Take a hike. A win­ter hike, that is

Off­sea­son out­doors strolling let par­tic­i­pants see the for­est for the trees

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

From the In­dian Head Rail Trail to wooded paths around His­toric St. Mary’s City, there’s an out­door hike for every­one. And, win­ter can be one of the best times to get out and see na­ture, ac­cord­ing to hik­ers across South­ern Mary­land.

Some trails are BYOH — bring your own horse

There are sev­eral trail op­tions in Charles County in­clud­ing na­ture, fit­ness, hik­ing and eques­trian trails, said Jon Snow, chief of parks and grounds in Charles.

“The rail trial is the only one that al- lows bikes on it,” he said. The 13-mile In­dian Head Rail Trail is great and “packed on the week­ends. A lot of peo­ple are get­ting into their fit­ness regimes this time of year. Char­ity events and 5K races are hosted more of­ten to­ward the White Plains end of the rail trail.”

Snow said the In­dian Head side of the rail trail is “way down in the woods, there is some wild and crazy stuff to look at in terms of na­ture.”

“Fe­bru­ary is one of the best times to get out and use the trails,” he said. “The leaves are gone and you can see things like beavers mak­ing huts and ducks float­ing [on the Mat­ta­woman Creek]. It’s a neat time to get out and go for a walk.”

Rocky Graves, rail trail man­ager, said that he and his team mon­i­tor the rail trail through­out the year on bi­cy­cles, off-road ve­hi­cles or trucks.

“I try to walk four miles ev­ery cou­ple of days or so,” he said. “On two dif­fer­ent hills to­ward the White Plains en­trance, we main­tain what looks like a wall of ferns and it’s just beau­ti­ful. We

also let wild­flow­ers grow off to the sides of the trail and they bloom at dif- fer­ent times of the year. Some peo­ple think they’re weeds, but I don’t.”

Snow has worked as a park man­ager and has a “soft spot at Gil­bert Run, Oak Ridge and Maxwell Hall” parks.

“Gil­bert Run Park is our tra­di­tional multi-use na­ture park with a 60-acre lake and pic­nic ar­eas,” he said. “You can rent pad­dle boats. It has a 2.5-mile na- ture trail, and it does go up and down hills. It’s not for the faint of heart, but noth- ing too hard core. It’s not a paved trail. You’ll pass wildlife ar­eas and board­walks and see beavers in ac­tion, osprey, lots of wa­ter­fowl, es­pe­cially this time a year.”

Open sea­son­ally from March through Novem- ber, Gil­bert Run is the old­est park in the county, Snow said. “Folks are al­lowed to park out front and walk in if they want to go for a hike,” he said.

Eques­tri­ans can bring their horses to Oak Ridge Park in Hugh­esville and Maxwell Hall Park in Ben- edict, which hik­ers are al­lowed onto as well. The county doesn’t pro­vide horse to rent and ride, Snow said.

“It’s BYOH — or bring your own horse,” said Donna Fuqua, with Charles County commu- nica­tions.

Maxwell Hall Park is “a neat piece of land,” Snow said. “There is 14.1 miles of eques­trian trails but we let hik­ers in. You can go up and down hills in the woods, or you can walk along the beach at the Patux­ent River. That one is our main eques­trian park and we have a trail course [with] ob­sta­cles and jumps.”

Snow said one of Charles County’s hid­den se­crets is Friend­ship Farm Park in Nan­je­moy.

“Down there we have about seven miles of trails,” he said. “Most of those are open to eques­tri­ans as well. Those are prob­a­bly some of the bet­ter trails in the county, it takes you down Na­je­mony Creek and there is some good scener y down there.”

Lau­rel Springs Park of­fers a 1.6-mile fit­ness trail, and Friend­ship Park is one of the county’s newer parks on the western side, Snow said.

“It has a fit­ness trail three quar­ters of a mile long,” he said. “It’s a wide paved path that goes around the ex­te­rior of the park.”

Within the park is the stan­dard play­grounds, ball fields, and the na­ture themed play­ground pods have been a huge suc­cess. There’s bee sta­tion where the kids crawl through a bee­hive and a wa­ter sec­tion where you’re crawl­ing on fish. If you want to get a good work­out, we’ve also added universal fit- ness equip­ment at dif­fer­ent sta­tions. The peo­ple en­joy the trail be­cause it is flat and open. They dig it.”

Where the beach is grow­ing

Across the Patux­ent Riv- er, Bat­tle Creek Cypress Swamp in Prince Freder- ick is ideal for a day trip hike, said Anne Sunder- mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Calvert Na­ture So­ci­ety. She said the swamp fea­tures a “board­walk and it’s very good for bird watch­ing. We have the na- ture cen­ter right there to learn about the habi­tat.”

Sun­der­mann said some of the bald cypress tree knees look like fairy homes.

“You could imag­ine hob­bits liv­ing there,” she said as she pointed to a col­lec­tion of knees that were peek­ing through the swampy earth close to the board­walk. The knees that stick out of the creek and swampy area are part

of the trees’ root sys­tems.

Peo­ple tend to think of hik­ing as an ac­tiv­ity to do in the spring, sum­mer or fall, Sun­der­mann said.

“A lot of peo­ple say that it’s too cold,” she said. “It’s not re­ally that cold here, but it can be rainy. But you can see so much. In my mind, win­ter is the best time to go hik­ing. In sum­mer it’s kinda claus- tro­pho­bic, but right now you can see through the trees and see lit­tle plants creep­ing up and it’s great. I call it off-sea­son hik­ing.”

