Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary will expand its amenities with Saturday’s grand opening of the Nature Preserve at Waysons Corner — a 30-acre parcel in Lothian where a big-box retail store had once been proposed.
“Waysons Corner is perhaps the most rural part of the county — and it’s a gem,” said Albert Tucker, a Pindell resident who is immediate past president of the volunteer group Friends of Jug Bay and a current board member.
“Citizens saw a need to provide a recreational opportunity that is more like a conventional park for the underserved population here,” he said of the densely forested parcel, just north of Route 4.
The public is invited to a grand opening celebration Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The event will include a guided hike of the one-mile trail that encircles the preserve, which is also home to a children’s play area. Light refreshments will be served.
In 2008, the state Board of Public Works approved $5.75 million toward the purchase of 30 acres for the nature preserve, which is located between Sands Road and Southern Maryland Boulevard.
The area is the newest addition to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, which was established in 1985 and is operated by the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks. The new preserve joins the sanctuary itself, the Parris N. Glendening Nature Preserve, Patuxent Wetlands Park and Wootons Landing Wetlands Park.
The sanctuary consists of 1,700 acres of open water, tidal freshwater marshes, forested wetlands, upland and riparian forest, creeks, meadows, pine and sand barrens, and fields along the Patuxent River.
The Waysons Corner preserve includes a children’s play area called Nature Discovery Place. Recycled tires were used to help create the play space, and it also features an oversized bird's nest, a sunken canoe and wooden bridges. A bamboo xylophone — oriented vertically instead of horizontally — can be played with wooden mallets.
“We owe all of this to Shelby Cross, since it was her brain child,” said Liana Vitali, education coordinator and staff naturalist.
Cross is a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member whose services were provided at no cost to the county by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
“It was Shelby’s blood, sweat and tears that made this possible and she was incredibly resourceful,” she said.
Cross applied for a $1,250 grant from the trust to develop Nature Discovery Place. That was supplemented by a donation of $250 from the Friends of Jug Bay, Vitali said. She also praised volunteers who put in 150 hours performing such tasks as bushwhacking weeds, cleaning up trash and blazing the trail.
Except for the purchase price, “the project’s cost to the county was negligible since the community really takes ownership here,” she said.
Discovery Place features are all made from reused, recycled or natural materials, which Vitali said is fitting since the area was once used as a dumping ground.
A huge tractor tire and other large tires are buried halfway into the ground for stability, allowing children to climb on them. The same goes for a 10-foot aluminum canoe that’s been partially sunk into the ground.
Visitors can tap out a melody on the xylophone made of bamboo stalks of varying sizes. A small picnic area with four tables is located nearby.
Vitali speculated that the 4-foot-wide bird’s nest — made from grapevine found along the trail — will be popular with all ages, saying with a laugh, “I’m 35 and even I like playing in it.”
Tucker said that over the years a number of proposals were targeted for this area, including a gravel pit and a nursing home, but the community banded together to oppose development they felt would spoil the rural nature of the community.
“There is no demand down here for big-box retailers,” Tucker said of a defeated proposal by Minneapolis-based Target Corp. to build a store on the land. “It’s the desire of the community to remain rural.”
Over the years, several families have contributed land to augment the sanctuary’s acreage, Tucker noted.
“After the first parcel of Jug Bay was purchased, each of the subsequent acquisitions were driven by citizen input,” he said. “Neighborhood commitment has made the whole area what it is.”