Deep Creek Lake Natural Resources Management Area


Deep Creek Report​





  • Current Lake Management Responsibilities
  • Lake Water Quality and Quantity
  • Shoreline and Buffer Area
  • Adjacent Land Use
  • Development Trends
  • Zoning
  • Lake Residential
  • Town Residential and Town Center
  • Commercial Resort
  • General Commercial
  • Carrying Capacity
  • Visitor Access
  • Recreation Areas
  • Commercial Uses
  • Private Uses
  • Recreational Activities
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Docking
  • Hiking
  • Water Sports
  • Scenic Appreciation
  • Interpretive Programs


  • Lake Water Quality
  • Adjacent Land Use and Zoning, Management of the Shoreline and Buffer Strip
  • Carrying Capacity, Boating and Docking
  • Visitor Access, Recreation Areas and Activities
  • Commercial Uses
  • Fish and Wildlife Resource Management
  • Management Roles and Responsibilities


  • Geography and Topography
  • Geology
  • Soils
  • Climate
  • Water Resources
  • Forest Vegetation
  • Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in Deep Creek Lake
  • Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species
  • Fish
  • Wildlife




Deep Creek Lake is located in Garrett County, the westernmost county in Maryland with a land area of approximately 423,680 acres or 662 square miles. Garrett County has a population of 29,846 according to the 2000 census, and is the least densely populated county in Maryland. Oakland is the county seat. The county lies entirely within the Allegheny Plateau, a physiographic area which is characterized by deep forests, diverse wildlife, and rich river valleys. These natural resources combined with a close proximity to major metropolitan areas such as Pittsburgh, Washington, and Baltimore, attract a wide variety of recreational users. Deep Creek Lake is Western Maryland's premier tourist destination.

The Lake was created in 1925 when the Deep Creek hydroelectric project was constructed. The land which was flooded by construction of the dam as well as many properties surrounding the newly created lake had been acquired by the power company. Eventually, the Pennsylvania Electric Company (Penelec) began divesting itself of some of the real estate surrounding the lake, although a buffer zone around the lake was retained. Over the next few decades, the Deep Creek Lake region developed as a recreational resort region. In 1968, Penelec was issued a license to operate the facility by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Penelec, as the lake owner, had established corporate policies and procedures for managing recreation and access to Deep Creek Lake. In 1980, the State of Maryland agreed to take over management of recreation and access at Deep Creek Lake. Lake management regulations were promulgated through a public process beginning in 1981 and were updated in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 2000. These regulations are still in effect and provide the basis for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lake management operations.

On September 26, 1991, FERC determined that the Federal government should not maintain jurisdiction over the Deep Creek Lake project. The State of Maryland issued a water appropriation permit in 1994 to guide the maintenance of lake levels and discharges for hydro-electric generation as well as recreational activities in the Youghiogheny River.

In 1999, General Public Utility, Inc (GPU), Penelec's holding corporation, and the State of Maryland entered into negotiations for the transfer of the lake bottom, buffer zone properties and certain other parcels owned by the power company. The sale of these areas to the State of Maryland was completed in 2000 for $17 million. The dam, intake, tunnel and power plant were not acquired by the State. General Public Utility eventually sold these assets to Sithe Energy. During its 2000 session, as the sale was being finalized, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to guide future management of Deep Creek Lake.

The new law enacted by the General Assembly established a Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board (PRB). The PRB is required to meet a minimum of four times per year and is charged with advising DNR on matters relating to lake fees, budget and management. All fee and regulation changes must be approved by the PRB. In addition, the PRB and DNR were mandated to develop a Deep Creek Lake Recreation and Land Use Plan by June 2001 that provides for the wise use, protection and management of the natural and recreational resources of Deep Creek Lake. It was specified that the Deep Creek Lake Recreation and Land Use Plan address, at a minimum, the following items: Lake Water Quality, Shoreline and Buffer Area, Adjacent Land Use, Zoning, Carrying Capacity, Visitor Access, Recreation Areas, Commercial Uses, Private Uses and the Recreational Activities of fishing, boating, docking, hiking, water sports, scenic appreciation and interpretive programs.


Plans provide an examination of conditions and establish management directions based on factors existing at a particular time. No planning document is capable of anticipating all future events. It is the purpose of this plan to serve as a guide to the overall lake management program, and cannot be a solution to every possible problem or issue that may be identified. To ensure maximum effectiveness, the plan has to allow the PRB, Garrett County and DNR flexibility in addressing long term concerns as well as providing a method for responding to new challenges as they arise. The PRB and DNR hope to accomplish, with Garrett County's favorable consideration, the following major goals with the Deep Creek Lake Recreation and Land Use Plan:

  • To provide background information about the natural resources of the Deep Creek Lake region.
  • To provide an assessment of existing conditions, recreational uses, facilities and management.
  • To provide a basic framework for addressing future wise use, protection and management of the natural and recreational resources of Deep Creek Lake.
  • To establish policies and procedures for the future operation of the Policy and Review Board.
  • To ensure maximum effectiveness by outlining ways in which DNR, Garrett County and the PRB can better coordinate efforts and decisions pertaining to zoning and lake regulations as well as to ensure that policies are consistent, complementary and designed to protect the natural resources of the lake and watershed.



The Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board will play a pivotal role in the future management of the Lake. The new legislation provides specific duties for the PRB. However, the exact methods of operation for the PRB are not mandated. Both the PRB and DNR feel that it is essential that this plan identify how the PRB will function, including ensuring that the general public has meaningful input to lake management decisions. The following procedures will allow for flexible and inclusive, yet efficient PRB operations and meetings:

  • Each PRB meeting will be open to the public and scheduled for not more than two hours. The starting time for the next meeting will be set by the chair at the end of each meeting. A reminder notice of the starting time and meeting location will be contained in the agenda. A majority vote of the members present can extend the adjournment hour.
  • Each agenda will be structured as follows: Action Agenda - specifically items that require a vote, Old Business, New Business, Correspondence Received, Public Comment, Agenda Topics for the Next Meeting.
  • A tentative agenda for the next meeting will be established at the end of each meeting. If issues arise between meetings that a member(s) believes should be added to the agenda, the Chair or Lake Manager will be contacted at least two weeks prior to the meeting date. The Chair and Lake Manager will finalize the agenda two weeks prior to the meeting date. The agenda and all background information will be mailed to Board members at that time. A press release announcing the meeting and agenda will also be issued two weeks prior to the meeting date.
  • The Lake Manager will handle issues that are addressed by the lake management regulations. Such matters will not be included as agenda items. However, if the manager believes that an issue that is addressed by regulation may be controversial or have a significant impact on the lake management program, that issue and background information will be forwarded to the Board members for review, comment or recommendations.
  • Issues that require a regulation or fee change will be scheduled on a Board agenda.
  • The Board may establish, as deemed appropriate, committees to work with DNR in more detail on a specific issue and for other reasons as determined by the Board. The committee members may meet as often as necessary. An established committee will report to the full Board at each meeting.
  • Members of the public who request time with the Board will be referred to the public comment portion of the meeting. The Board will discuss the issue and decide how it wishes to proceed with responding (discussion, table until next meeting as new business, defer to DNR, action at meeting, no action at meeting, declare that it is not Board related business and defer to appropriate authority).
  • A quorum for approving general business items such as meeting minutes, requests for information, or establishing meeting dates and agenda items consists of a majority of the Board members. Board votes on items pertaining to fee changes, lake regulation changes and approval or changes to the management plan requires five of the eight members who are eligible to vote on these items. It is noted that members of the General Assembly, who by statue, consist of two of the 10 board members, are not eligible to vote in regards to fee changes, lake regulation changes and approval or changes to the management plan.
  • The chair will conduct meetings in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order.



Current Lake Management Responsibilities

Management of the Lake, shoreline and buffer strip is the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources. In addition to statewide Park regulations (COMAR 08.07.06), the Department administers the Lake Regulations found in COMAR sections 08.08.01 - 08.08.09 and is responsible for actions defined in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Natural Resources Articles 5-515 through 5-216. The Maryland Department of the Environment is responsible for the Water Appropriation Permit which determines the amount and conditions of Lake water withdrawals. Garrett County has land use regulation and zoning authority and responsibility in the rest of the watershed. Private property owners have authority and responsibility for their lands.

