Patapsco Valley State Park: An Urban Oasis

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A view through the underpass of a railroad bridge at Lost Lake in the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park: Glynn Wilson

Secret Vistas
by Glynn Wilson

PATAPSCO VALLEY STATE PARK, Md. — America is rich in secret vistas — little-known places that touch the heart and stir the spirit.

Like quiet Gulf of Mexico beaches in the off season. Deserted Appalachian hiking trails and glistening streams thick with trout. Hidden forests with trees dating back to the time of Christopher Columbus. Pools and caves alive with the spirit of Cherokee medicine. Little-known views people who live five miles down the road have never seen, like the view of Liberty Dam from the McKeldin area of Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland seen here.

Ken Burns called the National Park system America’s best idea. I’m not sure I totally agree with that assessment. Maybe it’s in the top five. It also inspired the creation of the state parks, and the Republican governor in my home state of Alabama has no idea how bad an idea it is to close 15 of them. The people will regret this, eventually, after it’s too late.

Sometimes it’s not just the setting, but the time or season making a scene special. Wild flowers in a meadow in spring. An albino fawn feeding stream side, spotted through the mists of a summer dawn. The Monarch butterfly migration on the Gulf Coast in late fall. A camp site in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the Shenandoah National Park on a winter morning, with just a light dusting of snow, the clouds hanging low in the spruce fir.

You don’t necessarily go out looking for vistas that will stay with you forever, but sometimes you find them, like I did this spring as a volunteer camp host in the campground here in the Hollofield Area off Highway 40 near Ellicott City, a quaint little town on the Patapsco River now teaming with residents and visitors so close to Washington, D.C.

When I left Mobile, Alabama the last week of March, spring had already sprung on the Gulf Coast. But here in this northern latitude, winter hung on like ice clinging to a frozen faucet. It was still cold, rainy and windy on and off for a few weeks. But the leaves finally starting turning green and the cherry blossoms bloomed, and I began to explore all the areas in one of the largest state parks east of the Mississippi.

The park is spread out all over this part of Maryland and covers more than 16,000 acres along 32 miles of the Patapsco River.

The Daniels Area is located ridiculously close to the campground and it takes only a few minutes to reach an old historic country swimming hole that now teams with picnickers, kayakers and fishermen on the weekends. It is a true urban oasis even many of the locals do not know about and have never visited. There is a dam there that will be up for consideration for removal in a few years. But for now, you can hike up or down the river from there and commune with nature so close to civilization it’s almost scary.

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The Woodstock Inn: Glynn Wilson

Just up Old Frederick Road from there, you can fish up or down the river from the Woodstock Area. Park across the street from the Woodstock Inn, an old road house lounge that reminds me of the Flora-Bama on the Alabama-Florida line. On the way there, check out the popular snowball stand that seems always crowded around sunset.

A little further up the road is the McKeldin Area, a massive day use area with big, open fields for playing, a frisbee golf course and trails galore.

Further southeast, the Avalon Area is also a spectacular urban oasis where you can hike and bike and fish or just enjoy the spring beauty over a turkey sandwich and watch the kids play. The hike to the dam is easy enough, and you might run into a 90-year-old man in full fly fishing regalia like I did who swears fishing is the secret to a long life.

Then if you find the area known as Soldier’s Delight and hike to the old cabin at the park’s highest point of 700 feet, you might spot a bald eagle, a red-tailed hawk or even a fox. But be quick with your camera. I was not fast enough the day I was there.

Everyone should know a special place like this in nature. Some of us with a heightened sense of biophilia know many. This is probably more important for mental and physical health in modern society than the strongest of prescription drugs or annual checkups.

I am writing this up on a Sunday morning on the laptop sitting outside in the campground on a lovely spring day, watching the happy campers stroll by with their dogs, contemplating breaking down the campsite later today. We will be heading over to the Shenandoah National Park on Monday for the summer. As always, I will post stories and pictures every chance I get along the way.

Thanks for reading and stay in touch, dear hobbits, and share with your friends.

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An archway on the railroad bridge passing through the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park: Glynn Wilson

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A view of Liberty Dam from the McKeldin Area of Patapsco Valley State Park: Glynn Wilson

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A country swimming hole on the Patapsco River in the Daniels Area of the state park: Glynn Wilson

A red-shouldered hawk: Glynn Wilson

A red-shouldered hawk: Glynn Wilson

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A bard owl: Glynn Wilson

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A bard owl: Glynn Wilson

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A bard owl: Glynn Wilson

Horses and blue skies on Family Fun Day in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park: Glynn Wilson

Horses and blue skies on Family Fun Day in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park: Glynn Wilson

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The redbuds in bloom in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park: Glynn Wilson

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The dogwoods and redbuds in bloom in the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park: Glynn Wilson

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A blue jay munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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A Carolina chickadee munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

A downy woodpecker munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

A downy woodpecker munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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A Canadian goose taking up residence in Lost Lake in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park; Glynn Wilson

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A Canadian goose taking up residence in Lost Lake in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park; Glynn Wilson

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A male cardinal munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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A red-shouldered hawk riding the thermals and hunting in the Soldier’s Delight Area of Patapsco Valley State Park: Glynn Wilson

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A grey squirrel munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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A grey squirrel munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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A white-throated sparrow munching on food left on a picnic table in the Avalon Area of Patapsco State Park, by Lost Lake: Glynn Wilson

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Rob Dyke, Patapsco Valley State Park Manager on Family Fun Day: Glynn Wilson

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Rob Dyke, Patapsco Valley State Park Manager on Family Fun Day: Glynn Wilson

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Rob Dyke, Patapsco Valley State Park Manager on Family Fun Day: Glynn Wilson

The Woodstock Area of Patapsco State Park on the river: Glynn Wilson

The Woodstock Area of Patapsco State Park on the river: Glynn Wilson

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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