Cash Lake, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Stop 114: Quick Forays into Maryland and Virginia

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Trying to make tracks down further south before the frigid temperatures and icy weather hit, we made quick stops in Maryland and Virginia… on our way to the Carolinas. We plan to come back and spend more time in Virginia during Spring 2020, near the end of this 2.5-year road trip.

We stayed at a decent KOA in Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. Maryland is the 39th state we have visited on this journey, and another of the original 13 colonies. The state’s nickname is “America in Miniature” because while it is small — at 10,460 square miles of land and water — one can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert. Maryland is also the home of the first railroad, the first dental school, and the first umbrella factory. Chesapeake Bay dominates the state, but it also has nearly 50 rivers and creeks, plus lakes, ponds, and the Atlantic Ocean — and all of these waterways have been sources of food, employment, transportation, and recreation to the people of this area for many centuries. It is the leading producer of blue crabs and is well-known for its crab cakes. Maryland is also home to the United States Naval Academy, which was founded on October 10, 1845, at Annapolis. Baltimore, the state’s largest city, has had many issues and is known to many from the television show, The Wire. The state tree is the White Oak and the state bird is the Baltimore Oriole. Famous people born in the state include Anna Faris, David Hasselhoff, and Toni Braxton. Maryland is named after Queen Henrietta Maria, who was the wife of England’s King Charles I.

Our first adventure in Maryland was at a truly unique national wildlife refuge. Established in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation’s only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. While it started as a fairly small refuge at 2,670 acres, in the ensuing years more than 10,000 acres has been added to it from lands formerly managed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense. The Refuge is one of the largest forested areas in the mid-Atlantic region and thus provides critical breeding habitat and wintering habitat for a wide variety of birds.

The refuge is divided into two tracts that are open to the public, both with trails, but we spent our time in the South Tract, which is where the visitor center is located. The visitor center, which is huge, features interactive exhibits that focus on global environmental issues, migratory bird studies, animal habitats, endangered species, the tools and techniques used by scientists, and the role of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It also includes a small store and restrooms, as well as an auditorium and meeting rooms.

Our main focus was hiking a large loop through the South Tract, starting on the Cash Lake Trail, which circles around the 53-acre Cash Lake, the refuge’s largest water impoundment. From there, we hiked the very short Laurel Trail, named for the mountain laurel lining the trail. (This trail is dedicated to Chandler S. Robbins, a researcher at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.) We completed the hike (and loop) with the Fire Road Trail, which follows an old fire road through a pine and hardwood forest that was formerly a forestry research area… which ended up being about a 3-mile loop. The South Tract has a few other shorter trails, including the .3-mile Loop Trail, which is paved and accessible.

The North Tract consists of 8,100 acres that was formerly part of Fort Meade and offers an 8-mile wildlife auto tour route. This area offers five multi-use interconnecting trails that provide more than 9 miles of gravel and dirt roads to hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and horseback riders. There are several hiking-only trails, the longest being the Forest Trail at 2.5 miles. The North Tract also has six designated fishing areas.

We had planned a day in Washington, D.C., while we were staying in Maryland, but in the end, because we had both been there several times in the past decade — and with the current state of stalemate politics at the executive and legislative branches — we bagged the trip. (We were probably also still recovering from the craziness of our time in New York City.)

Maryland hiking

Instead, we decided to spend more time in nature and recharge.

We started with the Buddy Attick Park in Greenbelt, which has a nice loop trail that follows Greenbelt Lake; but because part of the trail was closed, we ended up doing an in-and-out hike of about 2.7 miles. The lake — really a reservoir — has a fascinating history; it was developed in 1935 by men from the federal government’s Resettlement Administration (one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs that relocated struggling urban and rural families); they cleared the 23-acre forested area and constructed a 22-foot dam on the east side of the lake. The original plans included a bathhouse and boathouse, but neither was ever built — and because harmful levels of bacteria were found in the lake, it has been closed to swimming since 1938.

