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Cast a Spell for Summertime Magic: Visit a Waterhole

Cast a Spell for Summertime Magic: Visit a Waterhole

By Pamela Schipper     Photography by Moyra Schauffler

Tucked away somewhere at the edge of time is the waterhole, shimmering still with recollections of friendships made and adventures had in the cool and deliciously green. This was before we became frightened of nature. Before the pressures of modern and urban living curtailed childhood freedom and put in its place the neighborhood pool. But who doesn’t remember what it was like to lose yourself for hours among the trees, to discover a small stream or pond and lay claim? For that moment in time, you embraced the wonder of nature, and I think that we were all the better for it.

Today, we have to worry about things like water pollution, including the more natural threats of bacteria and runoff from nearby farms. But the magic of the waterhole still exists, safe and pristine, if you know where to look.

Sandy Spring–Fed
For 50 years, Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) has treasured its pond. It has long been home to frogs, turtles, fish and fowl and the source of much learning. Young scientists have enjoyed the hands-on study of nature, and everyone— teachers and administrators, students and parents—has drawn strength from its quiet, secluded spot behind school buildings on the 140-acre campus. Swimming was common in the early years, but as the pond collected silt and became more and more shallow— last summer bottoming out at four-feet deep—it lost its recreational appeal.

This summer, the pond is being reborn as the Wildebeest Waterhole, named for the school’s mascot and perhaps alluding to the element of magic newly unearthed from its spring-fed depths. Science teachers from all divisions collaborated with SSFS administrators and Summer at Sandy Spring officials to design both the best summer waterhole and year-round living classroom. They consulted with the experts—Williamsburg Environmental Group in Herndon, Virginia, for ecological and regulatory permitting and engineering services, and DSC Aquatics Solutions in Springfield, Virginia, for dredging, construction and seasonal maintenance.

Next came the fun part: relocating the pond’s many inhabitants during its makeover.

Francis Zell, summer camp director, oversaw the relocation with the help of last summer’s advanced fishing camp. Campers used minimal impact techniques to catch fish and relocate them to the nearby retirement community pond at Friend’s House. They used heavier gear than normal to capture the fish quickly and barbless hooks to release them unharmed. Campers also ran a seine net through shallower areas of the pond to catch baitfish and other small animals. Relocation equipment and techniques followed guidelines developed by conservation organizations for study and healthy release of wildlife. Fish were given extra oxygen in their holding pens, which were specially designed with rounded corners and dark colors to calm them during captivity.

SSFS repeated the relocation process once more just before the pond was drained. More than 800 fish and countless small creatures were captured and relocated successfully.

Dredging took several weeks, taking the pond’s depth from four to 15 feet at its new deepest point. “There are a lot of natural springs right here,” says Sarah Margolis, SSFS media and public relations, “and they unearthed more when they dredged it.”

In total, some 1,350 tons of dirt were removed, placed in a nearby holding area and then transported up a hill to fertilize a new, three-acre organic garden. Crops are expected next year, and harvests will provide food for the SSFS dining hall. As the garden grows, produce may be shared with Sidwell Friends School and the larger community around Sandy Spring.

After dredging, spring water gradually flowed back into the pond, but not quickly enough to meet the school’s June 15 start-of-camp deadline and satisfy an expected 800 to 1,000 campers ages 4 to 18. “So then they just decided that they would help Mother Nature and fill it with the well water,” Margolis says, adding that during summer dry spells, well water backup may be needed.

A few summers ago, Summer at Sandy Spring, which is open to the entire community and not just SSFS students, enrolled as few as 300 campers. “We really made a concerted effort to revamp our camp program because we have this beautiful spot here and one of the comments was, ‘Oh, well, you don’t have a pool,’” relates Margolis. “So that’s where we thought, ‘We have this pond, and we’ll make it so that it’s very safe.’”

More than 100 tons of gravel and sand have been used to create three beach/swim areas for campers of various ages and abilities—a shallow spot for non-swimmers, a manageable depth area for developing swimmers, and the rope swing and zip line area for accomplished swimmers who can handle a 15-foot depth. “Everyone will be given a swim test,” Margolis says, “and the little guys will wear life jackets.”

“One of the really nice things,” Margolis remarks as she stands on the new waterhole’s banks, “is it’s so peaceful here.” Hidden behind school buildings and bordered only by the Friends House on Norwood and the school’s athletic fields, the waterhole rests a world apart. The only sounds are those of birds and frogs and children laughing.

About the photographer

Photographer Moyra Schauffler is a 2011 graduate of Sandy Spring Friends School.

A 2011 graduate of Sandy Spring Friends School, Moyra Schauffler will attend Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. this fall. She’ll pursue a major in international relations and political science, but she also plans to keep taking pictures. Her love of and talent for photography has been nurtured by the great Photography Department at SSFS.

