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Take a hike: Calvert Cliffs State Park

 

Lusby, MD - I have walked many hiking trails in Southern Maryland, but by far one of my favorites is and remains Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby.

The park’s history is tenuous and at times, demonstrates loudly not only the resilience of our ever-changing landscape but reverberates as a tribute to the human spirit.

Capt. John Smith named the cliffs after his mother’s family when he first saw them in 1607, dubbing them "Rickard's Cliffes" during a mapping expedition of the region.

The so-called Chesapeake Group of fossiliferous exposures now called Calvert Cliffs encompass a 24-mile stretch from near Chesapeake Beach to Drum Point on Calvert County’s eastern shoreline fronting the Chesapeake Bay.

Most of the fossils date from the Miocene Period, when the North American continent was more extensively submerged and underwent considerable change. While the Miocene ranged from 24.6 to 5.1 million years ago, most of the fossils found at Calvert Cliffs date from eight to 11 million years ago.

Park rangers can help identify specimens your kids may unearth on the public beach that awaits you at the end of your almost two-mile hike to Chesapeake Bay.

Except for the spider-like Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Plant blotting the horizon, it’s a perfect place to sunbathe or explore for fossils.

The creation of a park at the site began with land acquisition around 1966 and a simplified version—a 1.8-mile trail to the cliffs—opened in 1972.

The park remained a place for beach picnics until 1991, when Governor William Donald Schaefer, faced with a mounting budget crisis, closed the park in a sweeping motion of the pen. But he underestimated the resilience of local citizens who refused to take the closing of their park lying down.

Park Rangers John Westerfield and Richard Fischer began recruiting volunteers and five brave souls stepped forward. The Friends of Calvert Cliffs State Park Inc. was born.

Changes wrought in subsequent decades is the clear result of their tenacity and resilience. Most of the modern amenities, including the wonderful playground children enjoy so exuberantly, are the result of this organization’s volunteerism.

Through hard work and financial help from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Tomorrow Program, the Friends were able to erect an observatory platform over water lily gardens in acres of wetland, and this wonderful educational tool served students learning about their environment for decades until it was disassembled this past year.

Unfortunately, volunteers discovered that they couldn’t keep the pier from warping and sinking due to the ever-changing marsh and the constant eroding and shifting of the tidal basin. That situation sadly doomed what was for years my favorite part of hiking Calvert Cliffs.

The park currently draws about 3,500 visitors during the four-month summer stretch, dramatically less during other seasons, but no matter the season, Calvert Cliffs is the place to hike.

The 1.8-mile Red Trail winds from the park entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, but the park now offers an array of side trails as well, some 13 miles or so of hiking awesomeness.

There is old growth forest and an amazing wetland throughout the 1,400-acre site. You see great blue herons, bald eagles, and, as one recent visitor discovered, a squirrel eating a mushroom. The terrapins and their young surface in the pond at the entrance to the Red Trail. It’s a park that has a little of everything.

The Friends of Calvert Cliffs State Park are always looking for volunteers. The volunteer aspect is the core of all that was accomplished since 1993. The playground was erected in 1996 through the efforts of 200 volunteers who accomplished the task in four days.

For more information, go to their web site at http://foccsp.comcastbiz.net/.

In the meantime, get out there and hike. The bay is waiting.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com

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