged herbivore or a sap-sucking insect. Native Americans took advantage of this evolutionary adaptation of plants: they learned to extract oil of pennyroyal, a native mint, to repel biting insects. And then of course, there is catnip, another mint, that needs no introduction. But there are also a multitude of more insidious invasive plants that we are willing to tolerate, or even cherish, because to us they smell divine. At perhaps the top of the list of favorable impressions is the multi-flora rose (Rosa multiflora). Originally brought to the U.S. from eastern Asia, it is also called the Japanese rose or, as the Latin name implies, the many-flowered rose. It was considered a valued ornamental because its flowers are larger and more abundant than the native roses, and it offered value when planted in hedgerows, as fodder for livestock, or to prevent soil erosion.  Outside of the fragrant, or winter, honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) covered in a Local Nature column in September 2013, there is no other invasive plant with an aroma as intoxicating to inhale as the perfume of multi-flora rose. The experience is most profound, I’ve found, when riding my bike along country roads on the way to Poolesville or Sugarloaf Mountain. This scrambling rosebush species has taken a liking to road edges where there is enough sun and moisture to meet its needs.  So what’s there to dislike about a plant species that smells like one we might recommend for lining the passageway to heaven? Especially one that is more fragrant than virtually our entire native flora and even more powerfully scented than our four native wild-rose species: low pasture rose, pasture rose, swamp rose, and climbing rose? The answer is that a multi-flora rose is truly invasive: it doesn’t behave like a valued guest but takes over where it is not welcome. The understory of our native forests is filling up with this species, crowding out our beautiful native wildflowers and shrubs. There are sections of forest along the towpath where multi-flora rose grows so thick it outnumbers all other woody plants. Hiking in shorts would be a bad idea, even if there were no poison ivy around.  Birds and mammals eat the rose hips and spread the seeds. Although clearly the species is a food source, it prevents even more nutritious plants like oak and hickory trees, as well as rare and exquisite vegetation like spring ephemerals, from getting a start. And the only sure way to keep this plant in check is to dig it out by the roots. As with many other rose species, there are downward curved thorns along the stems and branches to dissuade you from attempting to restore the ecological balance. If we ever organize a Cabin John Invasive Weed Removal Brigade, the multi-flora rose I think should be among the first targets for banishment, along with the plants this column introduced this year: fig buttercup, garlic mustard, and its neighbor, Japanese knotweed. We should welcome human immigrants to our shores—they enrich our nation. The same cannot be said for invasive plants that are allowed to destroy the ecological balance and diversity of our flora. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
April 29, 2020In late December 2019, I suggested to Trudy Nicholson, our supremely talented illustrator, that we organize the monthly Local Nature column around a specific theme for that calendar year. For 2020, the unifying thread would be invasive species that can be found inhabiting and spreading along the towpath or the Cabin John Creek Trail. We had intended to feature mostly invasive plants—like garlic mustard—and a few animals, like starlings, the subject of the inaugural entry for January 2020. What seemed like a puzzling choice of topic categories at first, now seems prescient as a new invasive, the novel coronavirus, has spread globally.   One barely mentioned aspect of life in the past 45 days is that almost everyone has at least glanced at a graph or two that tracks the spread of the new coronavirus. Others have taken the next step to increase their scientific knowledge: exploring the logic behind “flattening the curve,” or for the more ambitious, the basics of population ecology and the distinction we hear daily between “exponential growth” and linear growth. It is only a matter of time before “zoonotic spillover”—here defined as the transmission of a pathogen from a vertebrate animal to a human—becomes a term that children learn about in school and then explain to their parents. For those of us who practice wildlife science for a living, interpreting graphs and weighing assumptions underpinning complex modeling of wildlife populations or infectious wildlife diseases, these activities are part of the routine. For epidemiologists, too, the workflow consists of gathering data, erecting preliminary hypotheses, testing, gathering more data, and refining models. These are the well-established steps to inch closer to explaining what is happening now in the simplest way possible, and most importantly, what will likely happen next. Developing a vaccine and antivirals to treat this novel, invasive coronavirus species is done by the same scientific method used by other branches of science, and now accelerated by modern technology like artificial intelligence. In the case now before us there are clear life and death outcomes for individuals, societies, and economies. In the midst of the current crisis, we are in the hands of epidemiologists and immunologists for scientific knowledge. May they do their work quickly and successfully. But what can wildlife biologists contribute to the conversation about prevention of the next zoonotic spillover, when yet another deadly virus jumps from a non-human species to humans? A lot, but first some background. We know that the closely related SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; COVID-19’s extended name is SARS-CoV-2)—the outbreak of which originated in 2003 in China—occurs naturally in bats, though bats are not themselves affected by the SARS virus. The most logical vector of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is the horseshoe bat, a member of the bat order Chiroptera. Horseshoe bats roost in the limestone caves common in Hubei province, and bats are eaten by the local populace. It is speculated that live bats captured from caves were caged and transported to markets. These cages would then be stacked on top of cages of other wild species consumed by the local population. At the top of that menu is the scaly anteater, or pangolin, one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Pangolins are a delicacy and fetch high prices for their dietary and reputed medicinal value. When mammals are stressed, such as when bats are captured and placed in cages being taken to market or at the market site, they, like all mammals, shed the viruses they carry via urine and feces. These excreted substances containing the live virus likely infected the more commonly eaten species (such as pangolins) which were kept in cages, alive, beneath the bat cages.  A simple solution to reducing the chances for zoonotic spillovers is to stop people from collecting or eating bats. This can be accomplished by closing all wildlife markets where consumers can indulge in eating not just bats, but everything from primates to pangolins. We don’t know what virus will jump next from one mammal to another. The Chinese government has pledged to close these markets, a challenging but important step.  But I recommend another solution to the problem, offered as a bat ecologist who has spent some time in bat caves. My advice: stay out of bat caves, or better yet, keep people out of them as we are doing in the U.S., where a fungal infection called white nose syndrome is wiping out whole colonies of bats. This fungus is spread from one cave to the next, perhaps by unwitting spelunkers and naturalists. In China, bat hunters often go into caves to catch bats for the wildlife markets. Chinese bat ecologists (of which there are many) could work with the Chinese authorities to locate prominent bat caves and station guards and install security cameras to prevent trespassers from entering.   One could pose the question: why protect bats at all, given what they may carry? Why not just poison the caves? In defense of bats, they do much more good in the world than bad: controlling mosquito and crop pest populations, pollinating flowers, and dispersing fruits. Bats are also the engineers of tropical forests. We just need to leave them alone and protect their habitats.  One can find reasons why these zoonotic spillovers are likely to continue. If little or nothing is done to remove incentives that bring people more and more in contact with creatures of the forest, then this is our new normal. We must address some of the drivers of this behavior like overpopulation, extreme poverty, and profiteering by those exploiting tropical rainforests. One root cause that largely goes unspoken, offered by a colleague who leads an organization to promote the ethical treatment of wildlife: “The whole of humanity has been brought to its knees because of cruelty to animals. Think about that.”  And now on to the original topic of this monthly edition, the garlic mustard plant, which is an invasive that, unlike a coronavirus, can easily be controlled, especially along the Potomac towpath where it proliferates in abundance. This invasive member of the mustard family hails from Europe. It is so named because when you crush the young leaves, it smells like garlic. Even the scientific name Alliaria petiolata makes this reference, as Allium is the genus of garlic. Garlic mustard was introduced to North America by European colonists in the 1800s for medicinal purposes and as a food flavoring. Among the local native herbivores, the deer along the towpath will eat almost anything, but won’t touch garlic mustard. Nor will insect herbivores that feed on wild native mustards.  In a few days you will see the white, four-petaled garlic mustard flowers on tall spikes. In some places they choke out our wonderful spring wildflowers, just like the invasive fig buttercup featured in last month’s column. Before you next go out, learn to recognize the plant from this accompanying illustration or Google its photo. And when you see the plant growing in clumps, pull the plants out by the roots. This is one invasion we can stop with low-tech weeding. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
March 29, 2020Heading up Seven Locks Road towards River Road, the woods behind the Evergreen development hide a significant piece of Cabin John history. That history continues, albeit in a near dilapidated state, just a few steps away. Moses Hall lodge and cemetery and the Gibson Grove A.M.E. Zion Church, both established around the turn of the 20th century, played a fundamental role in Cabin John’s African American history and in the development of Cabin John itself. This deep connection with Gibson Grove’s past still resonates in the community today. However, this history is facing a new and urgent threat with the proposed widening of the beltway, and the fate of this significant burial ground is up in the air. Built in 1898, the original Gibson Grove Church was named in honor of Mrs. Sarah Gibson, a former slave who lived in this area. Sarah, a seamstress, was born in Virginia and was married to Louis Gibson, a wagon driver and field hand. After the Civil War, she and Louis were separated as they fled the plantation where they were enslaved. Sarah made the arduous journey towards Washington, D.C. with her children, and was eventually reunited with her husband at the Shiloh Baptist Church, a known meeting place for former slaves.  Sarah and Louis settled in Potomac where they worked on a farm. At that time, much of the land in Cabin John was owned by J.D.W. Moore (the father of Lilly Stone). In the 1880s, J.D.W. Moore sold plots of land along Seven Locks Road to several farm workers; some ten families purchased acreage and a community was born. Sarah and Louis were among the first to buy land from Moore, and purchased four and half acres. (Ninety-two-year-old Mrs. Lena Brown recalled in Elizabeth Kytle’s Time Was (1976) that her father had bought four and half acres for $300; another source notes the land was purchased for $101). Sarah Gibson, a religious woman who longed for a place near home to worship, donated a part of her property for the construction of a church. The original Gibson Grove Church stood on the lower south side of the present site and was built with trees from Sarah’s land. Baptisms took place in the nearby Cabin John Creek, and the church itself had a burial ground.  In 1923, the current church was built on the same site and known as “the little white church on the hill” (Alexandra Jones, Gibson Grove Gone But Not Forgotten, 2010). In a 2000 report, the Maryland Historical Trust noted that the church was “an excellent example of early 20th century vernacular ecclesiastical design, (as) it includes an entry vestibule, the sanctuary, and a small side and rear addition.” The Trust noted that the church retained “integrity of location, design, setting, feeling, and association” and that it derives its significance from “its association with the African American settlement of Gibson Grove that was founded in the 1880s by former slaves…it is the only remaining structure associated with the African American Gibson Grove community, which grew out of Moore’s land sales to his black farm workers.” In 2002, due to its shrinking numbers, Gibson Grove Church closed. The church was taken over by a new congregation, the First Agape A.M.E. Zion Church. On Ash Wednesday 2004, a fire in the church caused significant damage. The church has yet to reopen. Despite its current state, much of Gibson Grove Church’s quiet character remained evident over the years, from its simple gabled roof, modest entry, and belfry. Alongside the church property, which was bisected by the beltway in the early 1960s, is Moses Hall and cemetery. On a windy day, the crackling and rustling of the overgrown bamboo nearly drowns out the noise of the traffic. The first hints of the historical importance of this site are the few visible gravestones emerging from overgrown brush and leaves. One headstone reads “Wallace Mason Born May 14, 1899 Died Sept 1st, 1931.” Another marks the resting place of “Allen White 1925-1973,” who is believed to be the last person buried in this sacred ground. The Morningstar Tabernacle Number 88, Ancient United Order of Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses—or Moses Hall—was one of many lodges founded by former slaves throughout the area. Moses Hall was intrinsic to the Gibson Grove Church community, and played a vital role in the community’s self sufficiency during segregation. Everyone was a member, and burial in the cemetery was one of the privileges (Jones, 2010). Built on land conveyed by George and Surilla Scott in 1887, the Morningstar Tabernacle Number 88 was a secret fraternal organization. The hall was a two story wood building constructed to serve as a center of social life for former slaves in the area: as a community center, a school, and meeting house. Moses Hall remained an essential part of the community until younger members began to move away from the area. Today, the hall’s rock wall foundation, barely visible within the thick bamboo, is all that’s left. The cemetery is believed to be the site of over 50 burials, and the recent effort cleanup effort revealed more than 100 grave markers, consisting of headstones or even simple rocks from the nearby quarry. Sarah Gibson, who died in January 1929, is buried here. Local Cabin John resident Austin White I of Carver Rd. recalls visiting Moses Hall as a child: his grandmother would gather him and his cousins together one or two times a month. They’d walk from their nearby homes through woods and the cemetery to sweep the floors of the hall, put out water, and light the kerosene lamps ahead of meetings.  Mr. White, at 66 years young, is a lifelong Cabin John resident. His family history reaches far back within Cabin John and the Gibson Grove Church: he and his five siblings were all baptized there and attended services; his son, Austin White II (pictured in the cleanup story on pg. X), went to Sunday school before the church closed. Mr. White’s mother, Elizabeth, served as an usher at the church all of her life and was believed to have the last funeral in Gibson Grove Church in 1991. Nathan White, a cousin, is the last person to be married in the church. Mr. White’s descendants trace back to the many families who established the Gibson Grove community—including the Crawford, Harris, and White families—all of whom contributed to the maintenance of Moses Hall. Mr. White’s father Rodney is buried in Moses Hall cemetery, as is his uncle, grandmother, and other family members. Though Gibson Grove Church was granted historical status some years ago, the hallowed ground of Moses Hall cemetery has yet to be designated for historic preservation. Yet the two sites are very much intertwined. History connects the past with the present, reflecting the deep roots of the Cabin John African American settlement along Seven Locks Road. Moses Hall and Gibson Grove Church are part of the historical narrative of both Cabin John and many of its families today. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2020 March Newsletter] [...] Read more...
