Joint Base Andrews is known as the Gateway to the Nation's Capital, and rightly so. The excitement and world-class power of Washington, D.C. is just minutes away. Travel just 18 miles to the south, however, and Cedarville State Forest in Brandywine provides a welcome respite from city life, with a quiet window into the area's history.
Cedarville State Forest encompasses approximately 500 acres of forestland and recreational areas, including family and youth group camping areas, a stocked fishing pond and 19.5 miles of marked trails. The park, originally a winter camping ground for the Piscataway Indian tribe, was purchased by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Forest, Park and Wildlife Service in 1930 for a forest demonstration area. Three years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed roads and trails for fire protection and future access throughout the park, planted plantations of loblolly pine still in evidence throughout the park and built two pavilions still in use in the forest today.
Each trail is rated "easy," because they are marked and mostly level, without rocks on the path. They're a great option for families looking for an accessible nature adventure. Each trail has its own focus, so hikers, bikers and horseback riders can choose whether to roam pine plantations or marsh, see the headwaters of the Zekiah Swamp, examine abandoned farm areas and an historic charcoal kiln, or watch for birds. A new, three to four mile trail is slated for development in early spring 2013, funded by a $29,000 grant.
"One time, I saw more than twenty white turkey. It was beautiful. The larger ones were protecting the smaller ones," said Southern Maryland Recreational Complex Northern Area Manager Ranger Daniel Akwo, who runs the park along with a full-time paid staff of four, and several additional seasonal staff members during the busier season of February through early fall. "If you're lucky, you can see a bald eagle from time to time."
Akwo said that the trails are popular daily running spots for avid athletes, and trailside picnic tables provide peaceful places to relax away from the office at lunch. Leashed pets are allowed throughout the park, except in the youth group camping area.
"The trails are the greatest attraction we have here," Akwo said.
The park and its trails are open year-round, except during snowstorms or thunderstorms, when the park is closed for safety reasons. From April through October, the park is also available for overnight camping, an option Akwo said is popular among people who visit Washington, D.C. but want to save on lodging as well as avoid more congested areas.
Camping facilities include primitive camping, electrical and water hook-ups, and a spacious area reserved for equestrian campers who wish to bring their horses along to explore the mixed-use trails. The forest also offers large group camping for youth, church and other nonprofit organizations, in a separate section with access to a natural outdoor amphitheater for group activities. Campers can find firewood and kindling throughout the park in the form of downed trees, or save themselves some effort and purchase pre-cut firewood from the Friends of Cedarville State Forest, an auxiliary group which sells firewood and badges to raise funds to provide maintenance assistance, educational programs and other services at Cedarville. The group is creating a natural and found objects playground at the park, expected to be completed by spring 2013.
"We'll be putting in a sandbox, a checkers table, a climbing wall, and other things," said Friends of Cedarville State Forest Vice President Tom Thomas. "Most of it is made of found materials, and we get donations from SMECO of old poles." The Friends have monthly work days to develop the playground and clear brush throughout the forest.
An area of the forest is designated for hunting. Hunters can find deer, turkey, squirrel, beaver, rabbit and other local game. Within the hunting area there is also a place for handicap-accessible hunting done from a hunter's vehicle. There is a stocked fishing pond, featuring bass, bluegill and other fish. Hunting and fishing are both by permit only. Hunters and trail users are encouraged to sign in and out each time they use the park as a safety measure. The sign-in sheets also serve as a place for park users to make note of issues of potential concern to park management, such as vandalism or downed trees.
Fallen trees were a big concern at Cedarville after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Much of the park was submerged beneath storm water after Irene. Fallen trees and and other erosion damage related to the storm took out a bridge along one of the trails, and damaged the fishing pond. The bridge has been rebuilt at a more stable location, and repairs to the pond's shoreline are under way, with the expectation that the pond will be open for fishing by spring 2013.
The forest, managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as a part of the Southern Maryland Recreational Complex, includes more than 50 varieties of trees and the Cedarville Bog, which features insect-eating plants. There is a fish hatchery on site available for private tours by appointment through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.
There is a public archery range on site as well as a competitive archery range managed by the Mohican Bowmen of the Maryland Archery Association, which hosts several archery tournaments at the forest each year and provides archery training for fellow enthusiasts.
"I've seen people come here from every walk of life. It's a peaceful place," said Akwo. "When they say they didn't know it was here and they live in Waldorf, I say, 'Where have you been?'"
Active duty military can enjoy the park during the day without paying the $3 per vehicle entrance fee. For information, visit www.dnr.maryland.gov.