Lake Water Quality and Quantity

Deep Creek Lake is Maryland's largest freshwater lake ecosystem. In addition to a source of recreation and leisure activities, Deep Creek Lake is a living natural ecosystem whose health can often be determined by the quality of its water. Maintaining the lake's water quality requires a match between the desire of people to use and develop the watershed, and the capacity of the lake to absorb those impacts. The physical characteristics of the watershed, degree of forested cover, quality of the riparian buffer around the lake, and changes made by people affect the quality of the water flowing into the lake from springs, streams, drainage ditches, roads, parking lots, and land surfaces.

The Deep Creek Lake watershed is bounded by several mountains, including Marsh Mountain, Meadow Mountain, Snaggy Mountain, and Roman Nose Hill. Most of the streams and small tributaries to the lake carry water from nearby developed, forested or agricultural lands. During storm events, water is carried quickly into the lake from roadside ditches and parking areas. Water quality is affected by stormwater runoff. This has increased in recent years due to growth in development in the watershed.

Deep Creek Lake's water quality has been studied by a number of government agencies and the Pennsylvania Electric Company over the past three decades. In the years 1989 through 1991, DNR conducted a comprehensive water quality study of the lake to establish baseline data for a number of chemical parameters. The intent was to use the information obtained to evaluate future changes in water quality.

The Department's studies indicated that the lake is generally characterized by soft water (low mineral content), low nutrient levels, and low phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance, all characteristics of an oligotrophic (or young lake) ecosystem. It should be noted these conclusions represent a lake-wide evaluation, and that local conditions in certain coves may lead to different conclusions (particularly in shallow areas with higher than normal nutrient runoff from septic or agricultural sites.) These could be brought about by the lake's natural evolution or by growth and development by property owners in the watershed.

The state and county maintain monitoring programs to measure toxic compounds (through sampling of fish tissue) and bacterial contamination. Recent data indicate that neither of these potential water quality issues are in existence at Deep Creek Lake. The one water quality impairment found in the lake is low levels of dissolved oxygen in the deeper portion of the lake. This is likely due to oxygen utilization by bacteria located on the lake bottom.

Deep Creek Lake has a surface area of approximately 3,900 acres with a storage volume of approximately 106,000 acre-ft at the 2462 elevation level. The lake's drainage area is 64.7 sq. miles. The lake has 65 miles of shoreline. Currently, water withdrawal from the lake is permitted for the Deep Creek power station and other limited purposes.

While the primary purpose of Deep Creek Lake has historically been to provide water for hydroelectric generation, the dam is managed to provide suitable water levels for lake recreation. Discharges into the Youghiogheny River are also designed to provide flows for living resource protection, maintenance of a recreational cold water fishery (trout) and for whitewater recreation. Historically, the average annual drawdown has been about 9 feet. During recent years, the drawdown has been in the 7-8 feet range.

Shoreline and Buffer Area

Prior to the state's ownership of Deep Creek Lake, the Pennsylvania Electric Company maintained a buffer strip of land around the lake for a variety of hydroelectric, recreational and environmental purposes. The width of the buffer area varies with elevation and can be anywhere from a few feet in width to several hundred yards.

Approximately 90 percent of the shoreline's natural character has been impacted by lake property owners and businesses to various degrees. In the older developed areas, the shoreline takes on a suburban backyard look, while there are several areas of the lake that still maintain their natural appearance with minimum or no disturbance. The forest cover along the buffer strip is generally fragmented or in various states of succession.

Annual lake water draw-downs related to the operation of the Deep Creek Power Station affect the aesthetics and character of the shoreline. Generally, the lake fluctuates from a level of 2462' lake elevation in the late spring (as measured at the spillway) to 2455' to 2457' in the winter. At high lake elevations, lacustrine wetlands are flooded and they provide a habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. Draw-downs affect the ability of some lake permittees to keep docks on the lake in the late summer or fall seasons, especially during periods of drought.

Each property owner has a permitted area of use in which certain activities may occur, with the approval of DNR, through an annual buffer strip use permit. Each contiguous property owner who maintains a permit with DNR to use the buffer area for recreation may use it for many purposes. Boat dockage is the most often sought recreational use, followed by improvements to the buffer area (walkways, temporary sheds and other structures, utilities).

Regulations governing the eligibility and issuance of permits are provided for in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), Title .08 subtitle .08. Buffer strip use permits are issued on an annual basis and do not convey any exclusive or proprietary right to the use of the lake or buffer strip. The general public may use the buffer strip for walking and for shoreline fishing.

Most areas of the lake experience shoreline erosion. This is primarily due to the periodic flooding of the shoreline due to the power projects operation, and by waves generated naturally by wind or boat wakes. Many people have the perception that erosion rates have increased in recent years due to the changes in the lake draw-down rules, although the rates of erosion have not been quantified by the power company or by the state.

A forest buffer along the shoreline is important for environmental and aesthetic benefits and it buffers sound. It is the resource most threatened by increased use and development. Most property violations investigated by park staff involve illegal cutting of vegetation and trees in the buffer strip. Protection of riparian forest buffers has been a long term objective of DNR. The conservation easement that will be in effect for all property sold by the State to contiguous landowners is designed to meet this objective.

Adjacent Land Use - Development Trends

Despite the severe limitations on development imposed by the topography and the natural characteristics of soils in the Lake area, fairly extensive development has occurred at several places around the perimeter of the Lake. The Deep Creek Lake area still remains as the center of growth in Garrett County and more than 40 percent of the subdivisions in Garrett County between 1986 and 1996 were for homes in the Deep Creek Lake area.

The McHenry and Thayerville areas represent the most appropriate location for continued growth of year-round communities. While not incorporated, these two areas have become distinguishable communities within the drainage basin because of their location along major state and county roads and the type of existing development that has occurred there. These communities have many commercial services and support facilities such as restaurants, stores, churches, banks and a fire station which are typically associated with full-time communities. The following paragraphs taken from "A New Development Plan for Garrett County" completed by the Planning Commission in 1996 summarize the existing and future land use patterns of these communities;

"At McHenry, the Town Center category is mapped in a band along both sides of U.S. 219, extending from the top of the ridge (near the intersection of old 219) southeastward to the fairgrounds; beyond this point it extends to Gravelly Run along both sides of old 219 only. Existing development occupies most of this area. Town Residential is shown in four areas: adjoining Old Route 219 and the Wisp Ski Resort, behind the Town Center area on the north side of U.S. 219, along Bumble Bee Road to the rear of the college and along Marsh Hill Road near Wisp."
"The land use pattern in and around Thayerville consists of a mixture of Town Residential, Town Center and Commercial areas. The Town Center category begins about a mile south of the Deep Creek Bridge and extends south along both sides of U.S. 219 and terminates north of Mayhew Inn Road. The Town Residential area lies opposite the Town Center area south of U.S. 219. The Town Residential area extends south along U.S. Route 219 to a point just north of Mayhew Inn Road and another small portion south of the Mayhew Inn Road intersection."

The Deep Creek Lake area has been growing at a stable rate. Based on Garrett County Building Permit Data (Table I in "A New Development Plan for Garrett County") for the Deep Creek Lake Watershed, there was a 47 percent increase in building permits issued for residential units (many of which were townhouse units) between 1986 and 1987. This growth trend continued until 1988 when a nationwide recessionary period slowed the growth of new construction. Growth rates throughout the 1990's have leveled off with single family homes being the predominant type of construction. These structures now tend to be much larger and have a greater number of bedrooms than earlier single family homes.

The vast majority of building permits issued in the Deep Creek Lake area were for single family detached dwelling units primarily used as second homes or vacation homes. Second homes and vacation homes that were previously only occupied during portions of the year are being utilized more intensively throughout the year. This produces unique challenges for providing goods and services in the County.


The policies and standards developed within the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance have been a positive influence on development patterns, property values and quality of growth which has occurred in the Deep Creek Watershed over the past twenty-five years. County officials believe that existing policies will continue to favorably guide growth into the foreseeable future.

