The area now known as Fort Ritchie started humbly in 1889 when the Bueno Vista Ice company purchased around 400 acres as an investment property. They had grand plans to put in a man made lake to cut ice from. They would use the nearby Western Maryland Railroad to transport their ice from this mountain top to the homes in Baltimore, MD and Washington DC. The first man made lake was completed by 1901 and they installed a spur line off of the Western Maryland Railroad to use for loading their ice product. However, they did not take into account the ash and soot that the steam locomotives would disperse into the air. Ash and soot that would land and settle on the ice in their lake. This made the ice unusable and they had to come up with another plan. The quickly built a second man made lake and operated successfully for many years.
As refrigeration became more popular the areas purpose once again changed directions. In 1926 the Maryland National Guard built a camp on this site. The Maryland National Guard controlled the site from the inception of the camp until 1942. In June of 1942 the US Army turned this National Guard camp into a training camp for Military Intelligence. The US Army now controlled this base and used it heavily.
In 1995 the Army worked to consolidate and manage their resources and in 1998 Fort Ritchie was decommissioned and the resources were transferred to nearby Fort Detrick.
In the ensuing years the land has undergone little change. There is a community center and a park like atmosphere. Washington County manages much of the property and keeps the grass mowed and the property secure but the buildings remain intact. The property ownership has undergone some changes but has always been fraught with troubles that cause the ownership to remain in the hands of Washington County.
The roads are a great place to walk and ride bikes. The buildings stand sentinel along the roads. As we travelled the roads we noticed that the buildings close to the entrance were well taken care of and locked up. But as we moved further into the outskirts of the camp we started to notice that buildings were starting to show more and more signs of neglect. The doors had been busted down and it was possible to walk through the buildings and explore. We did not break into any building but if the building was open we entered!
Walking through Fort Ritchie is a great way to get some exercise. It is a fascinating view into life at a military camp. We were enthralled and will be back again!
We were ready to get out into the woods to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature so we headed to the Catoctin Mountain National Park! We decided to park at the Owens Creek Picnic site and hike from there. The first trail we hiked was the Browns Farm Trail. Our hike took us down an educational trail that sparked out curiosity and interest. History and nature surrounded us and we were in our glory.
Browns Farm Loop Trail
The Browns Farm Loop Trail in the Catoctin Mountain National Park is a short easy hike. The trail meanders in a loop from the parking lot. At the trail head there is an information booth that has the self guided tour of the loop trail available for anyone to pick up. We grabbed one and headed off down the trail. The trail was not overly used by other hikers and we were able to listen to the sounds of nature and breath deeply the smells of a mountain forest.
Along the trail there are markers. They are labelled with a number and a title. At each marker you can stop to read the corresponding information of the self guided tour. This farm tour took us on a stroll through an old farmstead high in the Catoctin Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain chain). It shows the diversity of the area and the unique characteristics that made it an opportune place for a farmstead. There is a pine grove, wetlands, a stream and a hardwood forest and a natural spring.
Along the way there are small remnants and reminders of a life once lived on this mountain top. There is a Buckeye Tree, which is not native to the area. One can only speculate that it was brought here to be planted by the family that started this farmstead. The location of the house and the nearby well is easily identifiable, even without the sign marking it as the Farmhouse. It is just a short walk away to reach the remains of the farms bank barn. The foundation is visible buried into the bank hill. The feeding trough still stands near the foundation, a testament to the livestock that once lived here.
We hiked here in the fall and loved seeing the remnants of an old stone wall peeking out from the undergrowth beside the trail.
One can only imagine how life must have been on a mountain top farm 100 years ago. It was definitely a slower more quiet existence that one can only dream of.
Browns Farm Trail
The Loop trail is not the only place to hike. The Browns Farm Trail branches off of the Browns Farm Loop and will take you another ½ to 1 mile further. It is an out and back trail that is a stroll through the woods with only one slight incline. Along that route you will see more foundations and more stone walls. These are not marked and we could only speculate as to what their uses were when the land that we were walking on was a working productive farm. It is worth the time to take that extra walk. The nature is amazing!
We had a delightful hike. We learned more about a history and an area that we didn’t know about. The farmstead families in this area are a forgotten piece of history and these trails will bring it to life. This is definitely a great hike to take. We live locally and we will be back for sure!
We were heading to the mountains to hike when we got a bit sidetracked the other week! Our drive to our planned hike took us up Route 15 in Maryland through Thurmont. As we approached the small town of Thurmont that sits at the base of the mountain, we saw the signs for the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve. As always, we started to talk about our past visits there and how much we enjoy a stroll through the zoo and how we hadn’t been to the Preserve once this year due to a lack of time in our schedule and of course the pandemic. Before we knew it, we were pulling into a parking spot and heading toward a fun afternoon at the zoo.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a 50-acre wildlife preserve that is dedicated to educating the public about the animals that live in our world. The atmosphere at this zoo is very relaxed and allows you to view and interact with the variety of animals in a safe way. The park offers quite a few paths that allows for a nice walk that will take you through some lush areas of vegetation and past many different types of animals.
