Hoyles Mill Trail – Part 1

I’ve been on the Hoyles Mill Trail twice before and can safely say that it is the strangest trail I have ever been on. To me, it is not a true trail, just disjointed bits of trails and roads cobbled together between Boyds and Germantown, MD. Some of it is dirt, some of it is pavement and some of it made of packed gravel. You don’t like the scenery on Hoyles Mill? Hike 5 more minutes and it will change completely! It is not to say that there are no pretty moments on the trail, but most of it is around civilization. The wooded parts are found in between roads, backyards and agricultural fields. Although the Hoyles Mill Trail is located within the 1141 acres Hoyles Mill Conservation Park, the trail actually goes within a very small part of it. 

Hoyles Mill Trail

Hoyles Mill Trail

The back of Boyds Presbyterian Church can be seen from the trail

The back of Boyds Presbyterian Church can be seen from the trail

To throw some positivity to the trail, I do find it neat that you can hike from South Germantown Recreational Park to Black Hill Regional Park. The official Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission measure the trail at 6.2 miles each way. So if you are adventurous and don’t mind crossing roads, you could do an out and back hike of almost 9 miles. I will be calculating each section that I’m doing on this trail to verify the length of the trail myself as I have a feeling it is actually a bit longer than 4.4 miles.

As with many trails in Montgomery County, there is quite a bit of water on his trail. There is a beautiful bridge that crosses Little Seneca Creek on the section I hiked today. If you hike in the summer, bring your flip-flops and cool off your feet!

Little Seneca Creek

Little Seneca Creek

I ended up doing the middle part of Hoyles Mill Trail today. I parked at the trailhead at White Ground Rd in front of St. Mark's United Methodist Church. I started going north towards Clopper Rd. and wasn’t exactly sure how far up I would go. The distance between the parking lot to Clopper Rd is about 1 mile and I decided against crossing the road since it was surprisingly busy and turned around to do the lower part of the trail instead. After making my way back back to my starting point, I kept going on the trail, which is actually White Ground Rd. itself. About ½ mile after getting on White Ground, the paved road ended and a packed gravel road began. The rest of the trail is gravel until it dead ends at Hoyles Mill Rd. on the other side of the park, near the Kings Crossing subdivision. You can keep going a little further until you reach Bubbling Spring Rd, where another small parking lot is found. The trail continues behind the Kings Crossing subdivision and ends at the South Germantown Recreational Park. The distance between the two parking lots (White Ground Rd. and Bubbling Spring Rd.) was roughly 1.5 mile. In total, this trip was a bit less than 5 miles.

I covered the distance between Clopper Rd. and Bubbling Spring Rd.

I covered the distance between Clopper Rd. and Bubbling Spring Rd.

Hoyles Mill Trail parking lot off of White Ground Rd.

Hoyles Mill Trail parking lot off of White Ground Rd.

Hoyles Mill trailhead

Hoyles Mill trailhead

Trail Notes

  • Trail map
  • Today’s trail distance: About 5 miles (out and back)
  • Hoyles Mill Trail official length: 6.2 mile (one way)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Blazing: Blue
  • Parking: A few parking spots are available off of White Ground Rd. or of of Bubbling Spring Rd.
  • Parking landmark: St. Mark's United Methodist Church, 19620 White Ground Road, Boyds, MD.
  • County: Montgomery

Resources

Why am I a Vegetarian?

This is a much different post than I usually write. I don’t often talk about my vegetarian lifestyle because I found over the years that it tends to invite judgement and criticism from others and, as it turns out, I am not a big fan of having to explain myself. I believe in freedom of choice on practically anything, so what I choose to fill my belly with also fits nicely in that category. I also believe that my choice to become a vegetarian is a very personal choice and although I don’t mind answering the usual questions: Where do you get your protein from? Do you eat eggs? Fish? But what about the bacon?!?!?! I have learned over the years that it is best for me to remain quiet on the subject and draw as little attention as possible to the fact that I don’t eat animal meat. Honestly, I sometimes find the questioning quite tiring and frankly a bit disturbing. I have been a vegetarian off and on for about 24 years and completely vegetarian for more than 10 years. While I’m fully aware that some vegetarians and vegans are judgemental and outright self-righteous, that is not me. My husband eats meat without any judgement from me whatsoever. I have eaten my fair share of bacon and filet mignon and I understand it tastes good. I have never tried to “change” a friend or make anybody see my point of view. You can eat the biggest slab of steak or your favorite veal Marsala dish at the table with me and I will never say a word. As a matter of fact, I don’t care. So the idea that some people are so intrigued about what I choose to eat and seem seriously concerned about my well-being is perplexing to me. I’m not worried about your diet, so I’m not sure why you are worried about mine really…

The amazing Jane Goodall

The amazing Jane Goodall

So at this point, you are probably asking yourself why am I writing a blog post about something so obviously personal when I’m trying to avoid questioning from people? I’m actually inspired to write about vegetarianism because of the great Jane Goodall book I am currently reading called “Reason for Hope”. Specifically, I wanted to share two sentences from that book that I insanely identified with. These two perfectly written sentences are exactly what I should answer when someone asked me why I am a vegetarian. And I am asked that question pretty darn often.

