On a recent hike in the Catoctin Mountain Park, we hiked the Charcoal trail. It was super informative and sparked our interest in the industry. We had stumbled upon the preserved Catoctin Furnace a few months earlier while we were the way to the Catoctin Zoo. We hadn't explored to deeply, so we decided to go back and check it out and see where the charcoal that we created up on in the mountains was used.
The signs along the road are unobtrusive, announcing the 'historic Catoctin Furnace District". I had driven by them numerous times and paid them no attention, but when I finally drove down that road, a whole new world of history opened up to me.
The Catoctin Furnace was in blast and operational as early as 1776 when it was instrumental in providing munitions to George Washington and his men. The furnace remained in operation, under different ownership until 1903. The grounds are well maintained and where applicable, beautifully restored. The Catoctin Furnace complex is spread out throughout the historic district but is all within short walking distance
The Catoctin Furnace Museum
The Catoctin Furnace Museum is housed in a restored iron workers house. This free museum is bright and cheery and the volunteers were quite friendly. As you walk in, a map of the complex is affixed to the floor allowing you to get a clear view of where you are and what there is to see as you explore this historical site.
The museum has a good number of artifacts on display. There are both items that were used at the iron works as well as items that were created and manufactured at this site. The displays are informative and interesting to see. The museum is not large. It only took us about 30 minutes give or take to view all it had to offer. Before we left, the volunteer manning the visitor center reminded us of the places that we should check out within the complex. We headed outside and started to explore.
Buildings at the Catoctin Furnace
The museum has restored two of the old houses in the area to use for museum purposes. The first building is a two story log cabin that was a colliers house. This home in particular housed two different families. Many times, these families would take in boarders to supplement their income.
The second house is the Forgemans house This stone house is absolutely adorable and has been renovated to include a working bathroom and kitchen. We were advised that we could peer into the windows but this building can be rented out for overnight trips.
The furnace is still standing and the historical society has rebuilt the shed that is connected with it. The size of the furnaces always enthralls me as I can only imagine the heat that must have emanated!
Catoctin Furnace Buildings in Ruins
Some of the buildings at the Catoctin Furnace complex are lying in ruins, too far gone to restore. One of these is the Iron masters Mansion. This mansion was built on a small hill so that the iron master could keep an eye on the workings of the whole village from the comfort of his own home.
It is hard to not stand at the ruins of what was once a large and grand house and not notice the difference between the iron master and the colliers houses.
Trails at the Catoctin Furnace
There are two main trails at the Catoctin Furnace. The first is a short interactive trail that is dotted with signs that give information about the history of the area and the ironworks. The trail ends at the site of an African America gravesite where workers from the ironwork lay. The gravesites were discovered during the building of the nearby route 15. In recent years, archeologists have worked to identify the remains in that are buried here and in the museum they have two busts that were created using the information that they discovered during their archeology expeditions.
The other trail that is on this property is a trail that meanders over streams and through the woods. It is also an interactive trail that has signs to give more historical information. This trail will lead you right to the Cunningham Falls State Park.
This small historical site has been well maintained and preserved. The history is rich and displayed in a manner that is interesting as well as easy to understand. Our entire visit took about 2 hours. That includes visiting all sites and hiking all portions of the short trails. It is well worth the visit!
To see where they made Charcoal to fuel this furnace check out the Catoctin Charcoal Trail post.
We were hiking in the Catoctin Mountain Park recently and I couldn't help but laugh about a situation we had about two years ago during one of our hikes in this gorgeous National Park system area. It was the day of the great big rattle snake!
The Rattle Snake
Our hike was over and we piled into the car, ready to get cooled down and relax on the drive home. We didn't have too far to travel. We lived somewhat locally and had both grown up in the general area surrounding this beautiful park. We hadn't gotten far from the parking lot when we saw a huge rattlesnake crossing the road. I had never heard the rattle of a rattlesnake and it had been discussed quite a few times that we wished that I would hear one in a safe environment so that I would immediately know what it sounded like were I to ever encounter one in the wilderness during one of our hikes. Without thinking we decided to stop the car and get out so that I could hear the rattle from a safe distance.
Very conveniently there was a pull off on the side of the road. I whipped the car into that pull off, watching the snake the whole time. We jumped out of the car and made our way to a safe distance from the snake. IT was watching us, but was never threatened enough to shake it's rattles in a warning. I snapped a few pictures but nothing. We were not going to push our luck, so we walked the few feet back to the car. That is when I realized my mistake!
Big signs dotted the edge of the turn around. The stated 'no stopping at any time' and big signs prohibiting any pictures being taken. Oooops! How could I forget that Camp David was nestled in these woods. I grew up in this area, I know about this fact but I had somehow just let it slip my mind in my quest to see the snake. We laughed about our snafu and quickly left the area and drove toward home.