March 29, 2020The welcome mat of early spring in our area carpets the ground in golden-yellow buttercups. Great writers took note. Wordsworth waxed on about their spring beauty; D. H. Lawrence wove them into his epic, Sons and Lovers. Who doesn’t love the cheerful countenance of brilliant yellow buttercups against fresh green leaves, a botanical punctuation mark to the end of a dreary gray February?  For Europeans, the buttercup is a symbol of the reawakening of life. But for those of us residing in the former colonies, the most common buttercup species are, surprisingly,  invaders that threaten to smother our wealth of early spring wildflowers. If you want some local evidence, take a stroll in early March along the Cabin John Creek Trail. What many CJ residents don’t know is that we live next to one of the finest paths in Montgomery County for viewing and conserving native wildflowers, some of which are endangered. Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, violets of several species and colors, early Saxifrage, wild ginger, Bluets, Bluebells, Golden Alexander—the list goes on.  But in the flat, damp places bordering the creek, a dense mat of an insidious invasive threatens our native wildflowers. It is fittingly named false celandine, but it is also known as the fig buttercup. There are 19 species in the genus of buttercup (Ranunculus) found in the DC-Maryland-Virginia flora; 12 are native. It is the other seven species, however, that pose danger. By far the worst is the fig buttercup. Present in the eastern U.S. since the 1880s and more recently a favorite ornamental among gardeners, fig buttercup is now considered invasive in many states in the eastern U.S. and on the West Coast as well. In the Cabin John area specifically, fig buttercup was barely a problem 26 years ago when I first moved to our neighborhood and began walking along Cabin John Creek; it only reached alarming coverage about a decade ago. Even in my own backyard, a visiting landscaper—who happened to be my German brother-in-law—who probably knew how charming the fig buttercup was back home, planted bunches of it around my backyard from a single patch on our property. Soon thereafter I decided to create a native plant botanical garden, decidedly counter to the well-being of the fig buttercups in my midst. It has taken years of diligent weeding and a mixture of vinegar, dishwashing detergent, salt, and water to send the fig buttercups into retreat. Each year this has been my early spring struggle, but the invader is now under control. If I were to let up for one year, however, they would return, spreading via their underground tubers and runners and swamping my carpet of native Virginia bluebells and wild ginger. What has saved the Cabin John Creek Trail so far is that the fig buttercup struggles to persist in steep or even sloping terrain, so the native wildflowers that cling to the rocky upland sections are safe for now. But native wildflower species that call the terrace next to the creek their home are in grave danger. Mid-March through late April is the time of blooming for what makes our region spectacular, the early spring wildflowers known as spring ephemerals. Although perennial plants, they emerge every spring along the forest floor when the forest is more like a prairie in the levels of light that reach the ground. While the trees are still leafless and the unfiltered sun’s rays warm the earth, these magnificent wildflowers flourish, often in vast carpets of Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies, bellwort, wild ginger, and Spring Beauty. Pollinated typically by hardy bees and flies, they quickly live out their short lives, set seed, and have their seeds carried off by the most improbable of dispersers—ants. The ants are attracted to the tiny fat deposits attached to the seeds, which they carry back to their underground lairs and eat. The abundance and variety of ant-dispersed plants makes our flora nearly unique in the world.  If you don’t hike along the creek from early March to April’s end, you will not see this great flowering because the whole life strategy of these ephemerals is to do their business in early spring and then die back until the following year. The fig buttercup largely dies back by late-April as well so the time to eradicate it is now. So what can be done? A small army of adult volunteers, perhaps combined with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, along with a few knowledgeable botanical chaperons from the Maryland Parks Department, could probably restore our creek flora in a week of weeding. But if you don’t dig out the tubers of the plant, this effort will be in vain. Alternatively, a one-time application of an herbicide in spots where fig celandine forms dense mats is probably the most effective cure. What can gardeners do in their backyards? Learn to identify the leaves of fig buttercup when they first emerge in late February. Where they are thick, and especially mixed in with English ivy and False Periwinkle, which are also invasives, you can spray with a mixture of vinegar, salt, dishwashing detergent, and water when there is a three-day stretch of sunny weather. You can also cover them with a plastic tarp to prevent sunlight from striking the leaves. Presto, the fig buttercup turns brown and dies. Now you can replant with lovely native ground-cover plants: marsh marigold, wild ginger, native stonecrop, and instead of Japanese spurge, try Allegheny spurge.  There is another reason to rid ourselves of fig buttercup besides allowing native plants to flourish. The leaves may resemble fig leaves, thus the genus name Ficaria, but the plant is quite poisonous. This is a common feature of the Buttercup family worldwide, which includes monkshood and some other of the most toxic plants known to our species. To some readers, this year’s series of columns on invasive plants and animals may seem like a monthly installment of bad news after more bad news—how Cabin John is being invaded by alien plants rather than celebrating what we have. But a future bereft of spring beauty is precisely the reason to call attention to the dangers now. We have something spectacular on our doorstep, and future residents will never know the glory of early spring wildflower walks if we let the false celandine crawl all over them. And a promise: Next year’s theme will focus on creating your own national park in a corner of your yard by planting native species. Each month we will profile a wonderful species that adds beauty and is part of the native Maryland ecosystem. For now, let’s be on alert. Fig buttercup is our flora’s equivalent of the coronavirus. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
February 29, 2020Identifying trees from a distance is always a tough call even for veteran naturalists. So, when you can snap up a field tip that always holds true and allows you to proudly name a tree species from the car window or across a hillside, it’s a nugget of natural history knowledge to treasure. My first nugget came from a professor at the University of Washington who taught me how to spot a Western Hemlock, a common needle-bearing evergreen of the Pacific Northwest. He pointed at the way the tip of this tall conifer bent over—the Western Hemlock’s “Droopy Toopee,” he called it. Try it next time as a surefire way to distinguish the Western Hemlock standing in mixed forests filled with spruces, true firs, douglas firs, yews, cedars, and pines, the other needle-bearing trees found along the nation’s west coast. Interestingly, the Eastern and Carolina Hemlock species differ from their Western relative in that their “toopees” stand straight up, at attention. But, if they mirrored the current state of their species’ health, they would be at half-mast or lower. For about 70 years now, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an invasive member of the sucking bug, or true bug, family (the Hemiptera), has infested stands of Eastern Hemlocks in the eastern deciduous forests of the U.S. The aphid-like insect is pictured here. The infestation now spans an area from northern Georgia to Nova Scotia, affecting 90% of the North American range of the Eastern Hemlock. Oddly, HWA has been present in the western United States for thousands of years, where it causes only minor damage to the native Western Hemlock. Natural predators and parasitic wasps keep HWA in check there, aided by the Western Hemlock’s considerable power of resistance to infection. HWA was introduced to eastern North America from Japan and was first discovered south of us, near Richmond, Virginia. The HWA is native to Japan and East Asia; it sucks the sap from native hemlocks and spruce species there but does not cause mortality.  In the eastern United States and southern Canada, the HWA is out to get every hemlock standing. The adult bug is less than a millimeter long and oval in body shape—hardly imposing. But its mouth parts, four thin, thread-like structures that are packed together, measure three times the length of the body. When this hypodermic-like structure pierces the plant’s tissues, it begins to suck out the sap to gain its meal and sometimes injects a toxin in the process. Perhaps the toxin helps to keep the stored reserves flowing or inhibits the hemlock’s capacity to fight back with its own chemical defense. If heavily infested, the hemlock needles turn from their typical healthy dark green to gray-green. Now desiccated, the hemlocks begin shedding their needles. Death usually follows four to ten years after being infected. Even trees that somehow cling to existence after having their juices sucked out remain in poor health and often die of secondary causes. Interestingly, there are several healthy-looking Eastern Hemlocks in our Cabin John neighborhood that were planted as ornamentals along property edges. Those I can reach as yet show none of the telltale signs of infestation: bunches of tiny white woolly balls at the juncture of the needles—HWA egg cases. Making the HWA even more difficult to control is that it reproduces asexually and can have two generations per year. Each individual can lay up to 300 eggs in the woolly egg sacs. Larvae emerge in spring and are spread around by wind or on the feet of birds and mammals. The nymph, the stage after the larval period, stays put and lives on a single tree. Let’s now scale up from the single tree to the forest so, to use that tired but apt metaphor, we don’t miss seeing the forest for the trees. A number of potential cures have been tried to halt the destruction of the Eastern and Carolina Hemlock, but none seem to be working well. These include introducing native pathogens and parasitoids from Japan and introducing the black lady beetle, which is native to the western U.S. and Canada and preys exclusively on the eggs of various Woolly Adelgids. Treating individual trees is possible but costly and hard to achieve if the tree is quite tall.  A recent president once said derisively, “If you have seen one redwood, you have seen them all.” That lack of appreciation for native conifers notwithstanding, if we apply the same logic to the less imposing Eastern Hemlock, and they were to disappear from our forests, would they be missed, and would their place simply be taken by some other tree? As it turns out, Eastern Hemlocks, an abundant species in native New England forests, are vital to the ecological health of that system. Hemlocks prevent soil erosion, provide food for deer and other wildlife, and offer shelter for deer in winter. Elsewhere, hemlocks often line riverbanks and create a microclimate favored by newts and salamanders, while providing nesting ground for birds and cool water in the streams below, which is essential for brook trout to thrive. When the eminent ecologist Paul Ehrlich famously coined the airplane rivet metaphor to answer critics about the overall effect of individual species extinctions, his argument was that an airplane could possibly lose a rivet here and there, but we really don’t know which rivet popping out of the wing could lead to a cascade of rivets popping and the wing falling off. The loss of Eastern Hemlocks to the HWA could have a cascading effect on what ecologists call the structure and functioning of the Eastern deciduous forest ecosystem. The next time you walk in a forest covered in hemlock, see if you can imagine the rivets popping. And look at the tips of the trees—they may be drooping under the weight of extinction.  Perhaps it will be possible to use new genetic techniques to transplant the genes that code for HWA resistance in Western Hemlocks or Asian species of hemlocks into hemlock seedlings and plant these HWA-resistant strains. Until then, there is little to do but send in armies of lady beetles that at least slow down the demise of the hemlock. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
February 11, 2020Thanks to the generosity of the many CJ residents who donated time, talent, and funds, the Cabin John Citizens Association was able to celebrate 100 years of civic pride throughout 2019. Through donations and a very successful Team Trivia Night fundraiser, the association raised some $6,300 for the MacArthur Blvd. Beatification and Cabin John Signage projects. Halfway through the year, the CJCA threw the community a wonderful Cabin John Day celebration. These activities, along with Cabin John’s long-standing traditions, made for a very busy and spirited year worthy of reflection. 100 YEARS OF TRIVIA NIGHTThe first anniversary activity drew 140 CJ residents and friends together for a fun evening of team trivia and community celebration. Spearheaded by Scott and Heidi Lewi, with a huge assist from Florence Lehr, Helen and Clive Harris as well as Craig and Nancy Russell, the night also served as a very successful fundraiser, bringing in close to $1,300 for our anniversary projects. MACARTHUR BLVD. BEAUTIFICATIONSusan Roberts of Wishbone Terrace jumped in to spearhead the gardening effort along Cabin John’s “main street.” The first round of planting in April was done near Alpine Vet with the help of Elizabeth Miller and Susan Shipp. Scott Hoffman, arriving on his gator with a trailer full of helpful supplies, provided critical muscle to get the job done. The plants have prospered, thanks to Anna at Alpine for watering all summer. Minor damage was done by WSSC when the water main broke on 78th St., but the plants have survived. The second project was on the east side of the access road to the Clara Barton Parkway. Elaine Hornauer took responsibility for this area. In mid-August, Scott, Elaine, Beverly, and Susan Roberst added new plants to this area, as well as stones to the corner to protect them from cars. Elaine faithfully weeded and hauled water until the October rains lent a hand. Beverly led the charge for the third project at the west side of the access road. She weeded the long-neglected patch of grasses that were there and added some of her Sedum, which she watered over the summer. At the end of October, the crew rallied, adding several plants to this area, as well as a rose bush to the base of 75th St. Jackie Hoglund of Russell Rd. stopped by with some Salvia plants, which she donated and helped plant. It was great to have her help and her donation! In November, professionals came on the scene to tackle a 75-foot strip of green space where the soil was like concrete from vehicles using it as roadway. A number of CJ residents donated plants for this stretch. A special shoutout to Darla Cable, who dug up and transported five mature Knockout Rose bushes that instantly gave some prominence and, hopefully, protection to this vulnerable strip of land. It’s incredibly impressive what this handful of dedicated folks accomplished in one planting season. They not only improved the look of our community, but they also made the bike path safer in stretches by providing a more substantial barrier between it and the roadway. They hope to continue their work in 2020, if they can recruit more volunteers for planting “parties” and receive more donations of drought-tolerant plantings. Please reach out to Susan Roberts, susanroberts487@gmail. com, if you can help. CABIN JOHN SIGNAGEThere was not quite the bandwidth to tackle this project in 2019. The good news is we have $3,000 in 100th Anniversary funds earmarked for the effort and the possibility of additional funds from the citizens association and new donors. We also have a few folks who have expressed a willingness to help. To make it happen in 2020, we need a group of people willing to see this project through. If you would be willing to serve on the CJ Signage Committee, please contact Susan Shipp, jsjshipp3@verizon.net. CABIN JOHN DAYLuckily, when the call went out for volunteers to make Cabin John Day a reality, members of the community really stepped up. As a result, more than 200 people gathered June 1 for a celebratory afternoon of festivities, food, and live music. The highlights of the day were two activities that truly let participants appreciate the uniqueness of our community. Nancy Russell, Meredith McGuire, and Caitlin Schoen created a clever scavenger hunt that had dozens of kids running around the grounds collecting prizes and learning about Cabin John’s past in the process. Everyone had the opportunity to reflect on Cabin John’s history by perusing the popup museum pulled together by Burr Gray and Joel Ann Todd, with many CJ residents loaning their memorabilia and artifacts. Thanks to all who pitched in with their time, talents, and donations to make our 100th Anniversary year such a success. BY SUSAN SHIPP CJCA PresidentBY SUSAN ROBERTS Chair of the Beautification Committee [...] Read more...
January 29, 2020Author’s Note For 2020, Trudy Nicholson and I are going to add a new dimension to the Local Nature column by sticking with a single theme that will run through each of the year’s articles. This year we will focus on species that are considered by biologists as invasive and, in a few cases, a menace to our native ecosystems here in Cabin John. An invasive species is one that is not native to a specific location and that has a tendency to damage the environment, the economy, human health, or all three. Non-native plants and animals are found on almost every continent; though in most cases they do not become established or spread far and wide. But a few arrivals—some released from captivity (Burmese pythons in the Everglades), others escaped from gardens (privet and periwinkle), or others stowed away in wooden packing material or crates transported by plane or ship (the emerald ash borer, for example, a beetle that kills native ash trees)—have resulted in ecological mayhem. Cause for the most alarm occurs when non-natives arrive, colonize, and spread across remote islands. For example, the Galapagos archipelago suffers from goats, cats, and rats introduced by settlers from the mainland. The goats eat the vegetation favored by tortoises; the cats kill native lizards and mammals; and rats eat bird eggs. All are very difficult to eradicate. The island of Guam is threatened by the brown tree snake, which eats native birds, and a fortune has been spent to remove it. And then there are the Hawaiian Islands where, you name it, it’s likely to be an invasive plant or animal.  And Hawaiian wildlife officers are on alert for brown tree snakes hitchhiking in the wheel well of planes from Guam. Many exotic species do little damage to the local ecological fabric on islands, but others rend it asunder, especially when the native species did not evolve with introduced large herbivores, predators, and certain diseases.  In the Washington, DC area, we of course live on the mainland, so our ecological situation is less fragile than that of remote archipelagos. But even on large continents, as we shall learn over the next year, entire species can be wiped out by a new organism. Ecologists rank the threats posed by exotic invasive species as the number two cause of species extinction, far behind number one, habitat conversion, but still significant.  As usual, Trudy will bring her immense artistic talents to interpreting these unwanted neighbors. In these superb illustrations, you will see a paradox: that even the worst invaders to our ecosystem are often physically quite attractive species. A Murmuration of Starlings When animals of the same species aggregate in large numbers, it sparks the poetic side of human nature. A scold of jays, a conspiracy of ravens, a murder of crows: well, maybe the dark poetic side. Fortunately, there is also a charm of finches, a bouquet of pheasants, and an exaltation of larks to balance the picture. And perhaps the most poetic of all is a murmuration of starlings (murmuration refers to the act of murmuring). European starlings are ubiquitous in our area and exceed 200 million birds in the U.S. as a whole. You can’t miss them: a plump, feisty, yellow-beaked bird about the size of an American robin, covered in purple and green iridescent feathers, with a splattering of white spots in the breeding season. Most striking is their behavior. Starlings are street fighters, and gangs of them push away other native birds from winter feeders. Even worse, in the breeding season, starlings prefer to make their nests in tree cavities, a feature in short supply in nature. In fact, ornithologists attribute aggressive starlings bent on taking over tree holes to a decline in the gorgeous red-headed woodpecker, bluebirds, and purple martins. Starlings also raid grain crops, and reduce milk production on dairy farms by stealing grain in cattle feed. Large murmurations at airports pose the serious threat of flying into jet engines (causing a major air crash in 1960 in Boston, killing 62 people). As their name suggests, European starlings are native to Europe, so what crazy person would ever think of bringing them to U.S. shores? We can indirectly blame Shakespeare. In Henry IV, Part 1, Hotspur is fighting King Henry and seeks ways to upset the monarch. He dreams up teaching a starling to repeat the name of one of the King’s enemies,  “Mortimer,” over and over. (Starlings are, in fact, skilled mimics.)  In 1890, a German immigrant, who was a bird and Shakespeare enthusiast, thought that it would be a brilliant idea to introduce all of the 60+ bird species mentioned by the Bard to the U.S. On a cold winter day, Eugene Schieffelin released 60 starlings into New York’s Central Park. Unfortunately, the frigid weather did not knock them off. They took root, and now they are one of the most common birds in North America.  There is a hidden element in this story worthy of greater illumination: Schieffelin was a member of the American Acclimatization Society, whose mission was to introduce plants and animals from the Old World to offer comfort and familiarity to emigrants who settled here. This notion of bringing familiar plants and animals to new lands has been a propensity of all colonists, much to the detriment of native species. New Zealand is perhaps the most extreme example: Maori and western colonists introduced mammal species—marsupials, weasels and their relatives, and rodents—that never occurred there, which has led to extinctions or severe population declines of some of the most interesting animals on Earth. These include the world’s only flightless parrot called the Kakapo, the kiwi, and the moa, a 500 lb. flightless bird. Aside from a few bat species, mammals were not native to these islands.  Starlings and their relatives in their native habitats are glorious birds, especially the members of the family in tropical parts of Africa and Asia. One has to look no further than the Splendid Starling or Superb Starling of East Africa, with their dazzling plumage, or the charismatic Talking Myna of Asia. But put them in a place where they did not evolve, say Florida or Texas, and ecologists beware: trouble lies ahead. As I write this, starlings in my backyard are gathering in a tree. How many red-headed woodpeckers did they usurp from nesting Cabin John? How many bluebirds and tree swallows lost the breeding cavities to these pushy birds? Shakespeare, why couldn’t you have stuck to writing about the gentle blackbird singing in the dead of night or the nightingale? By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
November 29, 2019What was that blur of red streaking across the backyard? Could that be a fox standing in the fading light at the end of the street?  I remember the joy I felt when I recognized a fox sprinted across the backyard about a decade ago. Even in wild Cabin John, I mostly saw foxes on the Clara Barton Parkway, flattened by a motorist. The beautiful bright red fur like a flag billowing in the rush of air created by passing cars, how sad it seems to lose such beautiful animals from speeding automobiles. But in the late fall, it’s a good time to look and listen for those that remain of this marvelous carnivore along the Cabin John Creek Trail. The flash of crimson fur in the forest is one of nature’s great sightings. The red fox’s repertoire of vocalizations is even more vivid—a mixture of woofs, barks, screams, whines, yips, and chattering sounds. Heard from a distance, sometimes they seem like a cross between an angry or hungry parrot and an animal just awakened and letting you know about it. When the ripe wild persimmons are falling from the trees in the neighborhood, the foxes come around at night to eat them and any smaller mammals intending to feast on the aromatic fruits. If you hear strange vocalizations, chances are good it’s your neighbor, the fox. The ability to subsist on a wide variety of diets has made the red fox the world’s most widespread carnivore among flesh-eating mammals (along with the common leopard). Fruit, roots, birds, small mammals, turtles—there’s a lot on the menu. This omnivorous diet allows the clever fox to move into new habitats or disperse far and wide. They are found across the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle (where they bully the arctic fox), to North Africa (where they encounter a desert-dwelling fox species, among other carnivores such as the caracal). They range down to Central America and go across Asia, absent only from a few islands and extremely dry deserts. They are also the largest among the five species of foxes in the U.S.—the others being the arctic, grey, kit, and swift fox. There is another reason why foxes are likely to share our zip code and others dominated by the urban/suburban form of land use: there is little chance they will encounter a wolf or mountain lion, and there are fewer coyotes than in less densely settled areas. In places where predators are larger than themselves, foxes typically cling to the outskirts of the territories of those larger carnivores lest they become a meal. Foxes have their stalkers, too, and a wolverine as well as a wolf would eat one. Golden eagles carry them off regularly. When the top carnivores are no longer around because humans are intolerant of their presence, smaller carnivores often flourish in numbers. In ecology, this phenomenon goes by the jargo-bit “meso-predator release.” Think of mountain lions and wolves or tigers and lions and mega-predators. When they are absent, smaller predators that typically are an order of magnitude less in body mass—i.e. meso-predators—unencumbered by predation risk themselves, see their numbers explode. This release of the predation pressure has severe ecological implications, as a rapid rise in middle-sized predators—in our case foxes, bobcats, weasels, and so forth—take over and put increased pressure on the smaller prey they devour—rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, even some beetles. An offshoot of this ecological scenario occurs when foxes or other meso-predators are introduced to islands or on continents like Australia that never had these species and lack large predators to keep them in check. In those cases, the meso-predators devastate native birds and marsupials. Foxes are considered a top ten pest species Down Under, spreading across the continent since they were introduced about 150 years ago. That’s why nature is so complicated. Foxes provide so much pleasure to nature lovers where they are native. But they become a scourge in ecosystems in which the species they feed on never evolved an effective suite of anti-predator strategies to prevent their capture by foxes, or, hard to resist saying this, of their being outfoxed.  Still, I am saddened whenever I see a dead fox. Evolution is just a process with no purpose, but I can’t help but think that the red fox—graceful, elegant, with a fur coat anyone can envy—marks a pinnacle in aesthetics in the record so far. And when I see one along the Clara Barton Parkway or MacArthur Boulevard, laid out on the pavement, I long to bring back the trolley car that used to run to our hamlet from DC. The slower pace would be safer for adults, children—and foxes. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
November 29, 2019Long before A League of Their Own, we had the girl who was the “Leader in Cabin John Triumph,” the girl who “Shows Boys How.” As the excitement of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series Championship slowly wanes, some baseball stories go unnoticed. This includes one baseball star right in our backyard. Not Walter Johnson, but Evelyn Lynch, who for several years in the early 1930s was a star player for the local Cabin John firemen’s baseball team and many others. Evelyn Lynch was born in 1910 and started playing baseball as a child, a glove in her hand from the time she could walk. Growing up on Conduit Road (now MacArthur Blvd.) on the District line, she played for a number of boys’ teams while in elementary school. At the age of 9, she was on the Linworth Insects, a DC boys’ team that paid her 50 cents each Saturday for playing catcher. “Reckon I’ve been a pro a long while,” she once joked to a sports writer. In 1922, an 11-year-old Evelyn beamed from a photo in the Washington Evening Star newspaper, the first of many pictures and articles highlighting her baseball ambitions and accomplishments. With hopes of one day catching for Walter Johnson, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith promised her she just might do so. Though that hope never materialized, Lynch did play a number of games at DC’s Griffith Stadium over the course of her career. A 1937 newspaper story boasted a photo montage of Lynch in action, singing the praises of the capital’s only female professional baseball player. When Evelyn was 15, she joined her father at a New York Bloomer Girls game in Bowie. From the 1890s to 1930s, the professional Bloomer Girls baseball teams, named for the loose trousers worn by the female players, “barnstormed” across the country playing local community, semi-pro, and minor league men’s teams along the way.  Hundreds of Bloomer Girls teams throughout the country offered young female players a chance at adventure, travel, and a paycheck. At this particular game, Evelyn approached the New York manager and declared, “I’m as good a ball player as any of them.” One successful tryout later and she joined the nationally known New York team for several years. Touring with the team across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, she not only pitched but played second base and outfield. She returned to the DC area and continued to play for several local sandlot teams, playing “a better game than many men” according to newspapers. In 1934, Cabin John lucked out and the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department baseball team signed Miss Lynch to play first base. The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department was organized only a few years earlier, in 1930 during a meeting of residents above Mr. Charles Benson’s shop (now Alpine Veterinary Hospital). With the addition of Lynch, the Cabin John team was one of Montgomery County League’s top teams. Former Major League player Jack Bentley, who started with the Washington Senators in 1913, noted that “baseball was THE SPORT in Montgomery County at the time.” Lynch may have landed upon Cabin John due to her older brother Douglas, “more familiarly known as the brother of Evelyn Lynch”. He was both a resident of Cabin John and a player on the team. Her debut game with the Cabin John firemen saw Evelyn hit three singles and, together with her faultless outfielding, they won 11-7 over Wheaton. A 1934 matchup against Bethesda A.C. saw Lynch save the game with a line-drive catch in the tenth inning, beating Bethesda by one run. In 1936, the Cabin John nine won the Montgomery County League title. That summer in 40 games, Lynch batted an awesome .375. By 1937, Lynch was playing first base for Baltimore’s semi-pro Young Men’s Sports Club in Sunday doubleheaders. The Baltimore Sun noted: “Women find baseball hard to understand and play. There is a certain trick of throwing the ball that usually only men can master. But Miss Lynch hurls a speedy ball and catches well too. One spectator, in the gallery of several hundred, declared she had better baseball form than some of the men.”Evelyn threw right-handed but batted left, and was a natural athlete. “I would rather play ball than eat, but I must work, so I am a telephone operator at a Washington hotel,” Evelyn once told a journalist. A May 1937 advertisement in the Evening Star sports pages read, “Girl Wants Ball Job. Evelyn Lynch, girl baseball star, is available today to any male team needing a player.” By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2019 November Newsletter] [...] Read more...