I wasn’t aware that Jane was a vegetarian and I knew nothing about her before reading this book other than she was “the chimp lady”. I also knew that she was a kind-hearted British woman who has done so much for expanding our knowledge of chimpanzees. She is also a great environmental activist. I wasn’t aware of her work to give better living conditions to laboratory animals and certainly didn’t know her position on factory farming and animal suffering. Personally, I have never tried to put on paper my philosophy about vegetarianism and I thought it would be a great exercise in self-reflection and perhaps a small window for others to understands my thoughts on the subject. I guess in some ways it makes me feel awesome that another human being see things the way I do and since it happens to be the extraordinary Jane Goodall it is even better!

In her book, Jane discussed how learning about the treatments of meat animals changed her beliefs about eaten them. Since learning about intensive farming, Jane found that her attitude towards eating animal flesh completely changed. She said: “When I looked at a piece of meat on my plate I saw it as a part of a once living creature, killed for me, and it seemed to symbolize fear, pain, and death”. I couldn’t agree more with every single word in that sentence. I think we are so disassociated with the raising of animals and how exactly our food arrives on our table that we completely forget what we are actually eating. I know that for me, I first stopped eating meat around 16 years old once I learned that what we were calling “meat” was actually coming from animals. I looooooved animals. I have no idea what I was thinking I was eating before, but the association animal and flesh had not clearly connected in my brain. It took me a long time to start eating meat again and I did so mostly out of peer pressure and because it seems to be the more “normal” thing to do. Culturally, it is hard to change the way you think and what you are supposed to eat. As I have mentioned before, deciding to stop eating meat comes with a lot of questioning and judgment. Sometimes it is almost easier to keep following the social norm.

Jane mentions later in the book that she is not against eating meat, only the methods in which we choose to acquire or raise our meat. I feel very much the same way. Jane says: “Try to partake of the flesh of animals who have enjoyed their lives and have been killed in the most painless way possible. And could we not offer up a prayer for the spirit of the once living creature that has died for us?” I have no arguments against the fact that humans like eating animals. Meat taste good and is certainly a valuable nutrition source for us. My problem is the complete lack of compassion and sensitivity we humans inflict on other beings. Although we only recently decided as a species that animals can have their own thoughts and feelings and can actually feel pain, it is beyond my comprehension why we continue to inflict such suffering on living creatures for our benefit. Other cultures do such a better job at embracing the circle of life and fill their hearts with gratefulness for the animals who have lost their lives so that they could survive. I would love to see such a belief-system infiltrate itself in our western way of being. For those of you who have pets, you know that animals have distinct personalities, can experience joy and sadness and can be intensely social beings. Why doesn’t our human ethic embrace all living beings? It is an interesting dilemma and I know opinions abound on the subject. Certainly too much for a short little blog post.

I do eat eggs... From happy chickens!

I do eat eggs... From happy chickens!

What most folks don’t realize is that becoming a vegetarian involves many confusing steps. It starts with a trigger incident and ends many years later with a mostly perfected diet that works for you and mostly just you. Everybody is different. My trigger incident was my biology class in school and then I went through a series of specialized diets such as eating only bread and potato chips (obviously not healthy, but very common among vegetarian first-timers) to finding more and more sophisticated options that are tasty, filling and healthy. When you first become a vegetarian you forget about all the animal products that are in EVERYTHING. What about the broth in my soup you say? This change requires many years of questioning your own personal values and beliefs and comes with a lot of research and decision-making. Being a vegetarian is not always easy. There are as many shades of vegetarians as there are of grey.

