Recreation OK'ed by state board for Mallows Bay

‘Ghost Fleet,' boat ramp, more attractions to open

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

A project Charles County has been working on for 15 years is finally getting off the ground at Mallows Bay Park in Nanjemoy.

The Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved a long-term lease for Charles County to use the 185-acre park for recreational uses, said Tom Roland, chief of the county's parks and recreation division. The park is part of the 350-acre Wilson Farm, he said.

The park will harbor a single-lane boat ramp for small vessels, a boarding pier and historical interpretation signs about the "Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay." The fleet contains about 130 wooden steamships that were built at the end of World War II, according to local historians. The birth of the diesel engine and the end of the war prompted the U.S. Navy to decommission the vessels.

The fleet was stripped of all of its metal for salvage and the wooden hulls were left in the Potomac River at Mallows Bay, Roland said. Over the years an entire ecosystem has developed on what is left of the ships, he said.

Canoe and kayak enthusiasts will be able to paddle out to the sunken fleet to view the ecosystem up close, Roland said.

"They look like little islands," he said. "They have their own ecosystem with trees and other vegetation growing on them. Flora and fauna have taken them over. It's going to be a very popular paddling destination. People will be able to get in amongst the hulls where large vessels can't go. It's kind of a sanctuary for kayakers and canoers."

Roland said boating access at the park will be free like other ramps operated by the county.

That area of the river will be part of the Potomac River Paddle Trail, Roland said.

There is some work to be done to the park before it is opened to the public, which the county hopes will happen in the spring, Roland said.

The largest project will be to widen the road that leads to the park off of Route 224 to accommodate vehicles going in both directions, Roland said.

In 2003, the county removed a number of abandoned boats that were left at the site from an earlier boat rental enterprise that was operated by John Wilson who owned the property, Roland said.

The opening of the park has been awaited by the community for many years, Roland said, adding the project is going to be paid for with a $305,000 Maryland Department of Natural Resources Waterway Improvement Program grant.

Nanjemoy resident Marsha Back said she is glad the county is finally moving ahead with the project.

"The residents of Nanjemoy and Charles County will be delighted to hear that a new recreation area on the Potomac River will finally be opened after four years of waiting," she said, adding the county is also going to provide a fishing pier, picnic area and possibly primitive campsites in the park. "We hope it will be a year-round or three-season operation."

"Our plan is to have a very low-key, low-impact park with passive recreational activities and water access," Roland said. "The area is going to provide great access for small boats. It's also a wonderful place for birding. We hope to promote a birding venue there."