Saturday, March 30, 2019

Loggers Trail Hike Offers Surprises in Oregon Ridge Park

A former ore pit quarry, now covered by vegetation.

Oregon Ridge Park is a 1,043-acre park in Cockeysville, Maryland. The park features walking and hiking trails, nature center, picnic and recreation areas.

The Loggers Trail is a 2-mile loop trail around the park that takes you past some of the It's an easy hike, although not flat, the elevation gain is gradual. You end up walking past some pleasant overlooks, a stream and two lakes. Recommend either printing out the map photo with this post, or going into the Nature Center and purchasing the map for 50 cents.

From the Nature Center, take the bridge over the ore pit to the red blazed trail. We turned right, following the red blazes to the Forest of Hope. 

The Forest of Hope showcases the other side of addiction: recovery. About 50 trees were painted with a bright latex paint, designed by recovering addicts and their loved ones. 

Although I found it neat -- and it's definitely fun to see the different designs -- the art installation was controversial as it was approved by the county but not by the advising body for Oregon Ridge Park itself. 

From the Forest of Hope, you descend a bit to a valley and meet a stream burbling along. We went hiking in mid-March, and enjoyed seeing the first signs of spring with greenery sprouting in the stream. 

We swiftly climbed to the top of the hill, where there's a bit of a view. From there the trail took us along the pipeline clearing, but it soon brought us back into wooded area, where both the yellow trail and the grey trail intersect. The trail continues through the woods, seeming to follow an old road (either that, or the erosion on the trail has been horrific). 

Another gradual climb brings you to a left turn in the trail toward an overlook and a well-positioned bench to enjoy the view over Hunt Valley. From there, it turns leftish again, descending the side of the hill, where it again emerges into the pipeline clearing. This is where we felt the trail was not particularly well marked. Once out of the trees, we couldn't see any red blazes or trail markers.

Up until then, we hadn't depended on the map, but we finally capitulated and got it out. The map seemed to indicate a right turn and then cross the clearing, but it was easy to miss the post with the trail marker, and we ended up floundering around a bit looking for the trail. 

We realized the trail continued between the two lakes and luckily, I'd noticed one of the lakes through the trees, so we were finally able to find the trail, which descended sharply down to the lake, and then just as quickly back up a bit to the playground area and the second lake, finally spitting us out by the parking lot where we'd left our vehicle.

This lovely bench was a fun surprise along the trail. 

The history of Oregon Ridge Park is interesting. Iron ore and marble stone were discovered in the area in the 1830s. The following decade, Oregon Ridge became the site of a successful iron ore and marble mining operation. 

To process the iron ore efficiently and profitably, local entrepreneurs constructed an iron smelting furnace along what today is called Oregon Branch Stream. Extracted marble stone was used on site in the iron smelting process and to supply high quality building material for the construction of many private and institutional structures in Maryland and adjacent states.

To support the mining and iron smelting activities, an industrial village housing 250 people developed just to the north of the present location of Oregon Ridge Nature Center. Irish immigrants and formerly enslaved individuals comprised the labor force that lived and worked in the town. Several of the original town buildings remain visible in the landscape today.

"It's all downhill from here, Mom!"

Getting there: 13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, MD 21030

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, but the Nature Center is open Tuesday - Sunday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Incredible Scenery While Biking in Cape Henlopen State Park

I wished the Gordons Pond Trail would never end. The scenery -- marshes on one side, and sand dunes and the ocean, and then Gordons Pond and the ocean on the other -- was refreshing and beautiful. Although a crowded trail, everyone we encountered was friendly and just plain happy to be there.

The Gordons Pond Trail is located in Cape Henlopen State Park, where it skirts the western side of Gordons Pond, a 900-acre salt water lagoon. The finely crushed gravel pathway winds through coastal maritime forest, grassy marshes and sandy dunes.

We picked up the Gordons Pond Trail at the northern end, which of course begins in Cape Henlopen State Park, traveling south to the Gordons Pond Day Use Area, and ultimately, Rehobeth. We quickly encountered a half-mile elevated board walk that took us safely through the dunes and salt marsh without damaging the environment.

About midway, you encounter an observation deck, overlooking the pond and further in the distance, the Atlantic Ocean. From the trail, you can see two WWII observation towers, still maintaining sentinel on the beach.

We saw great white egrets and two bald eagles, as well as sand pipers. Depending on the season, you may also see ospreys, but when we were there (end of September, they'd already departed for warmer climes).

You notice bird watchers as well, with binoculars and intimidating camera lenses, and for good reason. The trail is located on one of four migration "super highways" in North America. In winter, fall, and spring, the pond is a popular resting spot for a wide variety of waterfowl, which means I'm thinking about a return trip this winter. 