November 18, 2019FREE – FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY WHEN: 10:00 am, Nov. 28 / Thanksgiving Day WHERE: Cabin John Local Park, By the one-lane bridge REGISTER! Once again, Cabin John residents and friends will have a chance to join their neighbors in a family-friendly run/walk at the CJ Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning. While the trot is free, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are asking all participants to bring nonperishable grocery items for Manna Food Center’s Smart Sack program. The Smart Sack Program provides backpacks of food each weekend to some 2,850 Montgomery County school kids. Popular food items include jars of peanut butter, boxes of granola bars, instant oatmeal, and canned vegetables and fruits. The trot will start at 10 am Thanksgiving Day, which is Nov. 28 this year. Folks are asked to gather by the banner at the park by the one-lane bridge. We’ll take a quick commemorative photo before the race begins. To keep it simple, there will be only one race option this year: the 2.5 mile run/walk that has participants following the bike path from the park, to 79th Street, down to the C&O Canal, along the canal to the path by the one-lane bridge, and back to the park. There will be water and light refreshments at the end of the race. The trot is free, but if you and your family are thinking about coming, we are asking that you please register online so that we can plan accordingly. When registering, you also will have the opportunity to purchase a 2019 navy blue long sleeve t-shirt with the Turkey Trot logo for $16. CAN YOU VOLUNTEER? As always, volunteers are key to making this event safe and successful. We need volunteers to help set up before the event or to be course monitors during the trot. To volunteer, please register online at the link above or contact Irena Bojanova at ibojanova@gmail.com. BY IRENA BOJANOVA CJCA Vice President of Activities [...] Read more...
November 18, 2019Roughly 20 CJ residents braved the rain and skipped the start of Game 7 of the World Series Oct. 30 to discuss ways to preserve and protect the Moses Hall Cemetery, a historically significant African American burial site located within Cabin John, off Seven Locks Rd. The cemetery is in very poor condition with tombstones knocked over, broken, and buried; the grounds enveloped with bamboo, fallen trees, and vines. Neither the state nor the county has fully assessed the number of graves there, and Beltway expansion plans threaten the property. By the end of the evening, the community unanimously voted to commit $2,000—half of the $4,000 profit from the 50th Chicken & Crab Feast—to fund initial cleanup of the site. For decades, Crab Feast proceeds were split among deserving community causes, and those present at the meeting felt it was fitting that funds from the 50th should go to preserving the cemetery where members of Crab Feast founder Bill White’s family and other Carver Rd. families are buried. Charlotte Troup Leighton, CJCA vice president of advocacy, whose home on Cypress Grove Lane is next to the Moses Hall site, detailed some of the issues that need to be tackled. First is to establish current ownership of the cemetery, which can be done by locating at least 10 descendants of Tabernacle 88 members. Tabernacle 88 was the fraternal order that established the hall and cemetery sometime after the Civil War. One descendant, Diane Baxter of Washington DC, attended the meeting and detailed how she is compiling a list of members from Moses Hall records from the early 1990s as well as the minutes of tabernacle meetings and death notices from funeral homes that operated at that time. Another attendee, Eileen McGuckian, director of the county non-profit Montgomery Preservation and the project director for the 2018 County Inventory of Cemeteries, explained that Moses Hall is site #226 on the county website inventory of cemeteries. She recommended reaching out to the Coalition to Protect Burial Sites, which helps map cemeteries throughout Maryland and has grants of up to $2,000 for preservation, and talking to the African American Genealogical Association for help in searching records. She also noted that the best time to do cleanup work is between October and April, when a lot of underbrush has died off. In addition to ownership, there are several levels of approval needed to receive historic designation. These were outlined by Brian Crane, head of historic preservation of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Crane also informed the group that the county has some budget to train people in basic cemetery conservation and hopes to hold a workshop in the coming year. Charlotte said that some state money may be available to preserve African American sites, including cemeteries. Anyone interested in helping with Moses Hall cemetery restoration and preservation should contact Charlotte at troupleighton@gmail.com. BY MEREDITH GRIGGS CJCA Secretary [...] Read more...
October 29, 2019Naturalists at the edge of a forest are like Labrador Retrievers on a riverbank: nothing can stop us from plunging in. For the naturalist, each entry is bound to turn up something new and exciting, and the rewards greatly outweigh any possible risk. For those scared of the great woods, however, there is always something to fear. In the American pioneer era, it was the bogeyman or wolves, but today, from the Amazon rainforest to the Potomac, it is more often the fear of snakes. Across much of North America over the last two decades, though, another threat has joined the list of reasons that may come to mind to shun the woods—blood-sucking ticks. Ticks have been with us forever, but it is the spread of Lyme disease transmitted by several species that has perhaps more than any other creature, fantasized or real, made the woods a place to avoid rather than explore. Anyone who has contracted Lyme disease knows that it is nothing to make light of, although if caught early, a treatment of Doxycycline cures the problem. While the black-legged tick, or deer tick, infects humans, white-tailed deer and rodents carry the disease. So the spread of both deer and rodents, fueled by the absence or decline of natural predators to control their populations, is another reason why Lyme is so prevalent.   Scientists are working on a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease, the fastest spreading vector-borne disease in the U.S. But that is likely years away. In the near term, can we look to nature for a possible preventative, perhaps one that Native Americans might have used? Is there particularly one to ward off adult deer ticks or the tiny juvenile form most active in spring and summer, and today, the major transmitters of Lyme? The juvenile ticks are the important vector because-at 2 mm-they are hard to spot in the human crevices in which they like to hide; adult ticks are much bigger, like the one pictured here, and also must remain attached to the skin for 46-48 hours for transmission of the bacterium that causes Lyme to occur. Enter one of the most beautiful shrubs in our native flora, American beautyberry, known to the science world as Callicarpa americana. If you take a walk around the Cabin John neighborhood you might discover along a border edge a large sprawling shrub covered in clusters of bright purple berries. Most likely, this is Japanese beautyberry because it is widely cultivated here as an ornamental. But no need for the exotic Japanese variety when you can buy the native American version from local plant nurseries or from online providers who will ship them directly to you. Go ahead and try a few of the purple berries. Sweet but a little astringent, they are edible and can be used for jam and jellies. Better to leave them for the woodpeckers, finches, mockingbirds, catbirds, wild turkeys, and any bird migrating south in fall, though. There is a third benefit to planting American beautyberry aside from the aesthetics of bright purple berries in October to brighten up the yard or as a way to feed our backyard birds—its leaves, stems, and bark serve as a top-notch tick repellent. An old folk medicine to prevent ticks from latching on to you during a woodland stroll is to follow some simple steps to make a tick repellent cream. It can be produced from shaving of bark, stems, and leaves, diced, boiled in two cups of water, and allowed to simmer for 10 minutes. Then mix in some neem oil or other heavy oil and some beeswax to form a cream or paste. Put your pants inside your socks and apply the cream to them and to other parts where ticks might land. The treatment works for hours. I suppose you could probably just crush the leaves and rub them on your skin like  America’s first inhabitants may have. Pioneers knew to put the leaves of American beautyberry under the saddles of horses and mules to keep the bugs away. The fear of ticks in spring and summer shouldn’t keep us out of the woods. But that sentiment may not be enough for those who have already contracted Lyme or those yet to suffer from it but who still maintain a deep fear and loathing of ticks. This condition even has its own name, entonophobia, one among the 650 “phobias” recorded to date, and not to be confused with entomophobia, the fear of insects. Ticks are not insects but are rather more closely related to spiders and scorpions, as adults have eight legs rather than six. Of course, we could consider inviting opossums into our yards. They feast on ticks and keep the balance of nature in place. Otherwise, plant your own crop of beautyberry. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
September 29, 2019Starting on the first of September, I keep a watchful eye on the swollen fruits hanging from the two prized pawpaw trees growing in my backyard forest. The largest and most delicious fruit native to North America is almost ripe, and this year, I should harvest a pawpaw crop exceeding 20 fruits. Out back the other day I started daydreaming of prehistoric giant ground sloths—the original dispersers of pawpaw—roaming along the Potomac River, sniffing the aromatic ripe fruits and bending the slender trees down to grab their custard-like dessert. My daydream was swiftly interrupted by a small swarm of aggressive mosquitoes that forced me to beat a retreat. What is going on in our backyards? It’s September and the mosquitoes are still thick. It’s enough to consider not only applying mosquito repellent but also resorting to broadcast spraying to kill the pests.  Please don’t. Someday soon, we will be able to release sterile male mosquitoes in our yards or across entire neighborhoods or apply other natural controls to take back our backyards. Or, if you are growing vegetables and tempted to spray for garden pests, or striving for a perfect grass lawn, please, homeowner, put away the Round-Up. There are natural concoctions that work just as well without the indiscriminate killing that is contributing to Insect Armageddon. (See my article in last month’s Village News.)  Besides, persistent indiscriminate spraying also increases the likely evolution of resilience of the heirs of the survivors, making the pesticide less effective should there come a time it is really needed. Pesticides never target one species, like mosquitoes, but kill almost every bug with which they come in contact, while also spreading the risk of environmentally caused cancers in humans. By trying to control insects with chemical poisons, we are inadvertently compromising the integrity of our local ecosystems. Herbicides add to the problem by sinking into the soil and killing off soil invertebrates that play a critical role in the ecology of soils. But let’s stay above ground and consider the consequences of widespread use of pesticides and herbicides to our most treasured aerial neighbors — the birds that roost in our backyard trees and shrubs and fill our lives with nature’s songs. If you only remember one sentence from this article please hold on to this thought:   The birds we love are made from bugs.  OK, American Robins hunt worms but even earthworms disappear after heavy applications of herbicides and the robins may then starve. And just before fall migration, many resident birds switch to eating fruits before departing for warmer climes. But when they head north again, nest, and raise their young, it is the flush of caterpillars and bugs that sustain them. And in turn, they act as our natural pest control agents if we only give them a chance.  Evidence of their ecological roles echoes and shapes their common names. The start of Spring to me begins with the “wheep” call of the Great-crested Flycatcher singing from high in the treetops in my backyard forest. Flitting up and down the tree trunks and branches are lively Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, flicking their tails as they merrily gobble insects.  And it’s not just our Great-crested or the deep-in-the-forest Acadian Flycatcher that reflect their roles in their names. There are lots of species in the tropics whose last name is “flycatcher.” Besides gnatcatchers, there are groups of birds called bee-eaters and spiderhunters. Even birds without allusion to a bug in their common names share a common food source—the millions of insects that left unchecked would defoliate our forests. Songbirds do their work in the daytime and our insect-eating bats take the night shift. From beetles to moths to mosquitoes to flies, bats vacuum up the insects flying in the warm night air. Sadly, I now notice fewer and fewer bats flitting about over the 25 years I have lived in Cabin John. My evidence is only anecdotal, but I suspect bats are in decline here just as they are in areas where they have been monitored.  I’ve gone out back daily to check on the pawpaws. Although delicious, the fruiting season is exceedingly short—a matter of days.  If you don’t pick the yellow-green fruits just as they begin to turn soft, deer, raccoons, opossums, or squirrels will devour them. The mosquito swarm returns, shortening my inspection. But as I return to the porch I hear the sound of a Carolina Wren calling from a low branch, though with an imperfect “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle”—it must be a young bird hatched early in spring or perhaps a fledgling from a second clutch, made possible by the abundance of insects in the yard. Ecology is about balance. I love the sounds of warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, gnatcatchers, wrens, and catbirds. Let’s let them live their lives—goodness knows they are short enough—without poisoning them and ourselves with pesticides. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
September 16, 2019Cabin John residents interested in the county’s plans to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety are urged to come to the Sept. 25 citizens association meeting (starting at 7:30 at the community center) to hear county officials explain the goals of the county approved Bicycle Master Plan and a new initiative to create a countywide Pedestrian Master Plan. The Planning Department’s David Anspacher, who served as project manager for the Bicycle Master Plan will be on hand to provide an overview of the plan, which focuses on increasing bicycling rates in the county, improving safety and creating a highly connected, convenient and low-stress bicycling network. The 378-page plan details more than 1,100 miles of bikeways, of which slightly more than one quarter (281 miles) currently exists. There are 377 miles of bikeways designated as priority construction. Approximately 42 percent of the recommended bike network is seen as being implemented “as opportunities arise” rather than “stand-alone projects.” The plan recommends an array of bikeway types, from shared roads, which offer the least separation from traffic to separated, buffered bike lanes and bicycle boulevards, as well as secure bicycle storage facilities at transit stations. Anspacher, who supervises the County’s transit, pedestrian and Vision Zero planning efforts, will share information from the county’s Department of Transportation on their most immediate implementation efforts. When the county council approved the bike plan late last year they stipulated that the county is not guaranteeing all bikeways in the plan will be built as specified. They also removed language that specified implementation years for each phase of the project.   Also joining us for the meeting will be Eli Glazier, project manager for the county’s Pedestrian Master Plan, a two-year initiative that is just getting underway. The plan will assess all of the roads in the county based on their levels of “pedestrian comfort,” including walkability, safety and accessibility for all. It will also prioritize pedestrian infrastructure and recommend updates to county policies, operational practices, and design standards.In addition to this meeting, residents can share their thoughts on their pedestrian experiences and what should be included in the master plan by attending one of the community meetings scheduled for October. The meeting closest to Cabin John will be held on Oct. 16 from 7 pm to 9 pm at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane. PEDESTRIAN & BIKER CRASHES RISE The need for improved pedestrian and bicycle safety measures is acute. The Bethesda Beat reported this summer that “through the first half of the year, 272 pedestrians and bicyclists have been struck by vehicles on roads in Montgomery County – about 1.5 per day, according to county data.” This represents an increase of about 14% from the same six months in 2018, when 238 crashes occurred. According to county data, about 40% of the crashes so far in 2019 have occurred on county roads, while roughly 30% happened on state roads. Another 20% occurred in areas such as driveways, parking lots or alleys and the remaining 10% of crashes were on municipal or other roads. The media outlet reported six pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2019. In addition, there have been at least three additional pedestrian fatalities and one bicyclist fatality in the county during July and August, according to police data. By Susan Ship CJCA President [...] Read more...
