At a Glance
- Watershed lands are open to the public only from March 15 through November 30, sunrise to sunset.
- The ballfields at Panther’s Field and the county-operated Supplee Park, which do not provide vehicle access to the reservoir, are open year-round sunrise to sunset.
- In winter, it is possible to bird the powerline cut from Brooklyn Bridge Road to near the reservoir. But the main WSSC trail system, the parking area at the reservoir, and water access are closed in winter.
- Permit cost is $6 per person for a day-use pass or $72 per person for a seasonal pass.
- One-day picnic permits are also available for groups; cost is dependent on group size and ranges from $6 to $18, but at least one group member must hold a regular daily or season pass.
- Permits are available at no cost to people 65 years and older and to Disabled American Veterans and Active Duty armed forces members.
- Permits cannot be purchased on site at Rocky Gorge.
- Permits may be purchased online or in-person at WSSC Headquarters near Laurel (14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, Maryland 20707), at the Brighton Dam Visitor Center (2 Brighton Dam Road, Brookville, Maryland 20833) in Howard/Montgomery County.
- The free senior and military passes must be obtained in person at the Brighton Dam Visitor Center (2 Brighton Dam Road, Brookville, Maryland 20833) or at WSSC Headquarters (14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, Maryland 20707).* Free permits cannot be obtained online because of the need to present your credentials.
- *Note: As of June 2021, the Cashier’s Window for in-person purchases at WSSC Headquarters has been closed for the pandemic and the opening date has not been announced. Check the WSSC website for updates.
- Permits allow entry to the watershed lands surrounding Rocky Gorge Reservoir (Prince George’s, Howard, and Montgomery Counties) as well as the Triadelphia Reservoir watershed in Howard and Montgomery Counties.
Tips: Hiking trails may be closed in wet weather to protect the trails. Call 301-206-4FUN for daily open/closed status of the trails. ■ Bring a scope. ■ You must take all your trash with you when you leave. ■ Portable restrooms are located near the boat launch and there is a permanent restroom in Supplee Park near the ball fields. ■ Generally, it is not safe to park along Supplee Lane as it is a narrow road with no shoulders. Either walk in from Supplee Park or drive in and park near the boat launch and walk back out. The one-way distance is 0.6 miles. If walking along Supplee Lane, be mindful of occasional vehicular traffic, as it is a narrow road .■ Horse riders sometimes use the trails. Be aware and give them the right of way. ■ Hunting takes place as part of WSSC’s deer management program, but this is during the winter season when the watershed lands are closed for birding and other uses. ■ For additional tips, see the Watershed User FAQs.
Prohibited: NO SMOKING. ■ No pedal boats, paddleboards or rafts. ■ No boats with gas or diesel motors. ■ No swimming or wading. ■ No pets in the water. ■ No loudspeakers or amplified music or other sounds. ■ No bicycles on unpaved trails (i.e., all trails at Rocky Gorge). ■ No weapons or alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs. ■ No removal of plants or artifacts. ■ This is a partial list of prohibitions. See the complete regulations.
Best Seasons: March 15 through November 30; the reservoir trails and boat ramp are closed December 1 to March 14. Note the powerline cut is accessible from Brooklyn Bridge Road to the reservoir shoreline year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Beltsville NE (Supplee Lane Recreation Area, the southwest end of the dam, and some of the shoreline trails); Laurel NW (northeast end of the dam); Clarksville SE (some of the waters in Prince George’s County visible from the boat launch at Supplee Lane). Also Clarksville SW for upstream portions of the reservoir and watershed land in Montgomery and Howard Counties. Study the interactive Atlas block map carefully for county lines and block boundary lines.
Rocky Gorge Reservoir – Supplee Lane Recreation Area & Duckett Dam
16904 Supplee Lane, Laurel, MD 20723
16248 West Bond Mill Road, Laurel, MD 20723
WSSC Watershed Recreation Users Program: 301-206-7485
Note: As of September 8, 2022, WSSC has posted a public health advisory with respect to contact with the water at Rocky Gorge Reservoir. Toxic bluc-green algae have been detected in the water, and may cause illness upon contact or ingestion. See the WSSC website for more information.
Rocky Gorge Reservoir and the T. Howard Duckett Dam are located on the Patuxent River at the juncture of Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties. This Birder’s Guide entry covers access to the reservoir only in the Prince George’s County portion.
Duckett Dam was built in 1952, creating the Rocky Gorge drinking water reservoir that is owned by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). WSSC also owns the surrounding watershed lands, with the Prince George’s County portion amounting to about 270 acres.
