Wildlife's in your backyard on Gwynns Falls Trail

November 27, 2008|By Lindsey Citron | Lindsey Citron,lindsey.citron@baltsun.com

Take a night off from TV and experience crisp Baltimore air like never before.

In a densely packed and populated city, it's easy to forget about the greener side of the state. It's even easier to forget how close to home it is. Wildlife and nature are, quite literally, right in Baltimore's backyard.

The Gwynns Falls Trail stretches 15 miles to connect more than 30 neighborhoods in the Baltimore area. The trail consists of more than 1,200 acres, about 900 of which are forested. The trail association provides open access to bikers, hikers and joggers, as well as organized ways to take in the scenery, such as Campfire Hikes.

"They cater to families, any age group and independent organizations who are interested," says Nathanial Payer, Campfire Hike instructor with the Gwynns Falls Trail Council.

The typical Campfire Hike begins with a 15-minute walk to a former Girl Scouts' camp. The grounds contain a hearth, auditorium-style seating and a shelter space.

"We aim to start the hikes while it's still light outside. When we get to the campground, we gather wood, start a fire, make s'mores and usually share stories or stargaze," Payer says.

In addition to the Campfire Hikes, the council offers a variety of other hikes and outdoor volunteer activities. The Starry Skies Night Hike lets explorers get a clear view of the usually obscured city sky; the Weed Wipeout invites Marylanders to lend a hand in forest maintenance and trail upkeep. The activities can be scheduled upon request and are led by trained instructors.

"The hikes don't get the type of attention they deserve," Payer says. "Everyone loves them."

The Gwynns Falls Trail activities include:

The Campfire Hikes: Hike to the top of Gwynns Falls Valley to enjoy a campfire, s'mores, storytelling and nature. Scheduled per demand at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21, Feb. 18 and March 18 at the Windsor Mill Trailhead, 4300 block of Windsor Mill Road. For ages 6 and older. Cost is $5. Call 410-396-0440 at least 24 hours in advance. Dates may change.

Starry Skies Night Hike: Enjoy the starry night sky with a brisk evening hike at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Carrie Murray Nature Center, Ridgetop Road. This outing is for people ages 12 and older with some hiking experience. Cost is $3 per person. Registration required. Call 410-396-0440 at least 24 hours in advance.

Weed Wipeout: Learn to differentiate weeds from flowers while cleaning up trails. Locations and dates determined by reservations. For ages 12 and older. The hike is free and can count toward community-service hours. Call 410-396-0440 at least 24 hours in advance.

Trail Sweep: Pitch in on the trail by picking up trash. Locations and dates determined by reservations. For ages 10 and older. The hike is free, and gloves will be provided by the association. Bring closed-toe shoes and drinking water. Call 410-396-0440 at least 24 hours in advance.

For more information, go to baltimorecity.gov or gwynnsfalltrail.org.

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