A natural alternative Parks: Hiking, canoeing and animal watching provided a respite from scandals and crises during Maryland State Parks Week.

October 12, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

In the silence of the deep woods in Gunpowder Falls State Park, not far from a tree that beavers had gnawed down, Brenda Yarrison raised her walking stick and shouted: "This is a scandal-free zone!"

That's a message that Yarrison and other naturalists in the state Department of Natural Resources tried to get across to small bands of hikers, canoeists, river tubers and "owl prowlers" who came out for the last day of Maryland State Parks Week yesterday.

No Monica Lewinsky. No Bill Clinton. No stock market woes. No Russian ruble crisis.

Just woods and an occasional meadow.

"There's animals, too, but you can't always be sure they're going to come out and play for you. There's no guarantees. It's not a theme park. But you'll be glad to know there's no scandals out here," Yarrison, 37, a teacher/mentor with Baltimore County public schools who works part-time for DNR, told a departing group of six yesterday at Gunpowder Falls.

That's a relief, said Don Levin, a 57-year-old Army electrical engineer from Catonsville who toured the trails with his wife, Barbara. She's a budget analyst at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"We wanted to get away from 'Meet the Press' for a day," Don Levin said at the edge of the forest. "Everybody needs to have time away from it all and just get outside when it's this nice out."

Also tromping through the woods was Mike White, a 26-year-old mechanical engineer from Columbia who works for defense industry giant Northrop Grumman Corp.

He took Yarrison's tour with his wife, Susan, a University of zTC Maryland graduate student, to get a look at Maryland's "deeper side."

"You don't get to see this kind of depth from the highway," White said. "It's great to get away from things and just see the natural beauty of Maryland."

Educating the public

The hiking tours -- as well as canoe rides, beaver- and owl-spotting walks, and other events -- are available throughout most of the year at the state's 47 parks.

Maryland State Parks Week, which ran from Oct. 3 to yesterday, is an attempt by state officials to educate the public about the parks' outdoor events.

"It's a great opportunity for Marylanders to rediscover their back yards," said DNR Secretary John R. Griffin.

He said every family in the state is within 40 minutes of a park. More than 10 million people visited the parks last year, Griffin said.

Leave it to beavers

Gunpowder Falls State Park has over 100 miles of hiking trails, many of them offering glimpses of North America's largest rodent -- the beaver.

The creatures -- weighing 40 to 60 pounds, with remarkable work ethics and insatiable appetites for tree linings -- were the source of constant questions along the hiking trail.

"Sixty pounds is a pretty big rodent," Yarrison said while explaining how beavers haul trees -- some weighing well over 100 pounds -- toward the river banks.

"It just blows my mind when I think about what they do. Look at all the trees around here they've cut down," she said.

She added, "I heard they found one up in Canada that weighed 120 pounds. 120 pounds! Can you imagine?"

On this day, there are no beavers to be seen. They've all hidden in their lodges, or heard the group coming and scurried away. Plenty of signs of their work can be seen, though.

Dozens of trees, gnawed at the base, are leaning over in the woods.

The beavers haul them toward the water and often drag them in, attempting to create a dam.

But natural resource officials usually haul the logs back out, fearing the beavers will have a destructive effect on the park's habitat.

"They don't seem to mind," Yarrison said. "They just start making another one."

At the end of the hike, Don and Barbara Levin said they have accomplished what they set out to do.

"We got away from our desks," Barbara Levin said. "That's the important thing."

For more information about park activities and events offered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, call 1-800-830-3974 or visit the department's Web site at www.dnr.state.md.us

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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