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Howard County Conservancy takes a walk on the wild side with variety of small hikes

During the coronavirus pandemic, the staff at Howard County Conservancy decided to do something different.

They started to walk on the wild side.

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With attendance at its 232-acre nature reserve in Woodstock at record-high numbers throughout 2020, the staff wanted to be able to offer something to guests as the visitor center was closed.

Instead of organizing large hikes, the staff focused on creating hikes for small groups of 10. Led by volunteers, the hikes have covered topics such as history, pollinators, serendipity and, most recently, cicadas.

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“It was a way to engage the public,” said Ann Strozyk, environmental educator at Howard County Conservancy. “It is so beneficial to our role to get people out and engaged with nature.

“There were so many people signing up, we decided to do double hikes at the same time.”

On Saturday, volunteer guides Lisa Schlossnagle and Jean Rosenberg led their group of cicada enthusiasts around only a small portion of the hilly Mt. Pleasant property. They pointed out cicadas on trees and the bugs’ discarded exoskeletons on the ground as they shared facts about Brood X.

“I think people are kind of enamored with this rare occurrence,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s a spectacle. This isn’t happening everywhere.”

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Howard County Conservancy volunteer guide Woody Merle shows a cicada to Allison Peng during a "wild walk" on June 12.
Howard County Conservancy volunteer guide Woody Merle shows a cicada to Allison Peng during a "wild walk" on June 12. (Courtesy photo)

The desire to see cicadas was one of the reasons Tom Keating joined the wild walk. A resident of Church Hill on the Eastern Shore, Keating said his area had no cicadas. Schlossnagle informed him that the Eastern Shore was likely covered with glaciers when the cicadas arrived, so there was no place for them to go there.

“It’s really fascinating,” said Keating, who was there with his wife and his son’s family. Keating’s grandson, Charlie Keating, 12, was not enthralled.

“I don’t like any bugs,” Charlie said firmly.

Seven-year-old Leighton Hubard, on the other hand, was in his glory, sharing stories with the group about his experiences with cicadas and random facts he knew about the bug.

“Leighton has taught me so much,” said Jennifer Skidmore, who was visiting the conservancy for the first time on a birthday outing with Leighton and his mother, Carrie Hubard.

“It is a beautiful morning to be out,” Skidmore said. “I would do this again.”

Strozyk is planning on people continuing to host wild walks.

“I think we will keep them going all year,” Strozyk said. “Some people are more comfortable with small guided hikes. You also can get your questions answered.”

“With smaller groups, you get to know what is going on,” Schlossnagle said. “You hear from people better.”

Volunteer guide Woody Merle said there are benefits to both large and small hikes.

Howard County Conservancy volunteer guide Lisa Schlossnagle leads a group on a "wild walk" about cicadas on June 12.
Howard County Conservancy volunteer guide Lisa Schlossnagle leads a group on a "wild walk" about cicadas on June 12. (Katie V. Jones)

“We want to accommodate as many people as we can,” said Merle, who has led as many as 50 to 60 people on hikes. “A group of 10 is a lot of fun, too.”

Rosenberg has also led numerous hikes as a volunteer, and the new serendipity wild walk has become one of her favorites.

“Whatever people want to do, we talk about that day,” Rosenberg said of the serendipity hikes. “I love going with the flow.”

With restrictions being lifted, the conservancy’s nature center is open and summer camps are scheduled. More programs and hikes are starting to fill the schedule, including the wild walks.

“It really fills a need,” Strozyk said, of the wild walks. “Some people are experts [on the topic] and just want to be guided. Some people have not been here before and are not sure. It is working out well.”

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