Lake Residential
The single largest zoning classification in terms of land area in the Deep Creek Watershed is the LR-Lake Residential Zoning district. The Lake Residential areas accommodate relatively low density residential and other open space, low intensity uses. Residential development would be permitted only at an average density of at least one acre per dwelling unit regardless of the type of construction used (single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, etc.). Continued farming and forest management are also encouraged as additional ways to keep land in low intensity uses and achieve a low overall density of population. Other additional land-based recreation facilities such as private, family-vacation farms are allowed (by special exception through the Deep Creek Lake Zoning Ordinance) to help reduce the pressures for recreation use of the water surface. More than 90 percent of properties along the shoreline are situated within the Lake Residential zoning district and single family residences are the predominant type of development in this district.

Town Residential and Town Center
Properties within the two communities of McHenry and Thayerville are included in the TR-Town Residential and TC-Town Center zones. Town Residential areas are intended to provide for higher density, more compact village or small town settlements where centralized water and sewer exist as opposed to lower density lake residential areas. Single family homes, side by side twins, townhouses and apartment complexes would be allowed at about four to five dwelling units per acre which corresponds to the development patterns in Garrett's incorporated towns. The density is comparatively high in relation to rural densities, but would be considered relatively low to medium in an urbanized metropolitan setting.

The Town Residential areas are for those who seek a higher density, more compact residential setting that is convenient to the shops and services in the town's core, but one which is more exclusively residential than Town Centers, the next land use category. A few, selected types of small commercial uses such as a neighborhood grocery store could be permitted by Special Exception (if proper screening and buffering are provided), but the Town Residential areas would otherwise remain basically residential in nature.

The Town Center areas are very similar to the Town Residential areas because they are intended to provide for higher density, more compact village or small town settlements which correspond to existing development patterns in Garrett County. Unlike the Town Residential areas, Town Centers will have a slightly higher density (five to six units per acre) and differ in their treatment of nonresidential uses. Centralized water and sewer facilities are necessary.

The Town Center areas represent the core areas of most of the existing towns which contain a mixture of residential, commercial and service uses. Single-family homes, apartment buildings, retail stores, churches, restaurants, apartments above shops, offices and other uses are intermixed in these Town Center areas to accommodate those persons who prefer (or at least do not mind) living in this setting.

Commercial Resort
Several properties lying on the fringes of the McHenry and Thayerville communities have been classified as CR-Commercial Resort. Commercial Resort areas provide for commercial recreation uses and supporting commercial activities as well as residential development. These areas recognize the importance of promoting resort-type light commercial uses and land-based family-oriented recreational development in the Deep Creek Lake area as opposed to providing for the types of highway-oriented commercial establishments in the General Commercial areas. An opportunity exists for establishing less intensive, visitor-oriented commercial development in the Quarry Road and Wisp Resort areas. In addition, land-based, family-oriented development is appropriate for the Garrett County Fairgrounds area to help reduce pressures of water related recreation on the Lake while allowing for low density residential development.

General Commercial
General Commercial areas accommodate the kinds of "highway-oriented" commercial enterprises that function between or outside Town Center locations because they need large buildings, parking lots and/or outdoor storage areas. These would include automobile dealers, large supermarkets, warehouses and utility buildings, lumber yards, service stations and the like. Because such uses often generate substantial volumes of automobile and truck traffic, with associated impacts of noise and glare, they tend to be incompatible with residential neighborhoods. Accordingly, new residential uses are strongly discouraged in the General Commercial areas; these areas should be reserved solely for heavy commercial uses. Only a few properties have been designated as C-Commercial in the Deep Creek Watershed including two sites along U.S. 219 (one at the intersection of Mayhew Inn Road and the other at the Sand Flat Road intersection), one at the Glendale Road, Toothpick Road intersection and a final one at the MD 135, Turkey Neck Road intersection.

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity relates to the ability of the lake or buffer strip to support various uses by people. There are two types of carrying capacity.Social carrying capacity relates to a level of use beyond which the recreational user's expectation of a quality experience is not realized.Physical carrying capacity relates to the level of use which the resource can sustain, beyond which irreversible biological or physical damage occurs to the point that the resource is no longer suitable or attractive for recreational or other uses. The optimum carrying capacity is the level of use that does not exceed an area's physical or social carrying capacity.

Social recreational carrying capacity is an area of ongoing concern on Deep Creek Lake, particularly on summer weekends and holidays. In the mid to late 1980s, there was concern that boating levels had reached the point that user satisfaction and safety were being impacted. DNR contracted for a recreational carrying capacity study by the Urban Research and Development Corporation (URDC) which was completed in October of 1988.

The URDC reported a number of major findings:

  1. Deep Creek Lake was used for a variety of recreational activities, and that use was relatively low in the spring, fall, and winter, and on summer weekdays. Weekend and holiday use was increasingly heavy in the summer season.
  2. The level of summer weekend and holiday use did not exceed the recreation carrying capacity of the lake. However, boating use of the lake was nearing capacity at peak times.
  3. Social carrying capacity problems occured at peak times, mainly due to the predominance of power boaters and water skiers. The mixing of various boating-oriented activities compounded the conflicts occurring on peak summer weekends and holidays.
  4. A substantial number of power boat operators were not knowledgeable about power boat handling, common courtesies, and the conditions unique to Deep Creek Lake.
  5. Safety hazards and annoyances were caused by personal watercraft and other similar vessels.
  6. Summer land-based and shoreline recreational activities were experiencing few if any problems of overcrowding or overuse.
  7. Winter activities had mixed levels of use.
  8. A high percentage of people surveyed indicated that they had enjoyable experiences at Deep Creek Lake, but many of them said that there are "too many people" on summer weekends.
  9. There was no evidence of immediate threats to recreational use of Deep Creek Lake due to adverse resource conditions.
  10. There was no system in place to collect data on the number, use patterns and characteristics of recreational users of the lake.

Following the publication of the report, DNR worked with the former Deep Creek Lake Advisory and Review Committee and prepared and implemented an action plan and updated the Deep Creek Lake regulations to address carrying capacity issues. The following actions were included:

  • zoning additional coves with speed limit and use restrictions
  • implementation of a 3-knot minimum wake speed limit within 100' of shore
  • restrictions on personal watercraft use at peak use times
  • provisions for managed growth of new slips and permits
  • revision of eligibility criteria for dock permits
  • implementation of an environmental monitoring program
  • expanded information and education effort

Boat count studies conducted by DNR since 1989 show that peak boating uses on summer weekends and holidays fluctuate between a low of 210 to 225 boats to a high of 400 to 430. The URDC recommended a carrying capacity of 350 boats during peak use times. In the first five years of monitoring boat counts, observed peak boating use levels exceeded URDC's recommendation on approximately 25 percent of the sample days (warm summer weekends and holidays).

Visitor Access

Although the lake and buffer strip are used primarily by adjoining property owners with dock permits or by commercial establishments (marinas, restaurants, etc.), it is important to remember that the citizens of Maryland contributed substantial tax dollars to the acquisition and protection of the lake and buffer strip. Except at Deep Creek Lake State Park, the general public's use of the buffer strip is limited by regulation to walking and fishing. General public access points are currently limited to the state park, public road crossings, and commercial marinas.

Recreation Areas

In addition to the lake itself, Deep Creek Lake State Park provides a public recreation area. The State Park is the only public beach on the Lake. Located in the central area of the Lake, the park offers traditional recreational facilities, including the Meadow Mountain campground, boat launching, picnic areas, trails, and an interpretive center. During the winter months, the lake surface is often frozen, providing ice fishing and potential snowmobiling opportunities.

Commercial Uses

Garrett County's visitor-based industry has proven to be its most dynamic economic sector, with Deep Creek Lake being the center for recreation and tourism. While many industries such as agriculture and mining have suffered during the previous decades, spending for commercial services associated with recreation and tourism continue to rise, representing a shift from mining and farming toward a service oriented economy.

Because the service economy associated with Deep Creek Lake is dependant upon an ecologically sustainable and aesthetically pleasing environment, Garrett County has adopted the following policies regarding industry and commercial uses of the Lake and surrounding area:

  • Prevent the establishment of any new industry in the Lake area which would be ecologically or aesthetically incompatible with area's recreational aspects.
  • Realize the economic benefits of tourism without destroying the attractiveness of the natural features which are essential to this activity.
  • Provide commercial facilities to meet local and tourist demands but avoid over-excessive strip-commercial development.
  • Restrict use of unsightly advertising.
  • Encourage commercial development which is aesthetically compatible with other development around the Lake.

