Local Escapes

Escape is something a lot of people in my area and across the country are seeking just now. Don’t worry, I’m not going to proselytize here on the reasons why… I have done so elsewhere and ad nauseam. I’ve been preparing to launch this new blog for months, and a post like this has always been planned for an early slot; I’m gratified that it is coming at a time when it may be of use to someone.

I’ll start with a showcase of the hyper-local. Near my home in Wheaton, MD escapes to nature abound. The excellent Wheaton Regional Park has much to offer: hiking and equestrian trails, playgrounds and picnic areas, sporting facilities, Brookside Nature Center and the spectacular Brookside Gardens. There are also kid-friendly features like a carousel and a small train. I pass quite a bit of time within its boundaries and I highly recommend it for those in the area.

An azalea in bloom overlooking one of the ponds in Brookside Gardens

Just a few blocks south of Wheaton Regional Park is the northern terminus of the Sligo Creek Trail. It’s a beautiful multi-use trail which connects to other trail systems leading into College Park, Rockville, and Northwest DC. It’s frequented by joggers, dog-walkers, families, and cyclists connecting some of the area’s better-known trails. The community volunteer organization, Friends of Sligo Creek, works to keep the place clean, remove invasive plants, and keep an eye on the local wildlife.

Skirting Wheaton Regional Park’s eastern boundary will bring you to an access point for the Northwest Branch/Rachel Carson Greenway Trail. The latter portion is named for the hero of naturalists and feminists alike. This trail is for foot traffic only and is well worth a visit. I almost hate to offer this information, but I have found one reliable chanterelle spot here – a spot which produced the first edible wild mushrooms I felt comfortable enough to share with anyone other than my trusting wife. There are also several good places to hunt for amphibians – the topography includes numerous vernal pools.

Skunk cabbage growing by one of the vernal pools on the Northwest Branch Trail.

A couple miles North of all this, accessible from Layhill Road, is the Matthew Henson Trail. This multi-use trail, while short, offers a lot of beauty. The bridges and boardwalks can be dicey for cyclists when wet, and I have taken several spills there myself, but the landscape is well worth this minimal risk. The westernmost point connects to the expansive Rock Creek Trail, which will get you north to Lake Needwood or South to the C&O Canal and the Potomac Waterfront. This also allows access to other popular outdoor destinations (Beach Drive and Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo, the Capital Crescent Trail, etc.) along the way.

Boulder Bridge on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

The DC Metro area is dotted with a number of gems like these. I’ll conclude with a list of a few of my favorites from outside my immediate neighborhood. I will probably write at length about my explorations of each of these places sooner or later.

Franklin, pretending to be excited about a mushroom find in Rock Creek Park.

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