Written By Steve Jones
For most people, spring represents a great awakening from the frozen months of winter. The ice and snow have melted, and longer, sunnier days and the return of foliage to the forests signal a new beginning.
In Carroll County, the many parks and recreation areas are filled with the sounds of spring, including the crack of the baseball bat and the shooting of lacrosse balls. Around many of those fields, walking trails are often filled with people who enjoy a good, brisk hike.
There are ten public hiking trails within the confines of Carroll County. Since the county’s landscape generally consists of rolling hills, not mountain ranges, each of the hiking areas are accessible to people who are looking for a good workout rather than a steep challenge.
“Hiking is the type of recreation that anyone can enjoy,” said Jeff Degitz, the county’s Director of Recreation and Parks. “People of all ages, and especially families, can and do use each of the trails. Our growing population of senior citizens are among the heaviest users. Because most of the trails are paved, families can actually take their youngest children for walks in their strollers.”
Degitz is pleased that the trails are frequently utilized.
“These trails are used at all hours of the day,” he said. “We are encouraged when we hear that Carroll Country residents regard hiking and walking trails as their most important form of recreation. While it’s difficult to monitor how many people use our hiking trails on an annual basis, we believe that Sandymount and Cape Horn are the two most popular trails, with Freedom Park not far behind.”
Hiking trails are available in every corner of the county. The county-operated trails range from Freedom, Piney Run, and Gillis Falls Parks in the county’s southern end to Sandymount, Union Mills, Cape Horn, Hashawha, and the newest trail at Deer Park in the northern section. Several of the established trails are located in parks that are also used heavily by local recreational sports teams. The trails at Piney Run and Hashawha are known for their rustic settings.
“People like to get away, and they come here,” said Brian Campbell, a naturalist at the Bear Branch Nature Center that is a part of Hashawha. “This is a wilderness area, not a playground park or a bicycling park. There are a lot of nature hiking trails. We’re lucky to have these kinds of places in Maryland. They haven’t been developed and are open to the public.”
Also available to county hikers are two picturesque areas operated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Morgan Run Environmental Center and the McKeldin Area of Patapsco Valley State Park.
“The Morgan Run area is unique,” said Dave Chrest, the assistant park manager at Patapsco Valley State Park. “We have trails for people to hike, but we also offer equestrian trails for our horse riders. Morgan Run is in a natural environmental area, with lots of wildlife and even access to bow-hunting.”
The popularity of the trails has created a demand for more hiking acreage. Degitz forecasts that at least two new trails will be added in the next three years.
“Since the demand is so high, we plan to build trails in different areas,” he said. “We just finished the new Deer Park trail in the fall, and are now focusing on trails that will take people from one area to another. At this point, we’re working on a trail that would connect the towns of Union Bridge and New Windsor in the western area of the county. I can see that one being an extremely popular trail once it is completed.”
If you are interested in getting out of the house and onto the hiking trails, the following is a guide that will help you explore the great outdoors in Carroll County:
Cape Horn Park
Located in the rapidly-growing Hampstead-Manchester area, Cape Horn Park features one of the shortest trails in the county. The trail, which is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset, offers one mile of paved trail.
Getting There: Cape Horn Park is located at Route 30 and Cape Horn Road.
The newest Carroll County hiking trail is situated in the Gamber area. Opened in the fall of 2006, the trail is available seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Hikers are encouraged to use the 3/4 mile multiuse trail, which winds around the Deer Park recreation complex.
Getting There: The Deer Park trail is located on Deer Park Road and Route 32.
This scenic park serves the Sykesville and Eldersburg areas in southern Carroll County. Freedom Park contains a two-mile trail that extends from the main entrance to the woods that surround the park. The park is accessible seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.
Getting There: Freedom Park is located on Raincliffe Road in Sykesville, just east of Route 32.
The trail’s location offers easy access to residents of Mount Airy and Woodbine. Hikers will find nearly three miles of multiuse trails in the area. Trails are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, from February 16 through August 31. From September 1 to February 15, the trails are closed on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday for the Cooperative Hunting Program.
Getting There: Gillis Falls is located on Grimville Road, east of the town of Mount Airy. The nearest main access roads are Routes 27 and 94.
Hashawha Environmental Nature Center
Hikers will find the Hashawha trails in a scenic area near Westminster. If you are game for a long-distance hike, Hashawha is the place for you. There are nearly five miles of trails within the complex, which is open sunrise to sunset seven days a week.
Getting There: Hashawha is on John Owings Road, off Route 97 a few miles north of Westminster.
Morgan Run Environmental Area
The Morgan Run Environmental Area can be found in a quiet location between Westminster and Eldersburg,. There are several miles of multiuse trails, which are open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to sunset.
Getting There: Morgan Run is located directly off Route 97, at Ben Rose Lane near Bartholow Road.
Patapsco Valley State Park (McKeldin Area)
Eight miles of scenic multiuse trails greet hikers who choose the McKeldin Area of this huge state park. Located in the southeastern corner of Carroll County, the McKeldin Area features six different trails of varying distances. The longest stretch is the Switchback Trail, which provides hikers with a scenic view of the Liberty Dam Overlook at the end of the trail. The park is open seven days a week at varying hours, depending on the season.
Getting There: While the main entrance of Patapsco Valley State Park is in Howard County, hikers should enter the park from the northern entrance on Marriottsville Road in Carroll County.
Piney Run Park
Hikers from all over the county are attracted to this scenic park, located in the Sykesville- Eldersburg area. They can get a good workout here, with five miles of trails to cover. They can also use another trail that winds through the park for three and a half miles. At the northern end of the park, hikers can find approximately four miles of multiuse trails. All trails are open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.
Getting There: Piney Run Park is located at the intersection of White Rock and Martz Roads. The closest main access roads are Routes 26 and 97.
Sandymount services residents from the busy Westminster-Finksburg corridor. The park contains nearly 1.4 miles of paved trails. It is open seven days a week, sunrise to sunset.
Getting There: Sandymount Park sits off Old Westminster Pike, between Sandymount and Green Mill Roads. The nearest main access road is Route 140.
You can spend the entire day walking the multiuse trails at Union Mills. Hikers will be challenged by eight miles of trails, which are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week from February 16 through August 31. Because of the Cooperative Hunting Program, the trails are closed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from September 1 through February 15.
Getting There: Union Mills is located north of Westminster, off Saw Mill Road.