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Best Natural Areas

Watts Branch Stream Valley Park 

Potomac, Maryland

362 acres, (Best Natural Area accounts for entire acreage and includes a 120 acre Biodiversity Area)

The Watts Branch Stream Valley Best Natural Area consists of a long, narrow stream valley with extensive areas of floodplain and wetlands which are dominated by mature sycamore and tuliptrees.  The stream valley is underlain by schist bedrock, a foliated, silvery gray rock. Adjacent to the floodplain are many steep, sloping uplands filled with oak, tuliptree and a considerable amount of mountain laurel, pinxter flower and spring ephemerals, which gives the park a surprisingly scenic and remote appearance for a narrow stream valley park.  This Best Natural Area includes the entire stream valley park north of River Road and south of the PEPCO utility easement crossing just north of Ambleside Drive. 

Natural Features
The area has many large, high quality, mature forest areas filled with oak, red maple, and tuliptree and other native species.  The steep, rocky hillsides are often dominated by flowering shrubs including mountain laurel and pinxter flower and support wildflowers including star chickweed, bloodroot, spring beauty and cutleaf toothwort.  The floodplain is dominated by large tuliptree, red maple, red oak and American beech, and has many wetland species throughout numerous vernal pools. There are many native spring wildflowers such as wild ginger, golden ragwort, and Jack-in-the-pulpit as well as four species of orchid including showy orchis, cranefly orchis, pink lady’s slipper, and rattlesnake plantain.

The variety of forested wetland areas throughout the park provide good habitat for reptiles and amphibians including the marbled salamander.  Extensive forested wetlands occupy much of the floodplain between Lake Potomac Drive and a large, scrub-shrub wetland just west of Piney Meetinghouse Road and north of the mainstem of Watts Branch.  Another significant scrub-shrub wetland exists west of Piney Meetinghouse Road and south of the Watts Branch.

Forest interior breeding bird species, including wood thrush, ovenbird, scarlet tanager, red-eyed vireo, Louisiana waterthrush, red-shouldered hawk, and  pileated woodpecker can be found here. 

A total of 27 species of fish, including relatively pollution-intolerant species such as rosyside dace, Blue Ridge sculpin, and greenside darter, have been found in Watts Branch. Watts Branch supports populations of largemouth bass, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead and four species of sunfish, which provide ample recreational fishing opportunities in this area. 

Things to Do
Although many informal trails exist in this Best Natural Area, no formal sanctioned trails have been built to date.  No official parking areas for public access exist. Most of the existing informal trails are used by both hikers and horseback riders and appear to be accommodating both adequately. This park provides part of a greenway and travel corridor for wildlife coming up from the Potomac River and C&O Canal areas, however, the corridor is somewhat dissected by road crossings. 

back to top - Last update: September 13, 2011