I am often asked “What are the best places to visit right here in Howard County?” This is a tough question because there are so many interesting spots across the county. Visiting them all would literally fill up your weekends for the entire year. I therefore am not going to start with just a short, limited list. I think you are better served if I group many of them together into general categories for this post. Throughout the coming year I will try to be even more specific as to my favorite places within these larger categories. That approach will be easier for you and will also better illustrate the wealth of beautiful sites in our county and what we all need to do to restore and maintain these special places for us and for future generations.
- 18th and 19th century homesteads – There are a few buildings that may be older but most of Howard County was parceled out and homesteads were constructed during the 18th and into the 19th century. My favorite, publically accessible one, is the Mt Pleasant farm owned for 8 generations by the Browne/Brown family. The remaining 232 acres is now owned and maintained by the Howard County Conservancy and is a central place for walks and a diverse program of outdoor experiences for all ages. Doughoregan Manor, which is still owned by the Carroll family, was one of the wealthiest farms in America at the time of the Revolutionary War. It is a true national treasure but is not open to the public. A few of the other great properties that are open to the public are Belmont, Waverly, Troy, Elkridge Furnace Inn, and Oakland Manor. Of course the old towns of Ellicott City, Elkridge, and Savage are also fascinating. I like visiting what is left of these places and picturing what life was like 150 to 200 years ago. There are 41 sites in Howard County on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Rivers – Howard County is bordered by two of the major rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay. The Patapsco on the north is largely protected as the first Maryland State Park, which encompasses some 16,000 acres. Highlights include the Cascade Falls Trail, Grist Mill Trail, the man-made falls near McKeldin and in fact all of its 35 miles of cascading and tidal waters as the river drops out of the Piedmont and flows into the tidewater areas of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The Patuxent River, largely along our southern border is protected by the WSSC which manages it for water supply. It is equally attractive and a few of its highlights are the Falls near Savage, the Wincopin Trail, and 1000 acres protected as the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.
- Dams – If you have not visited Liberty reservoir and dam, put it on your list. It is dramatic when approached from downstream. Brighton Dam and E. Howard Duckett dams on the Patuxent are also significant to behold. Several of the Patapsco River dams are being removed so fish can start spawning in this river again. We have lost the Union and Simkins Mill dams already. The Bloede Dam is due to be removed shortly. Go visit it now. Centennial, Elkhorn, Kittamaqundi, and Wilde lakes also have interesting concrete, coffer, and/or earthen dam structures.
- Lakes – There are no natural lakes in Howard County but we have a number of beautiful man-made ones created by the dams described above. Centennial, Wilde, Kittamaqundi, Elkhorn, Jackson Pond, Sewall Farm Ponds are all worth exploring. Two large and picturesque reservoirs (Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs) lie along part of the Patuxent River on the southern border of the county. These are all great for birding, fishing and paddling.
- Farms – We are fortunate to still have over 300 farms left in the county (about 24% of our land area). Many of these have been preserved with a range of easements. There is nothing like driving through western Howard County and seeing the fields full of hay, corn, soybeans, or livestock. An increasing number of these farms (Larriland, TLV, Sharps, Elioak, Gorman, and LoveDove) are starting to sell directly to the public and/or invite the public in to enjoy the farming experience and to help make ends met. As development pressure grows we will need to learn how to support these farms if we want them to continue to be part of our community.
- Parks – In addition to the Patapsco State Park, we are very fortunate to have a progressive County Department of Recreation and Parks that manages dozens of parks and to have the Columbia Association which manages 3000 acres of open space in Columbia. Much if not all of this land can be enjoyed by the residents and most of it is quite attractive and exciting to explore. These parks are also a great place to learn about the history of the area and contain many artifacts of the past including railroads, bridges, ruins of old mills, school houses, and homesteads.
- Trails – We are quite fortunate to have over 100 miles of paved paths in the county and hundreds of more miles of natural trails. Both Howard County and the Columbia Association have maps and apps to help you find your way around.
- Forests – There are many stand-alone plots of trees within the county. These are not the result of chance. There have been many programs to encourage the planting of trees. What we have found out as the science of ecology has matured is that it is much better to have connected green spaces for our wildlife to flourish. The county has therefore created a Green Infrastructure Plan and Map that shows all the forest hubs and corridors along which many animals need to move. If you own land along one of these hubs and corridors you might want to work with the county to enhance wildlife within these critical habitats. This plan will help the county continue to look green and healthy. One of the areas that has been preserved in downtown Columbia is Symphony Woods which is a young stand of woods but is a resource that need to be well maintained as the density of this city increases.
- Meadows – There are not many meadowlands/prairies left in this part of the world. Fortunately a few groups are managing their lands with cold and warm season grasses (HC Conservancy) and BGE has started managing parts of its 500 miles of utility right-of-ways by encouraging the native seedbanks to flourish. They are employing a concept called Integrate Vegetation Management to accomplish this goal. I would like to see many more property owners employ these techniques so we can all enjoy watching the wildlife rebound in these areas.
- Gardens – We cannot forget all the wonderful gardens being maintained throughout the county. The Master Gardeners maintain some of these such as the gardens at Mt Pleasant. There is plenty of information available from them to help you establish an all native or a Baywise garden. These gardens may be our last great hope for maintaining the diversity of life that was once part of the legacy passed down through the centuries to us.
In addition to weekly blogs, I will describe my favorite locations at a talk I will be presenting at the Howard County Conservancy on April 28th at 7pm. Send in suggestions for your favorite spots by commenting on this blog or Facebook page or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take-a-way: We live with an abundance of nature, but rarely do we take the time to enjoy it. There are so many places to visit. Just get outside and start walking – right here in your own back yard.