August 29, 2019One reads “Monday morning. You have been good to me—and I know it this morning when everyone is in their fine clothes. E.” The other is scrawled across the front of the image and continues onto the split-sided back: “Dear Mother, So pleased to get yours this A.M. Have so much to tell you and yet nothing very interesting or new…..If nothing happens will reach Laurel about 9am. Shall bring my furs for you to keep this summer….M” Curious and quirky, these handwritten notes grace postcards from 1909, one addressed to Ohio and one to Gaithersburg. Pictured on the front of each is a colorful, imposing image of the Cabin John Bridge, which at the time was the largest stone arch in the world. At the turn of the 20th century, not only was the Cabin John Bridge a national landmark written about in papers from Washington DC to Tennessee, but the Cabin John Hotel was one of the best known places around the capital. Congressmen and diplomats wined and dined there and even a few presidents savored the famous fish and chicken dinners served in the elegant inn.  Photos and postcards of the historic landmark were popular at the time. The Washington DC photographer Alexander Yowell had his studio under the bridge, and for many years took photos of weekend visitors according to local historian Richard Cook. One old image shows a stand alongside the bridge, possibly Yowell’s, offering ‘Postcard & Tintypes Bridge Pictures.’ Cabin John becomes noticeably quiet for the month of August as residents escape the oppressive heat, yet in the early 1900s Cabin John was a summer paradise that people escaped to. The postcards are a reminder that it was one of the most well known resorts this area has ever known. (This was a good ten years before JS Tomlinson of the American Land Company began offering lots for sale, the “little farms” of Cabin John Park).  Local newspapers called the Cabin John Bridge and Hotel resort a “favorite diversion of all Washingtonians” and regularly wrote about the goings on at the hotel. In the summers of the early 1900s the hotel and its surroundings entertained thousands of urban “pleasure seekers.” The Cabin John Hotel’s beginnings were modest. Joseph Bobinger worked as a stone mason on the Union Arch Bridge, while his wife Rosa set up a small roadside stand alongside the bridge and sold drinks, food and her famous chicken dish. It was the demand for Rosa’s cooking, and perhaps her business acumen, that led the couple to purchase 100 acres of land on the west side of the bridge in 1870 to build a hotel and restaurant. Their business evolved from a small German-influenced tavern to an elaborate Victorian folly with over forty rooms filled with the finest European furniture and carpets, cavernous banquet halls, intimate dining rooms, an orchestrion, and formal gardens of exotic plants and flowers. The orchestrion, a large music box or organ, was a huge attraction. One of the Bobinger grandsons recalled in Elizabeth Kytle’s 1976 Time Was memory book that a beautiful stained, leaded glass room housed the instrument that came from Berlin, and how “you could hear it for miles; the music would go all over the park and the whole area.”  Across the road, on land acquired several years later, they built outbuildings, including a stable, an ice house, a gas house and one of the largest asparagus beds in the country. The old gas house, which sits next to the tennis courts, is the only building that remains today. In 1900 the Bobingers added an amusement park that boasted a scenic railway and carousel in an effort to attract even more visitors to the resort. These were the years that the hotel was “blooming.” Visitors who arrived by the Cabin John street car that terminated in Glen Echo crossed a pedestrian footbridge to the exquisite hotel gardens dotted with summerhouses. Lush landscaped lawns stretched from Conduit Road (now MacArthur Blvd) to the canal and Potomac River. Day-trippers enjoyed dining at the hotel or cold drinks in the garden’s gazebos, boating in the creek, and listening to live music.  The summer of 1903 offered a new program from Haley’s concert band and the screening of motion pictures in the magnificent Palm Garden, Cabin John’s own riverside theater. The film of the Corbett-McGovern fight was a real crowd-pleaser. “Cabin John continues to entertain great throngs of visitors, despite the cloudy weather. There are so many attractions at this park, in addition to the unrivaled band concerts and the famous black bass and chicken dinners of the club house, it is not surprising that at a season when the city itself has little to offer in the way of an evening’s amusement, that Cabin John Bridge should flourish, whatever the weather” proclaimed The Washington Times. The hotel’s popularity slowly waned, in part due to competition from Glen Echo, rowdy fights and prohibition. Its doors were shut in 1926 with its history locked inside. Four years later, in 1931, a suspicious fire destroyed the Cabin John Hotel. Looking back from a quiet August day, it’s hard to imagine this bustling grand resort that once stood in this neighborhood, the music of the orchestrion drifting all the way to Persimmon Tree Road. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2019 August Newsletter] [...] Read more...
August 29, 2019Images of melting polar ice caps, rampaging forest fires in Siberia, and sweltering Europeans coping with a recent record heat wave crowd the TV news and social media feeds over this scorching July and early August. Another set of victims, millions of them, are suffering without any video footage. But we know from emerging scientific surveys that they are fast disappearing.  I would say ‘dropping like flies’ if it weren’t so accurate.  Entomologists, ecologists, and any close observers of nature and attentive readers of environmental news have noticed an alarming phenomenon: insect numbers are plummeting rapidly. Changing climates are a big part of the problem but another is the widespread use of pesticides. The changes were first observed by anecdotal accounts of motorists and motorcyclists in Germany who noticed the drastic decline in moths and butterflies and other flying insects (including flies) plastered against their windshields. Soon citizen scientists contributed to the death count monitoring the decline in well-known showy species of butterflies. More recently, field scientists who have tracked insect abundance and diversity have started to revisit field sites they sampled decades ago and came up with alarming statistics. One scientist who studied the diverse group of elegant small lizards called anoles (genus Anolis with over 400 species), returned to the spot in Puerto Rico where several decades ago he had sampled for insects—Anolis food. In his original study, he found insects to be abundant; today in the same lush tropical forest many groups of insects were scarce. The problem is so widespread and of concern that some scientists have dubbed it an Insect Armageddon.  But before the sobering part of this column resumes, let’s celebrate the evolutionary exuberance of insects, in particular, beetles. Perhaps the most famous exchange in encounters between 20th century theologians and evolutionary biologists came when the great British scientist J.B.S. Haldane was engaged in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The cleric asked Haldane: “From your detailed studies of nature what can you discern about the guiding hand of God?” (or something close to that). Without hesitating, Haldane replied, “The Good Lord must have had an inordinate fondness of beetles.”  The cheeky response was based on studies by naturalists that showed beetles to be the most diverse group of insects and the beetle order—the Coleoptera—to embrace more species than any other group in the animal kingdom with about 330,000 known species. Within the beetles, the polyglot of species classified as ground beetles in the family Carabidae are among the most diverse: more than 40,000 species have been found world-wide and 2,000 species in North America alone.  A biologist with the Smithsonian who specialized on Carabids and other beetle families made three important scientific discoveries by doing something a little crazy. He brought an insect fogger to the Amazon and started doing something unthinkable: he sprayed the leafy canopy of a living Leuhea, a common tropical rainforest tree and set up a systematic set of traps to catch what would fall dead from the leaves and branches. This rain of beetle specimens and other insects gave the first stunning result: over 1200 species of beetles were living in each individual tree of this species of Leuhea, L. seemannii. The second fascinating insight was that many of these canopy-dwelling beetles were actually Carabids, whose common name is ground beetles—a misnomer if there ever was one, and that many more beetles lived in the canopy than on the ground in the rainforest. But the most important finding of all was that 163 species were found only in Leuhea seemannii trees—that is endemic to them—but NOT in neighboring trees of a different genus or species!  The great insight for conservation was that when one tree was fogged and the beetle rain catalogued and counted, that wasn’t necessarily an indicator of the beetles in an adjacent tree of a different species because there could be a remarkable turnover of rosters of beetles from one canopy tree species to the next. This turnover of species along gradients or elevations is what scientists term Beta-diversity (alpha-diversity would be the number of species found in a single tree or a single hectare). Conserving beta-diversity is the most important and most neglected feature in conservation plans in the tropics—we just don’t know enough about how species compositions change form one tree or one patch of forest to the next.  Then this scientist, Terry Erwin, really went out on a limb. Doing some simple arithmetic, he proclaimed that his experiments, based on an assumption of 50,000 species of tropical trees and 1200 species per tree, indicated, with the aid of a little arm-waving, that you end up with at least 30 million species estimated on Earth. The estimate was extremely controversial: most scientists today estimate no more than 10 million species on Earth. Any way you look at it, though, there is a preponderance of beetles with whom we share the Earth.  But it is not just the sheer diversity of insects, it is their staggering numbers, at least when you compare them to other creatures, that is so stunning. And it is their rapid demise that have scientists up in arms. First it was the bees, then butterflies, but what about all the micro-insects we can barely distinguish with the naked eye? Could this be the greatest crisis of all in the world of biodiversity, one that could have a profound effect for humanity as well? Next month’s column will cover what those effects are and what we can do to prevent insect Armageddon. For this month, let’s stop and admire the insects. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist Ground Beetle [...] Read more...
August 26, 2019Mark your calendars as you won’t want to miss the 50th Cabin John Chicken and Crab Feast to be held Sept. 14 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm at the community center. Join your neighbors and bring your friends for the Cabin John Citizens Association’s largest community gathering and fundraiser. The same crowd-pleasing menu of delicious grilled chicken, tasty steamed crabs and classic side dishes will be served. There also will be beer, wine, sodas and lemonade for sale. Your sweet tooth will be satisfied by items from the Whitman Girl Up Club bake sale. A new commemorative t-shirt, designed by CJ resident and Georgetown student Delaney Corcoran, will be available for $15. Attendees will enjoy the sounds of the talented and generous Starlight Orchestra. The 12-piece jazz and swing band is now firmly part of the Crab Feast tradition as this will be their eighth year playing and singing for the crowd. Face painting and other kids activities will be offered if someone volunteers to organize them. Enjoy the food, fun, and camaraderie for $16 a ticket. Or save $2 by buying your ticket in advance from a block coordinator or ticket seller. Proceeds support The Village News, mailed free to all CJ residents, as well as the Fourth of July celebration, holiday party, and other CJCA activities. The crab feast is a success each year because of the 90-plus volunteers who pitch in. We need volunteers and not just the same wonderful Cabin Johners who have been stepping up for decades. The following 41 people and probably a few more that I missed, have been volunteering at the Crab Feast for at least the past 20 years: Clare and Phil Amoruso, Bramman Avery, Judith Bell, Kathleen and Tom Black, Diana Carter, Angela Coppola, Pete Couste, Helen Daniel, Janet and Walt Dence, Deb and Rick Duffy, Susan and John Gelb, Burr Gray, Greg and Robin Gurley, Linda Green, Meredith Griggs, Lynn Hopkins, Elaine & Gerry Hornauer, John Hughes, Lisa Landsman, Eric Libre, Heidi and Scott Lewis, Karen Melchar, Loraine Minor, Lori Rieckelman, Susan Roberts, Benno Schmidt, Stephanie Smart, Oona Steiglitz, Beverly Sullivan, Larry West, Barbara and Bruce Wilmarth and Mary Kay Young. Just like you, many of these folks were/are working full-time, had/have children at home as well as other family obligations. Nevertheless, year in and year out they have made it a priority to give back to their community. But how much longer can we expect them to keep this beloved tradition and critical citizens association fundraiser going? We need new folks to sell tickets in advance, prepare the veggies, help the chefs, cook, set up, serve, and clean up. Please sign on to volunteer by emailing cjcrabfeast@gmail.com. Allison and Patrick de Gravelles, the dynamic duo coordinating the feast for their fourth year, will get back in touch with ways you can help. They also can be reached by phone at 301-742-4762 (Allison) or 301-605-7267 (Patrick). SSL HOURS OFFERED FOR CRAB FEAST VOLUNTEERS In addition to the dozens of adult volunteers, we welcome middle and high school students looking to earn SSL hours supporting this event. On Friday afternoon, Sept. 1-3, SSL volunteers will help prepare vegetables for cooking Saturday morning. Saturday’s SSL volunteers will help set up, keep the tables cleared, work the lemonade stand, fetch and carry and clean up. Plan to work a 2 to 4 hours between 9:00 am and 7:00 pm on Saturday, Sept. 14, the day of the event. If interested, contact Stephanie Lai, laifamily2002@gmail.com. By Susan Shipp CJCA President [...] Read more...
June 29, 2019The first days of summer herald the flowering of one of the most exotic-looking plants in the world. It is a thin, fragile vine with quarter-sized chartreuse blossoms popping out along its stems that uses curlycue tendrils to climb over other plants. A novice botanist might mistake it as an escapee from a Panamanian or Costa Rican garden, its seeds somehow transported to Cabin John, rather than as a native to Maryland. I am talking about the yellow passion flower vine, which can be found growing in decidedly non-equatorial forests from Pennsylvania west to Kansas and south to Florida and Texas. In fact, the yellow passion flower vine holds the record as the northernmost ranging species in the genus Passifora, a tropical group of 550 species found mostly in Central America, the Andes, and the Amazon (and a few native to China for good measure). Locally, you can find the yellow passion flower vine growing wild on Plummers Island, gracefully arching over other plants. The amazingly showy flowers of the various passion flower species have made them a source of great interest to gardeners worldwide. Many hybrids also have been created using the other North American species, the larger and even more audacious-looking blue passion flower. Words fail to describe the floral exuberance of this genus with its corona (as it is called) of multiple layers and seemingly a zillion parts.  The name passion flower was applied to it by Christian missionaries who came upon these plants when they first reached South America in the 16th century. To them, ever on the lookout for symbolism in the New World, this wild looking plant suggested the death of Christ. The double row of colored filaments that is the corona signified in their eyes either the halo around Christ’s head or the crown of thorns — quite a difference. The five stamens (the male parts) and the three spreading styles (the female parts) with their flattened heads resembled in their minds the wounds and the nails of the cross. Finally, the tendrils of the vines suggested the whips used to flay Christ. The vivid imaginations of these early missionaries and their religious bent precluded them from witnessing one of the most spectacular interactions between plants and animals in the secular realm. While we only have the two species of passion flower vines in North America, numerous species flourish along the equator, where their exuberant flowers are visited and pollinated by many kinds of hummingbirds, attracted to the bright red flowers. The hummingbirds follow the course of the spreading woody vines through the forest to the large showy flowers scattered here and there along the vines.  Another important visitor shares an intense interest in the passion flower vine, although not the flower, but the leaves. This is the elegant Heliconia butterfly, characterized by its long narrow wings. The female lays her eggs on the passion flower vines, and the larvae devour the leaves. This simple interaction, parallels to which we see here in our backyards with many butterflies, has in the case of the passion flower vine and the Heliconia set off an arms race that is one of the greatest stories in tropical ecology and evolutionary biology. The interaction has been termed co-evolution by some scientists and co-adaptation by others. Co-evolution is a bit like the kids’ game of “you do this to me, I will do that to you” in response, provoking a continuous escalation where one species tries to one-up the other in order to leave more offspring for the next generation. Whatever term best applies, co-evolution or co-adaptation, it is a remarkable story that goes like this: If a bunch of caterpillars feast on its foliage, the loss of leaf tissue reduces the passion flower vine’s photosynthetic capacity and presumably the plant’s fitness, in this case its ability to produce many flowers and fruits, and reproduce.  To combat the female butterflies from successfully laying their eggs and being chewed up by caterpillars, the passion flower vine has erected an array of defense mechanisms. There is the obvious one: make the leaves unpalatable by producing chemicals that would be distasteful to the larvae. The larvae are unaffected by the toxins and instead sequester the compounds in their bodies to make them and the adult butterflies distasteful to birds. A number of Passiflora plants generate nectar glands, not just in the flowers, but in the stems of the plant; these attract ants that will serve as bodyguards, not only drinking the nectar but acting as leaf sheriffs, ridding the leaves of eggs that the female butterfly might lay on their surface. Some Passiflora vines disguise or vary the shapes of their leaves to make it harder for ovipositing females to find them. Perhaps the most intricate and clever adaptation is that of plants which create fake tiny structures that are essentially mimetic eggs of the Heliconia. A passing female will see this leaf already occupied by these tiny orange appendages stuck to the leaf surface, and rather than add more eggs, increasing the chances they will all be detected by a predator, she moves on to an unoccupied leaf. The list of defense mechanisms goes on, but each time the plant comes up with a new strategy, the butterfly finds a way around it to some degree, or else there would be no more Heliconia butterflies. If all this talk about chewing on plants has made you hungry there is more in store from the Passiflora. Anyone who has delighted in passion fruit, granadilla or maracuja, known to science as Passiflora edulis, knows how tasty these fruits are. Our local yellow passion flower is less endowed with these fruits, at least from the human standpoint, but birds eat them. There is another local beauty that seeks out passion flower vines for other purposes, however. One of our most attractive butterflies, the Variagated fritillary, lays its eggs on the Passion flower vine. It’s a fast flying species and hard to approach, so much so that one witty lepidopterist gave it the genus name Euptoieta, meaning easily scared. The early Christian missionaries saw one thing when it comes to passion flowers, ecologists and evolutionary biologists see another:  the marvelous interactions Passiflora has with the insects and birds around them. These interactions are worth examining closely, yet another source of wonder of the natural world, an arms race going on right in front of our eyes. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
June 26, 2019The May 29 citizens association meeting brought some 40 concerned citizens to the community center to hear from Carol Rubin, an attorney at the Maryland National Parks & Planning Commission, who also serves as the county’s project manager and liaison for the state’s Beltway Expansion project. At the end of April, Rubin and her Prince Georges County counterpart wrote a report that raised major concerns about many aspects of the proposed project including the possible taking of private lands, the negative impact on parklands and the absence of mass transit options. Another major concern is that the plan seems more focused on easing the congestion for through traffic than addressing local traffic woes. Eight days after the CJCA meeting, the planning commission voted to give an unfavorable recommendation for the six alternatives the state has retained for more detailed study. The commission vote came one day after a contentious vote by the three-person State Board of Public Works to allow the Department of Transportation to proceed with the project under a Public-Private Partnership (P3) arrangement. However, as part of that vote, the state agreed to make phase one of the project focus on improvements to I-270. They also agreed that 10 percent of net toll revenue would go to local jurisdictions for mass transit. At the meeting Rubin explained that in addition to a mass transit component, Montgomery County’s master plan calls for I-270 to be expanded and to see traffic demand management options, such as stoplighted access to the highways, implemented. She noted that the proposed expansion is not actually a congestion-relief plan but rather a regional bypass plan that will not ensure easy access to key business areas (e.g., Georgia Ave., National Harbor). She also mentioned that the County Council does not want the Parks & Planning Commission to convey any parkland. (The State Highway Commission has eminent domain over private property but not public lands. If conservation easements are taken, or conveyed, they must be replaced fourfold in another location, but this cannot be done with stream beds.) Sierra Club, Friends of Sligo Creek, Rock Creek Conservancy, and Audubon Society, among others, also oppose the current expansion plans. The montgomeryplanningboard.org site has a tool showing which Beltway access points are envisaged, as well as many documents on the expansion. BY MEREDITH GRIGGS CJCA Secretary [...] Read more...