And if we dare to look into those eyes, then we shall feel their suffering in our hearts. More and more people have seen that appeal and felt it in their hearts. All around the world there is an awakening of understanding and compassion, and understanding that reaches out to help the suffering animals in their vanishing homelands. That embraces hungry, sick, and desperate human beings, people who are starving while the fortunate among us have so much more than we need. And if, one by one, we help them, the hurting animals, the desperate humans, then together we shall alleviate so much of the hunger, fear, and pain in the world. Together we can bring change to the world, gradually replacing fear and hatred with compassion and love. Love for all living beings.
— Jane Goodall

Monte Sano Mountain

Hello there! Although it’s been months since I’ve written on my blog, it has been in my thoughts pretty much every week. Each time I go on an adventure or on a special hike, I think: How would I describe this beautiful trail? I need to tell folks how to get here! Oh! I have to tell folks about this unusual tree over here. What about the best place to see a sunrise in this park? Surely hikers want to know how to get here! Sadly, all these thoughts don’t ever make it to paper or the computer. The time it takes to keep a blog fresh is unreal. I’ve learn that in order for blogs to really be successful, posts need to be put up on a regular basis to keep the content fresh and keep up with readers expectations. That’s a lot of work! At some point last year, it all go a bit too overwhelming. I was no longer enjoying my blog because I was spending too much time sitting at the computer at night after spending most days sitting on the computer at work. I felt like it was taking adventure time away instead of enriching it. I was not enjoying the hikes as much since I felt that I needed to document every single one of them and needed to be busying myself taking pictures and posting on social media instead enjoying the quiet solitude of my time outside. So I just stopped.

I’ve had several months to ponder what I was going to do with my blog. I still love the idea so much that I’ve decided to keep it up a little while longer. What I have decided to do is to remove the pressure of writing so much and letting go of some of the extra time consuming stuff like the nature calendar. Although it would be a great resource, there is not enough time in the day for me to do all this event research and post online thirty events a week. I've decided that I’m going to write when I feel I have something interesting to say or have great pictures to share. Essentially, I’m going to work things differently this upcoming year and simply see how it goes. For those of you who have read my blog in the past, I hope you come back and give me your comments. I am very interested to in what you have to say! :-)

Monte Sano State Park entrance off of Nolan Dr.

Monte Sano State Park entrance off of Nolan Dr.

So what is giving me the energy to reboot my blog this fine December? My last trip to Huntsville, Alabama, where I hiked in the Monte Sano Mountain every day. I started hiking Monte Sano last year and it was the first experience I had ever had hiking on my own in the mountain. The first hike was very small, but was important in my life. I had never given myself the permission to hike alone. As a women, that is something we think about very often. We feel that it is dangerous and sometimes foolish for us to hike without a partner. After much reading, however, I quickly learned that this is not the case. The statistics are just not there. Granted, you could injure yourself in the woods by yourself, but that is also true no matter if you are male or female. If you take a few simple precautionary steps like researching your location, bringing a map of the area, wearing and bringing the appropriate gear for the climate, telling someone of your travel plans and maneuvering the trails carefully, there are no reasons why you can’t go at it alone. I dare you to try it.

South Plateau Loop Trail

South Plateau Loop Trail

Hiking Monte Sano is great for so many reasons. First, it is really close to my mother in law’s house, so I can quickly get there in the morning after I wake up when I visit her. A short 10 minute car ride (and after a Starbucks run!), I can find myself alone in the woods. Monte Sano has also a fascinating history. Monte Sano, which means “Mountain of Health” or “Healthful Mountain” depending on what you read, opened in 1938. Much of the work on trails, cabins, bridges and other structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a group of young men who were given jobs in conservation and the development of natural resources on lands owned by federal, state and also local governments during the Great Depression. 

There is a lot to do at Monte Sano. In addition to the trails, there are also campgrounds, cabins to rent, playgrounds for children, picnic areas, a lodge that can be rented for events and a CCC museum. Also very close to the area is Burritt on the Mountain, an historic park where you can learn all about rural farm life between the 1800s and 1900s. There are a few hiking trails in the area as well. Monte Sano is adjacent to the Land Trust Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The Land Trust of North Alabama has acquired several acreages of land around the Huntsville area over the past several years to protect green spaces to encourage locals to recreate in nature and conserve native ecologies. Because of the proximity of these lands owned by various entities, finding one good map to guide yourself is nearly impossible. Unless your one of the "let's just wing this" types of people (which I am not!), I would recommend doing a bit of research ahead of time to make sure you know where you are on the mountain. Additionally, there are several trails on the mountain (including some social trails), which can make navigating quite a challenge at times. I recommend going online to visit a few trail maps and bringing copies with you. I have put some links at the bottom to help.