Wonder Where You Can Find a Waterhole?
Here Are Our Top 10 Picks

Cool off in a quarry. Can you think of anything better on a hot summer day in Maryland? Water in the quarry comes up crystal clear and cold from underground springs, and it’s kept that way by slabs of rock. You can’t beat swinging into a water-filled quarry to recapture the magic of summer, and these three quarries in the Baltimore area are professionally run with lifeguards, water testing and great amenities.

Beaver Dam Swimming Club
10820 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, Maryland 21030
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Marble from the Beaver Dam quarry built the Capitol columns and The Washington Monument. Now a swim club, Beaver Dam offers a spring-fed quarry with rope swing, two pools, courts for basketball and volleyball, and a picnic area complete with grills and a snack bar. For more information, call 410-785-2323 or visit

Milford Mill Park and Swim Club
3900 Milford Mill Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21244
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour

This quarry is just three minutes from the Baltimore Beltway, and it makes a real splash with a zip line and Tarzan ropes. The swim club also features two pools, a children’s beach, grills and picnic tables and Frisbee and volleyball courts. For more information, call 410-655-4818 or visit

Oregon Ridge Beach
13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, Maryland 21030
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour, 15 minutesThis popular “beach” is actually a spring-fed quarry that was originally excavated for iron ore. It has shallow and deep swim areas, and it offers a newly renovated bath house, picnic tables and grill, as well as a playground and sand volleyball court. For more information, call 410-887-1817 or visit oregonridgelodge/orbeach.html

Race the running water. For the more adventurous, Maryland creeks come complete with beautiful waterfalls and secluded waterholes. They’re perfect for swimming and tubing, as well as just enjoying the view.

Cunningham Falls State Park
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road, Thurmont, Maryland 21788
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour

This park is home to the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland, which plummets some 78 feet! Swimming is not permitted near the falls, but after hiking up to appreciate its beauty, you can cool off in the park’s Hunting Creek Lake. For more information, call 301-271-7574 or visit

Deer Creek in Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, Maryland 21084
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour, 45 minutes

This 855-acre state park is home to Deer Creek, Kilgore Falls and the legendary King and Queen Seat, a 190-foot rock outcrop that was once a Susquehannock ceremonial gathering place. Bring your own inner tube and life jacket, put in at the Hills Grove Picnic Area and take out at Wilson’s Picnic Area before the rapids. The ¾-mile trip should take you about an hour. You can also swim! Don’t forget a first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellant. For more information, call 410-557-7994 or visit www.dnr.state.

Gunpowder Falls State Park
Hammerman Beach Area, 7200 Graces Quarters, Chase, Maryland 21027
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Nestled in this 18,000-acre state park is Hammerman Beach, 1,500 feet of beachfront on the Gunpowder River. You can swim or rent kayaks, wind surfboards and catamarans for boating fun. Picnic tables and grills are also available. For more information, call 410-592-2897 or visit

Lounge lakeside. Maryland has more than 100 lakes. While geologic surveys show that natural lakes once existed in Maryland, all of today’s are manmade.

Cascade Lake

Cascade Lake

3000 Snydersburg Road, Hampstead, Maryland 21074
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Located northeast of Westminster, this six-acre lake on 70 acres of countryside combines back-to-nature fun with the thrills of a waterpark. A large swimming area sports waterslides of various sizes and numerous platforms. A “Spray ‘N Playground” offers geysers, bubblers and water tunnels. Beyond water play, Cascade Lake offers fishing, paddleboats, an arcade, a grill and picnic area and food at the Cascade Café. For more information, call 410-374-9111 or visit

Greenbrier State Park
21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, Maryland 21713
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 50 minutes

This 42-acre lake in the Appalachian Mountains offers a beach area for swimming, as well as canoeing and fishing opportunities. Picnic tables and grills are provided in the day-use area. For more information, call 301-791-4767 or visit

Rocky Gap State Park
12500 Pleasant Valley Road, Flintstone, Maryland 21530
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 2 hours

Lake Habeeb measures an awesome 243 acres and is fed by the Rocky Gap Run that winds its way through this 3,000-acre Western Maryland state park. A new visitor facility in the day-use area offers a snack bar with panoramic views of the lake and indoor and outdoor seating, a ranger station and nature center, and a bathhouse. For more information, call 301-722-1480 or visit

Beat it to the beach. If you prefer salt water with your sand, you don’t need to sit for hours with other frustrated drivers in shore traffic. This beach is only an hour away, and the only crabs you’ll find are the tasty, 10-legged variety.

Sandy Point State Park
1100 East College Parkway, Annapolis, Maryland 21409
Approximate drive time from Rockville: 1 hour

South Beach lies on the cool tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay in this 786-acre state park. A bathhouse with restrooms and showers, a concession stand for hot and cold food, picnic tables, grills and a playground make this a comfortable family spot. The park also offers fishing, crabbing and boating. For more information, call 410-974-2149 or visit

Oregon Ridge Beach

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