Maryland's state parks have long offered hikes, campfire activities and junior ranger programs, but this summer they have gone one step further and organized "premier outdoor adventures." The recent kickoff of a camping/hiking/canoeing weekend took place at Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County and will be repeated in late July and August.
"You'll be our pioneers," explained park manager Roger Riley, as he outlined the weekend itinerary for my family and two other outdoor enthusiasts from Frederick, who had registered for the Friday-Sunday adventure. At $25 a person, the weekend included two nights of camping, a five-and-a-half mile hike, lunch, a hayride to the Cranesville Swamp and historic Friend's Store and a canoe trip on the Youghiogheny River -- all with park ranger guides, who dispensed everything from trail guides to canoes and plenty of information along the way.
As for any camping trip, we packed the usual essentials: tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, lantern, rain gear and light jackets. While the trip package included one lunch and cold drinks during the hayride, we brought along a cooler of food for two breakfasts and one dinner, which we prepared at a picnic table and fire ring provided with each campsite.
Swallow Falls campground also has two bathhouses with hot showers, and an area reserved for camp dish-washing. Of course, campers are expected to tote their own towels and toiletries or whatever else might be needed for "roughing it" in the woods.
Campsites are limited to two vehicles; quiet hours are kept from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.; and leashed pets are permitted in the campground, but not allowed elsewhere in the park or neighboring trails. Swallow Falls is one of only two parks statewide allowing pets this summer under new regulations, according to park ranger Lisa Baker, who led an informal Friday night campfire orientation about the park and Garrett County.
Besides leading our Saturday morning five-and-a-half mile, three-hour hike, Ms. Baker helped conduct a brief canoe orientation on a 55-acre lake at Herrington Manor Park, our hike destination. The park was also a much-appreciated stop for lunch, which was served in the lakeside lodge. There is also a sandy beach and roped-off area for swimming, and the park rents paddle boats, aqua-cycles, rowboats and canoes (even cross-country skis in winter). Log cabins are available on a first-come basis for weeklong stays.
Saturday's activities wrap up with an optional (depending on how tired you are) evening campfire program in the Swallow Falls outdoor amphitheater. Programs vary. During our weekend, enjoyed a lively outdoor education program called "Scales and Tails," which debunks many of the myths surrounding reptiles, owls and turkey vultures. After a ranger-led introduction, the animals were released, one by one, from their portable cages for some up-close inspection.
Of all the new outdoor adventure weekends, Herrington Manor/Swallow Falls is the longest with two nights, while two others in Allegany County's Green Ridge State Park include one overnight camping and run as late as Oct. 3-4. But the Herrington Manor weekend is, by far, the most extensive, with a guided hike running through Garrett State Forest and a Saturday afternoon hayride that stops at the privately owned Cranesville Swamp, a classic example of a boreal bog.
Park rangers Baker and Riley led an informal hourlong stroll via a boardwalk across the 560-acre swamp, which dates back to 7,500 B.C. and apparently has changed little since the retreating ice-age glaciers. The flora and fauna -- like the flesh-eating round-leaf sundew we observed along the fringe of the boardwalk -- are rare for a bog below the Mason-Dixon Line and are typical of Canada's cold swamplands.
The hayride also makes a stop at Maryland's ginseng capital -- or Friend's Store at Sang Run -- which sixth-generation owner John Hinebaugh touts as the nation's oldest operating country store. John Friend, Garrett's first settler, began trading ginseng there in 1769, and today that tradition continues, along with a display ,, of "touristy" albeit historical items documenting life along the Youghiogheny River at the turn of the century.
Life along the wild and scenic "Yough" today often means white-water rafting and canoeing. Unfortunately, our three-mile river trip was aborted less than a quarter of the way due to low-river conditions, but seeing the river's splendor via canoe was still the weekend's highlight. Depending on river levels, subsequent weekend adventures, Mr. Riley said, may put canoeists on Deep Creek Lake or other deeper waters.
If you go . . .
The Herrington Manor/Swallow Falls adventure weekend is just one of more than 40 outdoor trips cataloged with dates, costs and telephone numbers in a booklet published by the Maryland State Forest and Park Service called "Outdoor Adventures Maryland." For information on Herrington Manor/Swallow Falls weekends: July 24-26 and Aug. 28-30, call (301) 334-9180; for the booklet and other outdoor adventures in Maryland, call (410) 974-3771.