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Cromwell Valley Park offers scenic view of nature

With the first day of spring being only two days away, and the weather already warming up, getting outdoors has been even more of a priority for me. I have been researching local nature spots all winter and am ready to explore what Baltimore County has to offer and work on my "big year" bird sightings. While reading about local wildlife in the Baltimore area, Cromwell Valley Park seemed to keep popping up in my search results. I knew that this park was going to be my first outing when some of the snow melted.

Cromwell Valley Park is a 426-acre stream valley park located in Parkville, and is only a 20-minute drive from Reisterstown by way of I-695 east. With the residual snow, it looks like a scene from a movie. It is hard to imagine with all of the land and open space that only a mile away is the busy suburb of Towson. As my son and I entered the park, we headed right and parked in a gravel lot in front of Sherwood Cottage. This area gives you access to many paths, including one to the Willow Grove Nature Education Center and children's garden. There are also a variety of trails that can be accessed from here.

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We traveled down Access Road past the historic buildings that are part of Sherwood Farm. On our way, we noticed an area where the Children's Garden is planted in the spring and cultivated through the summer. According to a sign posted at the park, school groups come to the park and plant a variety of vegetables and herbs, and visitors enjoy the butterflies and birds that are attracted to the plants.

After we crossed the bridge on Access Road and headed down a paved path through a lovely field, we came upon the nature education center. The center is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is located in an old farmhouse. Inside are interactive displays created to educate visitors about local wildlife, conservation and the historical significance of Baltimore County. There are many programs for groups and families held at the center. A directory of these events can be found at cromwellvalleypark.org.

If you keep along the same path, past the nature center, you will find the Nature Discovery Zone for children. It is located in a wooded area and consists of a sand pit, a tepee, a fort and lots of natural tools for creating and building in nature. Near the discovery zone is a quiet area that features an outdoor classroom with benches and a podium for presentations. You do not need to be a student to enjoy this area; the benches are a great place to sit and relax and enjoy the surroundings, as well.

Because the weather was so nice, we decided to explore some of the trails at the park, as well. The park has many different trails to hike, and they vary in intensity and terrain. While looking at the map, we noticed the Willow Grove Trail, which is the park's hardest trail to hike, because it travels about a mile one way up to the top of the valley. There was also the Sherwood Farm Trail that is about ¾-mile one way and leads to a stream in the woods. We chose to venture up the Meadow Trail, a rather flat path that is about a half a mile one way. At the end of the trail there was a beautiful view of the meadow and the rolling hills of Cromwell Valley.

While traversing the park, I couldn't help but get excited about all of the signs and displays about birds there. I had read on the Baltimore Bird Club's website that this is a great location for bird watching, and I was not disappointed. The park is a popular area for wildlife sightings and it hosts many activities throughout the summer that focus on the birds local to our region. According to the Cromwell Valley Park website, the fields, gardens, hills, woods and orchards in the Cromwell Valley area attract a large variety of birds and other wildlife.

On our visit to the park, we spotted a local birder with his binoculars who was looking into the trees lining the drive into the park. He said that in the recent weeks, he had spotted bluebirds nesting, a baird owl and a bunch of red-tailed hawks. He said that ospreys make nests in the telephone towers at the top of the valley using branches from Sycamore trees. The park is home to a large amount of hawks, and there have been bald eagle sightings there, as well.

After a refreshing day outside soaking up some almost-spring weather, I jotted down a few of my "big year" finds, and am planning my next trip out to this local natural gem.

Cromwell Valley Park is at 2002 Cromwell Bridge Road in Parkville.

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Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at kellyscible@gmail.com.

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