Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Hiking in the Patuxent Research Refuge

The Patuxent Research Refuge offers several nearly level hikes that include a lot of interest, including a the 1.8 mile Cash Lake Loop Trail, the 4.9 mile North Tract Loop, and the 2.4 mile Forest Trail.

Stretched for time, we chose the shorter "hike" (more like a walk, although there were a few muddy spots and trippy tree roots, around Lake Cash.

We encountered several families with young children and men fishing in the lake.

The hike is short but the scenery and wildlife are terrific. It starts at the visitor center for the Patuxent National Wildlife refuge, near Beltsville, Md, and winds around the lake. Usually you're shaded, but there are a few points where you cross floating bridges or unshaded parts of the lake in open sun.

Because of the varying scenery walking along the lake, in woods, crossing bridges, board walks, there's a lot of interest for kids, and since it's almost flat, a great place to start introducing the littlest ones to a love of nature.

There are also numerous benches and places to contemplate the beauty of Lake Cash.

Patuxent Research Refuge supports a wide diversity of wildlife in forest, meadow and wetland habitats. The land is managed to maintain biological diversity for the protection and benefit of native and migratory species.

During the fall and spring migrations, many waterfowl species stop to rest and feed. Approximately 270 species of birds have been documented on the refuge. We saw ospreys and great blue heron.

We visited during the time of Covid-19, so the wildlife /visitors center was closed. When my now-adult kids were much younger, we brought them there several times, and it was always a fun visit.

Established in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Patuxent Research Refuge is the only National Wildlife Refuge in the United States established to support wildlife research.

Getting there: 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop Laurel, MD

Hours: the grounds are open sunrise to sunset. Please check the website for visitor center hours and other specifics.

Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/patuxent/

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Mysteries of the Hudson Highland State Park: Cornish Ruins Hike

Why are ruins so fascinating? Do we expect to see the ghosts of the people who lived or worked there to suddenly appear? I don't know the answer to that, but I'm fascinated by ruins. There's something sad and creepy and symbolic about beautiful places that have been abandoned. 

There's almost a fairytale set of ruins hidden on the side of a mountain in Putnam County, NY, in the Hudson Highlands State Park Reserve. Known as the Cornish Estate Ruins, after the second owners and first inhabitants of the estate and mansion, these ruins are easily accessible along a short trail, off of Rt 9W.


In 1917, seeking an escape from New York City, Edward J. and Selina Cornish purchased the 650 acre estate from a diamond merchant Sigmud Stern. Sadly, Stern had been building the estate to share with his wife, Dove. When she died in 1915, just three years after construction had begun, he lost interest in the place, and started looking for a buyer.

Together they furnished a grand estate, which consisting of a mansion, swimming pool, sunken gardens, an outdoor theater, stables and barns for livestock, and other outbuildings.

The couple lived in the mansion for 20 years, frequently filling the mansion with their friends, before dying within two weeks of one another. The mansion was not lived in regularly after that. In 1958, the mansion burned down, leaving the ruins we can see today.

Today those ruins are overgrown; soon the forest will succeed in reclaiming these fairytale ruins.


The trail head is located right across the street from the Hudson Highlands State Park visitors center. The trail initially starts off as a fairly narrow and muddy path, partly shaded, before turning a sharp right, and joining the expansive driveway the Cornish's had built leading up to the mansion; which is almost entirely shaded in the summer. This is the part where you climb up the side of the mountain, although elevation gain is just under 200 feet.

Along the way, however, you can enjoy glimpses of the Hudson River below. Trains pass by frequently, adding a pleasant rumble to the bird song and forest noises. The forest is reclaiming the mountainside; you'll notice dogwoods, as well as a variety of oaks and maples, white ash, American beech, black birch and tulip trees. This would be a beautiful hike in the fall!

Approach the ruins via the swimming pool, because then your first real view will be the front of the house, which overlooked the Hudson River below. 

But then head beyond the mansion to the other buildings, also ruins -- the stables, and so on -- before following the drive up to the waterfalls. 

Know before you go: This is a very popular hike. Parking is limited and can be almost impossible on weekends and holidays. So go early, or chance it and hope you luck out. Don't bring your dog on this one -- there's glass everywhere. Also, the trail head is close to a train station, so its easy to take a train from Manhattan to Cold Spring/Hudson Highlands State Park visitors center.

Getting there: 3260 NY-9D, Cold Spring, NY 10516

Hours: Daylight

Website: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/hudsonhighlands/details.aspx

Someone fancies themselves an artist! This graffiti was on one of the ruins.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Secrets of Pemberton Hall

Nearly 300 years old, Pemberton Hall is located in Salisbury, MD in Wicomico County. When it was built, as now, it was surrounded by a rural, wetland landscape. The building holds it secrets.

Col. Isaac Handy built the home in 1741. Although decades of neglect in the 20th century brought it to the point of ruin, it was saved and restored, and remains an outstanding example of eighteenth century Eastern Shore regional architecture and the only such structure open to the public.

Isaac's family history is interesting: his father, Samuel, arrived on the Eastern Shore in the late 1600s century as an indentured servant. Not only did he survive his indenture, he thrived. When he died in 1721, he owned more than 2,000 acres as well as ships that plied the coastal trade. With his wife Mary, they raised 15 children. The 13th child, Isaac, purchased 960 acres of undeveloped land from Joseph Pemberton in 1726.