Upon our return, at the junction with Dune Road, we biked north a short distance to connect with the three-mile paved Cape Henlopen State Park Bike Loop, that gives you a tour of the park, including former Fort Miles buildings and the WWII bunkers and observation towers.

The loop offers various branches that lead off into the marshes with wide vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the opportunity to explore the area's many dunes and the natural habitat of a large resident deer population (we saw four).

There are spur trails and scenic overlooks in several places, providing expansive views.

A popular stopping point along the trail is the World War II Observation Tower, where visitors can climb a spiral staircase for panoramic views of Delaware's Cape Region.

So fun to see several little pods of dolphins.


Know before you go: Sections of the Gordons Pond Trail may be closed seasonally for nesting or hunting, check with Cape Henlopen State Park before your trip.

Getting there: Cape Henlopen State Park is located at 15099 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, DE. Within the state park, there are parking spots at the trails north end, where you can also pick up the popular Park Bike Loop. Or, you can access the Gordons Pond Trail at the north end of Rehoboth Beach via Ocean Drive through the North Shores community. A 500-space parking lot is available.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.


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Saturday, March 23, 2019

9 Great Daytrips for the Under-6 Crowd

If you're looking for some great daytrip destinations to start your younger kids on a lifetime road to discovery, consider exploring the nine great suggestions below. From living history museums that recreate George Washington's childhood home to a sail on the Chesapeake Bay in a replica of an historic fishing boat, there's so much to see and do in the MidAtlantic region that a child of six years or less can enjoy.

Ferry Farm -- Fredericksburg, VA

The house at Ferry Farm, the childhood home of George Washington, and most of the outbuildings are an interpretive replicas of what existed when Washington lived there. The house was rebuilt on its archaeological footprint, reconstructing the kitchen and outbuildings, and recreating the period landscape. It's run as a living history museum, and it's a great place to take the kids so they can experience a little of what it would have been like to live in colonial times.

What makes this so fun for kids is that you can handle everything. Tired? Go sit on one of the chairs -- you won't break it! Curious? Pick up one of the plates or quill pens.

Go ahead, open drawers, open the chests, look under the mattress. The furniture is recreated based on inventories and what was listed in the wills, but being newly made, is meant to be used. This is a cool opportunity to experience the type of furniture our forebears lived on and with.

Sail on the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester -- Cambridge, MD

The skipjack is a traditional fishing boat used on Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging and was the predominant oystering boat in the Bay -- there used to be thousands of these boats working the oyster beds -- so it is a real treat to get to sail on one!


Although that way of life is fast disappearing, some of the boats that still sail today also provide tours for the public. During the 2-hour tour on the Nathan of Dorchester, the crew demonstrated dredging for oysters. ven if you child won't understand that oystering is a fading way of life, they'll come away from the experience having enjoyed a sailing on a boat and will get to meet a live oyster.

Phipps Conservatory -- Pittsburgh, PA

For your kids, there are surprises throughout this 14-room Victorian conservatory, including, when I was there a couple years ago, a display of Rube Goldberg-inspired interactive contraptions that pleased and amazed the kids I saw at the gardens, including one little toddler who simply (and eventually vocally) didn't want to move on. For you, there are the Chiluly glass sculptures interspersed throughout the gardens and the enjoyment of the flowers and gardens themselves. Check out the butterfly room, but don't forget to challenge your kids to see how many different shapes, colors and smells the flowers come in!

Although the exhibits rotate in and out, this is a great place to awaken your child's excitement about nature and plants.

National Zoo -- Washington, DC

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And animals. Bunches of them, of all kinds and shapes, in a lovely park setting in a lovely part of Washington DC. The zoo is a great place to go, for kids no matter what their age is. If it's hot, you can cool down in the mist-ers they have set up. If it's cool, even better, because the animals tend to be livelier.

You can spend a whole day there and still have some zoo left to see. And it can be budget friendly if you pack your own food -- there are multiple places to sit and enjoy your lunch at picnic tables and benches, or spread a blanket out on the grass in the shade.

Air Mobility Command Museum -- Dover, DE

If you're looking for a great summertime daytrip for the kids or family -- this one is for you! The Air Mobility Command Museum is truly a hidden gem of a museum -- interesting for all for its aviation and military history, or simply the wonderment of these amazing planes. Check out a retired Airforce 2, which carried heads of state, vice presidents, and first ladies for years. Or a massive troop carrier. There are many different shapes, ages, and sizes!

Best of all? It's free. (Although, consider offering a donation.) For lack of a better description, this museum is an airplane petting zoo. You can explore many of the planes, inside and out (with the guidance of a knowledgeable tour guide), which makes it loads of fun for kids and adults (and those are, really, the best kind of kid-friendly daytrips!).