While parking is free at the zoo, there are admission costs. Currently, the cost for admission ranges from $16.50 (child) to $22.50 (adult). The annual membership is $60 per person and includes passes for some of the additional activities in the park, amongst other benefits. There are also family and grandparent passes available.
While visiting this preserve you will be able to observe quite a few animals from a safe distance. However, there are ample opportunities for a visitor of the zoo to interact with the animals in different ways. For an additional fee (check for availability) one can purchase tickets for additional activities. Some of these activities include a Safari Ride that will take you around the property and give you the opportunity to see and even feed a wide variety of animals from the safety of the Safari vehicles. You can also purchase a camel ride or a feathered encounter experience.
If you are not interested in any of the additional purchases, there are still plenty of opportunities to interact with animals. There are special times throughout the day (Memorial through Labor Day) to allow for opportunities to hear a zookeeper talk about specific animals and to encounter a variety of animals at the conservation theater. (Check with the Preserve for a schedule of the times and opportunities available on the day of your visit.) There are a variety of animals that you can feed and pet interspersed all around the zoo. They are friendly and welcome a little treat from the visitors that come into their home.
Our Visit to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
During this visit, we decided to pay for an annual pass for each of us. The annual passes work on a rolling calendar year so we will be able to visit the Preserve on these newly purchased passes through October 30, 2021. (And if we visit a total of 3 times, then financially we will come out even….actually a bit better than had we paid for individual passes for each day). We declined the Safari Tour that came with our membership. We are going to save that for a nice spring day next year. When we entered the park, we also purchased two cups of food to feed the animals and we headed off!
Due to the temperatures, some of the animals had been removed from display for their safety, but we had expected that. However, there were still quite a few animals that were out and about! We couldn’t help but stop and watch the cages where there were young animals.
We stopped to explore all of the animals on display. We each have our favorites but stopped to enjoy all of the inhabitants of the preserve. The cooler temperatures of the fall day made our visit much more enjoyable and perfect for the current pandemic as we very rarely saw other visitors and never felt rushed to move on to allow someone else to see an animal. We laughed at the antics of some of the animals such as the wolves who were totally disinterested in us when we first walked up. But when we decided to grab a drink and snack became TOTALLY interested in us due to the beef jerky that Jason was eating.
We especially enjoyed the opportunities to feed the animals at the feeding stations. The animals that they have in those areas are a joy to interact with. They were all very interested in us, probably because they are used to quite a few more people visiting and they missed the interaction as much as we enjoyed their attention. Ok, maybe the food that we were offering was part of their interest.
The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying animals that you may not normally have a chance to experience. This preserve is just entertaining. From meercats to wolves, from alligators to emus and from snakes to black swans; the Wildlife preserve in Thurmont Maryland offers fun for all ages! We have our annual pass; we will be back!
At the top of a small side trail off the Appalachian Trail in the state of Maryland sits the Pogo Campsite. This primitive camp site seems rather unimposing and quiet. The beauty of the area is fantastic and the Black Rock and Annapolis Overlooks are only a short walk away on the trail. But this area is bursting with historical significance. The Black Rock Hotel once stood at the site of the Pogo Campground.
Thurston Griggs Trail
The name of the trail that winds up the side of the mountain to intersect with the Appalachian Trail is named the Thurston Griggs Trail. This trail was once named the Bagtown Road and it took visitors up to the Black Rock Hotel. Over the years, the trail was adjusted and moved to preserve the land and now bears no resemblance to what we could consider to be a road. In the 1980's there was a thrust by various people to work to preserve our trails. Many people fought for the conservation and protection of the trails. Thurston Griggs was one of these crusaders for the trails. During his retirement years, he spent much time working to preserve the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the Mid-Atlantic area. Bagtown road was one of the trails that Thurston worked to preserve. When Thurston Griggs was 86 years old, they renamed this trail to honor his work. Thus, we now have The Thurston Griggs Trail. Thurston Griggs was active in the trail community until shortly before his death at at 95 in 2011.
The Pogo Campsite sites at the top of the Thurston Griggs trail. A small spring near the top of the Thurston Griggs tail makes this campsite a desirable stop for hikers. The campsite is a primitive style campsite with a an older privy and multiple fire circles scattered around the area. A new privy is being built.
The Pogo campsite is built near /on the site of the old Black Rock Hotel. The campsite was named after a young man who passed away in 1974. Walter "Pogo" Rheinheimer grew up on the Appalachian Trail. His parents were active members of the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club). In 1974, as a young adult, Pogo cheated death. He and a friend set out for a cross country adventure on their bikes, attempting to travel from coast to coast. On the first day they were sideswiped and suffered serious injuries. Once healed, Pogo accepted an invitation to go canoeing on the nearby Potomac River. This time his luck was not with him. He passed away. His parents wanted to memorialize their son and approached the PATC. The Black Rock Hotel Campsite was renamed the Pogo Campsite.
