Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Eight Great Hikes, Kayaking, Ruins, Forgotten Cemeteries and even Ghost Hunting in Patapsco Valley State Park

Maryland's first -- and largest -- state park (not to be confused with much larger state forests) is strung out like glittering glass beads on a necklace along the Patapsco River south and west of Baltimore. 

Established in 1912, the Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) was Maryland's first state park. It's also Maryland's most visited park, serving as an urban oasis for the the crowded suburbs surrounding Baltimore.

PVSP was born out of the Patapsco State Forest Reserve, which was created in 1907 to protect the valley's forest and water resources, including the (then) newly built Bloede Dam (which has been, only recently, demolished). 

Today, numerous historical structures can be found in the park, from the ruins of stone houses and old mills to the Thomas Viaduct, still proudly carrying trains over the Patapsco River.

This is a park I've returned to over and over again. I've hiked it in the spring, summer, fall and winter. 

The park consists of several "areas": McKeldin, Daniels, Avalon, Glen Artney, Orange Grove, Pickall, Hollofield, and Hilton, each offering hiking, mountain biking, pavilions, camping or other recreation.

McKeldin Area: The park's most western section features multi-use trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking, a disc golf course, fishing at the confluence of the North and South branches of the Patapsco River, and the Rapids area on the South Branch. Check out the McKeldin Rapids Hike to discover some lovely hiking along the Patapsco River.

Daniels Area: Now a ghost town, Daniels was formerly a busy little mill town, although only ruins and scattered cars and debris from Hurricane Agnes, which swept through the valley in the 1970s, remain. 

The Daniels Dam, which powered the mills back in the day, now only backs up the Patapsco River, making this area popular for canoeing and kayaking, fishing and swimming.

I've explored and written about the Daniels area multiple times, check out the links below to learn more about 

There are numerous ruins from the former inhabitants, including two churches...

...forgotten cemeteries and ...

....several homes, part of the former mill towns of Daniels (on the Howard County side of the river) and Guilford (on the Baltimore County side of the river).

Interestingly, America's first rail trail is in this area as well. Much of the Old Main Line Trail west of Daniels on the Howard County site follows the original alignment of the B&O Railroad as it was laid out in 1831. Part of this line was bypassed by a short realignment in 1838, and then completely bypassed in 1907. Bridge abutments and piers from the 1838 realignment are visible near Daniels Dam and about a half-mile upstream.

Hollofield Area: The park's center section features a 73-site campground, hiking trails, and shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, plus a scenic overlook of the entire river valley.

Pickall Area: Picnic shelters and playgrounds.

Hilton Area: Located near Catonsville, the area has a small campground with mini-cabins, a nature center for children, tire playground, and access to the Saw Mill Branch Trail and other trails. 

The Buzzard Rock - Sawmill Trail Loop, a lovely hike accessed from Hilltop Road, takes you through the Hilton Area into the Avalon-Orange Grove Area and back again.

Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove Area: The area features many historic sites including the Thomas Viaduct...

...the Old Gun Road Stone Arch Bridge...

...Orange Grove Flour Mill and the Swinging Bridge.

The focus of the Avalon Area is the Grist Mill Trail, a paved path which follows an old railroad grade that runs 2.5 miles along the Patapsco River. 

One of the most popular trails in the Orange Grove Area is the Cascade Falls Trail, which runs you along a stream to a lovely fall; this trail is accessible either via Landing Road in Ellicott City or from within the park boundaries itself.

Find your favorite trail and definitely devote some time to exploring this popular park! Let me know what your favorite trails are!

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/patapsco.aspx

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

Rosendale Trestle and Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

When it opened to rail traffic on April 6, 1872, the Rosendale Trestle was the highest span bridge in the United States.

We'd seen the entrance for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail along Binnewater Road, as we were driving to check out the Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale. I wished we'd brought our bikes along on this trip to the Catskills. 

But we kept driving, turned onto Route 213 and then we saw the trestle soaring 150 feet above us and Rondout Creek. And I realized, we could probably fit in a short walk along the trestle. So we turned around and made our way to the parking lot on Binnewater Road.

The Rosendale Trestle is a 940-foot continuous truss bridge and former railroad trestle in Rosendale Rosendale in Ulster County, NY. 

Originally constructed by the Wallkill Valley Railroad between 1870 and 1872, to continue the rail line from New Paltz to Kingston, the trestle spans Route 213, the former Delaware and Hudson Canal and Rondout Creek. Construction on the trestle began in late 1870, and continued until early 1872. 

Now the trestle is a highlight along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which runs just under 24 miles along the former Wallkill Valley Railroad rail corridor, stretching from Gardiner through New Paltz, Rosendale, and Ulster to Kingston. 

The trestle was rebuilt in 1895 by the King Bridge Company to address public concerns regarding its stability, and it has been repeatedly reinforced throughout its existence. Concern over the sturdiness of the trestle has persisted since its opening, and was a major reason Conrail closed the Wallkill Valley rail line in 1977. 

After shutting down the rail line, Conrail sold the bridge in 1986 for one dollar to a private businessman, who then tried unsuccessfully to operate the trestle as a bungee jumping platform in the 1990s. Although that business venture flopped, someone tried again in the early 2000s. 

Both attempts went bankrupt, and the trestle was seized by Ulster County in 2009 and renovated as a pedestrian walkway for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. 

Its closest access is from the parking lot we'd noticed, which is a quarter mile north of the trestle on Binnewater Road. 

While you're in the area, check out the Widow Jane Mine, a natural concrete rock mine -- natural concrete was a local industry that drove the local economy for a number of years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and concrete mined and produced in the local mines and furnaces was used in iconic American buildings such as the Empire State Building, the base for the Statue of Liberty, and the Capitol Building. In the Binnewater parking lot, you'll notice remnants of some of the concrete rock furnaces at the far end. 

Know before you go: There are multiple access points for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. You can park to access the trail from Gardiner, Sojourner Park in New Paltz, Binnewater Rd in Rosendale, and Rockwell Lane in Kingston.

Getting there: Directions to find the parking lots are at the website below.

Hours: dawn through dusk

Website: https://wallkillvalleylt.org/wvrt/

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Cloudy Day Hike on the Soapstone Loop Trail in PVSP

Patapsco Valley State Park is near my home -- at least part of it is: it's strung out along 36 miles of the Patapsco River like exquisite glass beads on a necklace. 

Because of its location, it's my go-to park for a hike, especially when I only have a couple of hours. 

PVSP is a suburban oasis, though. It's located near Baltimore, in Baltimore and Howard counties. And so, it seems, it's a popular go-to park for a hike for many, many people.

You will not find solitude on any trail within this park, but that's for good reason -- the trails are lovely and there are some beautiful places to explore within the park. 

Our destination one cloudy Saturday morning was the Soapstone Loop Trail, in the Glen Artney Area of the park. Although there is ample parking at the trailhead along South Rolling Road, there just wasn't enough spaces for everyone who wanted to hike, a testament to the popularity of this trail and the park overall. 

The Soapstone Trail Loop is a moderate, 2.6 mile popular loop trail located near Catonsville, MD that features a creek.

Overall, the trail is well-marked with purple blazes and well maintained. We took the left most (facing into the woods from South Rolling Road) path heading into the park, which was scenic and meandering on the way down, offering a few stream crossings. 

On the way back, there was a more gradual climb as the trail climbed up along the ridge back to the road. This part of PVSP is nestled in a very populated area, and roads are never really far away. 

For the first and last parts of the hike, you easily hear road noise. But once you descend into the valley along the stream, the road noise fades.

Hikers should beware of the many mountain bikers, although all were courteous, calling ahead to alert us that they were coming; in one instance, they waited while we carefully crossed a watery, muddy section of the trail, avoiding splashing us.

Overall, this is a lovely trail in a lovely part of PVSP. Although crowded, everyone we encountered was courteous and pleasant, and the trail and surrounding areas were surprisingly free of trash and debris. This is going to be one of my favorites!

Getting there: 1288 S Rolling Road, Halethorpe, MD

Hours: Dawn through dusk

For other hikes in Patapsco Valley State Park, check out the articles below:

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