New Charles County park opens

The Calvert Recorder - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­

Al­though I’m now a St. Mary’s County girl for life, I grew up in Charles County.

I stud­ied the history of the county in school and went all over with my par­ents vis­it­ing the towns, parks, beaches and fish­ing spots. Just think­ing of cer­tain places in the county evokes such a nos­tal­gia that I feel homesick, even though I live only a short drive away.

When­ever I hear the name Old Sy­camore Road, I am im­me­di­ately trans­ported back to my youth.

Sum­mer days were for ex­plor­ing the woods be­hind our farm, leav­ing at sun-up and com­ing home at din­ner. A few times I got lost and couldn’t find my way home be­fore dark, and my dad would drive up and down the road in his truck, honk­ing his horn, un­til I found my way out of the woods and

he’d pick me up.

I spent those long days travers­ing the gul­lies that criss­crossed the land, climb­ing trees and turn­ing over stones in the stream to find cray­fish, with no one but the dog for com­pany.

While my life is pretty great now, what I wouldn’t do to go back in time and re­live just one of those care­free days.

There are a lot of Charles County places that I have strong feel­ings for.

When my fam­ily drove around back in the day my par­ents had the cus­tom of all of us putting a hand over our heart as we passed by im­por­tant land­marks to our fam­ily. We hon­ored the hos­pi­tals where my sis­ter and I were each

born, T.C. Martin Ele­men­tary School in Wal­dorf, the vet­er­ans home where my grand­fa­ther lived, and even the of­fices of the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent where my fa­ther worked when it was on In­dus­trial Park Drive in Wal­dorf.

And then there were the towns with sto­ried pasts, steeped in folk­lore and la­beled with one-of-a-kind names that cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion.

In­dian Head, Nan­je­moy and Port To­bacco in­trigued me as a child and still to­day I con­sider those places in the western part of Charles County to be one of the pret­ti­est ar­eas in all of South­ern Mary­land. So when the South­ern Mary­land Audubon So­ci­ety ad­ver­tised the op­por­tu­nity to tour the trails of Charles County’s new Port To­bacco River Park be­fore it for­mally opened yes­ter­day, I signed the whole fam­ily up right away.

Lynne Wheeler, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Mary­land Audubon So­ci­ety, led the group on a walk­ing tour of the trails.

The park has a nest­ing pair of ea­gles, so part of that area was cor­doned off to give the birds their pri­vacy. Be­sides the Ea­gle Trail, there’s a path that takes you along the edge of the river called the Wet­lands Trail, and an­other that en­cir­cles fields of wild­flow­ers nearly six feet high called the But­ter­fly Trail.

Some parks are good for

moun­tain bik­ing and oth­ers for fish­ing, but this park is the per­fect des­ti­na­tion for fam­i­lies with young chil­dren look­ing to spend a cou­ple hours out­side in­ter­act­ing with and en­joy­ing na­ture.

The park is 149 acres with four miles of trails, all of which are eas­ily walked by even a small child. This time of year there are plenty of crea­tures for young peo­ple to ob­serve and ad­mire. Mine found all sorts of trea­sures walk­ing the trails, from bird feath­ers to gi­ant mush­rooms and even an en­tire snake­head skele­ton near the river’s

edge. There’s plenty to see and do to keep the kids en­gaged.

The But­ter­fly Trail is abloom with na­tive wild­flow­ers this time of year. We saw dozens of re­gal monarch but­ter­flies sip­ping nec­tar from gold­en­rod as they fu­eled up for their jour­ney south. And many species of res­i­dent but­ter­flies like sul­phurs, painted ladies, buck­eyes and even one ma­jes­tic ze­bra swal­low­tail were part of the mix.

There must be paw paw trees nearby, be­cause ze­bra swal­low­tail cater­pil­lars feed on their leaves. This par­tic­u­lar ze­bra swal­low­tail but­ter­fly’s ragged wings sig­naled that it prob­a­bly was sev­eral months old since

their wings get faded and tat­tered over time. Even though a ze­bra swal­low­tail isn’t an un­com­mon sight in South­ern Mary­land, I see mostly Eastern tiger and black va­ri­eties. It may have been ragged, but it was a real treat to watch it flit around the flow­ers just the same.

My fa­vorite part of our trip was the bird­watch­ing. We saw the usual as­sort­ment of herons and osprey, a ma­ture bald ea­gle hunt­ing fish, and even got a close look at a co­op­er­a­tive yel­low-billed cuckoo preen­ing high up in the branches of a cedar tree.

I used the Cor­nell Lab’s Mer­lin Bird ID app to play the calls of the red-bel­lied wood­pecker

on the Wet­lands Trail. Two birds came out right away to in­ves­ti­gate the source of the sound. We were buzzed at least a dozen times by those wood­peck­ers, much to my and chil­dren’s de­light.

In ad­di­tion to the easy hik­ing trails and sev­eral ob­ser­va­tion plat­forms, the park has pic­nic ar­eas with ta­bles and park benches through­out the fa­cil­ity.

Take the fam­ily on an af­ter­noon stroll among the wild­flow­ers and but­ter­flies or bring your binoc­u­lars and get a closer look at some of the area’s feath­ered in­hab­i­tants. Pack a lunch and eat out­side or bring a book and re­lax on a park bench. Or, you can fol­low my hus­band’s

lead and treat the fam­ily to re­fresh­ments on the other side of the river at the Port To­bacco Ma­rina restau­rant af­ter your visit.

The fi­nal days of sum­mer have passed and the glory of au­tumn is upon us. These cool, crisp morn­ings and lovely, warm after­noons may be the best time of all to get out­doors.

While walk­ing around Port To­bacco River Park, I was just a lit­tle bit shocked to no­tice some of the leaves were turn- ing red. I am well aware that it’s late Septem­ber, but it still sur­prises me how time flies.

At this point in the year I think I feel that sense of nos­tal­gia a bit more.

While I can’t turn back the clock, our trip to western Charles County to en­joy this new park re­minded me why a place called Port To­bacco en­thralled me with its history and beauty when I was a kid, and why I keep com­ing back to visit to this day.

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