New Charles County park opens
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.