After recent visits to Susquehanna State Park and Swan Harbor Farm, we have discovered several things about these wonderful natural resources. The first is that no one— not the state park system nor the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation — is attending to maintenance of any sort, let alone improvements.
The Susquehanna State Park is lousy with poison ivy, vining up trees and reaching their toxic leaves into pathways. There are lots of new trails, I suspect because the COVID-19 pandemic substantially increased the foot traffic and especially the bicycle traffic. Unfortunately, that same use has compacted the soil and eradicated the borders where wildflowers once bloomed.
As for Swan Harbor Farm — the trails are just a mess. The 2017 Harford County Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan lists Swan Harbor farm as having 1.5 miles of hiking trails. According to the AllTrails website, the Swan Harbor Farm Loop Trail is 3.9 miles. None of the trails are marked and the only ones obvious to a visitor’s eye are the surfaced walks around the wetlands and from the house to the fishing pier. The path to the old boat landing, shown as “paved or gravel” on the Birder’s Guide to Maryland & DC map, is barely passable, overgrown and blocked by fallen trees.
The most disturbing part of our visit was the discovery that the appearance of a trail can lead the visitor into truly dangerous areas. From the path to the old boat landing, steps built into the slope lead up and in the general direction of the fishing pier. A track — poorly kept, to be sure, but obvious — parallels the shore of the Bay. Suddenly the trail gives out just past the concrete ruins of the old pier, on which someone has built a shelter and camping area. From there the fishing pier is in view and hailing distance. The whole area is a life-threatening accident waiting to happen. We had no choice but to struggle back the way we came.
Where is a Civilian Conservation Corps when we could really use one? How about hiring a gang of strong young folk to cut those paths open, secure the trails, reduce the growth of poison ivy and eliminate invasive species?
At the very least, why not mark the trails that currently exist and improve their surfacing? Why not establish a shore walk from the old boat landing to the fishing pier —a walk that doesn’t threaten life and limb. Set up a routine for maintenance as well. That’s the thing about trees, shrubs and plants. They grow.
County Executive Barry Glassman announced ambitions plans for the area in a press release dated Sept. 24, 2020, that announced the acquisition of the adjacent Belle Vue Farm. But that’s a politician talking. Imagining possibilities is easy and looks good in the papers. Actually making progress toward them takes work and doesn’t provide the same publicity.
It’s too bad that preserving and making accessible and safe Harford County’s natural resources and lovely vistas just doesn’t matter to the people in charge.
ELLEN B. CUTLER
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