Finding Solace in the Outdoors

With 22 miles of trails on a 3,400-acre preserve, the American Chestnut Land Trust in Calvert County is perfect for the outdoor adventurer, history buff or preservationist
Writer: Johnn Cave

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Maryland residents have seen changes to their everyday routines. Whether it be seeing less of friends and family, or no longer going out to eat or drink, the pandemic has disrupted how we connect with our community. However, many during this time of isolation have found solace in the outdoors.
In 2020, the American Chestnut Land Trust in Calvert County saw a spike in interest in the organization and the activities ACLT offers.
“That’s one thing that COVID did,” says Greg Bowen, ACLT executive director and dedicated conservationist. “We saw a huge increase in attendance — we had over 60,000 people walk our trails” last year.
Established in 1986, the ACLT is an ideal space for outdoor activities. The area that now belongs to the land trust was initially 437 acres of private land. The land’s owner allowed neighbors and members of the community to enjoy and forge trails all along the property. However, in the mid-1980s when the community heard the surrounding land was likely to be sold to developers, they acted quickly.
“They could not stand to see the notion of that property developing,” Bowen says. “They thought that it should be protected.”

 

 

FOR THE PEOPLE
With the help of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the community purchased the land to create the ACLT — with two specific ideas in mind.
One, the land should be available for public use. “They didn’t want to just possess it to keep people out, they wanted people to have access to it,” Bowen says.
Secondly, even after the initial purchase of the land, the goal of the ACLT was to preserve watershed throughout Calvert. “They started off with the first property, but they didn’t want to stop there. They have been [purchasing] land now for the past 35 years,” he says.
Now the ACLT, in conjunction with the state and other sponsors, have preserved over 60% of the watershed in the county.
Today, the land trust is an amalgamation of some 3,400 acres of state-owned and private land. Containing 22 miles of trails, the ACLT boasts a beautiful and meticulously maintained landscape. ACLT hosts special events every month encouraging outdoor adventurers to visit. There are yearlong challenges like the “12 hikes in ’21” in which participants take a hike each month to qualify for a prize at the end of the year. Monthly events also occur.

LOTS OF HISTORY
Bowen recommends the Parker’s Creek Trail for first-time visitors. It’s not the easiest trail there, but it’s the one with probably the most history, with different stories unfolding the further you go.
The trail was created from Parker’s Creek Road, one of the oldest roads in the county. Walking along the creek, the preserved landscape looks similar to how it did over 500 years ago, all the way back to when the Piscataway Conoy tribes lived here before colonization.
“In our area, from the archaeological research we’ve done, there [was evidence of] winter camps along the Chesapeake Bay,” Bowen says. “We do know there were Native Americans here before colonization.” Up the hills and past the creek, other parts of a darker Maryland history become apparent. Tobacco farming, and plantation slavery that came with the labor-intensive crop, was a huge industry in Calvert County.
Because of natural indicators and community history it was revealed that there used to be quite a community on both sides of Parker’s Creek.
“After the Civil War, a number of African-American communities were formed in Calvert, and one of them was around Parker’s Creek,” Bowen says. “There was an African-American church now known as the Brown United Methodist Church, there was a school called Parkers Creek School. There was also a store in this community. So it was a nice, intact, functioning community from the end of the Civil War until the 1930s.”

TRY YOUR HAND AT FARMING
In present times, the land is still good for farming. The Double Oak Farm, open May through October, is an appealing option for those looking to be outside. On what was originally tobacco farmland, the farm operates with the help of volunteers.
In addition, the farm donates approximately 80% of its harvest to St. John Vianney’s Interfaith Food Pantry in Prince Frederick, giving away fresh, naturally grown fruits and vegetables to those most in need.
Whether you are an outdoor adventurer, history buff or interested in preservation, ACLT will have something for you to do. Not only will you find COVID-safe activities but you may develop a zeal for the outdoors that won’t go away.
“People seem to want to stick with us,” Bowen says. “People like to get out and experience nature in a lot of different ways, and we have a lot of different ways to do it.”
American Chestnut Land Trust is at 676 Double Oak Road in Prince Frederick. To learn more, go to acltweb.org or call 410-414-3400. Events include an ongoing 22-mile Hit the Trails Challenge until April 22. Register and hike all the trails for a prize. Fee is $15 per person or $35 for two or a family. •