May 29, 2019Looking down, the crow spied a skink.  It swooped from its branch in a blink. The bird grabbed the skink’s tail Forcing the lizard to bail And leave the crow a wriggling link.  There is much to be admired about a fellow vertebrate as elegant as the blue-tailed skink. Or as crafty. In the Looks Department, this species, also known as the red-headed lizard, is slim and sleek, up to eight inches long, and sports flashy racing stripes on its body, five to be exact, that fade with age. If the brightly colored juveniles with their vivid blue tails survive to adulthood, they lose the blue pigmentation in the tail and their distinct stripes in favor of a uniform dull-brown coloration and a distinct red head.  Skinks are most visible when it is sunny, and this time of year, a favorite locus for skink-spotting is along the towpath by the little footbridge at Lock 8. Skinks are ectotherms, so they need the sun’s energy to warm up their bodies. And when they are warm, they hunt arthropods—spiders, insects—and even larger prey like newborn mice, frogs, and small lizards. But what makes skinks so unusual is neither their coloration nor their feeding patterns, but a clever adaptation that is called in scientific parlance “anti-predator behavior”—or what we might call simply “how to avoid being the menu.” Skinks have a wide range of neighbors that would like to eat them, from fellow reptilians, such as snakes, to birds such as crows and hawks, and mammals that include everything from moles, shrews, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and, if allowed outside, house cats. But first these hunters have to catch one.  Skinks—at least a warmed-up skink— are incredibly quick and can dart away at the first sign of danger. But if caught by teeth, talons, or paws, they have another card to play: skinks can disconnect the links, or vertebrae in their tails, and leave behind the entire length or just a segment. The predator, now distracted, can eat or play with the twitching tail, while the skink runs for cover to hide, live another day, and over time regenerate what was left behind. And perhaps surprisingly, if the encounter with the predator is not too much of a mismatch, skinks can bite. So why the blue tail found in the juvenile? One theory might be that the bright color is used to draw the attack of a predator away from the vital organs and focus instead on a dispensable tail. But its mammalian predators are color-blind, so……..More theory is needed. There are just over 1500 species of skinks in the world, with only 15 species in North America and the vast majority in Africa, South and East Asia, and Australia. The most interesting group of skinks in the world, in my view, live on the island of New Caledonia, in the Coral Sea due east of Brisbane, and on the nearby archipelago of the Solomon Islands. The long, narrow island of New Caledonia, also known as Grand Terre, broke off from Australia about 60 million years ago and, as the Earth’s tectonic plates shifted, ended up too isolated from the mainland for vertebrates to make their way over to it. There were no terrestrial mammals on Grand Terre at the time of separation so, in the absence of large mammalian predators, the lizards took over the various feeding niches. Over 70 species of geckos (mostly) and skinks have evolved in solitude with few hunters, except each other. So among these endemic geckos and skinks are found the world’s largest versions. The giant gecko in the endemic genus Rhacodactylus is the heavyweight at about half a pound and measuring 17 inches including the tail. It is essentially the T. rex of the island, eating other vertebrates. Running away from the giant gecko are more than two dozen species of skinks, including one of the world’s longest skink species.  The largest skink in terms of body weight and length is the Solomon Islands skink from the nearby archipelago. It averages 23 inches in length and weighs almost two pounds. Interestingly, the skinks in the Solomons are entirely herbivorous and live up in the canopy of strangler fig trees, ingesting the leaves of the plants that grow as epiphytes on their branches.  The Solomons skink has the benefit of hiding in the dense foliage of the tall trees. But if you are our local five-striped version that lives on the ground, better to keep a wary eye out and thinking fast—if you are quite attached to keeping that stunning blue tail. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
April 29, 2019The signs of spring are everywhere for avid naturalists: the opening of mysterious purple and yellow pawpaw flowers; the voluptuous leaves of skunk cabbage emerging from the damp soil; the lusty singing of spring peepers from the vernal pools and ponds; wood ducks on the canal, male and female pairing up for nesting season.  But for those with an eye for butterflies, the flight of the Mourning Cloak is a certainty that the days are growing longer, and the sun will indeed shine warmly again, after a cold damp winter marked by a parade of grey days.  Perhaps one reason why naturalists first learn their birds or plants, and arrive late to butterflies and moths, is that the former are easier to identify than the latter.  Birds are colorful and sing, and there are numerous field guides–and now downloadable recordings –to teach the neophyte. Plants sit still for you, and you can even whip out your cell phone, upload the image to a program like LeafSnap, and presto! you have the name of the species sent to your phone.  There are websites to learn the names of butterflies or to send an image to, but try and get many of our species to sit still long enough for a photo. And some of the groups are difficult for the amateur to tell apart, like the numerous kinds of skippers. But there is really no way to confuse a Mourning Cloak with any other butterfly. For the Mourning Cloak, there is no pairing of similar species, as there is for the Monarch or Viceroy or the various swallowtails meant to frustrate the beginning lepidopterist. The Mourning Cloak is a large butterfly, with a wingspan of four inches, and the only species with a dark maroon color to its dorsal side, trimmed with pale-yellow edges that resemble a butterfly with its petticoats showing. The black border between the Maroon “cloak” and the yellow petticoat is made all the more lively by bright blue iridescent spots. The Mourning Cloak is also among the longest-lived of all butterflies, with a lifespan of 11-12 months. In our area during the summer, the species feeds on the sap of trees, then goes into a suspended state called estivation (similar to that of amphibians), but becomes active again in the fall to feed and store up food—more sap from oak trees—to survive the winter. Come spring, Mourning Cloaks are the first on the wing. When a Mourning Cloak has landed, you might not see it right away. Because it holds its wings upright, the ventral side of the wings is perfectly camouflaged against the tree bark. Females are soon off again to lay their eggs on the leaves of the preferred food of the spiny caterpillars that emerge when their eggs hatch: elm, willow, cottonwood, aspen, birch, or hackberry trees. Mourning Cloaks are quite common across not only North America, but northern Europe and northern Asia as well. Does their success in numbers and distribution have to do with their relative longevity? No one really knows. Nor is there consensus on the most existential question of them all for a butterfly: why go through metamorphosis? Why not hatch out from an egg and be done with it? Why go through life first as a caterpillar, then form a chrysalis, and then emerge as an adult? All for the sheer drama of the transformations from ugly, often stinging larvae to dull colored cocoons, to emergent gorgeous butterfly. In England, another common name for the Mourning Cloak is the Grand Surprise butterfly. And is there a grander surprise than a butterfly emerging from its dull earth-tone pupae as one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth? Evolutionary biologists point towards competition to explain many phenomena in nature and typically see the evolution of true metamorphosis through this lens. They hypothesize that the main advantage of complete metamorphosis is to remove competition between the young and old. In essence, larval insects and adult insects fill different ecological feeding niches. Caterpillars feed on leaves and all they do is eat, showing complete indifference to reproduction. In contrast, adult butterflies visit flowers in search of nectar and mates. The theory goes that because larvae and adults do not compete for food or shelter, more of each can coexist relative to species in which the young and old live in the same locales and eat the same things. It’s all about survival. There are other theories as well, but, however metamorphosis evolved, the enormous numbers and diversity of metamorphosing insects on Earth, the predominant life form on this planet, clearly show that it must have value as an evolutionary strategy for successful reproduction. Kafka’s Gregor Samsa may have woken up surprised and miserable but, from a naturalist’s point of view, he joined a very successful way of life. And if he had turned into a Mourning Cloak instead of a bug, he might have been happier for it, too. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
April 22, 2019The April 24 CJCA meeting will serve as a working session for three 100 Anniversary projects: Cabin John Day, MacArthur Blvd. Beautification and Cabin John signage. Thanks to generous donations sent in with people’s dues and the $1,225 raised from the February Team Trivia Night, there is upwards of $6,000 to put towards these efforts. The money is key, but we also need some concrete plans and, and most importantly, manpower to bring these projects to fruition. Please come to the meeting, to be held on April 24 from 7:30 to 8:45 pm at the community center and join in the planning. The aim of the meeting is to brainstorm ideas and approaches, identify the questions that need answering and make decisions about how to move forward. Ideally, next steps will be assigned to those willing to take on the tasks. If you cannot make the meeting but are still interested in working on any of these projects, please reach out! The scope of these projects will be dictated, in part, by the level of commitment from the community. Here is a bit about each project and some of what we will be discussing at the meeting: CABIN JOHN DAY, JUNE 1 A free celebration of our community and the 100th anniversary of the citizens association. Cosponsored by the Clara Barton Community Center, the event will run from approximately 4:00 to 7 :00 pm. Ideas include a pop-up Cabin John museum, kids activities, music, food trucks. Beverages, including beer and wine could be sold by the CJCA. Do Cabin John-based organizations and businesses want to sponsor activity booths? Should there be a North vs. South Cabin John softball game or other such contests that encourage friendly competition between areas or streets of Cabin John? In addition to deciding which of the above ideas we should act on, there are other questions to consider. MACARTHUR BLVD. BEAUTIFICATION The goal of this project is two-fold: We want to spruce up Cabin John’s “main street” by planting in the “green” strip between the roadway and the bike path. We also want to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by keeping cars and trucks from straying into the path or parking their cars on the green strip thereby blocking the site lines for vehicles and pedestrians. We have preliminary approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the property as part of the Washington Aqueduct. There are guidelines we need to follow regarding the types of plantings. We also need to consider the benefits of mounding the soil like the Hopkins have done in front of their property as a way to keep vehicles on the road. We also need to consider what stretches we would tackle, if we need different approaches for different stretches of roadside and maintenance issues. WELCOME TO CABIN JOHN SIGNAGE Neighborhood signs come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They convey different things and the costs are as wide-ranging as the design. The Army Corps of Engineers has given its preliminary approval for a sign at the corner of Seven Locks Rd. and MacArthur Blvd., which has been suggested as a good site since it often considered the center of “town. The Corps says a sign there would need to be on a pole as opposed to something more structural like the sign for Cabin John Gardens. In addition to design and cost, there are questions about whether we would want more than one sign and, if so, where would they be located? Do we need to get county approval before installing any signage? Can we install some solar lighting so that our signs are lit at night? One resident has urged us to take on repairing, repainting and lighting the Cabin John sign that we have on the community center property. By Susan Ship CJCA President [...] Read more...
April 22, 2019The State Highway Administration is finally acknowledging that some Cabin John homes adjacent to the Beltway will be “directly affected” by the state’s plan to add four toll lanes on I-495. In most cases, directly affected appears to mean homeowners could lose parts of yards and possibly see noise barriers constructed closer to their houses. But it also is possible the SHA could take homes. Overall, the state’s latest analysis shows that the plan to widen the American Legion Bridge and I-495 from the bridge to I-95 – the so-called first phase of the 70-mile $9 to $11 billion Public Private Partnership (P3) Program – would require 34 homes and three businesses to be taken. The expansion also would directly affect up to 574 homes, 18 parks and recreation facilities, nine National Register Historical Properties, and impact some 575 acres of forest canopy, more than 280 acres of “unique and sensitive areas”, four acres of wetlands and 11 miles of “waters”. It is unclear what that means for all the green space in and around Cabin John. These findings were released as part of a series of workshops being held in April and May to bring the public along as the P3 project moves into a new phase of more detailed study as part of the required Environmental Impact Study. Cabin Johners are urged to attend one of these workshops or to review the materials online and, most importantly, register your concerns before June 14 either online at 495-270-p3.com or via email at 495-270-p3@sha.state.md.us. The SHA says it will use the feedback it gets as part of its effort to minimize environmental and community impacts. This latest study comes just a couple weeks after eight SHA officials came to the March 27 CJCA meeting to detail the dire reality of congestion on the Beltway and to present the six alternatives for adding toll lanes to help keep the traffic moving. All six alternatives will be part of this next phase. The SHA aims to have its Draft Environmental Impact Study completed and a “preferred alternative” selected by early 2020. An issue of concern to come out of the CJCA meeting was the SHA stating they are not doing a new noise analysis. Instead they will base this massive project’s noise modeling on extrapolated data from a Beltway noise analysis done in 2005. Decisions about where noise barriers are placed and how tall they are built are based on this noise modeling. Other attendees voiced concerns about increased noise and pollution for all of Cabin John, the unfairness of having traffic lanes that only the wealthy can afford to use, the lack of mass transit initiatives and the lack of information about the impact on arterial roads such as River Rd. and MacArthur Blvd. State Delegate Marc Korman attended the meeting and provided an update on legislative initiatives to ensure proper oversight of a private entity controlling roads that were built with taxpayers’ dollars. Unfortunately, the legislative session ended without those measures passing. By Susan Ship CJCA President [...] Read more...
April 22, 2019CJCA officer elections will be held at the May meeting and the association would very much like to expand its ranks. To serve the evolving needs of this community, we continue to re-envision the role of CJCA officers by redefining existing roles and creating new positions to fulfill those needs. We’ve discovered that it truly does take a village to provide the activities, advocacy, and outreach that keeps our community connected and vibrant. There are a wide-range of opportunities available. Please consider stepping into one of these important roles. Not only will you be serving the community, but you will also be joining a great group of dedicated volunteers. CJCA SECRETARY Meredith Griggs graciously stepped in to serve as interim secretary last year. She had already held that position in 2009 and 2010. The primary responsibility of the secretary is to take the minutes at the eight CJCA meetings held each year. (There are no meetings June, July, August and December.) VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICE This person will help coordinate existing and new community service projects. Current efforts includes three blood drives each year, the creek cleanup, and the Holiday Giving Tree Project, which provides gifts to people transitioning out of homelessness. The CJ community is very supportive of its community service projects and is interested in more opportunities. This position offers the possibility of expanding the menu of service projects offered. CO-VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY OUTREACH Nancy Russell has agreed to continue in her post as Vice President of Community Outreach however she is looking for someone to share this position as she expects to spend less time in Cabin John over the coming year. She currently oversees the Block Coordinator Program, Crab and Chicken Feast ticket sales, and the New Neighbor Potluck. VICE PRESIDENT OF ADVOCACY The CJCA is seeking an additional Vice President of Advocacy to ensure that the organization has the manpower to stay on top of issues such as the beltway expansion, cut-through traffic, proposed property subdivisions, airplane noise, and pedestrian safety. VICE PRESIDENT OF ACTIVITIES In recent years, the CJCA has added a number of popular events that bring the community together to share some fun. The CJCA would like to have an additional Vice President of Activities to help coordinate and be a resource to the volunteers that organize Team Trivia Night, the Spring Egg Hunt, the New Neighbor Potluck, the 4th of July Parade, the Turkey Trot, and the Holiday Party. VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS Communications is key to keeping our community tight-knit. The CJ directory will be five years old at the end of 2019. It is also showing its age in that it does not include email addresses or more than a couple of phone numbers per household. The CJCA is looking to use AtoZ Connect, the company that makes the Bannockburn, Pyle and Whitman school directories, to produce our next directory and to create an online version. The Vice President of Communication would take the lead on coordinating this project. CONTENT EDITOR, THE VILLAGE NEWS Just over two years ago Vashti Van Wyke agreed to serve as the newsletter’s content editor even though she had four kids ages eight and under! During her time of exceptional service she introduced new columns and features, worked with Production Editor Noelle Tower on a complete redesign of the newsletter and streamlined its editorial process. Thankfully for the person who takes on this important role, her efforts mean that the newsletter is put out with great efficiency. The CJCA, and the community as a whole, are incredibly grateful for her dedicated service. The content editor works hand-in-hand with the production/layout editor, Noelle Tower, to put together 10 issues of The Village News each year. The editor also coordinates the work of the newsletter’s passionate Cabin John columnists who write about local nature, history, gardening, and goodneighborliness, as well as with the CJCA on community coverage and advocacy issues. The Village News also welcomes more CJ writers willing to be a regular contributor or to provide the occasional story. CABINJOHN.ORG TECHNICAL SUPPORT Robin Sidel, editor of the CJCA website, is looking for someone with technical WordPress experience to assist with some of the more complicated web-based projects she would like to tackle. If you would like to know more about any of these positions or if you have ideas about other ways you could serve the community, please reach out to a CJCA officer, drop Susan Shipp an email at jsjshipp3@verizon.net or give her a call at 202-297-8718. By Susan Ship CJCA President [...] Read more...
March 29, 2019“A Good Place To Either Get Blessed or Cussed” In February, 140 residents came together for Cabin John’s Inaugural Trivia Night in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Cabin John Citizens Association. One hundred years ago, the entire population of Cabin John was not much larger than the number of residents that filled the Clara Barton Community Center a few weeks ago.  In 1919, Woodrow Wilson was president. The U.S. Congress passed the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon first appeared in a newspaper (it would later lampoon the Cabin John Fire Department in 1938). The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. A loaf of bread cost around 8 cents, as did a gallon of gas. One could buy a Palmers soft drink, bottled right on Wisconsin Avenue, for around 5 cents at Tuohey’s store on Conduit Rd. (now MacArthur Blvd.). A blacksmith’s shop stood on the corner of Seven Locks Rd. and Conduit Rd., Cabin John’s busiest thoroughfare dotted with horses, carriages and wagons.  In 1919, Cabin John’s 1.3 square miles boasted only a handful of houses and summer shacks, with bucolic views of nothing more than ‘fields of corn stubble’ and trees. Day trippers hopped off the trolley on the opposite side of the Union Arch Bridge and wandered across to the Cabin John Bridge Hotel. Though long past its heyday,  the hotel’s landscaped gardens offered a wonderful country escape from D.C. Visitors and ramblers could hike around Cabin John, gather chestnuts and persimmons, lay out a picnic and then head down to the river in hopes of catching a canal boat on the C&O Canal back to Georgetown.  Mrs Josephine Havens, a long-ago resident who started coming to Cabin John in 1912 as a child, recalled in Time Was, A Cabin John Memory Book (1976) seeing President Wilson drive along Conduit Rd. to Great Falls in what she thought was a Pierce Arrow: “I gathered it must have one of his favorite drives…You didn’t see too many people going by in cars, so when I’d see him I’d always wave.” J.S. Tomlinson’s American Land Company began selling lots in Cabin John in 1912 when the area was home to only a handful of families; by 1920 around 100 lots were sold. The cost of a half acre lot was about $200. The lanes off of Conduit Rd. remained unpaved, there was no electricity, the post was untimely, and the elementary school was across the bridge on Wilson Lane. As more people discovered this rural enclave, demands for community improvements and services grew. A small group of interested residents spearheaded by four local gentlemen founded the Cabin John Park Citizens Association in 1919. Andrew C. Wilkins, Charles H. Godbold, Walter B. Armstrong and Ellis R. King were known as the Four Horsemen of Cabin John for their efforts to forge ahead—perhaps also in a nod to the best selling novel of that year, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  Meetings were held at Junior Hall (a large building at corner of 79th Street and MacArthur). Mrs. Havens, whose father was Charles Godbold, recollected that “the Citizens Association was really responsible for getting the roads and everything else going. In the twenties it was a very active group. When they started getting these houses built, they had to have electricity and other utilities. Our roads were all dirt at one time. It was just a gradual process of them all working together, fighting for it, and getting it done.”  Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Smith bought a lot at Tomlinson’s auction and built their house in 1914, as well as several other houses in the neighborhood. Mr. Smith was a charter member of the Citizens Association, and though he was often too busy to attend meetings, he recalled the “First time I did go, I said ‘This is a good place to either get blessed or cussed.’ But it started right off with a bang.” And what a bang indeed. The Cabin John Citizens Association has continued to advocate for the community through its decades of perseverance, civic engagement and tenacity. As Cabin John grew, the Citizens Association was as a charter member of the Montgomery County Civic Federation in 1925. Three years later, it helped establish the Glen Echo-Cabin John School, which became the Clara Barton School in 1944. During the 1920s, the Citizens Association organized a trash collection service, a July 4th fireworks display, sponsored Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, improved telephone lines and the postal service, and brought electricity to Cabin John.  Perhaps one of the more significant actions of the CJCA was the drafting of a community plan in the early 1970s, following a contentious and unsuccessful proposal by the Bogley Company to develop a high rise shopping plaza in Cabin John. The Citizens Association surveyed residents which resulted in the Cabin John Community Plan that “contains our goals, objectives, and proposals for the future of the area in which we live—and the assertion that we, the citizens, have both the right and the duty to direct the lifestyle we choose to follow, rather than have it done for us.”  Ongoing activities of the CJCA include the Chicken and Crab Feast, a Potomac River canoe excursion, a Cabin John Creek clean up, the July 4th parade, neighborhood blood drives, the Turkey Trot and New Neighbors Potluck. The CJCA publishes The Village News, which has been the community’s newsletter since 1965.  Cabin John continues to face urgent issues, from airplane noise and pollution to the proposed beltway expansion. While fostering a unique sense of community, the Cabin John Citizens Association is more relevant than ever in representing our collective voice to maintain this mellow, eclectic community. By Rachel Donnan Contributing Writer [...] Read more...