In most instances, existing Lake regulations and County zoning ordinances direct commercial uses of Deep Creek Lake and the surrounding area to locations and in a manner which is in keeping with Garrett County and State policy.

Private Uses

A number of privately owned recreational facilities are located in the Deep Creek Lake area. Many of the facilities are adjacent to the lake and offer varying degrees of lake access and use. Private sector recreational facilities on Deep Creek Lake include docks and small beach areas at the many private residences bordering the lake. While these facilities do not provide recreation for the general public, they are large in number (approximately 2,000 dock permits are in existence). There are also two private yacht clubs for sailing enthusiasts on Deep Creek Lake.

Recreational Activities

Overall, the recreational fishery of Deep Creek Lake is excellent. The bass and walleye fisheries attract tournament events throughout the season. The lake has the reputation of producing the largest sunfish in Maryland and the walleye fishery attracts many nonresident anglers. A relatively smaller group of anglers target the trophy northern pike fishery. The fishery is supported by natural reproduction for all species except trout. Angling opportunities exist throughout the year, including the winter ice fishing season.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service has implemented several initiatives on Deep Creek Lake to protect and enhance the recreational fishery. Deep Creek Lake was the site of the first "catch and immediate release" spring black bass fishery in 1987, a measure that was implemented statewide in 1990. The reproducing walleye population was first established in 1983 through a fry stocking program. A current regulation protects walleye from harvest during the spawning period, from March 1 through April 15. The popular trout stocking program was implemented in 1987. Fisheries Service personnel continue to monitor the status of fish populations annually in Deep Creek Lake, with the overall objectives of maintaining the high quality fishery and identifying opportunities to enhance fish populations.

Three basic types of boats are utilized on Deep Creek Lake: power boats, sail boats and human powered boats. Within each of these broad categories, a variety of different vessels are used. In general, boating activity on the Lake is at a peak during spring and summer weekends. According to the 1988 URDC study, overall boating activity during non-peak times was well within carrying capacity limits.

Power boats travel on all sections of the lake for the purposes of fishing, water skiing or scenic appreciation. Boat lengths are restricted by current regulations to 26 feet length overall, except for pontoon boats which are limited to 30 feet.

Bridge heights may restrict the use of sailboats to certain areas of the lake. The area south of the Glendale Road bridge is the most popular sailing site, and has two private yacht clubs that offer moorings to members.

Human powered boats include canoes, kayaks, rowboats and paddle boats. These craft tend to stay close to shore to avoid close contact with faster traveling power boats. Sailboat activity tends to be concentrated from midmorning to late afternoon. In general, a lack of wind in the early morning and early evening hours makes these time periods less conducive to sailing.

Some privately controlled docks are common docks, built for the joint use of people living in a particular development. The majority of docks on the lake, however, are individual docks belonging to property owners with waterfront property. These docks are constructed and maintained according to the requirements of the Lake Regulations and Buffer Strip Use permits issued by the Lake Manager. The lake regulations address docking of personal water craft (PWC), but only to the extent that they are treated as power boats when moored at docks. Personal water craft may be beached on the shore if they weigh 500 pounds or less. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of dock permit holders who moor personal water craft at their docks in numbers that exceed the restrictions on power boats.

The current lake regulations allow the general public to walk on the buffer strip. However, a continuous trail on the buffer strip has not been developed or contemplated. DNR does have and maintains hiking trails in Deep Creek Lake State Park as well as in other nearby public land units including Herrington Manor and New Germany State Parks and Savage River State Forest.

Water Sports
Water skiing, wake boarding and tubing are popular at Deep Creek Lake. Windsurfing also occurs. These uses also tend to be at their highest levels during the peak boating periods of spring/summer weekends. The operation of personal water craft is restricted on the Lake during summer peak-use boating periods.

Scenic Appreciation
The rural and natural setting of Deep Creek Lake is an important factor attracting tourists to the region. Maintaining that character is also important to Lake property owners as well as Garrett County. It is the objective of the County to protect the scenic qualities of Deep Creek Lake.

Interpretive Programs
Deep Creek Lake State Park sponsors interpretive programs for park visitors. The recent construction of the Deep Creek Lake Discovery Center within the Park provides an opportunity for all visitors to the region to learn more about the natural and cultural resources of the area.



Deep Creek Lake currently has a 76-year history. Since 1925, the use of the Lake has evolved as the needs of the power company, local citizens and visitors changed. Both local and state governments have taken on certain tasks to ensure that Deep Creek Lake and its associated natural and recreational resources are managed effectively for all citizens. Because of the evolution of the lake management program and regulations between the time that the dam was constructed and the purchase of the lake and buffer by the State of Maryland, many of the major issues facing the Deep Creek Lake community have been previously addressed.

This plan is being developed with a view toward providing a framework for a future cooperative management approach to Deep Creek Lake. The Policy and Review Board, Garrett County and DNR recognize that this document will not be able to address all of the management issues facing the lake community. However, the plan is designed to build on the work that has already been accomplished and to address major unresolved issues that have overall consequences for the future lake management program. This section identifies those issues and provides the recommendations of the PRB and DNR for their resolution.

Lake Water Quality

Good water quality is essential to maintain the biological integrity of Deep Creek Lake. Recreational use of the lake is also dependent on pollution free water. As was discussed in the Assessment of Existing Conditions section, the water quality of Deep Creek Lake is generally considered good. Because the maintenance of good water quality is extremely important to the economy of the Deep Creek Lake region, it is one of the major objectives in DNR's management of the Lake.

Water quality can be degraded by either point source discharges or non-point source contributions. Point source discharges are those that can be traced to a single point, such as a sewage outfall pipe, as opposed to non-point sources that cannot be traced to a single point, such as runoff from developed land, fields or forests and deposition from the atmosphere during storm events.

Point Sources
Control of point sources occurs through a permitting system created by the Federal Clean Water Act known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). In Maryland, each point source must be permitted by the Department of the Environment in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Non-point Sources
The effects of non-point sources of pollution within the lake are more difficult to monitor and control. Potential non-point source pollution includes sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural and developed land, stormwater runoff from roads and other impervious surfaces, bacterial contamination from failing septic systems and acid input from both localized sources and precipitation.

Sedimentation stems from land use activities such as agriculture, construction and logging which expose bare ground to precipitation and allow soil to leave the site. Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from non-point source runoff can cause large growths of algae and other aquatic plants. When these plants die and decompose, dissolved oxygen in the water column is depleted. This situation can contribute to fish kills. Population, physiography and land and water use all contribute to existing water quality conditions throughout the Deep Creek Lake Basin.

The following recommendations aim to maintain the overall good water quality and to suggest methods for improving potential localized problems.

  1. Growth and development in the watershed will be the largest potential impact to water quality in the future. Garrett County is encouraged to utilize its land use authority to direct growth in a manner which has the least possible impact on the water quality of Deep Creek Lake.
  2. Shoreline erosion is generated by natural events and boat wakes and contributes to sedimentation levels within the Lake. Because this issue has never been the subject of a scientific study at Deep Creek Lake, it is recommended that such a study be undertaken.
  3. Ongoing water quality sampling should continue. Every ten years, an independent, comprehensive water chemistry and biological study should be conducted at Deep Creek Lake in order to monitor any changes in these parameters over time.
  4. Forested buffers to water bodies have been demonstrated to dramatically reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering a water system from non-point sources. All land owners with stream or lake front property within the Deep Creek watershed are strongly encouraged to maintain a forested buffer whenever possible. The Department should develop incentive programs to encourage landowners to voluntarily plant vegetative buffers along the lake and its tributaries.
  5. Failing septic systems pose a public health threat and can contribute to nutrient enrichment problems. Areas of failing septic systems in the Deep Creek Lake watershed should be corrected. Garrett County should consider doing additional monitoring of areas with failing septic systems.
  6. Private land use in the watershed has a significant influence on lake water quality. Best management practices are strongly encouraged for agricultural, construction, forest management and mining activities in the watershed. Streamside buffers are encouraged whenever these uses occur in or near a tributary to the lake. Property owners are encouraged to take advantage of state and federal cost share programs to assist them in protecting these resources.
  7. Permitting agencies are encouraged to consider the unique importance of the resources of Deep Creek Lake when issuing point source discharge permits, and to ensure that all measures have been taken to protect and maintain the existing good water quality at the lake.
  8. Landowners within the watershed should be encouraged to limit the use of, and handle properly, all lawn, vehicle and household chemicals that could run into the lake or its tributaries.
  9. Acid mine drainage is a factor that affects lake water quality. The state should continue with its management program to mitigate this problem. Private solutions to this issue are also encouraged.

