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Take a jaunt down busy Eastern Boulevard in Baltimore County and less than three miles from one of the region's iconic drive-in theaters you’ll discover a hidden natural gem: the gorgeous woodlands and wetlands of Marshy Point Park & Nature Center.
Situated on the Upper Chesapeake Bay along Dundee and Saltpeter Creeks, not far from Gunpowder Falls State Park, Marshy Point Park encompasses over 400 acres, part of a larger 3000-acre preserve. Though its name may evoke images of the quintessential mud and muck of a Chesapeake marsh, Marshy Point is a rich combination of forest, meadows, freshwater wetlands, and a myriad of tidal creeks and marshes teeming with wildlife. The park features an excellent nature center, eight miles of hiking trails, two self-guided nature trails, a canoe launch, paddle trail, and more.
Leaving the traffic behind, our entrance into the park commenced with the quick white flash of a deer tail disappearing into the greenery. After parking with plenty of room to spare for our trailered canoe, we headed toward the nature center, encountering a fun Chesapeake Nature Discovery Play Space featuring a 3/4-scale skipjack and a replica bald eagle nest for kids to explore. Visitors can also enjoy the adjacent native butterfly garden, visit an enclosure with resident turkeys and chickens, explore a traditional Native American hut structure and dugout canoe, as well as view an active apiary buzzing with life.
Flanked by a lush border pond, the nature center features a fun sign alerting visitors that a resident mallard duck may greet them upon entry. While, sadly, we were not greeted by any avian entities, the center features over 50 species of native wildlife. We wound our way through a delightful array of critters, some donated – such as two impressive black bear models – and some living but unable to return to the wild, including several species of snakes, fish and an impressive American eel.
We soon encountered naturalist Nina Jay, who gave us an enthusiastic overview of the site and provided us with guides to the hiking and water trails. Just outside the center, we began our exploration on Katie and Wil’s Memorial Trail, a paved trail offering easy access for wheelchairs, strollers and explorers of all ability levels, a welcome (often rare) feature for visitors to a natural area. As the trail wound through the forest, it soon opened onto a long bridge over Minnow Branch Creek. A fellow visitor excitedly alerted us to his discovery of a baby snapping turtle and, as we gazed into the clear water below, terns expertly dive-bombed the creek hunting delicacies like perch and pumpkinseed sunfish.
Continuing on into the woods, the forest echoed with the reverberating sounds of pileated woodpeckers at work. Nesting boxes peek out from the trees, and signs advertise side trails: the Vernal Pond Trail (0.9mi) and Bluebird Loop (1.2mi). We chose Brinkmans Trail (1.0mi), heading deeper into the forest. The trail soon opened onto a tiny beach, fiercely guarded by a stalwart leopard frog as we peered out over the water onto Dundee Creek Marina on the opposite bank. Leaving the amphibious sentry, we continued on through peaceful fern groves and towering trees, dodging a multitude of American toads and delighting in discoveries of subtle signs of fellow wild travelers.
Although we soon embarked on a return trek, it’s worth noting that several other trails wind through the woods and wetlands, including two self-guided nature trails near the nature center: The Dundee-Saltpeter Trail (1.4mi) and the White Tail-Weiskittel-Iron Point Trail (1.6mi). Numbered posts along each trail correspond to interesting features explained in guidebooks offered at the trailheads.
Swapping our daypacks for paddles, we launched our canoe from the dock next to the nature center on a self-guided, one-mile circuit around Dundee Creek. As eagles and osprey soared overhead, we paddled alongside groves of phragmites, an invasive, aggressively-growing reed grass that outcompetes native wetland plants, but has recently become the subject of more positive interest for its significant carbon-storage ability, with potential climate change implications. The bright green fronds provided a stunning contrast to the deep blue, cloud-dotted sky as multitudes of red-winged blackbirds called from within. Northern water snakes sunned and swam amongst the reeds and the occasional plop! of painted turtles slipping into the water marked our passage.
As we approached a duck blind silhouetted against the grass, a great blue heron alights, languidly gliding across our path. Used as camouflage for waterfowl hunters, the blind is a reminder of Marshy Point’s rich hunting traditions. President Benjamin Harrison, Babe Ruth, and Annie Oakley all hunted here, and the Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maryland’s state dog, had its origin at the Marshy Point Ducking Club.
Nearby, Iron Point juts out across the water, a significant geological location rich in the mineral hematite. Currently used in industrial production, this fascinating mineral was used 40,000 years ago as a pigment in the creation of cave paintings and was recently discovered in abundance in Martian rocks, responsible for the “Red Planet’s” namesake look.
Back on Earth, dragonflies and sunbathing turtles eyed us warily as we concluded our paddle, cruising past an osprey nesting platform sporting a large solar panel that allows a live-cam of the nest to run on a screen back at the nature center. Ironically, considering the sign that first greeted us at the nature center, a duck commandeered the nest earlier this year, briefly displacing the osprey until the original star of the show was able to reclaim it.
During our visit, a gentleman told us he visits every weekend with his young daughter and they never tire of it. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for everyone to explore this hidden gem. The nature center is open 9am - 5pm every day (except holidays), and the park is open sunrise to sunset every day. There is no entrance fee and no launch fee for small, non-motorized boats. The park also offers nature programs for children, families, adults and groups and hosts numerous special events and festivals.
The shores of Dundee and Saltpeter Creeks, over three thousand acres, are the largest area of natural wetlands and forest available for public study and enjoyment in the Baltimore area.