Black Friday sunrise from the scenic overlook at Monte Sano State Park

Black Friday sunrise from the scenic overlook at Monte Sano State Park

I will elaborate more on the trails I’ve tried in the next post, but in the meantime I want to share with you the location of the best place to see a sunrise in the Huntsville area. The best place to see a sunrise in Huntsville is on Monte Sano, in the scenic overlook area right by the CCC Museum. The scenic overlook is very easy to find. Enter the park off the main entrance on Nolan Dr and veer left after passing the visitor center. This road will dead end in the scenic overlook. Park your car and enjoy! Be mindful that you may need to park in one of the other trailhead parking lots and walk about a mile to the scenic overlook if the gates to the overlook are closed. The park opens at 8 a.m., but the gates could be open earlier. Just make sure you have enough time to park and make the walk up in time to see the sunrise.

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Part 1

I went for a short trip of roughly 5 miles this weekend on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. It was a perfect autumn morning. A bit chilly at the start with my car’s temperature sensor showing 47 Fahrenheit, but it quickly warmed up to low fifties mid-hike. It’s time to pull out the gloves and the overcoats for those early morning hikes. I was even thinking to myself that I needed to find where I left my hand warmer pouches leftover from last year. My hands freeze at anything below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so I need to make sure that I’m fully stocked for the winter. Unfortunately, no amounts of layers will do to keep my hands warm, so I’ve resorted to those disposable hand warmers to keep me comfortable.

Riley's Lockhouse

Riley's Lockhouse

My friend and I started at the C&O’s Riley’s Lock (Lock 24) in Seneca, Maryland, and we walked on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail a few miles to a parking lot off of Berryville Rd. There is plenty of parking around Riley’s Lock. Even on a Sunday, we did not have any issues finding a place to park. When you get to the lock, take the time to look at Riley's Lockhouse and the Seneca Creek Aqueduct before getting on your way. There are a few educational boards around explaining the history of the place.

Bridge over Seneca Creek Aquaduct

Bridge over Seneca Creek Aquaduct

It can be a bit tricky if you don’t know where the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail begins. From the parking lot, make your way up the stairs behind Riley’s Lockhouse and once on the C&O towpath, cross the bridge over to your right and shortly thereafter the trail will begin on your right. Once on the trail, make a moment to look at the remnants of the Seneca Stonecutting Mill, which is a few feet in. The mill was constructed around 1837 and is known for the Seneca red sandstone it produced for many of our area’s buildings such at the Smithsonian Institution building known as the “Castle” in Washington, D.C.

Keep yours eyes open on the right after the bridge to find the trail leading to the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail

Keep yours eyes open on the right after the bridge to find the trail leading to the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail

The trail was in great condition and on the easy side without too much hills. There is one road crossing (River Rd) about half a mile in. The next road you will see is Berryville road, which is 1.3 miles away. You will be rewarded on this trip by a beautiful view of Seneca Creek when you get to your destination.

A view of Seneca Creek from Berryville Rd.

A view of Seneca Creek from Berryville Rd.

My homework for this trip was to find out the names of some of our findings on this trip. I am sharing with you my thoughts on what they are. Chime in if you disagree!

Caterpillar of a Brown Hooded Owlet moth (Cucullia convexipennis)

Caterpillar of a Brown Hooded Owlet moth (Cucullia convexipennis)

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms

I have no idea! Help!

I have no idea! Help!

Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminata) Completely unsure of this one!

Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminata) Completely unsure of this one!

Park Report: Black Hill Regional Park

Welcome to my first park report! It has been in my mind for the past few months to write trip reports on the parks I frequent in our area, the Washington DC metro area. My biggest pleasures in owning this blog is sharing with you all the places that I visit and give you the information that you need to find yourself in outside in nature. Over the years of visiting wild places, I have found that information on parks can be quite difficult to find at times! It is my hope to not only share my wild experiences with you, but also give you quality information that you can use in planning your days outside! Sometimes finding a place to recreate in nature requires a lot of research and I am planning to give you my research so that you don't have to look as hard as I do! I don't mind sharing my homework! Please share your comments as you read the park reports and let me know if you have any questions or information that you would like me to find out for you. Here we go!

I’m just back from a wonderful kayaking trip at Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD, using some of the complimentary tickets I received from Montgomery Parks for winning the #parkpics challenge. It was very exciting to go back on Little Seneca Lake after having recently gone with a few fellow Master Naturalists. Although I have lived close to this park for over 15 years, I am ashamed to say that I have only been there a handful of times. In all honesty, I think I underestimated the magnitude and beauty of this park. I have learned today that Black Hill offers a lot more experiences than I had previously thought. I also learned that the park is not always crowded, even on the weekends. I had previously stayed away from Black Hill in part because it can get very busy at times with family picnics and sport tournaments and events. I had mistakenly thought that it was busy all the time and I found out today that it isn’t. I picked up my boat around 8 am this morning and I was one of only a few boats on the water. It was truly perfect.