- Supplee Lane Recreation Area (aka Supplee Boat Launch) provides a view of the reservoir, a boat launch, picnic area, and access to hiking trails that run along the edge of the reservoir. The Recreation Area, operated by WSSC, is located at the north end of Supplee Lane off Brooklyn Bridge Road; Supplee Lane dead-ends at the south shore of the reservoir.
- Supplee Park (aka T. Howard Duckett Park) is a county park with a community center building, a restroom, playing fields, and paved parking. It is located at the intersection of Supplee Lane and Brooklyn Bridge Road; one drives (or walks) through the park to access the Supplee Lane Recreation Area and boat launch. The ball fields and community center are operated by Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation in cooperation with WSSC, which owns the land.
- Panther’s Field (aka Bonds Mill Road Park, aka T. Howard Duckett Dam Recreational Fields) is a small ball field and recreation area immediately adjacent to the Duckett Dam, located at the corner of Brooklyn Bridge Road and Bonds Mill Road. The ball fields are operated by St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic School in partnership with WSSC, which owns the land.
Birders often refer collectively to the three sites as “Rocky Gorge” or simply “Duckett” or “Supplee.” Note that the Rocky Gorge Watershed trail map from WSSC (link at left) does not have these three areas labelled, but the interactive Google map at left does have labels on these areas.
There is no public access to Duckett Dam itself, which is fenced off and not open to visitors. However, from the ballfields and open space at Panther’s Field, a birder can view the dam and waters adjacent to the dam. The main attraction here is a chance to see nesting Cliff Swallows, a hard-to-find species in Prince George’s County, as well as the possibility of finding a Common Raven nest. Ravens first nested on a communication tower near the dam in 2010, one of the first successful expansions of ravens into this area. As of summer 2021, ravens are still in the area; the current nest location is unknown. Also check the forest edge along the playing fields here and pay particular attention to the fence line facing the reservoir, with views of the water, the dam, and the communication tower. Songbirds often perch up on the fence line.
The ballfields and community center open space at Supplee Park, just a short distance to the west on Brooklyn Bridge Road, have the usual suburban-type birds that use woodland edges, but traveling north from the park along Supplee Lane into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area on the south shore of the reservoir brings you into a good variety of habitats. Once north of the community park, Supplee Lane runs through a rich deciduous forest with some scattered conifers and well-vegetated stream valleys. The woodlands hold a good selection of flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, warblers, and other Forest Interior Dwelling Species in season.
Supplee Lane ends in a large parking area at the shore of the reservoir, with a boat ramp and soft launch at the shore and an adjoining shady picnic grove. There is a good view of the reservoir and its shoreline, which will be more or less exposed depending on water levels. At the reservoir, look for waterfowl, herons and egrets, swallows and swifts, maybe a gull or tern.
Up to 5 miles of trails can be accessed from the parking area trailhead; if you wished, you could walk all the way into Montgomery and Howard Counties. The trails are all natural-surface and have some steep sections and wet stream crossings. There is an especially birdy area with scrub-shrub habitat at a powerline cut that lies west of the parking area and picnic grove. The powerline cut runs north-south; note that, unlike the WSSC watershed property, the powerline cut is accessible year-round and can be used to walk from Brooklyn Bridge Road nearly to the reservoir during the winter, when the watershed lands are closed to entry.
A good strategy for birding Rocky Gorge is to first check the shrubs and trees along the Supplee Park playing fields adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Road. Then, during the March to November public access period, you can proceed up Supplee Lane on foot toward the reservoir to look for forest birds; there is often a concentration at the stream crossing. The one-way distance on Supplee Lane from Brooklyn Bridge Road to the reservoir is about 0.6 miles.
At the boat ramp, trails lead in both directions along the shoreline, providing better views of the reservoir. On the west side, the power line cut offers the best variety of birds in all seasons and connects back to Brooklyn Bridge Road (via a short trail through the forest back to Supplee Park), completing the loop.
Then drive east on Brooklyn Bridge Road to finish up with a look at the dam area from the Panther’s Field ballfields.
There are additional birding opportunities at Brown’s Bridge Road and at Scott’s Cove on the Howard County side of the reservoir. For details on these locations, see the Howard County Bird Club’s online guide to Birding Howard County, MD.
There are three eBird hotspots covering the area:
- Rocky Gorge Reservoir–Supplee Park (PG Co.) – 162+ species. This is the main hotspot covering the boat launch, shoreline trails, picnic grove, and the majority of Supplee Lane north of the community park. It also can be used for the portion of the reservoir waters in Prince George’s County.