March 29, 2019At first glance, the diminutive Winter Wren is nothing to write home about. A plump lump of a bird covered in dull dark brown, barred plumage, this winter visitor is one of our smallest North American bird species. And then there is that rather silly-looking short tail, often held in the upright position, as if this appendage got stuck in the manufacturing process. Unlike other bird species, where males have more flamboyant feathers while females stay understated to avoid attracting predators to their nests, the feathers of adult male and female Winter Wrens are almost identical. The Winter Wren breeds in the far northern forests in conifer stands and dense broadleaf forest groves, nesting high in tree cavities where it can find them, and feeding on bugs up in the trees. But in winter, the bird moves south, and can be found in the woods around Cabin John and elsewhere in Maryland and Virginia. Rather then stay in the trees as in the breeding season, our winter visitors spend their days on the forest floor, searching cracks and crevices and even venturing into cavities and underground openings, selecting from an invertebrate menu “the daily special”–whatever is creeping or crawling at that moment from November to March. It is this penchant during winter foraging for exploring caves and crannies that gave rise to the Winter Wren’s scientific name—Troglodytes, similar sounding to troglodyte. Today,  the derogatory epithet “Troglodyte” is typically applied to a person who is considered reclusive, reactionary, or whose views are out-of-date. The origin of its use, however, was to describe the lifestyles of cave-dwelling prehistoric humans.  On the winter range all you will hear from the Winter Wren is an unimpressive, sparrow-like klip-klip emanating from its equally undistinguished short bill. If that’s all there was to the call, my account of this creature could pretty much stop here and move on to the next bird.  But take a walk if you can in the northern forests in spring. Your ears would perk up and you would become determined to seek out the songster that is filling the forest with the longest, one of the loudest, and certainly the richest notes uttered by any North American species. There on a branch, announcing, “this is my territory”, is the creature we nonchalantly pass over in winter—the diminutive Winter Wren. In fact, adjusted for it’s body size, the Winter Wren may have the loudest call of any bird in the world. Scientists have determined that per unit of weight, the Winter Wren delivers its song with 10 times more power than a crowing rooster.  Another fascinating fact about the Winter Wren is that until recently it had one of the largest ranges of any bird, stretching across the northern hemisphere. Now, geneticists have split this species into three: a Pacific Wren on the Western coast of North America, the Winter Wren across the rest of our continent, and the Eurasian Wren that ranges from Cornwall, England to Korea. Interestingly, Europe, Russia, and the rest of Asia have just this one species of wren in their avifauna. In contrast, wrens exploded in diversity in the New World, with more than 80 species, mostly in the tropics. Perhaps the most appealing singer, at least to me, is the desert species of the southwest—the Canyon Wren, a song marked by powerful descending whistles and fake kisses at the end. But it is the foraging behavior in winter of our little wren-ball that fascinates me the most: the Winter Wren’s ground-feeding predilection and the way it skulks under leaves or twigs or ventures into brush piles or crevices in search of the hiding places of invertebrates. At least in winter, it feeds more like a mouse than a bird—a mouse with a beak. In New Zealand there is an endemic species of cave-roosting bat that  although it can fly instead it crawls on the ground and feeds on invertebrates just like a small nocturnal rodent. Some desert-dwelling bats in the U.S. hunt on the ground to catch scorpions. It is this ability to shift its feeding style to the season that I find so interesting. If, no one in the birding literature or naturalists’ journals has offered this aphorism before, I hereby submit it: never judge a bird by its plumage. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist                                                                                         WINTER WREN [...] Read more...
March 28, 2019CJ Creek Clean Up Set for March 30 Hints of spring are finally here and that means it’s time to collect the plastic bags, cans and other trash that has collected along the Cabin John Creek since our last effort. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Cabin John Creek and the Cabin John Citizens Association, this year’s cleanup will be held Saturday, March 30, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. Please gather at Cabin John Local Park by the one-lane bridge at 12:45 pm. Refreshments and gloves will be provided. But bring your own gloves if you can. The clean-up, held rain or shine,is messy and old clothes are recommended. SSL hours are available for the cleanup. Children ages 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. The CJCA will send out an email if inclement weather forces us to reschedule. Spring Egg Hunt April 14 The 21st annual Cabin John Spring Egg Hunt is scheduled for Sunday, April 14 at 4:00 pm. All CJ kids elementary school age and younger are welcome to participate in the hunt, which will take place at the lower playground in the park by the one-lane bridge. Bring a basket and don’t be late. Last year’s hunt drew some 45 kids and all 500 eggs were found within 15 minutes! Plan to stay and play at the park and maybe your children will meet some new neighborhood friends. Please RSVP to Irena Bojanova, ibojanova@gmail.com, with the number of children in your group. Irena also asks you to consider volunteering to help prepare the eggs and set up the hunt. 2nd Annual New Neighbors Potluck April 28 Are you new to Cabin John? We’d love to meet you! All residents new to Cabin John since April 2018 are invited to a dinner to be held at the Clara Barton Community Center on Sunday, April 28 from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. More established residents are urged to come welcome our new neighbors and bring a side dish, salad or dessert to share. The Cabin John Citizens Association will provide pizza and drinks. Weather permitting, there will be outdoor games for children. To ensure that we have enough food for all, please RSVP through Sign-Up Genius. New to CJ and Missing A Welcome Bag? If you’re new to Cabin John, we hope you’ve received a welcome bag from your Block Coordinator. The bag includes the CJ directory, a history of Cabin John and other useful information. If not, please contact Nancy Russell, nc3russell@yahoo.com, (301) 219-3750. [...] Read more...
March 27, 2019Beltway expansion concerns dominated the discussion with Councilmember Andrew Friedson at the CJCA’s Feb. 27 meeting. Residents were glad to hear Friedson say that he had met personally with State Highway Administration officials and made clear his opposition to the taking of private property for any Beltway expansion. The 35 residents in attendance raised many additional concerns, including noise and air pollution, storm water runoff and the potential inequity that expensive toll lanes would have on county residents who cannot afford to pay tolls in excess of $40 like on I-66 in Virginia. Cabin Johners also voiced concerns about the lack of transparency regarding state plans for the American Legion Bridge. Friedson responded by saying that the state needs to focus on the bridge first and foremost as it is the cause of the worst congestion. Residents and Friedson also agreed that mass transit needs to be part of any state “traffic relief ” plan. Friedson acknowledged the cut-through traffic and airplane noise challenges our community endures, although time constraints did not allow for deeper conversation on those issues. Friedson said one issue he feels strongly about is pedestrian safety and he seemed receptive to helping Cabin John get crosswalks on MacArthur Blvd. and Seven Locks Rd. SUGGESTED CROSSWALKS FOR CABIN JOHN The councilmember asked the CJCA to provide a list of suggested crosswalks. Here are the locations we’ve identified. They are suggested primarily because they provide safe access to sidewalks as well as Ride-On or school bus stops. Email Greg Pawlson, gpawlson@gmail.com, with your thoughts this list. Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at the Captain’s Market Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at 77th Street Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at the westbound stop sign at Seven Locks Rd. Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at lower 79th Street to the Ride On bus stop Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at 80th Street Crosswalk across MacArthur Blvd. at 81st Street Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Carver Rd. Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Long Ridge Rd. Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at the service road for Seven Locks Park/Palisades Pool Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Cypress Grove Lane Crosswalk across Seven Locks Rd. at Lilly Stone (Carderock neighborhood) BY SUSAN SHIPP CJCA President [...] Read more...
March 7, 2019Cabin John residents have identified activities to celebrate 100 years of civic pride as well as ways to give back that will help ensure that Cabin John continues to be the wonderfully vibrant and beautiful community that we call home. But we need volunteers and funding to realize some of these goals. The CJCA operates with a lean budget considering all that we do. As 100th anniversary efforts have gotten underway, the most pressing question has been what kind of budget do we have for the various projects. The reality at this time is not much. For instance, folks working on some Welcome to Cabin John signage don’t know whether we are looking at one simple sign, which might cost less than $2,000 or multiple signs so that folks know they are entering Cabin John when they are on MacArthur Blvd. or Seven Locks. Similarly, we have started to get bids for a MacArthur Blvd. beautification effort and have found landscapers estimating close to $2,000 for a 75-foot stretch. Can we get companies to sponsor some planting areas? Are there county funds we might tap? There are a couple of Cabin Johners who have already volunteered to be part of this project, but more people are needed to explore all our options. Holding a Cabin John Day where the community comes together to celebrate with activities for the kids, a popup Cabin John museum to educate, some food and entertainment is strongly supported, but exactly how that comes together depends on having a budget and, even more important, having a committee of volunteers to plan the day. Right now, we’ve got the date, Saturday June 1, booked with the community center, but no volunteers or funds to make it happen. The CJCA needs you to pay your dues, give generously to a special 100th Anniversary fund and sign up to help with one or more our 100th Anniversary efforts. Visit this page to fill out a form, or look for the CJCA dues letter in your mailbox. To volunteer, fill out this form, or send me an email at jsjshipp3@verizon.net. By Susan Shipp CJCA President [...] Read more...
February 28, 2019When the weather forecast warns of a looming polar vortex, my first concern as a naturalist is:  How will our overwintering songbirds survive this extreme event? We, like our neighbors, heed the public service advisories to keep our two dogs inside. But there is no precautionary measure for the birds that live outdoors 24/7. And even if we could somehow coax a few robins, mockingbirds, a willing junco, or a shivering titmouse into the house, they would be flapping at the windows and French doors, desperate to be released again into the backyard icebox.  Then the biologist in me awakens and posits another question:  With the severe weather events associated with climate change predicted to be more common and more extreme, will there be rapid selection among those populations of birds that live multiple years and stay sedentary in our area in favor of those who decide instead to take their chances by migrating farther south in fall? Doing so, after all, might increase their chances of being alive to breed and successfully raise offspring the following spring. For those birds that do overwinter, the secret of their survival is their ability to store fat and then burn it in times of numbing cold and wind in order to keep their body temperature stoked and at homeostasis. A few species such as chickadees are able to drop their body temperature a few degrees to conserve energy during cold days but for most species it is all about building the fat layer for conditions like those we experienced in late January. When not conserving energy by fluffing their feathers and hiding out of the wind, they seek out what energy-rich fruits remain now that all the insects are dead or dormant and seeds are hard to find.  Once the worst of the polar vortex ends, you might see flocks of American robins roaming about for whatever fruit is still available. And that is where the remarkable Winterberry plant takes center stage. I am so thankful that a few years ago we planted two female Winterberry bushes in the front yard (and have a female Eastern red cedar offering its berries in the back). Winterberry is a relative of the American Holly tree. It grows neither as stout and tall as the holly, and unlike the holly, it drops its leaves in winter—all the better to make its bright red berries stand out against a snow-lined branch.  Those who care about birds, and that, I will wager, is most people in Cabin John, can always put out suet and seeds in bird feeders to sustain our avian friends. But much better is to go to a local nursery or order on-line at least three Winterberry bushes. You will need at least two because Winterberry, like American Holly and the Eastern Red Cedar, are among the 8% of plants globally that are dioecious—meaning male and female flowers grow on separate plants. So, if you want to have a big crop of bright red berries decking out your female bush or, even better, two female shrubs, a male is needed to be planted nearby. Based on observations made in my walking expeditions in our neighborhood, it is my conclusion that almost every single-family home in our hamlet has room in a sunny spot for three Winterberry bushes. Or if you are more partial to dogwoods or viburnums or the like, you can find a list of other native species to plant and specimens from our local nurseries that produce fruits birds love. The non-Florida dogwoods—such as the pagoda dogwood or silly dogwood, or even red and green-osier dogwoods—produce beautiful fall foliage, brightly colored branches, and offer fruits to birds that are among the most nutritious available. In all these cases you will likely need two; even though dogwoods are not dioecious they don’t self-pollinate, so having a compadre next to it ensures cross-pollination and fruit set. There are other good choices: Northern bayberry or southern myrtle in warm sunny spots, snowberry, American Beautyberry (not the Japanese version), and red or black chokecherry make birds merry. Even the somewhat scraggly branched staghorn sumac with its dramatic displays of powder-coated fruits (related to the source of sumac for Persian cooking)—we have three of these interesting looking plants in our yard—welcome birds in winter that live on the edge of starvation. Two days before the recent polar vortex descended from the north, I found myself northwest of Philadelphia driving on a highway past Valley Forge, PA. I didn’t exit, but I did have this thought: how would Washington’s Army have survived the historic cold temperatures we just witnessed this past week? Would there have been a lot more desertions or deaths?  And then because I study natural history rather than American history, my thoughts shifted to the question I posed at the beginning: How will the birds of the future survive these extreme weather events? That is when I came up with the idea of a local Winterberry Army. Many of you know that we are launching a campaign to plant 100 trees this year in honor of the Cabin John Citizens Association’s 100-year anniversary. But what if we have a Winterberry Army, or at least a Brigade, of Cabin John gardeners who take a pledge to plant Winterberry—a male and at least one female—in their yards, or one or more of the other showy shrubs I mentioned above? Why, we could even have streets where one neighbor’s male Winterberry or pagoda dogwood could provide the pollen for their nearest neighbor’s female.  And, at recent Citizen’s Meetings, that “Welcoming sign” we have discussed erecting at the edge of Cabin John? It could read:  Welcome to Cabin John The Winterberry Capital of the United States or better yet, if we all joined in and offered a greater diversity of plants: Welcome to Cabin John The Winter Bird Fruit Capital of North America Who is with me? By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist WINTERBERRY [...] Read more...
January 29, 2019Most of the birds that stick around Cabin John in winter have the dullest of plumage. Among the exceptions, there is of course the bold bon vivant, the Northern cardinal, decked out in vivid scarlet feathers. But a real treat is to see a gang of Eastern bluebirds flitting through the woods or along a field edge, reminding us that color vision is a miraculous gift we primates share with birds, even though somewhat underutilized for the dull tones of winter.  There is no better test of this color-vision privilege than to compare the black-and-white illustration of an Eastern bluebird that accompanies this article with the real thing on a snowy day, its radiant blue head and back feathers set off against an orange neck and throat and a white belly. If ever a bird seemed to be wearing a uniform, this would be the one. Western bluebirds and mountain bluebirds are lovely, too, living west of the Continental Divide, but I think ornithologists missed an opportunity by not giving the Eastern species a name such as the Brilliant bluebird as they did with the Resplendent quetzal.  Bluebirds are in the thrush family, and while their songs are far less melodic than the Wood thrush or Veery who visit our local forests in the spring and summer, or the now silent but visible Hermit thrush who winters here, they have plumage that must be the envy of the other thrushes, who tend to be spotted or a bit more reddish on the back or even a dull grey.  Colorful plumage in the winter might not seem like a great anti-predator strategy: in an environment of leafless trees and shrubs, it is much easier for a cruising Cooper’s hawk to spot a bluebird. But at this time of year, bluebirds stick together in groups. They have safety in numbers, and they warn each other about the presence of possible threats. Maryland might not seem like a great wintering spot. The insects are in diapause, eggs deposited under bark or nymphs resting underground, waiting for spring to arrive. And so the bluebirds shift to a fruit diet, and Maryland provides a smorgasbord assisted by thoughtful gardeners who plant native dogwood whose fruits are rich in nutrients to sustain overwintering birds. Wild grape, sumac, hackberry, dried raspberries, bayberries, Virginia creeper (a member of the grape family), eastern juniper—all fuel the bluebirds.  The Eastern Bluebird’s story is a perfect one to welcome in a new year with hope for better things to come. The species had made a remarkable comeback from the early part of the 20th century when it suffered a heavy toll due to the invasion of European starlings that took over their nest cavities, cowbirds that parasitized their nests, habitat loss, and pesticides. But by curtailing pesticides and placing nestboxes across rural America whose openings are suitable only for bluebirds, this beloved songster has come back. At the callous hand of many of us, bluebirds faced declines; in the respectful embrace of birders and nature lovers, bluebirds have made a resurgence that continues into this century and 2019.  In this shutdown season, there is no reason to be a shut-in. Why not go out and listen for its soft warbles and find our winter bluebirds? And when you find some, think good thoughts about the restorative gestures we can make for other species with whom we share this beautiful and colorful Earth. By Eric Dinerstein Contributing Writer Illustration by Trudy Nicholson Contributing Artist [...] Read more...
