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The Soapstone Trail, between Catonsville and Arbutus, offers views, exercise and escape

When Benjamin Broedel goes to run the Soapstone Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park, he makes sure he’s hydrated and packs some salted nuts or a protein bar for a trail snack. He fills up a CamelBak with water and then grabs some plastic “poo bags.”

His dog, Tiger, a 9-year-old mutt, loves to run the trail, too. Broedel, 30, said running the trail with Tiger has allowed the two to connect.

“We developed a bond there. I would take him running on that same trail because he knew it and he sort of had a routine,” Broedel said. “That’s where I trained him.”

With age, Tiger can’t always run as far as he used to and Broedel has to make sure not to overexert the dog to keep from damaging Tiger’s paw pads.

“In the summertime, I don’t take him out a lot because of the heat,” Broedel said. “In the spring or fall, I can’t take him on a 15-miler, because by mile 10, the pads of his feet are all worn out.”

With the heat of summer, the Soapstone Trail, one of seven trails on the Baltimore County side of the Hilton and Glen Artney areas of the Patapsco Valley State Park, remains a popular destination for hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and people looking for a chance to escape the sun under a dense tree canopy.

The Soapstone’s trailhead is located across from the Southwest Park & Ride on South Rolling Road, off exit 47 A-B on I-95 South. The location of the trailhead puts access to hiking in close proximity to Catonsville, Arbutus, UMBC and CCBC.

The trail is 1.7 miles long, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and has a loop south of the Patapsco River, in Howard County.

Patapsco Valley is a popular park in Maryland — thousands visit annually and during peak summer months, the park regularly has to close its gates because it’s at capacity. The park had 1.048 million daytime visitors in 2017 and has had 513,464 as of June 30, 2018.

Currently, however, the part of the park that includes the loop south of the river is closed. The torrential rain that fell May 27 saw some areas of southwestern Baltimore County get hit with 10 inches of rain in two hours; creeks and streams in Patapsco Valley flooded and damaged some trails.

Joe Vogelpohl, assistant manager of Pataspco Valley State Park, said parts of some trails are “just missing” and others are in various stages of disarray after being washed out by rising water and falling rain.

The Grist Mill Trail, Lost Lake Area and new picnic grove are still closed pending trail work and repairs, according to the latest update from the state.

Pending improvements

The trails closed and damaged from the storms have led to a patchwork of usable space in the park, as several areas were already closed because of the Bloede Dam removal project.

Bloede Dam, built in 1907, obstructs part of the Patapsco River in the valley near Ilchester. The hydroelectric turbines in the dam, which had been used to provide electricity to Catonsville and Ellicott City, were shut down in 1932.

The dam is being removed to improve safety and in the pursuit of ecological goals like encouraging fish passage and boosting the population of the Eastern Elliptio and other species of mussel, according to the DNR.

The dam’s removal project is being managed by American Rivers, a national advocacy and fieldwork company specializing in river protection and restoration.

Serena McClain, director of river restoration for the organization, said the removal project was delayed by maybe two or three weeks because of the flooding and storms.

“We were incredibly lucky given the massive amount of damage that happened,” she said. “Even within the park, the park itself got hammered.”

Work on removing the dam, which will involve an initial breach in late August or early September, has closed parts of the Grist Mill and Buzzard Rocks trails, and the Howard County side of the Patapsco River from Ilchester Road to just past the current dam site will be closed starting Aug. 1, according to the DNR.

When the work is done, the park will be safer and more ecologically sound, according to McClain. Risk-seeking tourists will no longer be able to slide down the dam — which has recorded at least nine deaths since the 1980s — and its removal will restore 65 miles of migratory fish habitat.

“River herring, shad, eel, all these are critical species to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its overall recovery, and they’re critical species for recovery for sport fishing and commercial fishing,” McClain said. “The Patapsco River is one of the top-tier priority projects in terms of restoring habitats for these fish.”

And, she said, the state’s project to remove Bloede Dam could indirectly boost its effort to restore mussel populations in the Patapsco River. The mussels need a host fish to survive, and in the Patapsco River, the American eel is a prime candidate, McClain said.

“Once you restore these host species, the mussels will further disperse through the watersheds, which can improve water quality,” she said.

In addition to state-organized restoration projects, Patapsco Valley and the Soapstone Trail benefit from a cadre of volunteers and organizers who dig trails, buy ice and firewood for events and build playgrounds.

The Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park is a not-for-profit organization that works to “enhance [the park] grounds, services, and facilities for public benefit,” according to its website.

Part of that work is its annual Cocktails for Trails fundraising event, postponed this year because of the storms until Thursday, Aug. 2. Rescheduling the event allowed for park employees and volunteers to focus their time and energy on making necessary repairs to trails in the park, said Dave Ferraro, treasurer for the group.

The fundraiser will be held at The Elkridge Furnace Inn, at 5745 Furnace Ave., in Howard County. Tickets, available online at, are $75.

Ferraro said that while the event does raise money for the park, organizers don’t treat it like a “traditional fundraiser,” with “slideshows and speeches.”

“It’s really kind of more of a party,” he said. “It’s just a chance for everyone who’s instrumental in the valley to get together.”

As the state, local volunteers and American Rivers continue their work, the open trails still draw visitors. In fact, Vogelpohl said, the park sees more visitors in the middle of summer, when temperatures are highest.

Broedel is one of the visitors who continues to travel the Soapstone Trail in the heat of summer.

With or without Tiger by his side, Broedel uses Soapstone to train for marathons and intensive backpacking trips.

“I prefer to run on the trails because I can get out in nature and also get my workout in,” he said.

Broedel has run marathons in Baltimore and Philadelphia and completed a 50-mile hiking trip in just three days in Yosemite National Park. He said he’s been training on the Soapstone for about eight years.

“It’s right next door. That’s why I like Patapsco so much” he said. “That 195 spot is perfect for commuters to stop by on their way home, to stop for a quick hike. I basically leave from work … I go running; it’s perfect.”

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