Three Great Parks
by Vivian Zumstein
Serious hikers looking to elevate their heart rates and work up a sweat will not find many challenges in Bay Country. But our gentle, undulating landscape provides excellent walking for families. Adults who either dont want a strenuous outing or simply dont want to drive a long distance before stretching their legs will enjoy them as well.
Kinder Farm Park Anne Arundel County
Kinder Farm Park has a feel more suburban than wilderness. With that comes a special attraction: a long, paved, perimeter trail perfect for families who prefer a stroller to a baby backpack or whose members include someone in a wheelchair. The park also allows on the trail bicycles and non-motorized scooters, providing an enticement for potentially reluctant junior walkers.
The 2.4-mile path abuts a few neighborhoods and the Harvey Garcelon Sports Complex, but much of it meanders through level meadows and quiet woods with only the asphalt trail and wooden benches giving away its suburban location. Nature trails lead into wilder territory.
The park is well used but not crowded. On a recent, balmy Sunday afternoon, we encountered only 10 other people on the perimeter path.
Milkweeds growing along the path captivated Tommy and Emily. The weeds sported mature pods full of seeds, each one with a tiny, feathery parachute, like a dandelion only fluffier. The kids spent a good 15 minutes as they walked opening the pods to scatter the seeds. A stiff breeze lifted the mini parachutes up and over the surrounding bushes. The thrilled children dubbed the seeds wind dancers.
An imaginative family could turn a visit to Kinder Farm Park into a full days outdoor adventure. In addition to trails, the park has picnic areas, a vintage farm (for which the park is named) complete with chickens and turkeys, four catch-and-release fishing ponds, a blacksmith shop (staffed most weekends by volunteer artisans) and a terrific playground.
Kinder Farm Park:
Hours: Open 7am to dusk except Tuesdays; leashed pets allowed; $5 per car.
Getting there: 10 miles north of Route 50. Route 2 to Jumpers Hole Road; east two miles to the park.
Patuxent River Park and Jug Bay Natural Area Prince Georges & Anne Arundel counties
Patuxent River Park and Jug Bay Natural Area lies just south of Upper Marlboro in Prince Georges County along the west side of the Patuxent River. A wonderful multi-use park, it has eight miles of gentle woodland trails, a fishing pier, observation blinds, a road suitable for biking or walking and canoes for rent.
The big fall attraction at Patuxent River Park is the large population of migratory birds. The Patuxent River spreads out here to form Jug Bay, a large expanse of open, shallow water only one foot deep in many areas. This marsh produces one of the richest wild rice stands in Maryland, which attract huge numbers of migrating waterfowl, such as Canada geese, black ducks and green-winged teals. The park is a premier location for birding, where more than 250 different species have been sighted. Sightings of mammals, such as beaver and muskrat, are also common.
Ramble through the Black Walnut Creek Nature Study Area over sections of boardwalk to the observation blind to see what birds you can spot. For a closer look, walk down to Jacksons Landing or even rent a canoe.
Park trails are well maintained and uncrowded. Only a few places have noticeable elevation changes, making them perfect for short legs.
On a walk in late August we found garish toadstools advertising their poison with brilliant colors as well as frogs in the water alongside the boardwalk. The kids counted more than 15 splashes as frogs hopped into a small pool to hide. The children lay on their stomachs to glimpse the amphibians under water.
Surrounded by several varieties of hardwoods, the trails will be littered with fallen leaves in autumn. Theres nothing like the sound of dry leaves crackling underfoot. Encourage your children to kick up their heels and make some noise to celebrate the season.
Patuxent River Park and Jug Bay Natural Area: 301-627-6074; www.dnr.state.md.us/baylinks/10.html
Hours: Open daily 8am to dusk; pets allowed, but not in the nature study area; fee varies w/residency.
Getting there: Off Route 301 south of Upper Marlboro. Turn left on Croom Station Road; left at T-junction on Croom Road. Left on Croom Airport Road. Bear right where the road bends, looking for park entrance on the left. Follow the winding park road to the parking lot and visitors center.
Calvert Cliffs State Park Calvert County
Calvert Cliffs State Park, south of Prince Frederick, makes an excellent destination for all ages. The park has more than 13 miles of marked trails, but the most popular is a gentle, well-maintained 1.8-mile trail to Chesapeake Bay. Here youll find a narrow beach flanked by ancient cliffs.
The cliffs formed more than 15 million years ago when a shallow sea covered all of southern Maryland. As sea creatures died, their bodies settled to the seafloor, were covered with sediment and eventually fossilized. When the sea fell to present levels, the cliffs were exposed, along with their rich fossil treasure.
The cliffs are striated in different layers, each representing a different era with different conditions. Due to steady erosion, the cliffs are unstable and off limits to climbing. This may disappoint, but the same erosion results in a steady source of marine fossils on the beach year after year.
Children will thrill to search for fossils: ray plates, scallop and snail shells, pieces of coral and especially sharks teeth. The fossils of more than 600 animals have been found at Calvert Cliffs. A warm day may entice kids to wade or even swim
Parents can join in or sit back and relax on the sand, taking in the scenery while listening to the lapping waves and the happy shrieks of children. You might even sight an osprey or the bald eagle pair nesting in the area.
On the way back to the trailhead, remind tired little feet that a creative playground awaits them at the entrance to the park. Exhausted children will find energy reserves they didnt know they had when they see this playground made from recycled tires.
Hint: If you plan to let your kids wade, pack extra clothes or a swimsuit. Wet shorts between little legs on the walk back to the parking lot are bound to chafe. Other good items to bring are a small towel to wipe sand from wet feet and a few large, sealable plastic bags for wet and sandy fossil treasures.
Calvert Cliffs State Park:
Hours: Open sunrise to sunset year round; no pets; $3 per car.
Getting there: 14 miles south of Prince Frederick off Route 2/4 just south of the entrance to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.