Adjacent Land Use and Zoning, Management of the Shoreline and Buffer Strip

The pattern and types of development activities that occur on the land adjacent to the lake have an impact on both the natural resources and the experiences of the lake users. Garrett County has developed a zoning ordinance that officials feel will favorably guide growth in the future. The County has also adopted a policy of developing long term programs and strategies to encourage land-based commercial recreational uses away from the lake surface to help relieve pressure on the shoreline, buffer strip and Lake.

The shoreline and surrounding buffer strip are an important natural and recreational resource. Vegetative cover in the buffer strip is important for protecting the water quality of the lake, providing a visual and sound buffer and as habitat for wildlife. Because the buffer strip is in public ownership, there are public access and use issues surrounding its management. The following steps should help maintain the integrity of the lake and the surrounding land.

  1. Management of the shoreline and buffer strip are covered by the existing Lake regulations. These regulations have largely been effective and no major changes to them are recommended at this time.
  2. It is recommended that DNR develop and implement incentive programs to encourage property owners to plant trees and other vegetation in the watershed, and to provide a more stable forest cover on the buffer strip and shoreline.
  3. Although the buffer strip is public property, a continuous trail around the lake is not desirable due to resource protection considerations. Should other trails be developed in the future, consideration should be given to resource protection needs in their design. Any new trails that DNR established on the buffer strip must have access for the general public.
  4. Garrett County is strongly encouraged to continue to use its zoning authority to protect the lake resources and scenic beauty.
  5. It is recommended that incentive programs and technical assistance be made available to property owners for the purpose of protecting the shoreline of the lake from erosion, and to help assist in the funding of shoreline protection projects.

Carrying Capacity, Boating and Docking

Current concerns regarding lake carrying capacity are focused on boating and personal water craft use during peak periods on summer weekends and holidays. Growing personal water craft use is especially seen by many people in the lake community as an activity that should be addressed.

There is also concern by many property owners about physical access to their dock sites due to shallow water or the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Historically, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has not attempted to manipulate SAV in Deep Creek Lake. This approach acknowledges both the benefits of SAV and its natural occurrence in lentic ecosystems like Deep Creek Lake. However, recent climatic conditions coupled with the increased development of home sites in shallow headwater reaches of Deep Creek Lake have increased complaints from affected lake property owners regarding SAV.

The following recommendations are designed to adapt to changing needs and circumstances pertaining to boating use of the lake.

  1. Boating and personal water craft use on the Lake will change over time. Both physical and social carrying capacity will be affected by changes in use patterns. Therefore, it is recommended that an independent carrying capacity study should be undertaken as soon as possible, and then updated every 10 years.
  2. Based on the results of the carrying capacity study, the Department and the PRB will work together to develop regulations and others ways better to manage boating, skiing, personal watercraft, and similar recreational uses.
  3. Sedimentation of submerged areas is perceived to be a problem; therefore, property owners with permitted dock sites should be able to remove sediment in channels and in the immediate vicinity of their docks by permit. Excavation should only be conducted to the original level of the lake bottom. Obtaining government permits and the costs of sediment removal and disposal will be the responsibility of the property owner. The Department will address requests for removal of sediment from any areas affecting more than one property owner.
  4. Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has been perceived to be a problem related to the recreational use of the lake. The Department has examined a number of options related to solving the SAV issue. Mechanical treatment is the preferred management option for the specific dock sites impacted by SAV growth and should be allowed by permit. Cutting should only be conducted in the areas immediately around the affected docks or for an access channel to them. All costs involved with mechanical treatment and the disposal of SAV cuttings will be the responsibility of the property owner.
Visitor Access, Recreation Areas and Activities

Deep Creek Lake provides recreational activities during all seasons. In general, the availability of access to the lake and quantity and quality of recreational areas and activities is adequate to meet visitor demand. There are, however, some outstanding issues that should be addressed.

  1. During winter months, snowmobiling and ice fishing are popular activities on the Lake. Penelec traditionally allowed these uses despite the inherent hazards. This is a new management issue now that the lake is state property. Snowmobiling and ice fishing on the lake surface should be permitted by DNR at the users own risk. DNR should adopt regulations to manage operating under the influence and reckless operation of snowmobiles.
  2. Public swimming and boating access are important to enjoyment of the lake. If future demand for these services increases, Garrett County and DNR should work together to establish additional public recreational opportunities.

Commercial Uses

The Lake Management regulations address existing commercial uses of the lake and shoreline by contiguous property owners. However, the regulations do not provide for commercial uses by individuals or corporations that do not own property on the lake.

  1. DNR receives requests for new commercial services and uses of the lake. Permitted activities must be limited to those that are recreational in nature. The lake regulations should be amended, with the approval of the PRB, to manage these uses under a permitting system. The regulations will include a definition of "recreation" and what uses are appropriate for continuing the quality of experience in the lake area.
  2. There is a growing demand to convert commercial marina permits to residential use permits. DNR should continue to prohibit this from occurring.

Fish and Wildlife Resource Management

The natural resources of Deep Creek Lake and its watershed are important to the health of the Lake ecosystem. Many species of fish and game are also valuable recreational resources. Conservation of fish and wildlife resources is a major overall goal of the lake management program. The following recommendations are designed to protect fish, forest, wildlife and natural heritage resources while considering the economic and recreational needs of the region.

  1. Habitat loss and fragmentation are vital concerns for the plants and animals in the Deep Creek Lake watershed. Protecting or reestablishing forested buffers around the lake and along watershed streams is important from a habitat standpoint.
  2. The hydrologic regime of Lower Deep Creek has been dramatically altered by the reservoir and associated hydroelectric plant. Restoration of more natural flow characteristics is important to plant and animal life.
  3. There are a number of rare, threatened or endangered species that have been identified on state property in the Deep Creek Lake watershed. All state agencies and Garrett County should implement measures to protect these species and their habitats. A strong effort is also needed to educate lake visitors and property owners about the actions they can undertake to conserve rare, threatened and endangered species.
  4. Property owners and visitors should also be encouraged to avoid feeding waterfowl and other wildlife species as well as to store garbage in bear proof containers.
  5. Fisheries Service personnel should continue to monitor the status of fish populations annually in Deep Creek Lake, with the overall objectives of maintaining the high quality fishery and identifying opportunities to enhance fish populations.
  6. A strong effort is needed to educate all residents, property owners and visitors to the Deep Creek Lake region concerning the importance of preventing the introduction of hydrilla, zebra mussels and other non-native species to the watershed.

Management Roles and Responsibilities

The Department of Natural Resources owns and manages Deep Creek Lake State Park, the lake and buffer strip. This area represents approximately 10 percent of the Deep Creek Lake watershed. Garrett County, watershed landowners and visitors to the region all have vital roles to play in managing the natural and recreational resources of the Lake. A cooperative approach is essential if Deep Creek Lake is to remain a healthy ecosystem and a strong economic asset to Western Maryland.