November 12, 2018The October 26 CJCA Meeting focused on ways to celebrate Cabin John’s past, while also protecting its future. Greg Pawlson, CJCA vice president of advocacy, and Cypress Grove resident Charlotte Troup-Leighton shared the latest on the state’s massive $9 billion beltway expansion plan. In this initial phase of the project, the state is looking at how well the 19 ideas it received from the private sector meet six criteria it is using to assess their viability. Greg said the criteria of “no public funding” would seem to limit the final set of alternatives to beltway expansion through a public-private partnership (P3). Greg introduced a guest, David Hondowicz of the recently formed Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), who noted that the Montgomery County Planning Department and other agencies are taking issue with how the state is approaching its environmental impacts assessment with some calling the criteria biased in favor of Gov. Hogan’s toll-lane solution. Charlotte talked about having conversations with candidates for county and state offices to make sure they are aware of community concerns. All CJ residents are urged to become more informed. To that end, Charlotte and Greg shared a background paper and “cheat sheet” of websites that provide additional information and various viewpoints.  For more information or to work with other Cabin Johners on this issue, contact Greg Pawlson at gpawlson@gmail.com and Charlotte Troup-Leighton at troupleighton@gmail.com.   By Susan Shipp CJCA President [...] Read more...
November 12, 2018The second half of the October 26 CJCA meeting was devoted to 100th anniversary plans, with a number of folks committing to spearheading specific projects. As an initial phase of the MacArthur Blvd. beautification effort, Susan Roberts, in absentia, put forth a proposal to plant a very damaged 50-foot stretch of grassy area that runs along MacArthur near the intersection of Seven Locks. While different design proposals are being solicited and details worked out, those present at the meeting approved funding this initial effort in the hopes that it could be used as a pilot to interest others, including outside groups like the Washington Aqueduct, in planting other sections along MacArthur. Charlotte Troup-Leighton, who led the successful effort to replace the Evergreen neighborhood sign at Cypress Grove, offered to be part of a small committee that will explore Welcome to Cabin John sign options. Another temporary signage idea to be explored is streetlight banners along MacArthur Blvd. Eric Dinerstein and Vashti Van Wyke are stepping up to organize a campaign to help restore the CJ tree canopy. Their goal will be to get 100 native trees planted in Cabin John by residents either planting in their yard and/or in public places. Everyone agreed that we should move forward with a Cabin John Day on June 2. The Clara Barton Community Center has said it wants to work with us to create a family-friendly event, possibly pirate-themed, that could include a treasure hunt and moon bounce. A number of folks were enthusiastic about making it a BBQ, having music and hosting another Cabin John pop-up museum like the one held a couple years ago. It would be great if several people come together to work with the community center to plan this anniversary party! Scott Lewis, also in absentia, said he would help to coordinate a Trivia Night party for adults to be held at the community center. There was also discussion of making it a fundraising event. Other projects that attendees considered favorably were a 100th Anniversary edition of the Cabin John Directory and a CJ House Tour that would ideally include some of the 100-year-old homes in the community. The creativity and constructiveness of this community is impressive. All of these activities and initiatives are worthwhile. All they need is YOU to offer up your time and talent to make them happen. Please contact Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net to get involved! By Susan Shipp CJCA President [...] Read more...
October 24, 2018With some 200 Cabin Johners, family and friends coming out for the inaugural CJ Turkey Trot in 2017, it was decided before the end of that race that the trot should become an annual event. This year Thanksgiving is Nov. 22. The Turkey Trot, sponsored by the Cabin John Citizens Association, will get underway at 10 a.m. (sharp!) at the park by the one-lane bridge. As before, there will be two race options: For elementary school-aged kids and younger, there will be a one-mile Tot Trot consisting of several loops around the park. For participants of all ages, there will be a roughly 2.5 mile run/walk that has participants following the bike path from the park, to 79th Street, down to the C&O Canal, along the canal to the path by the one-lane bridge and back to the park. The trot is free, but we are asking every household who is thinking about coming out, to please register online so that we can plan accordingly. When you register online, you also will have the opportunity to purchase a 2018 Turkey Trot t-shirt for $15. Drive for Manna Food Center While the trot is free, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are asking all participants to bring a jar of peanut butter, a box of granola bars, instant oatmeal or other non-perishable grocery items for Manna Food Center’s Smart Sack program that provides backpacks of food for school kids on the weekends. Can you Volunteer? As always, volunteers are key to making any event safe and successful. We need volunteers to help set up before the event or to be a course monitors during the trot. To volunteer, please register online or contact Irena Bojanova at ibojanova@gmail.com. SSL hours are available for middle school and high school volunteers.   [...] Read more...
October 18, 2018The co-op is moving quickly to follow-up on suggestions made by Cabin Johners at the Sept. 26 Cabin John Citizens Association meeting. “For the holidays, we will be stocking a variety of new items, setting up displays that provide dinner and entertaining suggestions and stepping up our email and Facebook presence,” says Manager Helen Atkocious, who spoke at the meeting along with her assistant Mary Jaeger. Among the products they will be offering in the coming weeks are German chocolates and advent calendars, specialty baked goods, and 2019 datebooks and calendars. “If we can get more CJ residents to check out the co-op, they will see that we offer a lot of competitively-priced groceries, beer and wine and maybe we can save them a trip to stores that are 20 minutes away,” noted Atkocious at an Oct. 4 follow-up meeting. Right now, customers spend an average of $25 per shopping trip, using the co-op more like a convenience store than their local grocer. To encourage more shopping by CJers and to say thank-you for the ongoing community support, the co-op is offering Village News subscribers 5 percent off one shopping trip during the month of November. (See the co-op ad in the printed newsletter.) Among the challenges voiced during the CJCA meeting was the lack of parking during the lunchtime hours. Even though the landlord has posted 30-minute parking signs in front of the store, restaurant patrons and others frequently leave their cars in those spots for an hour or more. The CJCA passed a motion to send a letter to the Co-op’s landlord asking that a number of parking spots be dedicated to Co-op shoppers during peak business hours. In 2019, the co-op plans to look at ways it might implement additional community suggestions including having customers pre-order fish or chicken for pick-up on specified afternoons, establishing discount days, and creating a members’ rewards program for frequent shoppers.   By Susan Shipp [...] Read more...
October 18, 2018Could CJ Have Cast the Swing Votes in the June Primaries? Ever think your vote doesn’t count? Think again. Twelve votes was all it took for candidate Sara Love to win the District 16 Democratic State Delegate primary and get her name on the November ballot for the chance to represent us in Annapolis. Plus, the Democratic candidate for County Executive, Marc Elrich, won with just a 77-vote margin.  Of the 1,880 registered Democrats in Cabin John’s precinct, 668 or 36 percent, voted in the June primary. The Cabin John precinct includes all of Cabin John as well as some residents between Wilson Lane and the Cabin John Parkway. CJ voters could definitely have made the difference in those two primary contests.   The most interesting fact about our precinct is that we are shrinking. In 2014, we had more than 3,100 registered voters. In 2018, it’s just under 3,000. CJ voter turnout for the June primaries was low, only 25 percent. As with most of the nation, our precinct logs a higher turnout for the general election and even more during a presidential election. But even for the 2016 presidential race, CJ voter turnout was just 37 percent.  The general election on Nov. 6 includes the race for governor, as well as a U.S. senator and our representative in Congress. In addition, voters will be deciding state officials, our next county executive, and all nine members of the county council, which controls Montgomery County’s $5.6 billion operating budget. They have the most direct impact on our lives when it comes to issues like traffic, schools, jobs, taxes, you name it. Imagine how many more elections we could swing if we all voted. Please come out and vote on Election Day or vote early in person or by mail.  See you at the polls! Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6, 7 am – 8 pm Cabin John Election Precinct 07-03 Clara Barton Community Center Early Voting: Oct. 25 – Nov. 1, 10 am – 8 pm (includes same-day registration) Closest Early Voting Location: Potomac Community Rec Center, 11315 Falls Rd, Potomac Absentee Voting by Mail: Request deadline is October 30.   By Pete Couste Volunteer Election Judge [...] Read more...
August 16, 2018Maryland’s $7.6 billion plan to expand the Beltway and I-270 will be the focus of the first fall meeting of the Cabin John Citizens Association on Sept. 26. State transportation officials will be on hand to present some preliminary alternatives and to answer attendees’ questions. This is a massive and controversial undertaking that could profoundly impact Cabin John. Governor Larry Hogan unveiled his concept of a Public-Private Partnership (P3) program to address ongoing traffic congestion on the American Legion Bridge, I-495, and the I-270 corridor last fall. Under the P3 approach, the state would develop general project parameters and scope of the project. While there are alternatives under consideration, it is highly likely that the state would then contract with one or more private developers to design, build, finance, and operate up to four toll lanes on I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between I-495 and I-70. This is similar in some ways to the toll lanes on the Beltway in Virginia developed using the P3 approach. As part of the process, the Maryland Department of  Transportation (MDOT) initiated a number of public informational meetings starting in Dec. 2017. Most recently, MDOT held community workshops in July to discuss a preliminary range of construction alternatives, which is an early step in the federally mandated environmental assessment process. MDOT plans to draft its environmental impact statement and select its desired alternative by fall 2019. More information on these alternatives and the project in general. Cabin John, especially the Evergreen neighborhood which backs up to the Beltway, could be impacted in a number of major ways by any Beltway expansion. While the community would benefit if the plan reduced gridlock on the Beltway and I-270, it could also face increased noise, local traffic, off-ramp congestion, and pollution. Most alarming is the potential for the taking of private property through eminent domain. All residents of Cabin John are urged to become informed and participate in these early phases of the project. CJ residents Charlotte Troup Leighton and Greg Pawlson have been monitoring the project, attending several of the MDOT informational meetings and having conversations and correspondence with MDOT officials, the Montgomery County Council, the Maryland Legislature and the offices of Attorney General Brian Frosh, Rep. Jamie Raskin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen. In addition, the CJCA (Susan Shipp and Greg Pawlson) and the Evergreen citizens (led by Charlotte Troup Leighton) submitted formal comment letters during the MDOT June “call for comments” on the project. Read the letter. With the study process well underway, a number of citizens groups have formed to follow and/or outright oppose the project. While the CJCA is monitoring their activities, it has not endorsed any other group at this point in time or taken a formal position for or against the state’s plans. By Greg Pawlson CJCA VP of Advocacy   Beltway Expansion Commentary By Greg Pawlson CJCA VP of Advocacy The following are my own observations from talking to MDOT officials, elected officials, and others in Maryland and Virginia, and doing some background reading on the subject. These views are not the official position of CJCA. It appears to me that the Beltway/I-270 expansion project has three major aspects. The first is political given it is an initiative of Republican Governor Larry Hogan. It is clear that many jurisdictions, primarily but not exclusively Republican, are using the P3 approach to build infrastructure, since they are unwilling or unable to raise taxes, including the gasoline tax, to pay for needed public infrastructure, including this current $7 billion project to mitigate Beltway traffic. The P3 approach appears to have resulted in mixed success. (For more information, Google “P3 construction”). If one is opposed to this approach to financing and construction, and since it appears that Hogan and his senior officials in MDOT are locked into using it, then it would seem that political opposition should include electing politicians who are willing to consider raising taxes to support infrastructure development. There are already several coalitions forming in Maryland in opposition to the project, including “Citizens Against Beltway Expansion” (CABE). Secondly, there is a real need for a comprehensive approach to solving DC’s growing traffic congestion, which virtually all of us experience on a daily basis on the Beltway and on our neighborhood streets. I don’t see any single solution, but perhaps mitigation through a wide variety of approaches. These could include nonhighway-related solutions like staggered work times (especially in our area given the number of government employees) and more telecommuting, as well as mass transit with light rail, heavy rail and other forms of non-highway based transportation along with bus lanes, self-driving electric buses and vans and cars. At present I am not aware of any effective effort to consider a wide-reaching and innovative set of approaches to our transportation problems. Finally, there is the MDOT P3 project itself, with the constraints imposed on the Maryland Department of Transportation by Gov. Hogan that includes only minimal state (or federal) funding for this project. This approach makes it almost certain that alternatives that MDOT will adopt will be highway-based restricted toll lanes built and administered by a private entity. At any rate, the next year should prove very critical as this project moves forward. Given our strategic and vulnerable location, we need everyone from Cabin John to be involved in this project, and to provide input to make ourselves heard and hopefully influence the final outcome. So please come to the Wednesday, Sept. 26 CJCA meeting and reach out to Susan Shipp, Charlotte Troup Leighton or myself gpawlson@gmail.com) to learn more. [...] Read more...
August 16, 2018A memorable day indeed. The photo is evidence that whatever many and varied decisions this particular group of Cabin Johners had made in their lives, those paths all intersected on July 8th for a great day on the Potomac River. There were a few things that made this trip different from others. First, the boats were already down at the water’s edge when everyone arrived courtesy of some hard-working participants. That is a big thing. Second, the water level was 4.0, the highest that we’ve run the trip. Fewer rocks to run into but perhaps a bit more difficult to make course corrections due to the faster flowing current. Third, this is the first time we’ve had lunch in that sandy beach just upstream of Carderock on the MD side. Can’t see any sign of civilization from there. Fourth, we ran Stubblefied whitewater after positioning ourselves on the MD side. This is actually an easier approach, especially at higher water levels, than from the VA side. The CJ Citizens Association supported the event with a subsidy of about $500. Participants included: Peter and Vicky Gray Bross; Bob Walsh and son Hayden; Burr Gray; Carolyn Reimann, and daughters Emily and Katie; Duane Thompson and son D’Michael; Doug Pyle; Alexandra Freeman and Taylor; Marcy Harrison and Chip Wright; Dave McGaw, plus Steve and another friend; Mike Liebman and son Seth; Andrew Strasfogel; Elizabeth Jackson; John Butman; Patty Lee; Jana Butman; Alex Butman; Marget Maurer and son Andrew; Shellie Gainsburg and daughter Rachel; Tim and Mandy Rehm and their two children Pearl and Liam; Kevin Kearney; Dana Verkouteren and Mary Tyszkiewicz; Harriett Crosby; Arek Simpson; and Greg Gurley. By Burr Gray [...] Read more...
May 3, 2018Dog waste. Sure, it stinks, but you’ve got to pick up after your dog. It’s either dealing with the smell or not getting clean drinking water. Let me show you what I mean… I counted nearly twentyfive piles of dog waste on a small section of MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John. That’s a lot of dog owners who don’t care about the watershed. What is a watershed, you might ask? No, it’s not a shed that holds water. Try again. A watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins or seas. If you don’t pick up after your pet, the waste gets washed into the watershed. To help you understand, I’m going to tell a story…. Once upon a time, you’re walking your dog. He uses the bathroom twice. But instead of doing the responsible thing by picking it up, you just say “It stinks!” and walk away. That night it rains and rains and rains. The next morning, you wake up and walk your dog. When you pass by the place you walked your dog yesterday, you expect to see the dog waste. Instead, you just see wet grass. So, where did all the waste go? It’s simple. When you don’t pick up after your pet, it either: A) decomposes into the dirt or B) gets washed away. It does both of these things. If the waste gets washed away, then it transports from where you left it to the Potomac River, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay. And did you know that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million—that’s right, 23 MILLION—fecal coliform bacteria? Bacteria causes many diseases and viruses that can make both dogs and people sick. Dog poop is the number 3 cause of water pollution. The big question is: why do some people not pick up after their pet? The answer is maybe that they don’t do it because it’s disgusting. But what’s even more disgusting is that we are drinking all that polluted water. So if you own a dog, please do your part to protect our watershed! BY LUCY DONNAN 4th Grade [...] Read more...
March 14, 2018Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), a roster of residents ready to assist elderly Cabin Johners when needed, is due for some self-improvement. Originally formed nine years ago to “help our older neighbors live comfortably in their own homes as long as possible,” the group consists of about 30 volunteers, including three coordinators (currently Judith Bell, Bob Norris, and Susan Shipp) who maintain the volunteer list, receive requests for assistance, and match each requester with an available volunteer. For a time, this system worked reasonably well. But these days hardly anyone calls N2N and it’s clear the program needs to be revitalized. Volunteers on the N2N roster have been polled occasionally to confirm their availability and their preferred ways to help out, but no new volunteers have been recruited. Outreach to new volunteers will be critical to keeping the program going. Also, everyone in Cabin John is nine years older than they were when N2N began. That means that there are newly elderly neighbors who might occasionally like a little help, and N2N is not aware who they are. Figuring out how best to reach out to this population is an ongoing challenge. “Aging in Place” was much in the news in 2009, and N2N was meant to foster that phenomenon in Cabin John. But Cabin Johners of any age may need temporary assistance, and N2N volunteers have been happy to help out when they can. Should the program formally change its mission to one of helping any CJ resident in need of assistance? Equally important is making sure N2N is providing the services that neighbors need. The vast majority of N2N requests have been for transportation to appointments, the grocery store, and other errands, though volunteers have also shoveled snow, walked dogs, and organized paperwork. Interested? Please fill out this survey to let us know how N2N can help you or you can help serve others in the community.  BY JUDITH BELL Neighbor to Neighbor Coordinator [...] Read more...
March 6, 2018It was a standing room only crowd at the Jan. 31 CJCA meeting as more than fifty Cabin Johners showed up to learn about the current plans for repairs and improvements to the C&O Canal. Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt reviewed an extensive plan for $10 million in canal improvements stretching from Violettes Lock to the District line. Although work is already underway, the complexity of the effort means water is not likely to flow in the Cabin John portion of the canal until the spring of 2021, provided additional state funding is secured next year. Cabin John residents shared their concerns about the canal and the construction plans. Mac Thorton of Wishbone Terrace spoke for many paddlers when he lamented that the lack of water in the canal means Potomac paddlers can no longer loop back to their starting point. Brandt responded that the loop between Lock 5 and Fletcher’s Boat House should be restored this summer. A number of attendees spoke to the environmental impacts of not having water in the canal and of the repairs. Brandt explained that the canal is now considered to be wetlands and that any work must go through an environmental assessment and mitigate the loss of the wetlands. Brandt credited community advocacy for helping the park secure state funds this year for canal repairs. He said citizens will need to express similar support – especially to county leaders who set priorities for state funding in their jurisdictions – to secure the additional funding needed to rewater the canal between Great Falls and Lock 5 at the DC Maryland line. BY AMY ELSBREE CJCA Board Member [...] Read more...
