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How Not to Launch a Boat at Catoctin Mountain Park

Boat accident at Big Hunting Creek

The ill-fated "boat launch" into Big Hunting Creek. NPS photo courtesy of Catoctin Mountain Park.

Catoctin Mountain Park offers a lot of great activities, but boating is not one of them. A motorist towing a boat past the park recently confirmed that's the case with an unplanned, and very unorthodox, "boat launching."

State Route 77 skirts portions of the park's southern boundary and part of that route runs near Big Hunting Creek. On March 25, 2009, a van towing a 27-foot Bayliner motorboat on that highway developed a flat tire. Not an unusual situation, but according to a park report, this one took an unusual turn.

While the operator was attempting to back the trailered boat to a safe stopping point, the trailer’s wheel dropped off the pavement into soft duff and the boat slid off the trailer and down a 30-foot cliff into the creek.

The boat was estimated to have about 50 gallons in its fuel tank. A large crane was brought in to extract the boat and two portable generators. The fuel tank was not compromised and only a few gallons of gasoline are estimated to have spilled from one generator.

Big Hunting Creek is a small, freshwater creek and a sensitive trout sanctuary. It was the first in the state to be designated as catch and release and fly fishing only. Several former Presidents have fished in Big Hunting Creek. The creek in the area of the incident is only about a foot deep at this time of year.

The incident prompted a temporary closure of the highway and an emergency response to deal with resource impacts to the creek. It's also a good reminder that the term "typical day" is really an oxymoron when it comes to life in the parks.


You know, Jim, this sounds eerily familiar to one of the "boat launching" stories you recount in your book, Hey Ranger! Wasn't that one at Lake Mead, or the Buffalo River?

Good memory, Kurt!

The book includes several boat launching escapades at Lake Mead - although in those cases, the attempts to lead a boat to water took place at an actual boat ramp :-)

I have driven that route a few times and if MD allowed CCW then the change in NPS rules would make a great deal of inconvenience go away. BUt MD has very restrictive Carry permits and it would not make any difference in reality.

I like the story and I am sorry for the boat owner who had a really bad day. A flat, damaged boat, cost of removal and any fines for discharge of pollutants.

So glad I am not that person. Next time it pays to strap the boat to the trailer and chock the wheels for the trailer. I have had flats on boats trailer and horse trailers and it is no fun to have that happen while loaded.

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