Monday, June 27, 2011

Calendar: Hunting Deer, Hunting Herons

backyard deer
Photo credit: Art Poskanzer
There was a flurry of activity on our local listserve this week because someone apparently shot a deer in a neighbor's backyard, uninvited. While this raises some seriously alarming safety issues in the neighborhood, the fact that three deer were looking for food in the backyard in the first place points out a more widespread problem: deer are crazily overpopulated in the DC metro area. They're browsing local forests so badly that it's hard for the trees to reproduce and for the understory plants to survive at all...which affects not just the plants but the animals that depend upon them.

On that note, this Tuesday, the Maryland Native Plant Society's monthly meeting will include a presentation by Eugene Meyer, science advisor for a deer management project at Jug Bay Wetland Sanctuary. Gene will discuss solutions to over-browsing and efforts to track the recovery of local areas. Free, at the White Oak Library at 7:30.

The Arlington parks system is sponsoring a different type of "hunting" this Saturday...tromping around near the Chain Bridge looking for all three local species of heron, in their "Hunting Herons" trip at 4:00.

There's more on our isn't back up to its former glory since I got overwhelmed by a big project at my day job, but it is repopulated with events from several local nature centers and other organizations -- including some really good looking Sierra Club hikes. Check it out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Public Campgrounds Near Washington, DC

camp fire
Photo credit: ilkerender
Last year we listed places to swim near DC and places to rent a canoe near DC. Today we return to complete the summer trifecta, with a list of over a dozen places to camp within an hour's drive of the US Capitol.*

This Saturday is the National Wildlife Federation's Great Backyard Campout. If you don't have a backyard to camp in, check out one of these nearby spots -- you don't have to drive far away to go camping! In fact, you don't have to drive at all: you can bike to a spot on the C&O Canal, or take the metro to Greenbelt Park.

The cost per night for the sites listed here ranges from free to just $28. A bag of marshmallows will set you back another $1.50. Falling asleep under the stars and waking up to the birds? Priceless.

Click on the placemarkers on the map below to learn more about a camping area, or scroll down for the same information in printable form.

View Campgrounds Near Washington, DC in a larger map

*The travel time listed here is without traffic, starting at the US Capitol (as calculated by Google Maps). Unless you are a member of the US Congress looking to take a break from sleeping in your office, you can calculate your own more realistic driving time by clicking on any of the spots on the map and getting directions from your own starting point.

Fairfax County

Pohick Bay Regional Park - 7501 Pohick Bay Drive, Lorton, 703-339-6104.
Pohick Bay Regional Park is located on the beautiful Mason Neck Peninsula on the Potomac River.  A network of trails leads walkers to the waterfront, mini golf, pool, and Gunston Hall Plantation, home of George Mason. The park also rents sailboats, canoes, and kayaks.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
40 min $24-26 1,000 acres 150 (100 electric) yes March-October

Bull Run Regional Park Campground - 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville, 703-631-0550.
Bull Run is the northernmost in a series of parks that cover about 5,000 acres along Bull Run and the Occoquan River. In addition to wooded areas (including some truly stunning stretches of bluebells in the spring) the park has a waterpark, mini golf, disc golf, shooting range, and playground space.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
51 min $24-26 1,563 acres 150 (101 electric) yes year round

Burke Lake Park - 7315 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, 703-323-6600.
Burke Lake Park has a 218 acre lake and lots of developed recreational opportunities. Unfortunately swimming is not allowed, but it's a popular spot for fishing and boating. There's a paved 4.7 mile trail around the lake. Other activities include a miniature train, a carousel, and many sports facilities including volleyball, a golf course, disk golf, and miniature golf.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
32 min $28 888 acres 100 (no electric) yes April-October

Lake Fairfax Park - 1400 Lake Fairfax Drive, Reston, 703-471-5415.
Lake Fairfax Park is a relatively small park with an 18 acre lake. Some short trails follow creeks through the park. Besides boating and fishing on the lake, the main attraction is the activity-themed swimming pool (The Watermine Family Swimmin' Hole) with waterslides and other features.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
38 min $28 476 acres 136 (54 electric) yes April-October

Prince William County

Prince William Forest - 18100 Park Headquarters Road, Triangle, 703-221-7181.
Prince William Forest Park is a 15,000 acre national park with 37 miles of hiking trails. Tenters have two options: the main campground has 100 sites for tents and RVs; a hike-in camping area has 8 (free!) sites along a 2-mile loop trail. $5 park admission.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
44 min $0-15 15,000 acres 108 yes year-round

Montgomery County

C&O Canal
If you're willing to work for a spot, the campsites on the C&O Canal are the best deal around. There's no electricity or running water, and you'll have to schlep your stuff in. And it's all first-come, first-served. If all that appeals to you, you'll have a campsite right on the shore of the Potomac River. For free. And you can bike there from DC on the towpath.
Swains Lock is at canal mile 16.6 and has parking nearby; it's often crowded. Access from Swains Lock Road, Travilah MD. (35 min)
Horsepen Branch is at canal mile 26.1 in McKee Beshers WMA; the closest vehicle access is just over a mile away (canal mile 27.2), on Sycamore Landing Road in Poolesville. (57 min)
Campsites continue every 4-5 miles or so for much of the canal; see this list of the sites and the closest access points. 
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
35+ min $0 20,000 acres 2 within an hour no year-round