During the mid-seventeenth century, the Maryland colony expanded along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and up the many rivers and inlets. Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore offered many advantages to European settlers and would-be farmers: level expanses of sandy soil favorable for growing tobacco, grain, and other crops; abundant streams to power mills; and protected inlets and coves suitable for boat landing from which plantation goods could be shipped to Britain and other foreign and domestic markets.

In the fireplace, several of the bricks carry footprints... very cute, sweet footprints!
This is one of the secrets of Pemberton Hall!

The house itself is cheerful and bright and must have been a comfortable haven for those who lived in it, despite the hardships they would have endured as colonists in a very rural location. Like most other large land-owning white families, the Handys enslaved Africans on their property. Life for the enslaved individuals would have been very different, although little is known about those the Handys enslaved, unfortunately, and that remains one of the secrets of the house: how were they treated, what did they think, what were their dreams and hopes, what were their names? During the house tour, a pallet is pointed out on the second floor, with an indication that an enslaved individual would have slept there, always ready to provide aid and service to the Handy family.

During the American Civil War, the Hall was the home of Salisbury militia Capt. Allison Parsons, a Southern sympathizer. Despite the Federal troops encamped in Salisbury, Parsons insisted on firing a cannon upon the receipt of news of each Confederate victory, which really must have irked local Union commanders, given how many battles the North lost.

After Parsons ignored orders to cease the firings, U.S. Army soldiers raided Pemberton Hall intent on silencing the cannon. Their efforts were thwarted by Parsons, who had buried the cannon before their arrival. Parsons also likely used Pemberton Hall as a rendezvous for Eastern Shore Confederate sympathizers.

Two hundred years after Handy died in 1762, Pemberton Hall had fallen from a thriving plantation home into a derelict property on the verge of destruction. But in 1963, the Pemberton Hall Foundation was established, and the building was saved.

Brick detail on what was originally the outside of the house; now part of the kitchen.

Over the years, the Foundation has worked to save and restore the building and research other buildings on the grounds. Now, the home's furnishings reflect life in pre-Revolutionary times, and have been produced based on three 18th century probate inventories of the plantation. Paint colors have also been replicated as a result of spectral and chemical analysis and the result is the beautiful, cheerful manor house.

The house is significantly different than the other homes built in the 1700s that I've visited and is well worth your time for a visit. While you're there, plan to spend a few hours walking the trails in Pemberton Park!

A note about the enslaved individuals who worked on this plantation: None of the buildings where they lived and toiled, other than the house, kitchen and barn, exist (or have been rebuilt). Several times during the tour, the docent noted that the enslaved people on the property were content, because they had food and shelter and clothing in a very hostile environment, that it was one community that needed each other but there is no evidence to support those statements. As with other former plantations, I wish more would be done to learn more about those the Handys and the Parsons enslaved. 

Getting there: 5561 Plantation Ln, Salisbury, MD 21801

Hours: May 4 to October 26, Saturdays noon - 2 p.m. or by appointment.

Website: https://www.pembertonpark.org/pemberton-park/index.htm

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

Take the Most Peaceful Walk in the Park Ever through the Trap Pond Loop

Trap Pond is the feature of this small but lovely Delaware state park. Freshwater wetlands once covered a large portion of southwestern Sussex County, DE, where Trap Pond State Park is located.


Featuring the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in North America, Trap Pond State Park retains a part of those wetlands' original beauty and mystery. (The bald cypress is a wetland tree adapted to areas of calm, shallow standing water.)

The federal government purchased the pond and surrounding farmland during the 1930s, and the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop the area for recreation. Trap Pond became one of Delaware's first state parks in 1951.

Of course, one of the best ways to enjoy Trap Pond State Park, near Laurel DE, is from the water and it is one of our favorite kayaking destinations, but we've often wondered about hiking through the park, and one fine spring day, we decided to give it a try.


The five mile trail we selected would take us on a large loop around the lake, but mostly it was a walk through the woods, with occasional glimpses of swamp or the lake.


The pond was created not to preserve these lovely trees, but to destroy them. In the late 1700s, this manmade pond was created to power a sawmill during the harvest of large bald cypress from the area. The rot-resistant wood of the bald cypress trees was in high demand, and caused the bald cypress trees in the area to be extensively harvested.

Overall, this is a nice and easy hike, with virtually no elevation change -- just flat forest walking.


I had picked this trail hoping there would be more views of Trap Pond but only a little bit of the trail had it in view. However, every once in a while there's a side trail leading off toward the lake, and of course, I followed every one!


To make this loop, you need to follow the Bob Trail, then Cypress Point Connector and Cypress Trail, but even then it’s not well marked near the frisbee golf course/campgrounds.


After enjoying views of the lake, you'll find the path at the far end of the parking lot, continuing south into the woods.

There’s a really nice boardwalk section through the swamp that was pretty neat -- really the highlight of this loop hike.


Note that one section of the loop hike kind of takes you off the main trail through a parking lot and then a road. Other than that section, most of the trail is wooded and nice.

Portions of this loop hike are easily bicycled and especially near the campground, there are a fair amount of kids on bikes. 

Getting there: 33587 Baldcypress Lane, Laurel, DE 19956

Hours: daylight

Website: https://destateparks.com/PondsRivers/TrapPond

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