What's the deal with not being able to use our lake?

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I'm writing in response to the recent placement of signs around all of the Kentlands ponds. I understand that some people may not appreciate the dangers of water/ice sports, but there is something fundamentally wrong with catagorically forbidding any use (other than shore fishing) of such a terrific resource. I also find that signs which keep the public at bay are distracting and depressing when there's no official reason: i.e. private property, public watershed, etc. Why not a sign which reads "Venture onto lake at your own risk" or words to that effect? It both instills a thought that it's prudent to assess the conditions before going on the water/ice, and it would provide some recourse should any litigation be somehow brought against the community for an individual mishap. I actually did some ice fishing and pond hockey here in the Kentlands this winter during our cold spell. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but I was also concerned that others may interpret my presence out there as an "all clear" to come out onto the ice in droves. Because of this, I thought Mr. Gorin's article in the Crier was both timely and apt. I am, by the way, an experienced ice fisherman who moved down here from New Hampshire two years ago. I exercised every precaution by having a full complement of safety equipment and by testing the ice thoroughly before determining it safe to go out. It was about 5 1/2 to 6" thick in most areas, which is 2" thicker than the U.S. Park Police requires for skating thickness on the C&O canal and also thick enough to support a compact automobile. I would be more than happy to write a safety checklist or any other service which might help to educate the Kentlands residents on ice safety. Please reconsider the wording of the signs.

Thank you,

Chris Hofmann

-- Christian Hofmann (Christian_Hofmann@Hotmail.com), April 03, 2000


I support the idea of using the ponds for winter recreation when ice thickness is adequate. I have lived in Gaithersburg for 28 years and believe the City has been paranoid about people going onto the ice. This may be, in part at least, due to a child drowning after falling through pond ice about 30 years ago. I remember that where I grew up ice thickness had to reach 4 inches before the recreation department allowed people onto the lakes, ponds and inlets. The point is that there was a program for monitoring ice conditions and letting people onto the ice when safe. I believe that in most past winters here the ice has occasionally been thick enough to support winter activities, especially on the smaller ponds. The City could establish a monitoring program and allow ice activities where and when measurements show sufficient ice thickness. The chance of the City doing this, I'm afraid, is probably next to zero.

-- Nish Karakashian (nkmamd@erols.com), April 04, 2000.

I don't disagree with either of the comments above, but I do have some concerns about access control. These concerns, however, are actually even more pronounced in the summer.

People trampling on plants to gain access to the lake (in winter or summer) will ultimately destroy the vegetation and the lake itself if left unchecked. I would hate to see the wetlands/lakes destroyed by the very people who enjoy them the most.

Ultimately, over use would kill the lake and the surrounding wetlands if we were to have unlimited access and over-use. However, unless I am missing something, I don't think we have kayakers or ice hockey players attacking the lake in huge herds. Therefore, there is most likely some logical compromise to be had.

A first step might be to simply designate 1 or 2 specific places along the lake's perimeter as "access points", place signs as stated by Chris Hofman, but than also strictly forbid people (and dogs) from approaching the lake in areas not designated as access points.

We could then just closely monitor its use and condition.


-- joe paiva (joepaiva@aol.com), April 05, 2000.

Back up in New England, anybody could call the local fire departments to ask for ice conditions. I doubt that that service is provided down here.

Anyone giving "permission" to go on the ice sounds a little bit too much like accepting responsibility should something go wrong, especially in such litigious area as this!

Ice is a funny thing, too. I've been out in coves frozen over with 14" of ice (plenty to hold a pickup truck), while there's still open water in the middle of the lake. There's all kinds of variables involved to determine ice safety - way too many to pay attention to, especially for the average Mid-Atlantic or Southern person to want to get involved with. While I was out on Inspiration Lake this winter, I was fishing in the smaller, less wind-blown section in front of the pier. To my amazement, I looked up at one point and saw a family of four walking across the largest and potentially most dangerous section of the lake. I had not ventured out in that area because I followed the cardinal rule of ice safety: "If you doubt it, don't chance it". Unfortunately, they were too far away for me to warn them not to turn back. Worst of all, if one had gone in, they most likely all would have panicked and rushed to help. Then the entire family would be in the water and breaking the fourth cardinal rule of ice safety: "If you fall in, tread water and stay calm. Don't try to climb out, because you won't be able to and you'll waste energy and body heat by trying". At that point, I may have been helpless to save any of them, even with my safety rope.

I think that signs suggesting that going onto the ice can be a serious matter are totally appropriate, but ones that tell me that I can't at all are ridiculous. Do you think that the type of signs I mention would work? Or do you think that this will wind up being another case of the few spoiling it for the many?

-- Chris Hofmann (Christian_Hofmann@Hotmail.com), April 05, 2000.

The ice issue may be virtually moot for another reason: It's a rare year when Inspiration Lake freezes over like it did this winter. This has been our ninth winter in Kentlands, and I can remember the lake freezing solid perhaps two other years.

In any case, since our house faces the lake and we have ringside seats to all the activity, both bird and man, I think that I'm going to go out and buy some kind of floating lifesaving device on a rope and keep it handy. I dread the day that someone falls in and needs to be fished out.

