Walking tour shows off Columbia's birthday daffodils

Ned Tillman, left, and Sean Harbaugh, who will lead a walking tour on March 26, visit statues of Columbia founder James Rouse, right, and his brother, Willard Rouse, at the downtown lakefront.
Ned Tillman, left, and Sean Harbaugh, who will lead a walking tour on March 26, visit statues of Columbia founder James Rouse, right, and his brother, Willard Rouse, at the downtown lakefront. (photo by Nicole Munchel)

Though snow dotted the pathway in spots and mud could be found everywhere, Ned Tillman and Sean Harbaugh saw only the future on a walk in Columbia on Monday. In planning the route for their upcoming walking tour, "50,000 Daffodils," on March 26, the two noted trees that would be budding, landmarks to be mentioned and, most important, daffodils that should be blooming pending no more snow storms.

"It will be the first of about a dozen walks," said Tillman, a local author and speaker who has written two books on the natural history of the area. "It is part of the kick-off for the birthday celebration."


Tillman and Harbaugh, assistant division director of open space management for the Columbia Association, have been leading walks together around Columbia for three years. Typically lasting 90 minutes and covering roughly two miles, the walks cover different areas and themes, the two said, and are every other week in the spring and early summer, as well as in the fall.

"In the summer, we take a break," Harbaugh said. "It gets too hot."


The area's recent snowfall may have damaged some daffodils and nipped some buds, but the two were positive as they walked a path from the lakefront by Whole Foods and around the Central Branch library that there would be plenty of daffodils blooming and possibly even cherry blossoms.

"The weight of the snow caused some minor problems," Tillman said. "In five or six days, you will see a lot more green in the trees. The grass will be even greener.

"We always do a dry run and find out what to highlight," Tillman added.

"We have to plot it out," Harbaugh agreed. "We can't have all are our stops in the beginning. You have to keep people moving."


The Columbia Association worked with several organizations, including Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, The Mall at Columbia and the Howard County Library System, for planting the daffodils. Homeowners also had the opportunity to plant daffodils, Harbaugh said.

Soil temperature has an affect on the flowers, Harbaugh said.

"Those in the sun have buds," he said, pointing out a stretch of daffodils half in and half out of the sunshine.

The landscape will also reveal some secrets, Tillman said, on Sunday's walk.

"The leaves are not hiding anything," Tillman said. "You can see all the old paths and foundations. The fallen trees."

"Dead trees are not dead," Harbaugh said. "There are a lot of bugs. They are habitats for birds."

While their walks are planned, the two agreed that it is important to note what's happening around, too.

"I challenge my group to use their eyes, ears and noses," Tillman said. "With 50 sets of eyes looking, you see a lot of stuff."

Orioles, bald eagles, black squirrels and even a copperhead snake have been spotted on their walks. For many participants, however, it is the simple beauty of the surroundings that they remember, Harbaugh said.

"Some have never known this was Columbia," Harbaugh said. "We have 4,000 acres and 96 miles of pathways. In the valley of trees, the trees are so large, people stop and look up at ... this canopy."

Tillman considers Columbia's open spaces to be one of its two biggest successes.

"First is the great diversity of Columbia and second is its green spaces," Tillman said. "Over the next decade, as more people live here, these spaces will become more important."

The Columbia Association has recognized the importance of the open spaces and is working to improve them and make them more accessible, Harbaugh said. Part of the pathway on Sunday's tour was recently paved and expanded. Paths around Lake Kittamaqundi were connected for the first time last year, Harbaugh said. All of Columbia's 10 villages are connected by pathways.

"We have 4,000 acres of open space interwoven through the neighborhoods," Harbaugh said. "There is not one large park; they are all over. Many houses have pathways right next to them."

Walkers, joggers, cyclists and skateboarders are all welcome to use the pathways. Horseback riding, however, is not allowed with the exception of a volunteer mounted patrol, Harbaugh said.

"They own their own horses and tack. It is pure volunteer," Harbaugh said, of the mounted police force. "They go to various areas like Lake Elkhorn."

There is a bicycle patrol, Harbaugh said.

"There is a dedicated patrol for the pathways," Harbaugh said. "It has been well received."

Users of the pathways are asked to follow 'pathway etiquette' and signs have been posted throughout listing common courtesies, from cyclists announcing their presence to walkers moving aside.

"We encourage people to shout out," Harbaugh said.

For their walks, attendance varies, they said, with crowds between 20 to 25, 40 to 80 to up to 100. They will divide large groups into two and they carry a microphone. They take questions, but have to limit the number to keep the tour moving and running on time. All of the walks are on pathways, and are stroller-friendly.

"When I am walking, I always see something," Tillman said. "It always excites me. It changes every day."

On some of the pathways, especially along the Patuxent River, Harbaugh feels he is far from anywhere.

"All the traffic noise, the cars, trucks, you don't hear it," Harbaugh said. "In Long Reach, there is a beech tree grove. The trees are 100 to 150 years old. All you see are gray trunks. It feels like Middle Earth, to go Tolkein on you."

Columbia shines because of Rouse's dedication to open space, Tillman said.

"Way before regulations ... people could have done better," Tillman said. "Rouse did."

The spring walk, "50,000 Daffodils Bloom," is Sunday, March 26, at 11 a.m., in downtown Columbia beginning at the People Tree. For more information, call 410-423-1878.

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