The paths from the overlook to the water's edge at McKeldin Rapids are steep, slippery and stitched with tree roots. When it rains, the trails create a sluice of brown ooze that fouls the largest whitewater rapid on the Patapsco River and the fishing hole it empties into.
"The rapids are a major attraction. Everyone who comes to the McKeldin Area wants to see them," says Amy Lutsko, a ranger at Patapsco Valley State Park, where the rapids are located. "But it's very nasty, not very safe, not the best of situations."
With the help of the public June 7, Lutsko hopes to do a little remodeling, closing three of the trails and rehabilitating the remaining one so that anglers and hikers can enjoy the scene.
Hers is not the only project on the docket that day. All over Maryland, outdoors enthusiasts will be celebrating our natural playgrounds as part of National Trails Day. Some folks will hike and bike and fish. Others will roll up their sleeves and fix popular locations that have been loved to death or that have suffered from a lack of upkeep.
For years, Maryland's park system suffered from monetary and manpower shortages. This year, lawmakers were finally shamed into taking action, but there's a lot of catching up to do.
REI, a Seattle-based outdoor gear co-op, is sponsoring two projects in our area. The McKeldin Rapids Trail is one. The other is a mile-long stretch of the Azalea Trail at Greenbelt Park, part of the National Park system in Prince George's County, an oasis near Washington.
Volunteers who register with the Timonium or College Park stores will get breakfast, a light lunch and a T-shirt.
Patapsco Valley, the oldest state park, had almost 1 million visitors last year. Only Deep Creek State Park in Garrett County, with 1.3 million visitors, was more popular.
The McKeldin Area is a 1,403-acre wedge of land in southeastern Carroll County where the north and south branches of the Patapsco River meet on the way to the Inner Harbor. It is just a tiny slice of the 14,500-acre park, but its eight miles of trails - both mixed use and hiker only - are really a nice break for folks seeking some fresh air and a little peace and quiet.
The rapids were created by a series of rock outcroppings. Rushing water drops about 12 feet in 20 yards. State fisheries managers stock the river with rainbow and brown trout, and the pool below the rapids has a healthy population of bluegills and sunfish.
Lutsko needs about 25 volunteers for the rapids project, but she could use 75 more to spruce up other areas of the park. Another trail needs grading, underbrush has to be pruned, and trail markers need a new coat of paint.
"Volunteers are special people," says Lutsko, who spent five years building and fixing trails in Maryland's park system. "These are people who use the park and love the park and they want to give back.
"Trail volunteer days are my favorite because I get to teach somebody and they get to do it, and we get to see the results," she continued. "Then, they thank me. They thank me. I can't thank them enough."
To sign up for the McKeldin Falls Trail project, call REI Timonium at 410-252-5920 or call Patapsco Valley State Park volunteer coordinator Larry Martin at 410-465-3287 or contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
To sign up for the Greenbelt Park project, call 301-982-9681 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other National Trails Day activities include:
At Cunningham Falls State Park in Frederick County, work with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club on a mile of Cliff Trail, which leads to 80-foot-high Cunningham Falls. Workers will be installing water bars and building erosion control structures. All tools and some refreshments will be provided. Participants should bring water, food, bug spray, work gloves and good hiking shoes. Contact: 301-271-7574 or email@example.com.
In addition to trail projects, there will be other opportunities to enjoy Maryland's parks and waterways.
The Gwynns Falls Trail Council is having a daylong celebration of the 15-mile trail that links Franklintown to Middle Branch and the Inner Harbor. You can hike it, bike it, run it or just come and watch others do it. The Baltimore Rowing Club will be giving demonstrations at Middle Branch Park. The Gwynns Falls trailhead is in the commuter parking lot at the terminus of Interstate 70. Contact: 410-448-5663 or kate.mack @gwynnsfallstrail.org.
Harford County is showing off a new two-mile segment of the Ma & Pa Trail and marking the 10th anniversary of the path with a bunch of events, including a walk and a birthday cake. The trail extension allows walkers and runners to get from Edgeley Grove Farm in Fallston to Williams Street in downtown Bel Air. To contact the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail Inc., call 410-838-9694 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Prince George's Audubon Society is having an early-morning birding walk along the wetlands, fields and woods of the Upper Patuxent River. This walk will step off from the Fran Uhler Natural Area next to Bowie State University at 7:30 and end about three hours later. The walk is appropriate for all skill levels and for bird lovers ages 6 and older. Contact 301-627-6074 or email@example.com.