- Rocky Gorge Reservoir–T. Howard Duckett Dam (PG Co.) – 128+ species. This hotspot includes the Panther’s Field/Bonds Mill Park ballfields and the southwest end of the dam in Prince George’s County.
- T. Howard Duckett Park – 31+ species, but only 4 submitted checklists. This hotspot is for the Supple Park community center area and ballfields at the south end of Supplee Lane.
Note that there are additional eBird hotspots covering sites around the reservoir in Howard and Montgomery Counties, including the far side of Duckett Dam.
Year-round: Great Blue Heron along the shore (scarcer in Winter); Black & Turkey Vulture on the powerline towers; Bald Eagle & Belted Kingfisher at the reservoir (both scarcer in summer); Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Flicker in the forest; Fish Crow flying overhead in ones or twos; Common Raven at the reservoir and especially the dam.
Early spring through late fall: Double-crested Cormorant on the reservoir; Osprey at the reservoir (usually with a nest on the communication tower); Eastern Phoebe along the powerline cut; Chipping Sparrow by the playing fields and along the powerline cut.
Summer: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, and Ovenbird in the forest along Supplee Lane; Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, and Baltimore Oriole by the playing fields; Yellow-throated Vireo in the forest closest to the reservoir; Barn Swallow at the playing fields and along the shore; Cliff Swallow at the dam and adjacent playing fields; House Wren, Gray Catbird, and Brown Thrasher at woodland edges and along the powerline cut; Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, and Blue Grosbeak along the powerline cut; Pine Warbler in patches of pine forest along Supplee Lane and at the boat ramp; Scarlet Tanager in the forest or at woodland edges; Indigo Bunting by the playing fields and along the powerline cut.
Spring and fall migration: Common Loon and Red-throated Loon are possible in spring; Bonaparte’s Gull and Caspian Tern (mainly spring); Spotted Sandpiper along the shore; Blue-headed Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the forest; Veery and Swainson’s Thrush in the forest or at woodland edges; Swamp Sparrow at the Supplee Lane stream crossing and along the powerline cut; various warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeak at woodland edges (check the playing field edges in particular) and along the powerline cut.
Winter: Common Merganser and Ring-billed Gull on the reservoir; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Winter Wren in the forest; Red-breasted Nuthatch (irregularly) in the patches of pine forest along Supplee Lane and at the boat ramp; Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, and Yellow-rumped Warbler in the forest or at woodland edges; Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow (irregularly), Savannah Sparrow (irregularly), and Red-winged Blackbird along the powerline cut.
The trails at Rocky Gorge are natural surface and not wheelchair accessible. There is fairly good birding from or near the car along Supplee Lane or from the parking areas and at the boat launch. The boat launch itself is not ADA-accessible in terms of boarding a boat or launching a canoe or kayak.
Pets are allowed on leash; be prepared to pick up after your pet. Pets are not allowed in the water at any time.
Paved boat ramp and a soft launch for electric boats, canoes, kayaks (bring your own, no rentals); shoreline fishing; hiking; horseback riding (bring your own); picnic grove; managed deer hunting in specified areas and on certain dates.
Local MOS Chapter:
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Patuxent Bird Club, offering field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
- A brief YouTube video shot by a private citizen will give you a good feel for the land and water near the boat launch at Supplee Lane.
- Another short YouTube video from a private citizen and his drone provides a bird’s eye view of the reservoir near Supplee Lane.
Paved lot with pull-in parking at the north end of Supplee Lane at the reservoir; also paved lots near the ballfields at the Supplee Park/T. Howard Duckett Park and community center building and at Panther Fields/Bond Mill Park on Brooklyn Bridge Road.
Supplee Lane Recreation Area and the T. Howard Duckett Dam are located in West Laurel, just west of I-95.
From Washington DC and vicinity: From I-495/DC Beltway, follow signs to take I-95 north toward Baltimore. From I-95, take Exit 31 for MD 200 west. You won’t actually be getting onto MD Route 200, which is a toll road (the Inter-County Connector); instead you’re using the long exit ramp which actually serves three exits from I-95 (Exits 31, 32, and 33). Follow the exit ramp in a northerly direction; you’ll be driving parallel to the mainstem of I-95. Keep left at a fork in the ramp to continue north, following signs for Konterra Drive. You will cross under MD Route 200 and then under Konterra Drive. Keep left and continue north to Exit 33 for MD Route 198/Sandy Spring Road westbound. The cloverleaf will take you over I-95. In 1.0 mile, turn right onto Bonds Mill Road, which will take you northeast through a residential neighborhood. In 1.6 miles, you’ll arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Road, and you’ll see the Supplee Lane Community Park across the road. Turn right onto Brooklyn Bridge Road and then a quick left onto Supplee Lane. Park at the ballfields to walk into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area at the reservoir, or continue driving north on Supplee Lane to drive in (gates only open during the March – October season).