-- Bob Mauri (newurban@erols.com), April 05, 2000.

I guess I should plead guilty to the signs around the lake. We had a "Council in the Communities" a couple of months ago. Last summer, on two occasions I observed a group of teenagers in a raft and on inner tubes swimming in Inspiration Lake. I told the assembled people at the Council session about it and asked what the ordinance was concerning the lake. It is against the law to enter the lake at any time of year, or so I was told by Gerry Edens, and the Chief of Police. David Humpton nodded in the affirmative.

SO. Like good city officials, they caused signs to be posted warning all who would transgress and swim or venture on the ice, not to do so.

Jim Hubbard

-- Jim Hubbard (jhubbard@legion.org), April 07, 2000.

Is this true only for the Kentlands ponds? It can't be a county law, people are allowed to boat on plenty of the ponds and lakes in the area. Any thoughts on why such a law is in place?

-- Chris Hofmann (Christian_Hofmann@Hotmail.com), April 07, 2000.

Chris, I don't know the answer to your question about which ponds. Perhaps David Humpton could shed some light on the subject. I am only speculating but I bet the city attorney would highlight a liability problem. There are no lifeguards at the ponds and if swimming etc. were not sanctioned the city could be accused of maintaining an attractive nuisance. Your tax dollars and mine would pay the judgement.

Jim Hubbard

-- Jim Hubbard (jhubbard@legion.org), April 10, 2000.

For liability reasons, you wouldn't want swimming to be allowed in the lake unless it had lifeguards on duty. I don't believe there are any lakes designated for swimming in Montgomery County.

-- Scott Tanzi (Scott3085@hotmail.com), April 10, 2000.

Instead of discussing these hypothetical liability issues, and the skating, ice-fishing, swimming, and boating potential of Inspiration Lake, how about some ideas for an occasional City-sponsored event that involves safe use of the Lake. A radio controlled boat race? A guided nature walk? A fishing derby?

By the way, has anyone observed the water intake device at the southern end of Inspiration Lake (i.e., down from the tot lot). The space between the bars is wide enough for a child to fall through. Also, the local fisherman insist on positioning a wooden plank "bridge" so that they can stand on the rim and fish. It might be too enticing for a kid to walk out there. I threw the plank away one time last year, but now it's back. Maybe the City should consider some kind of mesh over the bars.

-- Bob Mauri (newurban@erols.com), April 10, 2000.

Radio controlled boats are great unless they are gas powered. I believe the county has a regulation against their use. Electric powered boats are fine. In fact, a couple of winters ago I built a WWII Destroyer as a winter project (keeps me off the streets). I have sailed it on Inspiration Lake a time or two. Startles the geese and ducks.

Gunner's Lake in Germantown is a site where a lot of this activity goes on. Access to Gunner's Lake is better than we have, the road, with plenty of parking runs right by the site where sailing takes place. Radio controlled sailboat races take place there regularly in season. We could do the same.

JIm Hubbard

-- Jim Hubbard (jhubbard@legion.org), April 11, 2000.

I just want my dogs to be able to swim again. :(

-- Nancy Millman (njmillman@earthlink.net), April 12, 2000.

Yikes! I never interpreted the signs as not allowing my Lab to swim. From the wording, I assumed the prohibition was for people. Am I wrong? Also, though I accept the probable need to limit people swimming (yuck)in the lakes, the signs are very jarring in their placement and style. If we must have signs, could't they fit in with the ambiance better?

-- Joel Aronson (jaronson@erols.com), April 12, 2000.

I'm wildly excited about the possibility of remote-controlled sailboating, possibly a regatta someday. Just returned from Marblehead, MA where I saw these model boats. Do we need permission from the City to initiate this as a hobby? Would anyone be willing to talk to a recreation dept. coordinator about this? Maybe the Rec Dept would like to sponsor such events. I think Kentlands is the perfect place to try a classy sctivity like model sailboating. I see us starting innovative events like this. Perhaps lawn bowling on the village green. Let me know what you think, please.

-- Nora Caplan (nhcaplan@webtv.net), April 14, 2000.

I agree that use of the lakes is too restrictive. In response to my question several years ago, the city recreation department said that they were encouraging sailing on these lakes. I have been out on these lakes with my Snark sailboat several times. While the sailing is not too good, non-power boating should be allowed.

-- Andy Anderjaska (aanderjaska@olg.com), April 25, 2000.

I believe that it's the Kentlands lake, so if the ice is thick enough, we should be able to do things like skate. At other times, non-polluting/non-power boats should be permitted. The sign should say something like "The ice is currently 'X' Inches thick. Skate at your own risk. Non-Power boating is permitted at your own risk. Open from 5 AM thru 7 PM all week."

-- Josh Paiva (JoshPaiva@bConvergent.NET), July 05, 2001.

Sorry, Josh. The lake belongs to the city. They are the ones who put up the signs and the trash cans.

-- Jim Hubbard (jim@halseyrains.com), July 06, 2001.

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