We’re lucky we can get out for exercise while waiting for the all-clear signal that the coronavirus is no longer a threat. No more sleeping in bunk beds for us when that signal comes — we’re practicing social distancing at home as well since we’re super conscientious — but we’ll continue to walk.
Some of our favorite spots are around Whittier Lake, the soon-to-be-expanded trail along Tuscarora Creek in the Cannon Bluff development, and Ballenger Creek Park. Thank county and city staff for their work in planning and building a network of biking and hiking trails — one more plus in the quality of life department. They’ve worked hard at it, holding public meetings, getting input from multiple sources in and outside of government, creating the Frederick County Bikeways & Trail Plan in July 2018.
They started even earlier than that. In 2003 they produced the Frederick County Parklands Bikeway & Trail Design Standards & Planning Guidelines. Some of the trail system pluses listed in that 70-page document: “Trails promote health and fitness …, offer viable and safe transportation alternatives …, support the protection and preservation of natural resources …, promote economic development …, ” and “trails increase user safety by offering dedicated travel routes for pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters.”
Yeah, all that’s fine, but the trails are mainly a great place to go when you want to get the heck out of the house — especially now when we’ve been ordered to limit our trips. Here’s two you can do in a morning. Start with the Ballenger Creek Park nature trail at the south end of the park, near the dog park. The entrance is not marked, but there’s a sign for trail parking. Take the sidewalk to the right of the second dog enclosure. Not heavily traveled on a Friday in late May, but it was raining and the dirt trail was wet and muddy. Saw one young man and his black lab, and friends Savannah and Josh, who said they visited the park about once a week.
There are some hills — it also works as a challenging, but do-able, cross country ski route. The main attraction for me is the mature trees along the creek banks. Not sure without my tree book, but some I recognized were giant sycamore, maple, oaks and smaller river birch, with more to come. The county has an ambitious tree planting project here that should replace the tangle of bushes and small trees that provided good cover for wildlife. Also flourishing were invasive wild rose bushes.
Some known and a couple of unknown birds along the trail, plus squirrels and one curious deer that looked to be an antlerless buck. At my pace – slow and slower because I stop a lot – it takes about an hour roundtrip.
About a mile away, across the intersection of Corporate Drive and New Design Road, is the start of the Ballenger Creek trail system. The newer section, to the left of the small parking lot, is wide, and paved. It winds past interesting rock formations, younger growth trees, and is cleared on both sides of the path, at least in the beginning. At a faster pace, because this hiker didn’t stop very often in the rain, it took about an hour and 15 minutes roundtrip.
There are a lot more miles of trails in the works. Bob Hicks, deputy director of the county’s Division of Parks and Recreation, steered me in the direction of the 2018 master plan, at frederickcountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/322377/Bikeways-and-Trail-Plans-2018_FINAL-PLAN_compressed.
Some future trails from that plan sound really interesting: The city of Frederick to C&O Towpath Connector along New Design Road; the H&F Trolley Trails between Thurmont, Frederick, Middletown and Myersville; the I-270 Transitway Trail; Frederick and Pennsylvania Line Railroad Trail, from East Street to Woodsboro; and the Frederick Scenic Trail from the city to the Monocacy Battlefield.
These trails truly are quality of life additives. The county, and the city, don’t have to provide trails. We have sidewalks, at least in some areas. We have parks. That should be enough. But these off-road scenic trails give us an opportunity to be away from traffic, and out in nature. They’re green spaces where we can renew our spirit, unwind and recharge.
And to those with the vision to design and build these natural recharge areas, these inviting, invaluable trails, we are most grateful.
Trail fan Bill Pritchard, who has worked in community journalism for 40 years, writes from Frederick. Reach him at email@example.com.