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!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!