From Baltimore and points north: Use I-95 southbound. Take Exit 33 for MD Route 198/Sandy Spring Road westbound. In 0.7 mile, turn right onto Bonds Mill Road, which will take you northeast through a residential neighborhood. In 1.6 miles, you’ll arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Road, and you’ll see the Supplee Lane Community Park across the road. Turn right onto Brooklyn Bridge Road and then a quick left onto Supplee Lane. Park at the ballfields to walk into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area at the reservoir, or continue driving north on Supplee Lane to drive in (gates only open during the March – October season).
From the Eastern Shore or the Annapolis area: On the Eastern Shore, use US Route 50 to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and continue on US Route 50 toward Annapolis. From US Route 50, take Exit 21 for I-97 northbound. In 6.2 miles, take Exit 7 for MD 32 westbound toward Columbia. Stay on Route 32 for 8.1 miles, then take Exit 8 for MD Route 198 west toward Fort Meade and Laurel. This exit involves a traffic circle: take the 3rd exit from the circle to go west on Route 198. In 5.7 miles, in Laurel, turn right to go north on 6th Street. In 0.2 miles (4 blocks), turn left to go west on Montgomery Street. Montgomery Street becomes Brooklyn Bridge Road. Continue for 2.0 miles, passing over I-95, and turn right onto Supplee Lane. Park at the ballfields to walk into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area at the reservoir, or continue driving north on Supplee Lane to drive in (gates only open during the March – October season).
From Howard County, such as Columbia: Use US Route 29 south from Columbia. Approaching Burtonsville, take the exit for MD Route 198. At the traffic circle, go halfway around to continue south on Columbia Pike. In 0.9 miles, turn left onto Route 198 to go east toward Laurel. Crossing under Route 29 and continue east on Route 198/Sandy Spring Road. In 1.6 miles, turn left onto Bonds Mill Road, which will take you northeast through a residential neighborhood. In 1.6 miles, you’ll arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Road, and you’ll see the Supplee Lane Community Park across the road. Turn right onto Brooklyn Bridge Road and then a quick left onto Supplee Lane. Park at the ballfields to walk into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area at the reservoir, or continue driving north on Supplee Lane to drive in (gates only open during the March – October season).
From points south in Prince George’s County, such as Bowie: Take MD Route 197/ Laurel-Bowie Road north to Laurel. Turn left to go west on MD Route 198. In 0.6 miles, turn right to go north on 6th Street. In 0.2 miles (4 blocks), turn left to go west on Montgomery Street. Montgomery Street becomes Brooklyn Bridge Road. Continue for 2.0 miles, passing over I-95, and turn right onto Supplee Lane. Park at the ballfields to walk into the Supplee Lane Recreation Area at the reservoir, or continue driving north on Supplee Lane to drive in (gates only open during the March – October season).
To reach Duckett Dam and the Panther’s Field/Bonds Mill Road park near the dam from the Supplee Lane Recreation Area: Turn left to go east on Brooklyn Bridge Road. In 0.6 miles, just before the overpass over I-95, turn left into the ballpark area on Bonds Mill Road.
Prince George’s County: Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access) ■ Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Colmar Manor Community Park & Anacostia River Trail ■ Cedarville State Forest ■ Fort Foote Park ■ Fort Washington (National) Park ■ Fran Uhler Natural Area ■ Governor Bridge Natural Area ■ Greenbelt (National) Park ■ Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park) ■ Lake Artemesia Natural Area ■ Merkle Natural Resources Management Area ■ Milltown Landing Natural Resources Management Area ■ Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm ■ Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center) ■ Patuxent River Park – Jug Bay Natural Area ■ Patuxent River Park – Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park ■ Piscataway MOS Sanctuary ■ Piscataway (National) Park: National Colonial Farm, Boardwalk, Wharf Road/Farmington Landing & Marshall Hall ■ Rosaryville State Park ■ Schoolhouse Pond
Howard County: David Force Natural Resource Area ■ Howard County Conservancy – Mount Pleasant Farm ■ Middle Patuxent Environmental Area ■ Patuxent River State Park – Annapolis Rock Road Area ■ Patuxent River State Park – Hipsley Mill Road Area ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam)
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Lawn, Ballfields, Golf Course Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:Ball Fields or Other SportsBeginnersBirding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingHuntingParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:County ParksPonds, Lakes, and ReservoirsThe Rivers of the Western Shore