Christopher Brooks found Patapsco Valley State Park about 20 years ago by following a tiny creek from his Elkridge neighborhood to the river four miles away.
"The park was an oasis for me," he says.
Today, he is the park ranger and the creator of this segment of the Maryland Park Service's Park Quest challenge.
The father of a 4-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, Brooks was sensitive to the criticism that his Quest was a little too long for smaller youngsters. So, he quickly devised an alternative hike that hits the park's highlights and seven Quest clues while giving tiny feet a break.
The Patapsco River creates a soothing sound as it passes under Swinging Bridge. Brooks and I use the bridge as a high-level platform to look for fish. I see one dark form along the bank near a downed tree.
Brooks waves to early-morning joggers and bike riders. Most days, he'll stop to chat with anglers and hikers.
"That's how you break bread with people," he says. "You talk to them for a few minutes and they come back."
He stamps my Park Quest passport — No. 18 — and sends me on my way.
"I'll be back," I tell him.
"I know you will," he says, smiling.