The Black Rock Hotel
The Black Rock Hotel, also known as the Black Rock House was originally built in the 1870's. Even though the hotel was not easily accessible, it quickly became a popular destination for people that wanted to escape the heat of the city. Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1880. Within in a short period of time, the owner lost his wife and child to illness. Depressed and disheartened, he moved to New York where he experienced great financial prosperity. The fresh mountain air near Black Rock kept calling his name and in 1907 he rebuilt the Black Rock Hotel.
The newly rebuilt never regained it's former popularity. The accessibility of the hotel came into play as more and more people chose to visit the nearby Pen Mar park, travelling by train to access the mountain top resort.
The memories that are recounted about the Black Rock Hotel are pleasant. Memories include sitting on the porch and looking at the town far below, visiting during the Fourth of July and reading the Declaration of Independence and drinking liquor distilled from Washington County Rye.
The second Black Rock Hotel burned in 1920. The walls stood high up in the mountains for many years. It became a popular spot for people to visit and explore. As late as the 1960's and 1970's people recount experiences at the Black Rock Hotel and talk about the walls still standing. But by the turn of the new century, the walls had been reduced to rubble and the foundation overtaken by nature.
I would have loved to live in that time frame to travel up the Bagtown Road to visit the Black Rock Hotel/Black Rock House. The resort high in the mountains would have been the perfect retreat from daily life. But that era is over. Instead, I will enjoy my hikes up the Thurston Griggs trail and my walks through the Pogo Campsite.
Photo Credits: http://fess2.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-search-for-black-rock-hotel.html and https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/lifestyle/wolfsville-serenity-in-the-hills/article_93620fce-04f0-5404-87ea-8364c92cb874.html
About 70 miles northwest from DC there is a little known Maryland State Park. The park is centered around a monument of great importance to our national history. This monument is dedicated to one of our founding fathers of the United States of America. I am talking about the Washington Monument State park.
This state park is here to allow visitors the chance to see and visit the monument that was completed that was dedicated to George Washington. The park is conveniently located along the Appalachian trail and the state park utilizes much of the Appalachian Trail system within the park. In fact, the monument is located only a short distance from the Appalachian Trail. To get to this park you will need to take Alternate 40 to the top of South Mountain which looms on the outskirts of Boonsboro, MD. At the top of South Mountain, you will follow the signs to the park entrance. There is an honor system entry fee box at the entrance of the park. Upon paying, you can proceed into the park where the road will wind you further up toward the top of the mountain where you will find a parking lot, some pavilions, bathrooms and a small visitor center. During our winter visit, the visitor center and bathrooms were closed. However, they conveniently had a port-a-potty on the grounds for visitors use. (A very clean port-a-potty also!) The website indicates that you can rent a pavilion and that youth groups can camp on site, both of which require a reservation. The lower parking lot can be used by hikers that are hiking and camping on the nearby Appalachian Trail for a few days. The trail begins northward from the upper parking lot. There is plenty of signage to help you navigate the park. The information board will give you more information about the park and how this monument came into existence and it’s history. There are multiple waysides to talk about the flora and fauna in the area. My personal favorite was the raptor board. This is a board that captures a running tally of how many different birds of each species was seen in the area. It was neat to realize that bald eagles had been seen more than 60 times during the year in which we were visiting. The trail from the parking lot is quite wide and well packed as it meanders up the hillside. Along the trail there are signs that indicate certain milestones in George Washington’s life.
They start with his birth and as you go up the short hill to the monument you will see more signs with more events and happenings in his life until finally you are in sight of the monument and you see the sign chronicling his death.
The monument itself was built in 1827 and has been rebuilt at least twice…the most recent time by the CCC. It towers on the edge of the mountain and the walkway around the monument allows visitors the chance to see the spectacular views.
The monument is open and visitors can climb to the top. The steps are narrow, winding and steep; but the view at the top makes it worth it all! The view is breathtaking as this monument is located on the top of a mountain. Therefore, you can see an incredible distance. The informational plaques at the top will help you recognize not only the towns and landmarks before you but also the various birds you may see soaring high overhead.
Overall, this is a small gem of a historical site. But don’t think that your visit is over!
No, remember that the Appalachian Trail meanders quite close to the Monument! The hiking in this area is fantastic. The tail is well used and in great shape. There is a rather steep grade down at the beginning, but it is all graded with stepping stones and logs to not only help the hiker navigate the trail but to keep the natural erosion in check.
You will come to a ridgeline. If you are hiking in the summer you may not even realize that it is a ridge…but if you step off the trail 100 feet in either direction at various locations, you will find yourself standing before more breathtaking views. It is a great place to hike!
The Washington Monument State Park in Boonsboro, really packs a punch. It is the perfect place for a short visit. There is history about the building of the Washington Monument as well as history about the life of George Washington. There are breathtaking views! There is nature and hiking. This is the perfect little place to visit for the day!
For a fun trip with more history and fun, check out Lancaster County, PA
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!