The Park Police
We didn't even make it a half mile down the road before I saw a park police car sitting beside the road. I knew that they were there because of me. The pulled behind me and followed me. I laughed about how I could make a run for it and I could be out of the park before long. But I knew that was not to be. I knew that I was getting pulled over and furthermore, I knew that it wasn't REALLY the park police that would be pulling me over.
Sure enough, before long the lights flashed on. I was caught! I pulled over and remained calm. It was after all a mistake, even if it was a mistake at a federal level of security. Two 'park police' men got out of their vehicle. The were dressed for serious business. Flak jackets and numerous weapons, definitely NOT park police standard issue. One came up on each side of the car and they asked us to both put down our windows and I began to answer questions and I tried to not laugh when they tried to skirt the issue and use euphemisms instead of calling it Camp David.
"NO sir, I didn't pay attention to the signs until it was too late, my mind was elsewhere"
"Yes sir, I actually do know that there as you call it a 'military installation' in these woods'.
"Well you see sir, I was just trying to see a snake"
"Yes, I did take pictures with my cellphone"
They actually took my cell phone and inspected the pictures that I took. They could see when flipping through that we had been hiking on valid trails and to allowed places just a short time before. But it was still nerve wracking.
They finally let me drive away. It was obvious that I had just been thinking about one thing and not paying attention to my actual surroundings. We had a good laugh that day, but I know that in the future I will need to be careful. I am sure that my name is marked in some database system and a second infraction may not go as easily!
The Catoctin Mountain Park is managed by the National Park service and is one of the most visited parks in this area. Offering fabulous views, history, nature and some amazing hiking trails, this park is one of our favorites to visit.
The Charcoal Trail
We drove to the park on this hot summer day ready to tackle the trails and climb to a vista/overlook. We decided upon the Thurmont Vista loop. The parking lot had plenty of room to park and we hopped out into a light sprinkling of rain ready to begin. The parking lot has a few trailheads and while we knew that we wanted to hike the Thurmont Vista, we also knew that there was a short half mile interpretive historical trail off of this parking lot. We headed to that trail first thing!
The Charcoal trail is a very easy hike. The trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. Along the way there are signs that give historical information about how charcoal was made in this very area. We saw the remains of a cart to haul logs and learned about the process of burning the wood to create charcoal. We even saw a reconstructed hut that a collier would have lived in.
The charcoal trail was a neat jaunt through the woods and into an aspect of history that is not commonly discussed. I was happy that we did that short trail. But it was soon over and we were ready to head to Thurmont Vista.
Thurmont Vista Loop Trail
After our walk on the half mile Charcoal trail, we headed toward the Thurmont Vista. This trail was also well maintained. The trail meanders through the woods and eventually starts to climb. There are a few places where it became a bit rocky, but it was easily navigable for me since I had my trusty trekking poles with me. (I have a history of some nasty falls while hiking, so I always hike with my poles!)
We did pass some people on the trail, despite the rain that was falling. But after a mile we reached the vista and had the area to ourselves. The area was wide and would allow a few groups of hikers to relax at this vista. A bench has been placed to allow for some convenient resting after the climb.
We didn't linger long as it was raining and this was out in the open. We quickly headed back to the trail to continue on our looping hike. Very shortly after the vista we came to the turn off point for the planned loop hike that we were doing. Catoctin has their trails well marked and we could see that Wolf Rock was only three tenths of a mile down a different trail and Chimney rook only seven tenths. We decided to add a little spur trail to our hike. Off we went.
There were some areas of this trail that were a bit steeper and had to be traversed more carefully, especially in the rain. But it was still a well maintained and fun trail to hike. We quickly encountered the couple hundred feet of wolf rock and continued on to Chimney rock. The skies cleared for us just long enough for us to enjoy the sights at Chimney rock while eating our lunch.
After relaxing at Chimney rock we retraced our steps back to the Thurmont Vista Trail and headed further down the loop. The trail narrowed for a bit and was absolutely wonderful with it's cave-like greenery. Soon the trail began to descend. The trail maps mark this section of the trail as one of the most difficult trails in the park. We were heading downhill so it wasn't too troublesome. Once at the bottom of the trail we took the last leg of our loop back to the parking lot. This trail was quite rocky but not at all difficult to navigate.
All in all we hiked about 4.5 miles at the Catoctin Mountain Park that day. We had some wonderful views, saw some amazing geologic features and learned some neat historical facts. The Catoctin Mountain park was the perfect choice for a hot summer days activity!
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!