Located about 8 miles north of Washington, D.C., the town of Greenbelt itself is even more fascinating. The town is the first and the largest of the three experimental and controversial New Deal Greenbelt Towns, planned and built by the U.S. government. It was designed to be an “ideal” self-sufficient cooperative community, providing affordable housing for federal government workers. The core of the city has been recognized as the Greenbelt Historic District by the Maryland Historical Trust — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark District. The other two Greenbelt Towns — not named Greenbelt — are Greendale, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee) and Greenhills, Ohio (near Cincinnati).

We finished our day in nature with another hike at Greenbelt Park, located in the southern part of Greenbelt, and which is managed by the National Park Service — something we considered quite odd until we learned the long history of the town’s planned development. The 1,176-acre park was originally supposed to be part of the green belt (natural preserve) surrounding Greenbelt. Today, it offers visitors picnic facilities, a 174-site campground (located in the southwest area of the park), and miles of trails for hikers and horseback riders.

The park is undergoing some massive construction on its roadways — and parking is fairly limited, but the 5.3-mile Perimeter Trail and 1.2-mile Azalea Nature Trail are both open and easy to find from the limited parking near the park headquarters. We hiked the Azalea Trail and added another wonderful hike in the woods to conclude our day in the Greenbelt area… and conclude our travels in Maryland.

(The Park Service also established the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which runs directly through the park, so that people could have an uninterrupted, scenic route for passenger vehicles between the two cities.)

The next day we drove down to Virginia, the 40th state we have visited, staying in Charlottesville. Virginia is also one of the original 13 colonies, with one of the oldest permanent towns, having established Jamestown on the banks of the James River in 1607. Some key Founding Fathers were from Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, James Madison, and George Washington. It became a state in 1788. During the Civil War, Virginia was a central location of the intense struggle… with Richmond serving as the capital of the Confederacy, and more than half of the war’s battles were fought in the state. The state tree and flower is the American Dogwood. Interestingly, Virginia used to be a much larger territory — but in 1792, nine counties known as the Kentucky District of Virginia entered the union as the state of Kentucky, and in 1863, western counties of Virginia were approved to enter the union as the state of West Virginia. (More amazingly, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota were all a part of the original Virginia Territory… thus one of the state’s nicknames: Mother of States.)

Loving Cup Winery

Our time on this very short travel through Virginia was more focused on work and supplies. We spent one day working and the next day stopping at the Charlottesville Costco — and then making a stop at one of the few organic wineries we have found on this trip.

Loving Cup Vineyard & Winery is situated among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in North Garden; they are part of the Monticello AVA, which includes more than 30 wineries surrounding the Charlottesville area. The vineyard was certified organic in 2012, the winery in 2016 — and is only one of a handful of organic wineries on the East Coast… and even in the whole U.S. (There are more wineries that at least practice sustainable farming and/or biodynamic integration… but few are truly organic. Also interesting is the fact that there are more organic vineyards than organic wineries as both the farming of the grapes and the producing of the wines have to both follow organic practices for the wine to be labeled certified organic.) The winery grows hybrid grapes — including one variety of white wine grapes, two varieties of red wine grapes. They are also experimenting with eight more varieties to test their suitability for organic farming.

The winery’s slogan says it all: “Love is organic.” We had a great tasting there, learning about the German heritage of the owners and their views on sustainability. They state: “At Loving Cup, the heart represents putting the principles of social and environmental responsibility into each and every action.” Bravo. Wish we could ALL make that pledge! We left with several bottles of their delicious (and super healthy and organic) Loving Cup Aronia wine — made with aronia berries (which are in the chokeberry family). Amazingly, these berries have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any other fruit — and they have been shown to improve the circulation of blood, make blood vessels stronger, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Even as we were driving away from the winery, we were kicking ourselves for not buying more bottles of this unique and fun wine!

Next up, we spend a few weeks in North Carolina, with a main focus of reconnecting with family and friends… but also exploring the state.

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