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and its more than a dozen themed gardens, including a Healing Garden, Asian Valley, a rose Garden, a wetland garden, a Victorian garden, and a children’s garden -- with plenty of opportunities to get wet -- offers plenty of other opportunities to see the wonder around us. Not to be missed is the lovely, classical domed Conservatory, which the Gardens claim is the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic, with changing displays, a variety of orchids, and tropical plants.

Also not to be missed is Butterflies LIVE! -- where kids and adults alike may walk around while literally hundreds of tropical butterflies flutter around you. Butterflies LIVE! is an indoor exhibit in the Conservatory geared for all ages. You don't even need a kid along as an excuse!

National Aviary -- Pittsburgh, PA

This is probably one of my top choices to bring kids. There are a variety of daily demonstrations -- feeding a baby sloth, etc. -- that will really showcase the wonder of the birds and animals at the National Aviary. If you arrange it ahead of time, you can even enjoy private feedings and interactions with some of the animals.

The birds are incredible -- and several exhibits allow you to walk through, with the birds flying loose around you. Pretty cool.... just sayin'. 

The National Aviary's collection features birds and other creatures representing every continent except Antarctica. Many of these species are showcased in free-flight mixed species exhibits, to allow the birds to demonstrate natural behaviors.

Penn State Arboretum -- State College, PA

The really little ones will love to discover nature and learn about the region's geology and plant life in the Childhood's Gate Children's Garden. And even if that's a little beyond their age, there're things to do that appeal to four out of the five senses. They'll love the statue of the resting bison, as well as all the other critter statues scattered across the garden.


Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden is a unique space for exploring nature, fostering wonder, and celebrating the plants, animals, and geography of central Pennsylvania. Interesting for adults, it's magical for children, with flowers and shrubs, hardscape displays, and sculpture appealing to all the senses. Best of all? It's free. So you don't have to feel as if you've wasted 20 bucks if you just spend 30 minutes in the garden (although you can certainly spend a lot more time there exploring the whole garden!).

Make Soap at Sunrise Soap Co. -- York, PA

For some clean fun and a great hands-on experience, check out one of York County’s favorite factory tour locations, Sunrise Soap Company. You and your kids can pick out scents, colors and shapes, and the kind folks at Sunrise Soap Co. will walk you through each step along the process. For kids, this is a hands-on experience -- they pick the mold for the soaps they make, they get their fingers messy, they control the entire experience, which is both fun and educational. And then you get to bring the soaps they make home! Afterward, go for lunch at one of York's nearby restaurants or at the very least, stop by York Pretzel Co. for a freshly baked pretzel!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Turkey Point Lighthouse Hike at Elk Neck State Park

Cliff-side views of the Chesapeake Bay, lighthouses, and a walk through the woods, the hike to Turkey Point Lighthouse has it all.

As have several other state parks in Maryland, Elk Neck State Park was the result of the generosity of a major landholder. In 1936, naturalist Dr. William Abbott bequeathed his holdings along the Elk River to the state for use as a state park. Located between Chesapeake Bay and the Elk River near the southern tip of the Elk Neck Peninsula in Cecil County, MD, the park as 12 miles of trails, used for both hiking and mountain biking.

Our goal was a short hike, late on a winter afternoon. We were really going to train our new coonhound puppy, working on loose-leash walking and heeling. Having a bit of a car ride to get to the state park was also part of the training plan, since he's also working on nice car manners.


The short hike we chose was the Turkey Point Lighthouse Hike. This hike was named as a great winter hike. I think it would have been much more dramatic with snow on the ground (snow makes everything better), but even without snow, under a moody winter sky, the hike turned out to be a good winter hike. Allowed by the leafless winter trees, the views of the Chesapeake Bay were lovely.

The hike takes you down an old road bed, past the hawk viewing area, to Turkey Point Lighthouse, a 35-foot tower built in 1833. There used to be a keepers house, completed in 1889, but that fell into ruin and was finally torn down in 1972.

Even though it's a relatively short lighthouse, its location on a 100-foot bluff makes it the third highest light on the Chesapeake Bay. On some weekends, a non-profit group responsible for maintaining the lighthouse offers tours of the inside of the lighthouse.

Trail NameLengthDifficulty
White Banks Trail3 miles (4.8 km)Difficult
Mauldin Mountain Loop1.5 miles (2.4 km)Difficult
Pond Loop1 mile (1.6 km)Moderate
Farm Road Trail1 mile (1.6 km)Moderate
Beaver Marsh Loop4 miles (6.4 km)Difficult
Lighthouse Trail2 miles (3.2 km)Easy
Ravines Loop.75 miles (1.2 km)Moderate

Getting there: 4395 Turkey Point Rd, North East, MD 21901

Dogs: a perfect place for them!

Hours: dawn to dusk


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