Little Bennett Campground - 23701 Frederick Road, Clarksburg, MD, 301-528-3430.
Little Bennett is a 3,700 acre park with 20 miles of trails and a nature center with activities. The wooded campsites are on a fairly linear, spread out set-up. For an additional $25-$30 a night (two-night minimum), they'll rent you a tent, two collapsible chairs, a stove and lantern (BYO sleeping bags).
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
54 min $21-25 3,700 acres 91 (25 electric) yes March-November

Cabin John Regional Park - 7701 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac, 301-495-2525. ‎
Cabin John has been developed with lots of sports facilities, but also includes some nice woods. The park has seven walk-in, primitive sites, available only to Montgomery County residents. Open year-round, but no running water from November through March.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
36 min ? 528 acres 7 (no electric) no year-round

Howard County

Patapsco Valley State Park - 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-461-5005.
This Maryland state park is a collection of parks along the Patapsco River totalling over 16,000 acres, with 170 miles of trails. You can swim in the river or cross over a 300 foot swinging suspension bridge. There are campsites in the Hilton area (14 tent sites) and Hollofield area (73 sites, 30 with RV hookups). Additional $2 park entry.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
52 min $17-22 16,000 acres 87 (30  electric) yes April-October

Prince George's County

Greenbelt Park - 6565 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, 301-344-3944.
Greenbelt Park is a national park just 12 miles north of the White House (see our previous post for directions on how to get there without a car). Reservations are available, and highly recommended, through Labor Day.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
21 min $16 1,000 acres 174 (no electric) yes year-round

Patuxent River Park - 16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, 301-627-6074.
Jug Bay Natural Area has five campsites somewhat inland, and one canoe campsite (White Oak Landing) right on the water. Three other Patuxent Water Trail campsites in our radius (Milltown Landing, Spice Creek, and Iron Pot Landing) are accessible only by water. You'll need reservations for any of these sites. You can also rent canoes and kayaks from the park office.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
42 min $10-24 5,000 acres 9 (no electric) no year-round

Cedarville State Forest - 10201 Bee Oak Road, Brandywine, 301-888-1410.
This state park has nearly 20 miles of trails through loblolly pines and wet bottomlands. It is the headwaters of the Zekiah Swamp and includes a bog habitat that's home to carnivorous plans like sundew and pitcher plant.  Two night minimum stay on weekends.
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
38 min $17-22 3,500 acres 27 (9 electric) yes April-October

Charles County

Smallwood State Park - 2750 Sweden Point Road, Marbury, 301-743-7613.
Smallwood is a little park but it is in a prime location for boating, with a marina on Mattawoman Creek just a mile upstream from the Potomac. It is also the site of the restored house of William Smallwood, a general in the Revolutionary War; open for tours on Sunday afternoons. 
Distance Cost Park size Sites Showers? Season
55 min $27 628 acres 15 (all electric) yes April-October

A little farther down the road

There are a few more parks that are more than an hour from the Capitol but may be closer to where you live:
Gambrill State Park, Frederick, MD
Greenbrier State Park, Boonsboro, MD
Cunningham Falls State Park, Thurmont, MD
Westmoreland State Park, Montross, VA

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Things to Look for in June

It's June and the world is abuzz with life. It's no coincidence that we've written a lot about insects at this time of year!

Mosquito by James Jordan
Mosquito larvae: As a gardener, I've been complaining about how all the rainstorms coming through the DC metro area over the last several weeks seem to have mysteriously passed over our house with only a sprinkle. But there's a silver lining: fewer mosquitoes. See our tips on looking for spots where they might be breeding.

Tiger swallowtail
Tiger swallowtail in our backyard
Tiger swallowtails: In the fall, tiger swallowtail caterpillars form a chrysalis in which they'll spend the whole winter, waiting for the right time to emerge. And then, on some warm, sunny day in April or May, you'll see one fluttering by. And you'll know: winter's over. In June, you'll start to see more. To me, tiger swallowtails are one of the things that make summer summer in Washington, DC. If you spend enough time outside on a sunny day, you're bound to see one.

Firefly by James Jordan
Fireflies: J.M. Barrie wrote: "when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." I feel like you could say the same of fireflies. They've been out for several weeks now, but they're really starting to be plentiful now. We sit and watch them almost every night in our backyard. What better way to celebrate the summer?

Mulberries by akeg
Mulberries: These berries are bane of some homeowners' existence as they drop and ferment on sidewalks and driveways throughout the metro area...not to mention the purple bird poop. Still, we choose to see mulberries as a glorious abundance of free fruit, rather than an annoyance. We made a great batch of mulberry jam last weekend!

ramp flowers (allium tricoccum)
Ramp flowers by milesizz
Ramp flowers: Ramps are sought out earlier in the spring for their edible leaves and roots. But later in June, they send up flower stalks topped with a puffball of white flowers. If you can find a big patch, it's a very impressive sight. We've seen a lot at Scott's Run and Carderock...keep an eye out and let us know if you see some.

Photo credit: kthread
We're generally opposed to the Asian plants that have made it into our local woods, but the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) might be one exception. For several weeks in July, these relatives of our native raspberries are abundant and delicious. And, if we can get to the berries before the birds do, and keep the plants from spreading, all the better. Get out there and do your part!

Cicada lyrica by DaynaT
Cicadas: Also toward the end of the month, keep an eye and an ear out for the dog-day cicadas. It doesn't take much work to hear them: they're some of the loudest insects on the planet.

Photo credit: The Natural Capital
Milkweed is a beautiful, once-common roadside plant that is struggling in modern times. If you love monarch butterflies, you should show milkweed some love. Their lives depend on it: monarch larvae can only survive by eating milkweed leaves.

What else have you been seeing on the trails lately? Leave a comment and let us know!