My #parkpics photo

My #parkpics photo

Park Features

Black Hill offers more than 10 miles of walking, biking and horseback riding trails. Most trails are natural surfaces, but some are paved like the Black Hill and Crystal Rock trails. Expect your hike to be mostly in wooded areas and you will find along the way a few spots to view Little Seneca Lake. You can take a breather on some of the benches available or on a rock by the water (my favorite choice!). There are a few hills, but the terrain is mostly flat, which is great for beginners. On the down side, the trails are not contiguous and can get a bit confusing at times. I have found that this is the case mostly everywhere I go. Make sure to either print a trail map or pick up a Black Hill Regional Park brochure or trail map inside the visitor center. If you are looking for mileage, you can take the Hoyles Mill Trail and make your way to through the South Germantown Recreational Park which will eventually dead end at Schaeffer Farms in Seneca Creek State Park. According to Montgomery Park, the Hoyles Mill Trail is 4.4 miles of natural surface trail and 1.8 miles of hard surface. The Hoyles Mill Trail sounds like a lot of fun to me and is on my Maryland trail bucket list.

I also found out this morning that Black Hill had a 2.4 mile water trail that will take you around for a self-guided tour of Little Seneca Lake. I did not know about the water trail prior to my visit, otherwise I would have probably done it this morning. The information on the water trail is a bit confusing to me right now, so I will get more information and report back my findings.

Cloudy day on the kayak

Cloudy day on the kayak

In addition to the trails, Black Hill also offers a dog park located on the Picnic Lane. You can also rent picnic shelters that can be used on a first-come, first-served basis. They can also be reserved from April 1 to October 31 by calling the Park Permit Office at 301-495-2525. If you have never been to Black Hill before, make sure to visit the Visitor Center. Saying that there is a lot to do in and around the Visitor Center is an understatement. There are tons of activities for kids found in the park’s Outdoor Classroom Activity Stations. Pick up a brochure at the Visitor Center or take a look at this online pamphlet for more information [Outdoor Classrooms PDF]. Inside the Visitor Center, there are nature exhibits, beautiful views of the lake and smiling naturalists ready to help you find what you need. There are tons of nature programs available for kids and adults. Stay informed by visiting Black Hill Park’s official website or browsing the WHO calendar.

If you are looking for volunteering opportunities, consider being part of the Friends of Black Hill Park’s Nature Programs (FOBHNP) volunteer group. For only a few dollars a year, you can be part of this wonderful group of people who are dedicated to this wonderful park as well as teaching families about nature. The FOBHNP group meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. This is your chance to be part of the Black Hill community, help naturalists to conduct nature programs and become involved with issues that affect the park and its programs. Please join me! Fill out an online application today.

My Experience

Paddling Little Seneca Lake is an absolute blast. It tooks me about 2 hours to paddle all the way past the Clarksburg road bridge towards the Ten Mile Creek and back. Depending on your fitness level (kayaking is a killer upper body workout!), I can see that it could take about 3 hours or more to complete the entire circumference of the lake. I would personally give myself extra time for exploring and nature gazing. There are beaver dams to see, many types of turtles and fish, amazing wildflowers including scarlet Cardinal flowers, foxes, deer, many types of birds. I have seen bald eagles and ospreys during all my visits at the lake. Today’s trip added Pied-billed grebe, Belted kingfisher, and Cedar waxwing to the list of birds I often see at Black Hill. I also found some sort of white geese that was hanging out with a group of Canada geese this morning. I will need to do a little bit more research on that fellow to find out if he or she is a mutt, a white domestic geese or a leucistic Canada geese if that is possible. The geese had all the exact characteristics of the Canada geese at the exception of its color. What do you think?

Main Features Recap:

  • Black Hill Regional Park is free
  • The Visitor Center office phone number is 301-528-3480
  • You can rent rowboats, canoes and kayaks for $8 an hour from May through September. Check out BlackHillBoats.com for more information.
  • Seasonal boating permits are available if you want to bring your own boat on the lake from March through mid-December. For more information on boating and fishing, please visit Black Hill’s web site.
  • Horses are welcomed, trailers must park in the overflow lot at the boat ramp.
  • Picnic shelters can be reserved or taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the Park Permit Office for reservations at 301-495-2525.

Important URLs: