Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Blooms and Butterflies at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Despite its location in the heart of northern Virginian suburbs, few know about this wonderful garden oasis.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is part botanical garden, part sculpture garden (there are a number of striking sculptures around the grounds, part arboretum.

There are pretty little ponds with lotuses and waterlillies, and other water plants growing in and around them.

There's the elegant Korean Memorial.

There are numerous quaint garden rooms and nooks to hang out in for a while, to enjoy the peaceful serenity of this suburban oasis.

There are mysterious ruins, reminding us that this used to be a working farm!

There's a giant green frog.

There's even a log cabin.

Have I mentioned that Meadowlark is kid-friendly? There's a fairy garden.

There's also a special little interactive garden, just for them. But frankly, we saw kids having way more fun exploring the rest of the gardens!

Back when Vienna used to be rural farmland, Dr. Gardiner Means and Dr. Caroline Ware landed in Washington DC as part of Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal Administration purchased land, some 75 acres of Virginia's rolling Piedmont countryside, and farmed it, falling in love with it over the years.

By the 1970s, suburbia began surrounding their farm, where they raised sheep dogs and wheat, and planted their flower gardens. That was when the couple began thinking their farm would be a good public park.

They gave their farm to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) in 1980; NVRPA added a contiguous 21-acre parcel and started planning a public garden.

The result is Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. A beautiful suburban oasis filled with blooms, butterflies and bees and birds.

When Ware and Means gave their farm to the NVRPA, the old farmhouse they lived in was torn down, to reveal an original log cabin that probably dates back to the 1700s.

You’ll find different sculptures around the garden and concentrated near the beginning of the Native Tree Trail.

As with most botanical gardens, there's something different each month.

  • March & April- Daffodils, Bulbs, Tulips, Magnolias, Flowering Cherries, Potomac Valley Native Wildflowers, Rock Garden, Conifers Collection, Lenten Rose.
  • May- Scillas, Azaleas, Rhododendron, Dogwoods, Lilacs, Siberian Irises, Bradford Pears, Flowering Plums, Butterfly Garden, Crab Apples, White Garden, Tulips, Potomac Valley Native Wildflowers, Peonies, Alliums and Flowering shrubs.

  • June- Hosta Garden, Hydrangeas, Herb Garden, Daylilies, Wildflower Meadow, White Garden, Butterfly Garden, Native and Non-Native ferns, Alliums, Perennials.
  • July & August- Hosta Garden, Herb Garden, Perennial Garden, Butterfly Garden, White Garden, Bold Garden, Salvia Collection, Hydrangeas, Container Plantings, Crepe Myrtles, Ferns & Fern Allies, Annual Plantings, Aquatic Plants, Grasses.

  • September- Hosta Garden, Herb Garden, Ferns, Butterfly Garden, Container Plantings, Grasses, Chrysanthemums, Annuals, Salvia, Early Fall Color, Cancer Garden.
  • October- Chrysanthemums, Grasses, Conifers, Pansies, Perennials, Virginia Native Trees, Fruits on Native and Ornamental Trees & Shrubs, Salvias, Fall Color Peak.
  • November thru February- Conifer Garden, Hollies, Grasses, Lenten Roses, Indoor Plantings, Red Twig & Yellow Twig Dogwood, Heaths, Nandinas.

Getting there: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna VA

Hours: The gardens usually open at 10 a.m. Closing times vary by the season. Please check the website for more details.

Website: https://www.novaparks.com/parks/meadowlark-botanical-gardens

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, One of the Coolest Spots You'll Encounter!

You should definitely check out the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area if you're in Pocahontas County, WV. One of West Virginia's largest wetlands, this 750-acre area features open bogs, with the surrounding moutains -- Black, Cranberry and Kennison -- creating a natural bowl.

With an elevation of 3400 feet, the Glades resemble an Artic tundra, only conveniently in West Virginia. As its name implies, it's also the southern most cranberry bog. We were impressed with its beauty, even on a foggy, rainy day in early spring.

The half-mile boardwalk leads you around the bogs, introducing you to the unique, and often rare, flora and fauna that the area supports. Plan to take an hour -- you'll be doing a lot of bending and looking at interesting plants.

We were fascinated by the skunk cabbage sprouts. Skunk cabbage is a favorite bear food!

Signs note that the spongy ground consists mostly of peat, in other words, decaying plant material, that in places can form a layer nearly 20 feet deep. Wet, acidic soil; high elevation; and cool temperatures have created this unique environment.

But don't think it's all wide open spaces, despite being a wetlands. While there are open expanses, there are also thickets of alder and swamp forests of red spruce and hardwood deciduous trees.

Marsh marigold and its cheerful yellow flowers were prevalent throughout the bog.

As its name implies, you'll see plenty of small cranberry plants, but you'll also see sphagnum moss, flesh eating purple pitcher plants, Canada mayflowers, and others.

The purple pitcher plant is one of the two carnivorous plants in the bog.

We were fascinated by the skunk cabbage, just emerging from its winter slumbers.

We loved the rain droplets on the green false hellebore.

Because it was still newly spring at the Glades, we focused on the emergent life, taking our time as we walked around the boardwalk. This is a place to focus on the small details, to appreciate the uniqueness of this special environment.

Getting there: Access to the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is from Route 39/150 just north of the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. From Route 150 take Forest Service Road 102 north approximately one mile.

Hours: Dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mnf/recarea/?recid=9913

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Kayaking Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park

Codorus State Park is a 3,500-acre Pennsylvania state park in southwestern York County, PA, with Lake Marburg as its center piece -- and that's where we headed to go kayaking. The waters are clear -- you can see underwater grasses flourishing.

The park was created around Lake Marburg, an artificial lake covering 1,275 acres, and is named for Codorus Creek, which feeds the lake.

Codorus State Park was created through a cooperative effort between private enterprise and state and local government. First came Lake Marburg -- named for a small community, including a farm, that was flooded as the lake came to life.

The borough of Spring Grove and the P.H. Glatfelter Company worked together to dam Codorus Creek. The purpose of the dam was to provide drinking water for Spring Grove and to meet the industrial needs of the paper plant owned by the P.H. Glatfelter Company in the borough.

With 26 miles of coastline, it's unlikely you'll run out of something new to see and enjoy on this lake -- there are lots of small coves and lake branches to explore, as well as two islands.

Despite the 90-degree day, it was lovely on the water, with a fair stiff breeze that kicked up a little bit of chop. Combined with the wakes from fishing boats and more leisurely pontoon boats going by, the kayaking was fun but challenging.

Launching from the park's marina, we spent a few hours paddling along the shore, passing below the Blossom Gove bridge before turning around and paddling back past the marina itself and exploring the coves and shoreline on that side of the lake.

There were a fair amount of fishermen (and women) on the lake the day we were there -- apparently there was some sort of fishing contest between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. There's good reason for all the fishing: the lake holds many different species of fish, including largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappie, muskellunge, catfish, northern pike, and bluegill in the warm waters of Lake Marburg. Folks fished along the shore as well.

Canoes, kayaks, sailboats and motor boats up to 20 hp are all permitted on Lake Marburg, provided they are registered properly with the state.

This is definitely a lake we're going to return to -- it's just over an hour away from Baltimore, a little longer from DC, 45 minutes from Harrisburg -- just so convenient and a lovely place!

Getting there: The 1,275-acre Lake Marburg has seven boat launch ramps around the lake, although I could only find addresses for six. All are open to the public, but the campground launch is only for the use of registered campers.
  • Black Rock Flats Boat Launch: 1060-1146 Black Rock Rd, Hanover, PA 17331
  • Smith Station Boat Launch: 2246 Smith Station Rd, Hanover, PA 17331
  • Visitors Center Boat Launch: 2600 Smith Station Rd, Hanover, PA 17331
  • Marburg Dirt Launch: 6397 Hoff Rd, Spring Grove, PA 17362
  • Codorus State Park Main Boat Launch Ramp: Sinsheim Road, Spring Grove, PA 17362
  • AOS Marina: 1 Marina Dr, Hanover, PA 17331

Hours: dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/CodorusStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

Wildflowers near the boat launch.

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Seven Fabulous Forts in the Mid-Atlantic States You Should Visit!

Everyone's probably heard of famous Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which tells the story of the War of 1812 and is immortalized in Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner."

But seven other fabulous forts are worth exploring in the mid-Atlantic region: three in Maryland, and two each in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Each fort has a unique history and offers a unique experience, making each worthy of being a daytrip destination! Follow the trail from the Delaware River to western PA... a journey of a scant 6 hours that leads you through three centuries of American history, through most of our country's major wars, from World War II to the French and Indian War.

Atlantic Sentinel Fort Miles

Throughout WW II, Fort Miles kept watch on our Atlantic Coast and the mouth of the Delaware River in Delaware, a vital defense for the Delaware Bay and the oil refineries and factories on its shores, as well as the city of Philadelphia further up the Delaware River. One of the largest and most heavily armed coastal fortifications ever built in the United States, the remnants are now incorporated into Cape Henlopen State Park. Along the beach are the old concrete look-outs, several of which you can still climb up.

Today you can check out the Fort Miles Museum, which includes Battery 519, six barracks buildings, a fire control tower, an orientation building, and the Fort Miles Artillery Park. The museum tells the story of Fort Miles, a key piece of our nation's coastal defense, from World War II through the early 1970s.

Getting there: 15099 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, DE
Website: https://www.destateparks.com/Beaches/CapeHenlopen

Awesome Fort Delaware

To get to Fort Delaware, you must start in Delaware City, DE, where you pick up the ferry to Pea Patch Island, to visit Fort Delaware State Park, in the mouth of the Delaware River. The fort served as defense for Philadelphia since the early 1800s. Its walls are surrounded by a moat and is an imposing and awesome structure; its guns once looked out over the river.

