The Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD, is a wonderful surprise, a 12,841-acre nature preserve tucked between two major cities that is a world unto itself.
A turn or two off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway puts visitors on Scarlet Tanager Loop, a tree-lined winding road that leads through mature trees and ends in about two miles at a beautiful, interactive visitor and conference center.
Miles of trails meander around several lakes, where lilies bloom and Canada geese feed.
If your spring plans involve finding new places to kayak along the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, the Magothy River Association has some suggestions. They have a new map highlighting 30 points of interest, and 8 “hidden gems” along the water. To find them, they’ll hand you a copy of their new water trail map. Then, they’ll suggest you find a computer or smart phone.
That’s because the Magothy River Association has taken a unique approach to creating their map, released in honor of the group’s 70th anniversary with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The printed map is artsy, with a hand-touched feel, but it’s paired with a series of short YouTube videos that use drone technology to provide a fast and effective aerial view of the routes you want to travel.
Expect a rustling in the woods across the Chesapeake Bay region on Jan. 1. Along with shuffling in the sand and, depending on the weather, some sloshing in the snow. That’s because more than 10,000 people will likely be out for a First Day Hike at state parks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia alone.
First Day Hikes are a nationwide program sponsored by America’s State Parks, an association of state park directors. “The new year is a great opportunity to invite people to our state parks, whether they want to get a new start for their lifestyle or an environmental understanding of the great outdoors,” said executive director Lewis Ledford.
Robert and Dee Leggett wanted to buy a little natural land in Virginia, to preserve it and provide a local campground for Boy Scouts. But, in 1998, they ended up with closer to 900 acres of deep woods, babbling brooks, wildflower meadows and historic farmsteads after finding land that might be developed without their intervention.
And, this year, that property became the first state park in Virginia’s Loudoun County.
The annual “swamp stomp” at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is a wet, midwinter hike along the forested edge of the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel County, MD. For hike leader and sanctuary volunteer Siobhan Percey, it’s a pilgrimage of love — for the quirky, cunning and sometimes malodorous wetland plant known as Eastern skunk cabbage.
On many days each year, Rawley Cogan can gaze out his Pennsylvania office window and see something that would have been impossible a little more than a century ago — grazing elk sauntering through the meadow and along the tree line in groups small and large, some with huge antlers that can measure 4 feet across.
“We have elk up close and personal lots of the time,” said Cogan, president of the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance. “It is a unique experience.”
The Japanese have a practice translated in English as “forest bathing,” in which people immerse themselves in a forest as a preventative health measure.
Studies have shown tremendous benefits of this practice, including lower blood pressure, reduced stress and improved sleep, which in turn promote better focus, a boosted immune system and higher energy levels.
Nothing says winter like a V-shaped formation of Canada geese winging across a steely sky, their honking carried on a chilly breeze. Cold weather brings tens of thousands of geese, migratory ducks and other waterfowl to the Chesapeake Bay region as the birds seek warmer (or at least less frigid) places to await the return of spring.
The Bay is a relatively balmy refuge from the ice and snow that buries all food sources in their Canadian nesting grounds during the coldest months of the year.
There are many places around the Chesapeake region to view wintering waterfowl, and one — the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary — is just a short drive from populous Baltimore and Washington, DC.