March 6, 2018On Jan. 30 the builder and engineer of a proposed subdivision of 7555 MacArthur Blvd. met with the parcel’s neighbors to present a preliminary plan. The schematic showed the .6-acre lot divided into two properties – the existing home keeping 82-feet of MacArthur Blvd. frontage and a second lot behind it with a 25-foot “pipestem” from MacArthur Blvd. to the parcel. A driveway would run from MacArthur to the back lot, where a new house would be surrounded by homes on Tomlinson Ave., 77th Street, and MacArthur Blvd. Neighbors are concerned that existing water drainage issues due to slope and clay soil would be exacerbated by adding a new home and long driveway. Dean Packard, an engineer on the project, said the plan likely would include water drainage to MacArthur Blvd. Neighbors were also concerned about the loss of trees. The drawings show the driveway running extremely close, if not over, a 29-inch Cedar. A 24 to 34-inch Silver Maple appears to sit within five feet of the proposed home. Rembrandt Builders, the CJ company looking to subdivide the lot, indicated that soil composition and drainage issues might prompt them to reconsider moving forward. On Feb. 12, Rembrandt President Jim Graham-Yooll said in an email that they are “investigating the soils now and will make a decision after we know what their composition is.” At a fall CJCA meeting, the association reaffirmed its opposition to pipestem or lot subdivisions that would increase housing density, harm mature trees, or worsen water drainage. BY SUSAN SHIPP CJCA President [...] Read more...
December 1, 2017We all know Cabin John is a friendly community with a lot of heart. But the Cabin John Citizens Association is looking to be even more warm and welcoming with the creation of a block coordinators program. Come to the Nov. 29 CJCA meeting at 7:30 pm in the community center to learn more about it. The aim of this new neighborhood support structure, which divides Cabin John up into 33 “blocks” with one or more coordinators, is to help welcome new families to Cabin John, share information about the Neighbor-2-Neighbor assistance program, and communicate any block concerns or ideas to the CJCA, says Nancy Russell, the CJCA vice president of community outreach and service. Russell, who is spearheading this effort, has recruited 11 block coordinators to date. “While the role of block coordinator should not be very time consuming, it is vital to creating more interconnectedness in our community,” says Russell. “It’s a great way for parents of school-age kids to get involved,” she added. The block system has been developed using the Crab Feast advanced ticket seller structure organized by Clare Amoruso. The table below illustrates the different “block” areas and the estimate of how many houses are in each block. If you live in one of the areas that needs a coordinator, please consider volunteering. Community service also will be a focus of the November meeting. The CJCA wants community feedback on the Neighbor-2-Neighbor program, the CJ blood drives, and the creek cleanup it co-sponsors with the Friends of the Cabin John Creek. In addition, the CJCA wants to see if there is interest in doing more as a community. For example, we could host a Cabin John night at Manna Food Center, where a group of 20 – 30 Cabin Johners could work to sort food and pack food boxes for distribution at the center. By Nancy Russell and Susan Shipp We Need You! See an empty slot for your block? Please consider signing up to be a block coordinator! To find out more, contact Nancy Russell at nc3russell@yahoo.com or 301-229-1716. Updated! Find out who your block coordinator is and how to get in touch with him/her! [...] Read more...
October 1, 2017On September 9, after almost a year of planning, the Great Potomac River Tire Rodeo, organized by Cabin John’s Kevin Kearney and Bannockburn’s Beth Rogers, removed 229 tires from the Potomac River between the Cabin John Creek and Lock 10. More than 50 volunteers, many from co-sponsor Canoe Cruisers Association,  came together on a cloudless, sunny day to haul out the tires and load them into a large dumpster for proper disposal. Kevin, who has lived on Webb Road in Cabin John for 30 years, had discovered the  huge number of abandoned tires on his twice-daily forays down to the Potomac. His house backs onto the Clara Barton Parkway and it takes him just 400 steps to get to the river’s edge – he considers the expanse his extended backyard and has tended it for many years, removing trash, debris, and invasives. “My motto has been think globally, act locally, commit personally,” he says. Kevin started removing tires on his own, little by little, dragging them up to the tow path for the Park Service to remove. It was a “mellow” undertaking, he said, reminding  him of the pleasures of clamming when he was a little boy. Following his lead, other  neighbors, including Beth, who met Kevin along the river one day as he was picking  up trash, started removing tires as well. As the number of dislodged tires grew, the Park Service eventually told Kevin and Beth that they were “illegally dumping” the tires on federal property (the river, where the tires had been, is state land). Undeterred, Kevin started hauling the heavy tires all the way up to his house for disposal, dragging two or three at a time with his bicycle! But this wasn’t a sustainable model, and there were still a lot more tires out there. In 2016, with help from Delegate Marc Korman, Kevin and Beth got the Park  Service, which is the only entity allowed to operate vehicles on the towpath, to agree to move the tires up to Lock 10; and the county agreed to haul them away for disposal. Overall, during this first “mellow” phase of the operation, Kevin, Beth, and several friends and neighbors, removed about 150 tires. Quite a haul! But they knew there were still many more tires remaining in our stretch of the river.  So, a year ago, they decided to plan a formal clean-up day, complete with a park  permit and an industrialsized dumpster. Beth wrote a successful proposal for a small  amount of funding for the clean-up from NRG, an energy company that runs  coal-fired plants and was being fined $1 million for nitrogen discharges in the  Potomac and Patuxent Rivers (the small grant came out of the fine amount). Kevin and Beth also lined up vital support from the Canoe Cruisers Association, which helped with volunteers, boats, river-savvy, liability insurance, and life preservers on the day of the event. More than 50 volunteers showed up on Sept. 9 for the long day of boating, digging, and hauling tires. Based on their reconnaissance, Kevin and Beth thought there were probably about 80 tires, at most, remaining between the mouth of the Cabin John Creek and Lock 10. Instead, their huge dumpster was filled to overflowing with 229 tires at the end of the day. “Kevin was the spark for this clean-up. The river is his backyard and he knows it like the back of his hand,” said Beth. “The day itself was such a high. We had perfect weather, so many enthusiastic volunteers, and we removed so many more tires than we expected.” Several Cabin Johners helped with the clean-up, including Larry Heflin, who helmed the lunch foodrun (paid for by the grant), Burr Gray, and others. Beth estimates there may be up to 1000 tires per linear mile in this part of the Potomac River. She speculates that the tires, which are all about 40 years old, may have originated at a large tire farm that operated in Winchester, VA, 50 miles upstream. The good news, she reports, is that new tire purchases now include a small fee to cover proper disposal of old tires, meaning there are not many new tires making their way into the Potomac today. Adding it all up, over the last two years local volunteers have dug out almost 380 tires from the river near Cabin John, an amazing service to our local water ecology. Asked whether more tire rodeos are in Cabin John’s future, Beth and Kevin each demurred, with Kevin commenting (wisely) that, “You can ruin things in life that you enjoy doing by doing them too much.” Regardless, Cabin Johners can offer a grateful thanks to these two dedicated volunteers for helping make our tiny part of the earth a bit cleaner and less encumbered by the waste of our modern world. By Vashti Van Wyke [...] Read more...
September 11, 2017Want to gather with friends and neighbors for an afternoon of delicious food, refreshing beverages, and superb music? Then plan to head to Cabin John’s 48th Annual Chicken and Crab Feast Sept. 16 at the Clara Barton Community Center. The food and fun are served up starting at 2:00 pm. The Starlight Orchestra, a 15-piece jazz and swing band, gets underway shortly thereafter. The fun continues until 6:00 pm. Around 4 pm the Cabin John Citizens Association will take a few minutes to honor Clare Amoruso for her three decades of service to the community. (See profile pg. 3) A local tradition since 1970, the Crab Feast is not only a fun community event that brings some 600 Cabin Johners and their friends together; it is also an important fundraiser for the Cabin John Citizens Association. Dinner tickets are available for $16 at the door, and $14 if bought in advance (please call 301-320-2685). Proceeds from this event support The Village News, a 16-page newsletter free to all CJ residents, as well as the Fourth of July celebration, the holiday party, and other activities and service. The Crab Feast is a success each year because of the many, many volunteers who pitch in. Please consider volunteering for advance preparations or for an hour or two from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on the 16th. Thanks to the efforts of Laura Miller and Greg Pawlson, the CJCA is now able to offer SSL hours for middle and high school students who volunteer at CJCA community events. Anyone wishing to lend a hand should e-mail cjcrabfeast@gmail.com or call Crab Feast Coordinator Allison de Gravelles at 301-742-4762. Clare Amoruso To Be Honored at CJ Crab Feast After more than 30 years of almost constant service to the community, Clare Amoruso is stepping away from her current roles as coordinator of Crab Feast advanced ticket sales and as treasurer for the Cabin John Citizens Association. But the community is not going to let her “retire” without saying thanks. Please join the CJCA at the Crab Feast around 4 pm, when the incredible Starlight Orchestra takes their break, to pay tribute to Clare for her decades of service to the Cabin John community. By Susan Shipp [...] Read more...
September 11, 2017The summer swelter did not keep close to 200 Cabin Johners of all ages from gathering to commemorate the Fourth of July with the annual parade and reading of the Declaration of Independence. This year the festivities kicked off at 10:30 am with some 50 families meeting to decorate bikes and strollers. Their efforts guaranteed a fantastic display of patriotism when the parade got underway at 11:00 am. The parade marchers made their way along the MacArthur Boulevard bike and pedestrian path and were met at the Clara Barton Community Center by Pam Zilly playing patriotic tunes on her bagpipes. Once the parade arrived at the community center black top, everyone enjoyed watermelon, donuts, and much-appreciated beverages. Larry Hefflin led the annual reading of excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the kids played with bubbles, balls, and other trinkets. This year brought some changes to the traditional activities. The reversal of the parade direction was considered a success by all as it provided a much safer and larger space for the post-parade celebration by ending at the community center black top. The pre-parade decorating took place on 79th Street below the shopping center and provided direct access to the bike and pedestrian path without the need to cross MacArthur Boulevard at the start of the route. Many thanks to the Lai and Ingalls families for coordinating the bike and stroller decorating and the Ruppert and Jaeger/Tunador families for hosting the pre-parade fun in their driveways. The CJCA also thanks Amy Elsbree, Irena Bojanova, Greg Pawlson, and Nancy Russell for coordinating the refreshments and fun at the end of the parade and to all who pitched in to make the day such a success. If you have suggestions for next year’s parade or would like to lend a hand, please be in touch with CJCA President Susan Shipp at jsjshipp3@verizon.net.  By Amy Elsbree [...] Read more...
September 1, 2017Most of us know Cabin John Creek from the great views on the trail that runs from the playground at the one-lane bridge to Seven Locks Rd. by Cypress Grove Lane. It’s  about a half-hour hike. Though there are serious ascents, descents, and some  stretches of rocky ankle-twisting opportunity, looking at “our” creek is pure joy. Most of the time it’s a peaceful spring-fed stream–always flowing, sometimes flat, and much of the time presenting views of gentle cascades over low rocks and ledges. One guy who’s been walking the trail and looking at the creek for over forty years is my 76th St. neighbor, Walt Dence. Walt told me that for decades he’s wanted to experience our creek valley from the perspective of the river. That would mean either wading the whole thing or paddling it in a boat. Walt Dence is an electronics engineer, who has been a long-time flat-water canoer. He taught canoeing at a camp for two years in the 1950s. In 2010, Walt and his son, Ross, took their first paddle on the Potomac, participating in the annual Cabin John canoe trip. They have been paddling regularly since 2013 and took some white-water lessons a couple years ago. Now Ross, who lives in Washington, D.C., brings the grandkids out and they all canoe together. Walt’s has been waiting for the right conditions to run Cabin John Creek from where it goes under River Road, down through Cabin John to the C&O Canal. The water level must be higher than ordinary summertime flow, but less than a flood. It turns out that our stretch of Cabin John Creek is a highly rated white-water canoeing  destination–who’d have guessed! With its many twists and turns, flats, drops, and shallows, our stretch is about 3 miles. On the water, it takes about an hour. For Walt to enjoy the run with his son, everything had to come together on a weekend. At 75 years old, he finally got his chance. The last week of July saw a lot of rain — in some areas, torrential. Walt  checked the paint-marked boulder at the edge of the creek by River Rd. The water level was just right–about one-and-a-half feet above the summer norm. As the rain subsided in the late morning on July 29, Walt, Ross, and Ross’s friend Aaron Otte, put in by River Rd. Ross was in his solo white-water canoe, and he had a GoPro video camera. “Once you are down on the water, you are in nature,” said Walt. “You don’t even hear the noise from the cars whizzing by on River Road.” The trip ended at the canal about an hour later with the men only having to walk their boats once or twice. Walt’s dream had become reality. Walt observed, “After staring down at the rapids in rain storms for decades, finally getting into the water was amazing. “The view of the valley from the creek is just beautiful.” By Peter Vogt [...] Read more...
April 20, 2017Montgomery County anticipates it will spend $2.1 million repaving the streets of Cabin John this summer. The project is to begin after July 1 and once underway will take roughly three months, according to county officials who came to the March 29 CJCA meeting to provide an overview of the work. Your roads are in bad shape, which means “we will be building brand new roads,” said John Birton, program manager with the Department of Highway Services. Birton explained that concrete work and curbs will be done first and then roadways will be repaved. Curbs will not be added to road unless they existed before the repaving. The new asphalt is quick drying and should be dry in about an hour. Work is done on one side of the street at a time to allow for traffic. However, there may be short periods when residents will not have access to their driveways. No roads are slated to be widened as part of the project. Residents will receive a comprehensive project newsletter about three weeks before the project begins and signs will be posted at least 48 hours before repaving starts on a road, according to Norman Smith, the project manager who will be on site daily. The work is schedule between the hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, hours could be extended and Saturday work permitted to expedite the project. Trash and recycling trucks should have no trouble working around the repaving operations. Once the project is underway, the county will post updates on their website. The actual work will be performed by a private contractor under contract to the county. While the contractor is in Cabin John, Smith said, residents will be able to take advantage of the county’s competitive bid contract prices to repair their driveway aprons. The driveway apron is the portion of the driveway, often concrete, that is within the public right-of-way. Driveway repairs are also be a possibility as the contractors are allowed to do private work too. Dan Sheridan, with the county’s division of transportation engineering took questions on 17 areas with planned modifications to address drainage concerns. Residents raised a number of water concerns, including pooling at the 79th Street underpass to Riverside Dr. the intersection of Arden Rd. and 76th Street and areas of 81st and 83rd streets. “There are not a lot of storm drains out there so we are limited in what we can do,” said Sheridan. However, he believes they will be able to address minor issues. Pamela Rowe from the county’s department of Environmental Protection said her department is working with the highway division to see about a broader approach to stormwater issues in Cabin John, including the possibility of biorentention swales at the bottom of some streets. Rowe said this effort is on a different timeline so as not to slowdown the paving project. She also noted that she has funding for a dozen more free residential RainScape assessments should anyone in Cabin John be interested. By Susan Shipp [...] Read more...
April 1, 2017The March 29 CJCA meeting promises to be of interest to almost every resident in Cabin John. The topic of the evening will be the county’s upcoming roadway rehabilitation project, which will touch almost every county road in the neighborhood. The meeting, to be held at the Clara Barton Community Center, will begin at 7:30 pm. County officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) will be providing an overview of the project, which is scheduled to begin shortly after July 1, the start of the county’s new fiscal year. Roadway rehabilitation is one of the most extensive repaving options. Established primarily for the county’s mature neighborhoods, rehabilitation Heavily damaged Riverside Dr. will be repaired as part of includes the total removal and replacement of pavement exhibiting widespread areas of fatigue-related distress as well as base and subgrade failures, according to DOT. The goal is to “fix and enhance existing roads, curbs and sidewalks. I am stressing existing,” says Josh Faust, public outreach manager for the department’s division of highway services. New construction is not the purview of this project, he added. That said, the DOT is working with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to see if some long-standing stormwater issues on CJ streets such as 76th Street and 81st Street above MacArthur Blvd. and 83rd Street below MacArthur might be addressed in conjunction with the resurfacing project, according to Pamela Rowe, a DEP staffer who has been working with the Friends of the Cabin John Creek on the county’s RainScapes program and other storm water issues. Engineers, arborists and project managers have already spent time in the neighborhood assessing the roads and determining a tree protection plan. Some of the county’s experts will join Faust and Rowe at the meeting. The work plan and schedule, which is typically phased, will also be discussed. Cabin John has a number of other road concerns – from the dangers of cut-through traffic and the mounting frustrations of navigating MacArthur Blvd. during the morning and evening rush hours to the MacArthur Blvd. drainage issues impacting Cabin John Gardens. While extremely important to the community, these issues are not within the scope of the county’s Highway Services Division. If you have roadway concerns outside the repaving project, please contact CJCA President Susan Shipp to discuss. Work on these issues is ongoing. — Susan Shipp [...] Read more...
February 23, 2017At its January meeting, the Cabin John Citizens Association unanimously voted to support the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition. This new group is bringing together more than a dozen Montgomery County communities to advocate for comprehensive solutions to mitigate airplane noise in our neighborhoods. The coalition, which has been drawing up to 50 participants at its monthly meetings, has formed committees to focus on communications and outreach, research and information gathering, legislative initiatives and activism along with a group looking at how best to structure the coalition. Cabin John was well represented at the Feb. 6 coalition meeting, with six residents attending and Gretchen Gaston presenting a status report on several legislative actions. The coalition is urging Montgomery County residents to tell their elected officials how untenable the situation has become and to ask for their help. Excessive airplane noise and the FAA’s implementation of NextGen technology without consideration of the communities under the flight paths near major airports is a national problem. The DC area is behind the curve in voicing its distress. Here are some ways Cabin Johners can communicate their frustrations and concerns regarding the excessive airplane noise from the arrivals and departures out of Reagan National Airport (DCA). Keep filing complaints using the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s (MWAA) DCA Noise Complaint Form. Try to be as specific as you can — time of day/night,whether the plane is in-bound or out-bound and what was disrupted, a walk, sleep, conversation — when you complete the easy-to-fill out form. (It takes three minutes at most.) This is the most quantifiable way for our elected officials to understand that the noise is real. Write a letter to support the Reagan National Community Noise Working Group’s 6-point Plan The community representatives of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Working Group (the group created to represent community concerns and recommend aircraft noise solutions to the FAA) recently submitted a plan to the airport authority that contains several provisions that would greatly benefit communities under the current flight paths. Among other things, the plan calls on the FAA to: move navigation waypoints away from communities increase departure altitudes implement a runway rotation plan to scatter departure noise more equitably review approach procedures to determine changes necessary to reduce noise conduct area-wide noise assessment studies implement a 24/7 Fly Quiet Program promote more traffic in and out of Washington Dulles The Maryland members of the airport authority as well as well as elected officials at the county, state and national level need to hear from constituents that their support of this plans is expected and appreciated. For a list of elected officials’ email addresses and a sample letter, please go to the Montgomery County Quite Skies Coalition website. By Susan Shipp [...] Read more...