Outside the Thurmont Regional Library on a recent morning, 5-year-old Clara Saville and her 2-year-old brother, Sebastian, stomped around the stretch of pavement that looped around the building, gazing up at the trees that towered above them.
It was relatively warm for December, but they were both bundled up against the chilly air — Sebastian in a sock monkey hat and Clara in a fuzzy white beanie complete with bear ears. Her little brother still had a tiny streak of white paint on his nose from craft time at the library.
A gasp from Debra Spurrier, children’s services supervisor for the libraries in Thurmont and Emmitsburg, caught their attention. They dashed over to the patch of grass where she was crouched down.
“I just found a treasure!” she announced, pointing at a small, gray feather hidden among a blanket of fallen leaves. Sebastian and Clara’s eyes widened in wonder.
Nearby, their mom, Izabel Saville, smiled. She had driven them to the library from their home in Frederick earlier that day, and they had spent the morning making gingerbread houses out of construction paper. When they spotted the newest addition to the building’s landscaping — a paved path that navigates the nearby thatch of woods and wetlands — they had wasted no time in checking it out.
“They loved it,” she said. “It was great.”
Though the Thurmont Regional Library only celebrated the grand opening of the eighth-mile Library Loop Nature Trail two weeks ago, the path has been a vital part of the facility’s programming for well over a year.
Becky Clapp, a children’s librarian in Thurmont, first pitched the idea for the trail in 2018 and — thanks to the support of the Catoctin Forest Alliance, the Catoctin Foundation, the Civitan Foundation and other community organizations and businesses — it was finished in the early weeks of 2020. But before the library could officially mark the trail’s completion, the pandemic hit, stalling social gatherings and forcing the building to shut its doors.
In the months that followed, however, the trail allowed the library to continue offering activities for children and their families, even as it remained closed.
Staff members set up signs along the path with selections from a new children’s book every month and distributed worksheets with interactive prompts to get kids moving and thinking. All of the library’s programming has taken place outdoors since it re-opened last summer, and staff have used the trail to teach kids about natural habitats, bears and their feeding habits and how to use objects found outside to create art, among other topics.
The library has also invited guest speakers from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park to share their knowledge and expertise with visitors, Amy Whitney, branch administrator for the Thurmont Regional Library, wrote in an email.
“People love the trails and use them all the time for exercise, meditation, and to get outside for some fresh air in beautiful surroundings,” she wrote. “As we’ve all learned this past year and a half, being outside in nature is restorative to our bodies and spirits. The Library Nature Trail gives us the ability to have another space to interact with our community and serve them in new and unexpected ways.”
The Hagerstown and Frederick Trolley Trail Association chipped in to the project by connecting the library's nature trail to the nearby existing trolley trail.
The nature trail is special for another reason, too. As Catoctin Forest Alliance President Jim Robbins put it, the path was made by and for people with disabilities.
He led a team of around a dozen students from Frederick County Public Schools’ SUCCESS Program in developing and clearing the trail and planting pollinator gardens along the route. The path also features bird houses, which can be viewed from the library’s back porch, and an owl box.
The SUCCESS Program is designed for students with disabilities who have already gone through high school but would benefit from additional vocational opportunities. Robbins, a retired postal services employee, estimates that he’s been working with the program for about 11 years, even longer than he’s been in his current position with the Catoctin Forest Alliance.
Working with the students and seeing how much they grow throughout the course of a project is rewarding, Robbins said. He has dyslexia and grew up at a time when not much was known about the learning disability — in school, he remembers, he was labeled as a “slow learner.” But he was fortunate enough to have teachers and a mother who would not give up on him.
“I find that some of the kids that I have in the program, that’s all they really needed. And they didn’t get that, so we put them in this little corner over here,” he remarked. “When I’m dealing with them in the program, I always tell them, ‘I will treat you just like I treat my children.’”
This story has been updated to clarify which organization built the connection from the library's nature trail to the town's trolley trail.