  1. Garrett County is responsible for land use regulation and zoning. It should continue to use those ordinances to protect the resources and scenic quality of the Deep Creek Lake area.
  2. DNR has been entrusted to protect Deep Creek Lake and the surrounding buffer strip for the long term benefit and enjoyment of visitors, property owners, and the citizens of Maryland. DNR is also responsible for the day to day management of the lake and buffer strip, as well as implementation of the Deep Creek Lake regulations. The lake management staff should maintain its current structure and policies. Changes in fees and the regulations that management feels are necessary to respond to future events shall be brought before the PRB. If the PRB agrees that a change is required to best manage the Lake, the Department is responsible for conducting the necessary legal process and ensuring that the change is implemented.
  3. Private landowners are responsible for management of the land and structures that they own. Most are concerned with protecting both their investment and the Lake environment. Educating landowners about the best techniques for conserving habitat and water quality is important for the future of Deep Creek Lake. The DNR and the PRB should develop educational brochures and organize a more effective outreach program. The County is encouraged to continue to participate in this endeavor.
  4. Interpretive and educational outreach to visitors is also important. Local real estate firms should be encouraged to include education information about conserving Lake resources to renters and sales clients. Deep Creek Lake State Park's interpretive programs should be focused more on encouraging visitors to appreciate and wisely use the natural resources of the Lake.
  5. The Policy and Review Board has the following specific roles and responsibilities: (1) As found in Annotated Code of Maryland, Article-Natural Resources, Section 5-215.1 (B)(1) -"The Secretary and the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board shall prepare a plan that provides for the wise use, protection and Management of the natural and recreational resources of Deep Creek Lake"; and (2) As found in Annotated Code of Maryland, Article-Natural Resources, Section 5-215.1 (D)(2)-"Before the Secretary proposes or adopts a regulation, the Secretary shall submit a draft of the regulation to the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board for its review and consent if the regulation relates to (I) The content or the adoption and implementation of a Deep Creek Lake Recreation and Land Use Plan or (II) Any fee proposed under Section 5-215." Although these duties are the only ones defined by law, the PRB is the eyes and ears of the Lake community. While DNR, as the managing entity, is usually aware of issues as they arise, the PRB also has a responsibility to actively engage DNR, other appropriate agencies, and the general public in lake management issues.
  6. The DNR, Garrett County, and the PRB should coordinate their management efforts and decisions pertaining to zoning and lake regulations, to ensure that policies are consistent, complementary, and designed to protect the natural resources of the lake and watershed.



Geography and Topography

The topographic elevations found within the Deep Creek Lake region are a reflection of the geologic history of the area and the varying erosive rates of different rocks. This physical activity has created elevations which range from more than 3,000 feet above sea level to the full pool elevation of the lake at 2466 feet.

The topography provides the foundation for understanding the other natural features which influence development and land use in the region. The topography determines the watershed boundaries and channels surface water into Deep Creek Lake. The level of the water table generally follows the surface topography and flows down the gradient toward the Lake. In turn, the water table influences to a large degree the types of soils found on-site and their drainage characteristics which may impose constraints on development. Even the vegetation and wildlife observed are affected by the area's topography. Along the stream valley corridors, for example, the high water table, periodic flooding, and other environmental factors combine to produce a unique natural community.

Slope is an expression of how rapidly the elevation changes. Slope is an important factor in determining the suitability of land for various uses. Level terrain is often poorly drained in temperate regions and this can increase development costs owing to surface drainage costs. Gentle slopes (3-8 percent) are prime areas for residential or industrial development. Steep slopes (25 percent or greater) increase development costs by necessitating additional grading. Steep slopes also intensify the erosion and sedimentation problems associated with development.


The Deep Creek Lake region is located in a portion of the Allegheny Mountains which is a subdivision of the Appalachian Plateau Physiographic Province (see Geologic Map of Maryland). The Alleghenies are, in geologic terms, old hills. They have a long, complex history that began more than 500 million years ago during the Paleozoic era. For more than 300 million years, the Appalachian area was a long trough filled by an arm of the ocean, and sediments from eroding uplands washed into the area, slowly adding to the accumulating debris of marine skeletons. In later ages, due to the filling process, the trough became a low-lying swamp teeming with primitive insects and reptiles. Two hundred million years ago, conditions changed and a geologic event known as the Appalachian Orogeny (mountain making) occurred. Pressures in the earth's crust caused the area to buckle and contort as the region was uplifted. The sea bottom and swamp sediments, thousands of feet thick, were pressed into high folds. Entombed were plant remains that became today's coal beds.

The northern half of Deep Creek Lake is located on a broad "U" shaped structure, known as a syncline, called the Casselman Basin. Meadow Mountain is the eastern border of this formation. The sediments exposed here are brown colored sandstones and shales of an old formation called the Mauch Chunk. These sediments are from the Mississippian age (approximately 335 million years old). At the State Park, the 200 to 300-foot thick Greenbrier Limestone underlies the Lake and contributes calcium carbonate to buffer the Lake waters from acidic runoffs due to the younger formations of sandstone, shale and coal.

The dam and immediately adjacent areas are in the Upper Youghiogheny coal basin in which sandstones and shales are exposed of the Allegheny /Pottsville formation of Lower Pennsylvanian age (325 million years old). Some lower coal beds may also be exposed.

Southeast of Deep Creek Lake State Park and Meadow Mountain, the southern half of the Lake lies in the "A" shaped Deer Park Anticline composed of the (1) brown colored sandstones and shales of the Pocono Formation of Lower Mississippian age (350 million years old) then (2) further southeast, red to reddish brown sandstones and shales of the Hampshire Formation of Upper Devonian age (365 million years old) and finally (3) the Foreknobs Formation (formerly called the Jennings Formation) consisting of yellowish gray to brown sandstones and shales also of Devonian age. This older formation is located in an area which may be prospective for natural gas exploration from the Oriskany Formation (385 million years old) 5000 to 6000 feet below the surface.


The five major factors in the formation of soils are climate, living organisms, parent material, topography, and time. Climate and living organisms, particularly vegetation, are the active forces. Their effect on parent material is modified by topography and by the length of time the parent material has been in place. The relative importance of each factor varies from place to place.

Climate is important in the formation of soils because it influences the weathering of rocks and minerals. Weathering is more rapid under a warm, humid climate than it is under a cold or dry climate. Since the climate is fairly uniform throughout the county, there are no significant differences among soils of the river corridor caused by climate alone. In addition, precipitation and length of growing season influence the type and abundance of vegetation.

Native plants have been and continue to be a major influence on the development of soils. Trees and other plants take up minerals from the soil and store them in their roots, stems, and leaves. When trees shed their leaves or needles or when plants die and decay, the plant nutrients are returned to the soil and are used by other plants. Soil development is also affected by plant roots. Roots penetrate soil material to various depths, generally increase soil porosity, and break course fragments such as stones. Organic acids produced by plants or released during the decay of plant material react on basic minerals contained in the parent material.

Differences in slope, especially in combination with differences in the position on the landscape, have a significant influence on the kind of soil that develops from a given parent material. Soils in steep areas where erosion is high tend to be shallow. In flat areas, soils are usually thick and well developed.

The varying characteristics of soils are important for two reasons: (1) They influence the type and abundance of vegetation; (2) They limit the possible uses of land. The following chart and map depict the soil series and associations found within the watershed. High erosion rates and stony material are the main limitations to the soils in the Deep Creek Lake watershed.


In Garrett County, precipitation is the most important climatic factor. Everyone is aware that plants need a certain amount of precipitation to grow, but rain and snow also contribute to the weathering of rocks and the development of soils.

Garrett County's elevation and location combine to produce a mean annual precipitation of 47.3 inches, an average annual snowfall of 97.0 inches, and the lowest mean annual temperature (47 degrees F) among Maryland's 23 counties. The widely varying topography is also an important factor contributing to marked differences in climate within the county. On the southern facing valleys and slopes, for example, temperatures are generally warmer and precipitation is less than the northern facing areas of the county. These microclimatic differences can produce substantially varying vegetative types.

The period between the last freezing temperature in spring and the first in fall, defined as the growing season, averages only 122 days. However, this average can vary by as much as two weeks from place to place along the river corridor. This fact further influences the vegetative types found in this region.

Water Resources

Deep Creek Lake is complex and dynamic ecosystems. The lake, viewed as a water system, is influenced by the hydrologic conditions in the watershed (streams, bogs, seeps, wetlands and groundwater draining into the lake) the shape of the lake basin, the lake water and bottom sediments. The physical and chemical components of the lake system, in turn, support a community of organisms. These organisms enrich the complexity of the lake system, having numerous links to one and other as well as affecting the lake's physical and chemical features. All of the components of the lake system, physical, chemical and biological, are in constant change.

