Planning your weekend excursions for the month of June? Author Bryan MacKay has the inspiration you need. The following is excerpted from his book, A Year Across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region. Be sure to check back next month for MacKay's July recommendations!
82 miles west of Washington, D.C., in Front Royal, Virginia (Warren County), is the northern gateway to this linear park, and Waynesboro, Virginia, is near the southern end.
What to see and do: Poised like a rampart to the southwest of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is both a refuge and a playground for urbanites who need a close getaway. This linear park, running along the spine of the Blue Ridge, is a slice of wilderness within the human-dominated landscapes of the mid-Atlantic. It is home to black bears, native brook trout, rare plants, and plenty of deer. For those in autos, Skyline Drive reveals vistas both east and west, limited only by haze and air pollution. Miles of hiking trails open up the more remote parts of the park to those willing to walk; the trails lead to waterfalls, mountaintops, and ﬂower-ﬁlled meadows. While every part
of Shenandoah is wonderful, the central portion is especially scenic. Big Meadows is home to whitetail deer who are unafraid of humans, and black bear are common there after dark. Hawks- bill and Stony Man are two of the highest peaks in the park and have impressive views. The handicap accessible Limberlost Trail traverses a virgin hemlock forest, while the nearby Whiteoak Canyon Trail features several waterfalls and cascades.
Naturalist’s tip: Early June brings blooming mountain laurel and a diverse assortment of wildﬂowers at the higher elevations.
More information: Visit www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm.
6 miles east of Laurel, Delaware (Sussex County)
What to see and do: Delaware is home to the northernmost bald cypress swamp in the country, and two ponds in the southern part of the state form an ideal destination to explore these beautiful wetlands. Trap Pond State Park has canoes for rent that can be used to explore the many nooks and crannies of this small man-made pond. The going gets tight in the far reaches of Terrapin Branch and Raccoon Pond, but that’s where the best views of wildlife are found. In early June, the swamps are alive with prothonotary warblers, tiny active golden birds with a loud song and no fear of humans. Turtles and water snakes abound.
Trussum Pond is just a ﬁve-minute drive from Trap Pond and is even more intimate, with bald cypress that form a slalom
course throughout for the canoer. The ﬁrst sunbeams of the day slanting through the cypress needles and burning off the night’s mists make for a striking scene.
Naturalist’s tip: If you own your own canoe and water levels per- mit, and if downed trees have been cleared out, the James Branch Water Trail from Trap Pond downstream to Records Pond is superb swamp cruising on a stream barely wider than the canoe. Few people have paddled this little stream, which harbors the largest bald cypress trees in Delaware.
More information: Visit www.destateparks.com/park/trap-pond
8 miles north of Oakland (Garrett County)
What to see and do: Extreme western Maryland is a different world from the rest of the Free State, sitting at a higher elevation, with longer winters and cooler summers. Rivers ﬂow not into Chesapeake Bay but west to the Monongahela, the Ohio, and the Mississippi Rivers. Swallow Falls State Park and Cranesville Bog are perhaps the two most scenic and interesting destinations on Maryland’s Appalachian Plateau.
Swallow Falls is a small state park that packs a lot of scenery into its 257 acres. The Youghiogheny River (pronounced “yock-i- gay-nee”) tumbles over the park’s namesake waterfall and then continues boiling steeply downstream over ledges and around boulders in dramatic rapids. The river is lined with native wild rhododendrons that bloom in large snowy clusters this week.
Adjacent to the river is a forty-acre virgin hemlock forest. The huge trees tower more than a hundred feet overhead and cast a deep shade on the spongy forest ﬂoor, which is carpeted with conifer needles that have accumulated over decades.
Less than ﬁve miles from Swallow Falls is Cranesville Bog, owned by the Nature Conservancy. This is a “frost pocket” bog, a wetland containing a variety of unique plants and animals more typical of Canada than Maryland. Cranberry and round-leaved sundews are in ﬂower now. Look also for tamarack, sphagnum moss, alder ﬂycatchers, Nashville warblers, snowshoe hares, and northern water shrews.
Naturalist’s tip: The Canyon Trail, paralleling the Youghiogheny River in Swallow Falls State Park, features overhanging slabs of sandstone. There are fossilized tree trunks visible in some of these rocks. Vertical cliffs harbor rock tripe, lichens that in colonial times were used to make a crude soup that was starvation fare.
More information: To learn about Swallow Falls, visit www.dnr
- tate.md.us/publiclands/western/swallowfalls.asp. For informa- tion about Cranesville Bog, go to www.nature.org/ourinitiatives
Crisﬁeld (Somerset County) is where ferries to Smith and
Tangier Islands depart. Crisﬁeld is 31 miles south of Salisbury
What to see and do: A world apart. That’s how best to describe Smith Island, Maryland, and Tangier Island, Virginia. Residents of these two islands, many of whose families have lived there for generations, make a living off the waters of Chesapeake Bay and are closely attuned to its cycles. Nature is literally everywhere you look, and sunsets are often unparalleled. Life proceeds at
a slower pace. Each island has a small number of accommoda- tions for visitors from the mainland. Access is by boat; Crisﬁeld, Maryland, services both islands daily. Reservations for the ferry and for accommodation are a must. For a unique getaway not to be missed by anyone enchanted with the Chesapeake Bay, spend a day or two on Smith or Tangier Island.
Naturalist’s tip: Rent a kayak and paddle the Smith Island Water Trail to experience the marshes that surround the island and to see its wildlife.
Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers, both published by Johns Hopkins.