A just-opened boardwalk and creekside platform offer new access to a nature preserve at the southwestern edge of Anne Arundel County, providing kayakers with an entry by water and hikers with and a up-close encounters with its marsh.
"The wetland is there. And you can see it through the trees. But without a boardwalk, you can't take advantage of it, both for research and the public," said Chris Swarth, the longtime director of the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
At 1,600 acres, it's the largest of Anne Arundel County's parks and hugs an area of the Patuxent River that is popular with kayakers and canoeists. They can be seen paddling there almost daily in warmer weather, making the boardwalk and its platform a welcome first for the preserve.
"It is a place where people can take out, have lunch and explore the Glendening Preserve," Swarth said.
For people paddling in the river's calm waters, this is expected to be a stopping-of point at the edge of the park's 610-acre Glendening Nature Preserve, Swarth said. It extends 450 feet, from the woods, over the marsh, ending at Old Galloway Creek, a tributary to the river.
"It's a chance to stretch your legs," said kayaker and cartographer Dave Linthicum, who rents a house in Jug Bay .
Days before it opened, Linthicum did just that. "I tied up, got out and walked into the woods a little bit. In fact, there was a deer standing where the boardwalk meets the woods," he said.
It's not a practical spot for putting in a canoe or kayak, too far from the nearest parking area and at the bottom of a steep bluff. However, a little more than a mile north of it, at the county's Patuxent Wetlands Park, there's a place to put in and take out the watercraft.
The boardwalk and platform put researchers and students — the park is in a national network of coastal parks where water quality, and environmental factors are studied — as well as park visitors a few feet above the tidal marsh.
There, they can do everything from serious study to serious birdwatching.
"Birds come out here. You see rails and ducks and there are others, said Woody Martin, a birdwatcher and retired wildlife biologist from Bowie who volunteers at the park.
But, muskrats, rice rats and other animals make their home there, and a careful eye can spot them scrambling though the foliage.
Recognizable along the boardwalk this week were gnaw-marks beavers left on trees and the red fruits of winterberry. Dead, brownish stalks of reeds and flowering plants lay there, but in warmer weather, that will all be green.
The boardwalk — nearly three years in the making — is just three feet wide and a few feet above the marsh. The only person who's fallen off so far is Swarth. During construction, he accidentally plopped into the gloppy mud during low tide. Now, with Swarth retiring, the boardwalk is being named in his honor.
The boardwalk was built by a combination of contractors, volunteers and park staff at a cost of about $25,000, according to the county Recreation and Parks Department.
Mike Lofton of Harwood, a former chief executive officer of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and who now heads the water access committee for Recreation and Parks Department, said addition like the boardwalk help cultivating support for improving the Bay's health.
"I call the bay a gated community. If you don't have waterfront property, you have your nose up against the glass. That's why you have to have ways to get people out here," he said.