Certain physical processes that occur in the lake have an effect on lake dwelling organisms. Sunlight penetration, known as the depth of the littoral zone, determines the amount and extent of photosynthesis - dependent algae and submerged aquatic vegetation. In spring and early summer, the combination of solar heating and wind mixing of near-surface water layers brings about the warming of the upper portion of the lake water column. This causes stratification of the lake into layers of water with different temperatures and densities. During summertime thermal stratification, a warmer, less dense layer of water (epilimnion) floats on a cooler, denser layer (hypolimnion). Water does not mix from top to bottom, causing oxygen levels in the hypolimnion to decrease. When temperature-controlled zonation breaks down in the fall, the lake waters mix from top to bottom and oxygen levels at depth increase.

Lakes constantly receive materials from their watersheds. It is a natural geologic process for lakes of moderate depth to eventually fill in and become wetlands. Excessive or accelerated sedimentation and nutrient delivery due to landscape changes in the watershed is a process known as eutrophication.

There are no natural lakes in Maryland due to the fact that glaciers did not advance as far south as the region during the last ice age. Glacier lakes tend to be deeper and more uniform in shape than reservoirs created by dams. Deep Creek Lake was created by flooding a river valley. As a result, the lake is long, narrow and has a convoluted shoreline.

Forest Vegetation

The Deep Creek Lake Watershed, like all ecosystems, is dynamic and constantly changing. The current forest cover of the watershed is dominated by the oak-hickory type and to a lesser extent by the northern hardwood type. It represents a second-growth and maturing forest as a result of widespread logging that occurred in the watershed near in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The chestnut blight has eliminated mature American chestnuts from the forest and Dutch elm disease has reduced the number of elms. Recently, gypsy moths have caused significant mortality among the oak species and are currently poised to make a rebound.

There is evidence that the American Indian impacted the resource with fire - creating open understories for hunting and protection from enemies. Early settlers removed significant quantities of trees for farming, fencing, and housing. White pine was almost eliminated for shipbuilding purposes. With the advent of narrow gauge railroads at the turn of the century, previously inaccessible areas were cut over. Wildfires that resulted from the trains and other sources frequently burned in the area favoring species that were resistant to fire damage. These wildfires and heavy cutting have resulted in an even aged forest that is approaching maturity.

In general, the area north and west of the Glendale bridge is much more heavily forested than the area to the south and east. The southeastern area has had more agricultural development. Since World War II both areas have experienced increasing residential development. The fragmentation of the forest is expected to increase in the future as residential development continues to increase. As development and forest fragmentation increases, additional runoff from the land in the watershed occurs.

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in Deep Creek Lake

The SAV community within Deep Creek Lake consists of three important species: elodea (Elodea sp.), wild celery (Valisneria americana), and sparganium (Sparganium sp.). Elodea is the most common SAV in Deep Creek Lake and probably accounts for more than 90 percent of all SAV. It is characterized by broad oval leaves, usually four in number, arranged in whorls around a stem. However, it varies somewhat in appearance throughout its range. It is common in the northern and north-central states south to Kentucky and Virginia. Wild celery is much less widely distributed in Deep Creek Lake, and probably makes up less than 5 percent of SAV. It is characterized by a horizontal stem system which supports tufts of long, ribbon-like, flaccid leaves. The leaves of sparganium also originate from a central tuft but are short and stiff. Sparganium does not grow more than a few inches from the bottom and therefore does not have the potential to interfere with boating traffic. Both elodea and wild celery can produce dense stands which may reach the surface.

DNR staff conducted three on site surveys of Deep Creek Lake in the fall of 1998, two via boat and one aerial survey via light plane, to map the distribution of SAV. In general, SAV is found throughout much of the littoral zone of Deep Creek Lake. Exceptions are areas where the bottom is characterized by a predominately shale or rock rubble substrate. Bottom areas of silt or fine sediment, with adequate light penetration and readily available nutrients, support the densest growth of the dominant plant species, elodea. With the exception of the uppermost reaches of McHenry Cove and a few small isolated areas, the above described SAV habitat is located almost entirely in the southern portion of Deep Creek Lake in coves like Green Glade, Hoop Pole, Beckman's, Holy Cross, North Glade, and Pawn Run.

From a lake-wide perspective, SAV occurs in a relatively small proportion of the total area of Deep Creek Lake. It is estimated that less than 10 percent (probably on the order of 6 to 8 percent) of Deep Creek Lake's 3900 acres supports significant SAV growth during the typical summer peak growth period. Areas where boaters accessing their docks encounter seasonal difficulty due to dense SAV are further limited and probably comprise less than 2 percent of the total lake area. However, property owners in communities like Crescent Shores, Hickory Ridge, Green Glade, and Paradise Ridge may encounter total SAV coverage in their coves during peak growth periods and experience considerable difficulty in navigating to and from their boat docks. The combination of shallow depths, ideal substrate, total light penetration, and readily available nutrients will continue to produce optimal conditions for SAV in those areas. SAV distribution and abundance patterns typically vary from year to year. Mild winters, with minimal ice and snow cover, will benefit the growth of SAV. The Deep Creek Lake area has experienced two relatively mild winters in succession. Two 100 year flood events in 1996 probably introduced higher than normal loads of nutrient laden sediment into coves in the southern reaches of Deep Creek Lake. The combination of mild winters and atypical nutrient input undoubtedly contributed to SAV growth in 1997 and 1998.

Elodea and wild celery are native species to Maryland waters and provide many valuable functions within the ecosystem of Deep Creek Lake. SAV contributes to water clarity by absorbing and storing nutrients which might otherwise support undesirable algal growth or stimulate phytoplankton blooms. The root systems of SAV stabilize the silt and fine sediment substrates the plants colonize, minimizing turbidity produced by wind and wave action and boat wakes.

SAV, particularly wild celery, is an important food source for waterfowl. SAV provides habitat for macroinvertebrates like snails, crayfish, and dragonfly nymphal stages, which in turn provide an important food source for fish and waterfowl. SAV also serves as an essential spawning areas for several fish species as well as habitat for the early life stages of many fish species. SAV is a habitat for turtles and amphibians, and important foraging areas for wading birds and fur bearers such mink, otter, and muskrat.

Overall, in Deep Creek Lake, the SAV community is a key component in the maintenance of water quality, the outstanding sport fishery, and the diverse waterfowl and animal community. The presence of SAV is evidence of a healthy environment capable of supporting a diverse aquatic community as well as a variety of waterfowl and animals.

Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species

Prior to the construction of the reservoir, the Deep Creek watershed was a mosaic of bogs, wetlands and conifer-lined streams. Larger wetlands within this system included The Glades/Cherry Creek Bogs, Thayerville Bog (now under DCL), and Hammel Glade. Alterations in the landscape since the dam was constructed has reduced the habitat area of some species, making some of them rare, threatened or endangered.

Much of Hammel Glade is a natural area owned by the Nature Conservancy, and Lower Deep Creek Natural Area was purchased by The Nature Conservancy and transferred to the State. Both of these significant habitats are in the vicinity of Deep Creek Lake, and both support several rare, threatened and endangered species. The southern water shrew (Sorex palustris punctulatus), is a State Endangered Species found in these environments.

A wetland associated with a cove near Holy Cross Camp supports an occurrence of the State Threatened plant, Polemonium van-bruntiae or Jacob' Ladder. This occurrence is now quite isolated and its long-term viability is questionable. Other coves that are influenced by circum-neutral ground water and have not been developed too intensively may harbor small occurrences of this plant.

Paraplanaria (Planaria) dactyligera, an apparently rare epigean species of flatworm, occurs in a groundwater spring between Deep Creek Lake and Rt. 219. In Maryland, this species is found at seven locations in Garrett County and one in Prince George's County. It is reported in four other states south to Louisiana. Many springs surveyed between the disjunct localities in Maryland have failed to yield additional occurrences. Identical external morphology to a widespread and common species (Phagocata velata), in conjunction with extreme technical difficulties inherent with internal morphological examination (i.e., staining/sectioning) needed for positive species identification, have prevented the additional survey work needed to confirm the need for listing P. dactyligera as threatened or endangered in Maryland.

A species of Pygonodon, a large freshwater mussel has been documented to occur in the shallow waters of Deep Creek Lake adjacent to Deep Creek State Park. While P. grandis is the only native Pygonodon to the watershed, P. cataracta may have been introduced incidentally during fish stocking. P. grandis, limited to the Ohio/Mississippi River drainages, is potentially very rare in Maryland and a potential candidate for listing as threatened or endangered. If the species is determined to be P. cataracta, the occurrence may be worth protecting since mussels can help maintain good water quality by filtering excess nutrients.