Karyn Mo­lines, di­vi­sion chief of Calvert County Nat­u­ral Re­sources, said the swamp is great all year long be­cause it changes so dra­mat­i­cally each sea­son.

“It’s a quick, easy hike that you can do in one hour or take longer if you take stops to con­tem­plate the trees,” she said. “I re­ally love be­ing un­der the canopy of the mag­nif­i­cent trees. Kids love the na­ture cen­ter, and my grand- mother would have liked it for the ease of hik­ing.”

If she has a full day to hike, Mo­lines said she en­joys “all the trails at the Amer­i­can Ch­est­nut Land Trust.”

Sun­der­mann said she likes to go in the off-sea- son to Flag Ponds to walk along the beach.

“I can’t get enough of that place,” she said. “It’s more pop­u­lar in the sum­mer and peo­ple go to the beach. The beach is grow­ing un­like other places on the shore­line that are be­ing de­pleted due to ero­sion. It’s grow­ing due to some­thing called ac- cre­tion.”

Mo­lines said she also en­joys Flag Ponds, but it can reach ca­pac­ity quickly in the sum­mer.

“Many peo­ple know that this is the best site for be­ing on the bay and find­ing fos­sils, so I like it best in the off-sea­son and in the woods, rather than the beach. In the spring, it is one of the best places to see spring wild­flow­ers. It’s a hot spot for spot­ting mi­grat­ing birds. In the fall, the wood­land trails have the di­verse fall fo­liage and crisp au­tumn smells.”

Year-round hik­ing is the way to go, as each sea­son brings a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pe­ri­ences, Mo­lines said.

“In Calvert County, and through­out the Mid-At- lan­tic re­gion, the climate is per­fect for hik­ing,” she said. “There are only a few very hot or very cold days. Our rains are pre­dictable and any snow-cov­ered trails will be clear in a few days. And I of­ten find that over­cast days are the most pleas­ant for hik­ing. Pho­to­graphs are eas­ier on cloudy days.”

Com­fort­able walk­ing shoes are im­por­tant for any kind of out­door ex­pe­ri­ence, Mo­lines said.

“San­dals, Crocs, flipflops won’t cut it,” she said. “Dress­ing in lay­ers works well all year. I like wear­ing light­weight pants, es­pe­cially some of the newer ‘quick-dry’ fab­rics, to pre­vent in­sect bites and brushes with thorns or poi­son ivy.”

Other gear she re­com- mended in­cludes a hat, wa­ter and a trail map. “Don’t rely on your GPS or phone, as the sig­nals are faint in many parks,” she said.

Wa­ter is a ne­ces­sity no mat­ter what time of year or how long the hike will take, Mo­lines said. “For longer hikes, I like to bring a gra­nola bar, ap­ple and car­rots and worry about a more hearty meal for af­ter the hike,” she said.

Join­ing foxes and deer on the trail

Ben Der­lan, pres­i­dent of the Out­door Ad­ven­ture Club at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, said he start- ed hik­ing in St. Mary’s County dur­ing the fall of his fresh­man year with the club.

“I started ex­plor­ing the trails around His­toric St. Mary’s City,” he said. “Just around this imme- di­ate area, Point Look- out and other lo­ca­tions. There are trails that lead out to Chan­cel­lor’s Point, re­ally beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral his- tory area. They’re ac­tu­ally start­ing to re­ju­ve­nate the area, and there is camp­ing out there now. It’s a 5-mile round trip, so I like do­ing that loop.”

While Der­lan said he pre­ferred hik­ing in the fall, he also en­joys day hikes in win­ter.

“Fall is prob­a­bly the best for hik­ing, be­cause it’s not too hot but it’s still nice out,” he said. “If I’m do­ing an overnight or multi-day trip, typ­i­cally all you need [around here] is a sleep­ing bag and a tent.”

Der­lan said the club also makes week­end treks out of the state, “so we’ll bring a back­pack, sleep­ing bag and pad, a tent, and all the food you’d need.” He men­tioned hav­ing a brief run-in with a black bear mother and cubs in Vir­ginia’s Shenan­doah Na­tional Park with the out­door club, and that he sees foxes and deer on his hikes lo­cally.

“I love the foxes, and see deer all the time,” he said.

Der­lan said there’s a trail for every­one, even trails that are ac­ces­si­ble for folks with dis­abil­i­ties. “It just takes some look­ing,” he said. “There’s a whole psy­chol­ogy be­hind be­ing out in na­ture, it’s healthy for you be­cause [of the] phys­i­cal fit­ness. I just love the beau­ti­ful scenery.”

Der­lan re­peated what Mo­lines said about be­ing pre­pared for the hike, but added com­fort­able socks as a ne­ces­sity. “Go with some­one who is ex­pe­ri­enced, but don’t be afraid to just get out there and do it,” he said.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI

Rocky Graves, In­dian Head Rail Trail man­ager, has been man­ag­ing the rail trail for four years and loves be­ing able to work out­side and walk for his job.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI

Ben Der­lan, pres­i­dent of the Out­door Ad­ven­ture Club at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, packs a sleep­ing bag and other hik­ing gear into his back­pack.

Bald ea­gles are a com­mon sight at the In­dian Head Rail Trail, said Rocky Graves, trail man­ager.

Cypress knees at Bat­tle Creek Cypress Swamp are a part of the root sys­tem that sup­port the tree, said Anne Sun­der­mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Calvert Na­ture So­ci­ety.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI

Anne Sun­der­mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Calvert Na­ture So­ci­ety, said Bat­tle Creek Cypress Swamp was not named af­ter a Civil War bat­tle. She said, “They named the creek af­ter the town Bat­tle in Eng­land.”

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