Carroll's parks provide taste of the outdoors

Recreation: Thousands are drawn to activities that include fishing, boating, hiking and nature education.

April 25, 2004|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's two largest parks offer residents and visitors who love the outdoors a range of activities for all ages.

The crown jewel of the park system is the 833-acre Piney Run Park, which includes a 300-acre man-made lake and a nature center that caters to all ages.

Opened in 1976 in the southeast corner of the county, Piney Run attracts 100,000 visitors a year for fishing, boating, walking, picnicking, basketball, volleyball, tennis, cross country skiing, and environmental and educational programs, plus two special events -- a herb festival in spring and apple festival in fall.

"The lake is very popular for fishing and boating; boating has been excellent the last couple of years, and fishing is very popular," said Richard J. Soisson, director of the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks and Piney Run's first manager. "We have a stocking program, and we've been putting in nice-size striped bass and muskies, which grow fast and are good size."

Boat rentals -- canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and row boats -- are available, or you can take your own, as long as it is not gas-powered. A pontoon boat also takes visitors on an educational tour of the lake for a nominal fee. Swimming is not allowed in the lake.

A nature center was added to the heavily wooded park in 1981.

"The nature center adds a whole new dimension to the park," Soisson said. "A lot of people come for the programs offered at the center. We try to have programs that would interest everyone -- not only for their age, but their interest as well."

Piney Run Nature Center was joined in 1991 by Bear Branch Nature Center, just north of Westminster on the grounds of Hashawha Environmental Center, the county's "unknown jewel," Soisson said.

Hashawha, opened in 1975, is less known because it doesn't have the facilities and isn't open to the public the way Piney Run is. Hashawha is used largely for teaching -- every sixth-grader in the public schools spends a week living there and learning about the environment and survival outdoors.

Hashawha has a main building with kitchen facilities, offices and exhibits, as well as five cabins for overnight stays. During the summer, the cabins are rented out for meetings and conferences, and the county 4-H program holds a summer children's camp there.

The grounds, however, are open to the public, who can walk the many trails around the 300-acre environmental center that backs up to Union Mills Reservoir. A small pond also is open for fishing.

The Martin Log Cabin on the grounds is used for living history exhibits.

Hashawha also holds three annual festivals -- maple sugaring in March, EarthWorks in April and honey harvest in the fall.

And Bear Branch Nature Center is open year-round, offering programs for all ages. This center includes a planetarium where the Westminster Astronomical Society regularly holds star shows.

Piney Run Park: 30 Martz Road off White Rock Road near Eldersburg, 410-795-3274 (park manager), 410-795-6043 (nature center). The park is open from 6 a.m. to sunset April 1 to Oct. 31, when there is an entrance fee of $4 per car for county residents and $5 for nonresidents. From Nov. 1 to March 31, the park is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays free of charge, but is unstaffed.

Hashawha and Bear Branch Nature Center: 300 John Owings Road off Littlestown Pike (Route 97 north), 410-848-2517 (nature center), 410-848-9040 (Hashawha). Hashawha's trails are open to the public with parking at the nature center or near the pond. The nature center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday year-round.

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