It served from before the Civil War through the World War II, but primarily as a prisoner of war camp during all three major conflicts (most of the Confederates taken prisoner during Gettysburg were confined on Pea Patch Island). During World War II, it guarded the Delaware River from incursions by enemy submarines.

Getting there: 45 Clinton Street, Delaware City, DE
Website: http://www.destateparks.com/park/fort-delaware/index.asp

Fascinating Fort Washington

Fort Washington, a War of 1812-era fort which has stood sentinel on the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland, guarded Washington DC through most of this nation's history.

Briefly during the Civil War, Fort Washington was the only defense for the national capital, and  was vitally important, for it controlled movement on the river. Fort Washington served in each subsequent war, through World War II. In 1946 it became a national park, and since then, it has commemorated the long history of coastal fortifications and served as a recreational area for history buffs, naturalists, and other park visitors. It is one of the most complete forts of that era to survive, making it a fascinating place to explore for kids of all ages.

Getting there: 13551 Fort Washington Rd, Fort Washington, MD 20744
Website: https://www.nps.gov/fowa/index.htm

Just 15 minutes and  just under 7 miles away is Fort Foote, making these two forts a natural pair for a daytrip into the past!

Forgotten Fort Foote

If you enjoy ruins, then you need to head to Fort Foote, a wood and earthwork fort minutes away from Fort Washington (and also in Maryland), was constructed in 1863 on top of Rozier's Bluff, above the Potomac River, to strengthen the fortifications that encircled Washington, D.C. Two of the massive guns that protected Washington are still there.

Fort Foote remained in service well after the Civil War, and concrete and brick improvements were made to the fort, the ruins of which are all that remain. Vines and weeds grow among the ruins and fallen trees mar the earthworks. Nature is slowly reclaiming this historic site. So why go see it? The views of the Potomac River from the bluff are amazing. But also go to explore the history and to understand the times in which it was built. This was one of 60-odd (numbers vary) Civil War forts built to protect DC from Confederate forces and is a part of our national history.

Getting there: Fort Foote Rd, Fort Washington, MD 20744
Website: https://www.nps.gov/fofo/index.htm

Frontier Fort Frederick

Built in 1756-57 to serve as a frontier fortification during the French and Indian War, Fort Frederick in western Maryland provided an ideal place to protect against incursions by both the native peoples and the French. The stone fort served as refuge for area settlers and a prison for British soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

After the Civil War, it was abandoned until the State of Maryland acquired it and made it the state's first state park in 1922.  Now fully reconstructed, there are frequently living history exhibits about musketry and what it was like to live during the colonial era that make it the perfect destination for kids and adults.

Getting there: 11100 Fort Frederick Rd, Big Pool, MD 21711
Website: http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/fortfrederick.aspx

Washington Needed Fort Necessity

In southwestern Pennsylvania, there's "A charming field for an encounter," -- supposedly what George Washington, a lieutenant colonel already at age 22, said of the marshy meadow surrounded by dense forest in western Pennsylvania. In 1754, he threw a few logs up, called it a fort, and settled down to await an attack by French troops in what essentially was the beginning of the French and Indian War. The wait wasn't long -- just 30 days.

A few months earlier, young Washington had set off with his Virginia militia through western Maryland to carve out what is now U.S. 40. Along the way he engaged with a French patrol. The French called it an ambush, which is why Washington found himself needing Fort Necessity.

The French eventually attacked and forced Washington to surrender on 4 July -- the only time he ever surrendered. The present day reconstruction at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield is close to what Washington had built, and provides insight into the start of the French and Indian War, as well as colonial history.

Getting there: 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington PA 15437
Website: https://www.nps.gov/fone/index.htm

Just down the road is Fort Ligonier -- and the two forts make a great pairing for a fun and educational daytrip!

Fort Ligonier Is a Fabulous Daytrip!

Fort Ligonier is a French and Indian War-era British fortification that served as a staging area and a post of passage for fortifications further west, such as Fort Pitt. Native American and French forces attacked the fort just once during the French and Indian War. In the Battle of Fort Ligonier, also known as the Battle of Loyalhanna, on October 12, 1758, the British successfully repulsed an attack on the fort, which was still under construction at the time.

The fort was subsequently attacked twice by Native American forces during Pontiac's War, which was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of Native American tribes who were dissatisfied with British postwar policies after the British victory in the French and Indian War. It was abandoned a few years later.

Fort Ligonier has been lovingly reconstructed, and you can spend a couple of hours exploring the buildings and sections. Today you can see the reconstructed fort and adjacent museum, which has exhibits about and artifacts from the French and Indian War, putting it into the perspective of the entire British/French conflict in Europe; about life in the fort; and about the hardships of living on what was then the western frontier.

Getting there: 200 S Market St, Ligonier, PA 15658
Website: https://www.fortligonier.org

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