The forest land of Deep Creek Lake State Park offers values associated with the conservation of biological diversity. In conjunction with forest land that surrounds the Park, the area represents a fairly large tract of forested habitat. This area provides a suitable habitat for several species of forest interior dwelling birds, a group of animals which are rapidly losing habitat statewide. The Park land has forests that are significantly older than the surrounding forest (part of which is managed for timber) and thereby offers significant habitats that are associated with older forests. These include a varied and complex forest canopy, more den and mast trees, and a more complex ground cover because of more coarse woody debris.


The recreational fishery in Deep Creek Lake is a "two story" fishery in that it supports a cold water component as well as traditional warm water species. About 10,000 brown and rainbow trout are stocked by Fisheries Service annually, producing year-round angling opportunities. Trout are often targeted by fisherman in midsummer, a period of high boat traffic on Deep Creek Lake which may affect fishing for other species. Trout are also active in midwinter and are routinely caught by ice fisherman. In general, stocked trout are pelagic in behavior, tending to occupy open waters without orienting on structure. The result is increased angling opportunities without increased interspecific competition with naturally reproducing gamefish species.

Deep Creek Lake supports quality fishing for warmwater species like largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, white crappie, and chain pickerel as well as cold water species such as walleye, northern pike, and yellow perch. Physical habitat is highly variable and ranges from silt bottomed areas in the upper reaches of shallow coves to rock and cobble substrates throughout most of the lake. Much of the large woody debris, mostly the stumps of virgin hemlock cut at the time the lake was constructed, is still intact on the lake bottom. Those stumps continue to provide valuable fish habitat.

It has been suggested that SAV can potentially cause unbalanced predator/prey relationships in fish populations. DNR monitoring studies of fish population parameters in Deep Creek Lake indicate that species composition, age and size structure, growth rates, predator-prey balance, and reproductive success are within desirable ranges. Walleye, for example, reach minimum harvestable size of 15 inches in four years in Deep Creek Lake, comparable to other highland reservoirs. Walleye have produced fair to excellent year classes in all but three of the years since natural reproduction was first documented in 1983. A successful walleye year class in one of every three years is considered average in reservoirs. The growth rates of yellow perch, an important prey species of walleye, have improved since walleye were established in Deep Creek Lake. Predation by walleye on juvenile yellow perch has effectively controlled yellow perch numbers, reduced intraspecific competition, and improved the growth rate of survivors despite the fact that young yellow perch utilize SAV as cover in Deep Creek Lake.

Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass reach the minimum harvestable size of 12 inches in three and four years respectively in Deep Creek Lake, comparable to black bass populations in other northern reservoirs. Bluegill sunfish, an important prey species for black bass in Deep Creek Lake, exhibit excellent growth rates. In fact, Deep Creek Lake, has produced by far the largest proportion of citation size bluegills entered annually in the Maryland Sport Fishing Tournament as well as a new state record bluegill in August 1998. Although juvenile bluegill sunfish are abundant in SAV, predation is sufficient to produce outstanding growth among survivors, evidence that SAV does not overly protect bluegill in Deep Creek Lake.


Historically, the Deep Creek Area and its Glades were heavily utilized by a variety of wildlife species. Most notable were the large mammals, such as the eastern elk, wood bison, white-tailed deer, black bear, eastern cougar and grey wolf. The bald eagle, golden eagle, osprey and wild turkey were the largest birds found in the Deep Creek Watershed. The beaver and otter were the most conspicuous wetland mammals.

The habitat occupied by the above species of wildlife consisted of extensive glades where the Lake now exists, and the upland consisted of large coniferous stands of white pine, eastern hemlock and red spruce on the high ridges. The hardwood consisted of predominantly American chestnut and oak/hickory stands.

The settling of Garrett County and the Deep Creek Area by Europeans had a dramatic effect on the flora and fauna of the area. By the beginning of the 20th century, all the large mammals were eliminated except for a few deer and black bear. The coniferous forest was reduced to a few remnant stands. Only the American chestnut and young stands of oak-hickory stands remained. The American chestnut would be eliminated due to the chestnut blight by mid-century.

With the removal of the old forest vegetative composition, the number of songbirds and small mammal populations were either reduced or eliminated. The American wild turkey was eliminated by the beginning of the 20th century. The mid-size predator, the bobcat, was reduced to a low population. In a period of 150 years, the ecosystem of the Deep Creek area was dramatically altered.

In the past 100 years, there has been a resurgence of the forests and wildlife species in Garrett County and the Deep Creek area. The maturing hardwoods provide for a rich diversity of wildlife species. Thayer Game Refuge (now Deep Creek Lake State Park) was one of the first areas in Garrett County to reintroduce white-tailed deer to Western Maryland. The advent of Deep Creek Lake introduced or increased waterfowl and wetland species to Garrett County. The maturing hardwoods also witnessed the reintroduction of the wild turkey to the area. In the 1980s, the river otter was also reintroduced to Garrett County and now reside in Deep Creek Lake. The watershed has regained many of the wildlife species that formerly inhabited the area.

Since the 1980s, the black bear and eastern coyote population has increased in Garrett County. The Deep Creek Watershed contains some of the better bear habitats found in Garrett County. The increasing development and fragmentation of wildlife habitats in the Deep Creek Watershed will have an adverse effect on the wildlife in the area. Many species will be reduced in numbers, others will lose their fear of humans and become either a joy or a nuisance/possible danger to Lake residents and visitors. The black bear and coyote can adapt to moderate development and become quite fearless of humans, creating situations where these large mammals can conflict with people. The waterfowl population (i.e., Canada Geese and mallards) can adapt to residential development and cause problems with defecation on lawns, docks and beaches. The increasing white-tailed deer populations can result in damage to trees, shrubs and vehicles.



Indian tribes known to have inhabited Garrett County include the Monogahela - who apparently disappeared around 1600 - the Shawnee, the Delaware and the Iroquois. Records of early explorers and surveyors and archeological evidence suggest that the area was used extensively for hunting and fishing. Evidence also indicates some permanent Indian settlements.

Settlement by European settlers and the subsequent displacement of the Indians began with John Friend in 1765, when his family constructed their homes at the site of a former Indian village. The small community later became known as Friendsville. Indian trails and footpaths in the area became the entryways for Colonial settlers and explorers. Among the more famous of travelers using the pathways was George Washington, who followed them while exploring the area during the French and Indian War.

The history of development follows a pattern similar to other areas of Appalachia. Initial settlement was accomplished by farmers and woodsmen who established self-sufficient communities. These early settlers cleared only enough land to provide for their own crops with a little left over for sale or trade. Small grist mills on several tributary streams provided grain milling services to the local farmers.

During the Revolutionary War, Maryland encouraged service in the Continental Army by offering a bounty of 50 acres of land to each of its soldiers who would serve at least three years. Colonel Francis Deakins surveyed approximately 2,774 "military lots" in Garrett County. It is interesting to note that no soldier settled upon his bounty lot, thus allowing most of the land to be sold to speculators for $12 to $15 each. Some Garrett County land still remains divided into military lots.

The development of the Cumberland Road (US 40) as the first National Road spurred the growth of Garrett County. The coming of the railroad in 1852 and the scenic beauty of the area combined to promote the establishment of resort towns. The railroad brought many vacationers; among them were a number of presidents - Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, and Benjamin Harrison. Camping, too, became a popular pastime. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone used Muddy Creek as their campsite.

During this period, Garrett County prospered and grew. Its economy was established on a threefold basis of agriculture, timber and coal extraction, and recreation. This growth precipitated the Governor of Maryland to sign a proclamation declaring Garrett a separate county on December 5, 1872.

Garrett County experienced a decrease in economic prosperity during the early 1900's as the timber, coal and tourism industries declined. However, the construction of Deep Creek Dam and subsequent creation of Deep Creek Lake in 1925 brought a revival in tourism. Acquisition of state forest lands has also contributed to the recreational potential in Garrett County. Current residents of the County are employed in a variety of economic sectors including timber harvesting, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, retail, tourism and government service.

Back to the Deep Creek Lake State Park homepage