Fairfax Stone

Above the Fairfax Stone

Above the Fairfax Stone

Do you think the Potomac River begins at the confluence of its north and south branches, or do you subscribe to the idea that the North Branch is the main stem of the Potomac?  Indeed, many people refer to the North Branch as the Potomac.  I remember having a pretty heated discussion on this topic with a friend from Ridgely, West Virginia, who naturally refers to the river down the street as the Potomac.  However, there are many people in the South Branch valley who would say that the South Branch is an equal contributor to the main river.  Anyway…

The story I have always heard is that the surveyors sent out to settle a land dispute for Lord Fairfax followed the “larger” of the two branches of the river to its source and placed the stone in 1746 as a boundary between Virginia (now West Virginia) and Maryland.   The stone was moved twice, and in 1909 it disappeared completely, and the large rock in place now was dedicated on October 5, 1957.

"This monument, at the headspring of the Potomac River, marks one of the historic spots of America.  Its name is derives from Thomas Lord Fairfax who owned all the land lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.  The sirst Fairfax Stone, marked "FX", was set in 1746 by Thomas Lewis, a surveyor employed by Lord Fairfax.  This is the base point for the western dividing line between Maryland and West Virginia,"

“This monument, at the headspring of the Potomac River, marks one of the historic spots of America. Its name is derives from Thomas Lord Fairfax who owned all the land lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. The first Fairfax Stone, marked “FX”, was set in 1746 by Thomas Lewis, a surveyor employed by Lord Fairfax. This is the base point for the western dividing line between Maryland and West Virginia,”

The park itself is just off of Route 219, approximately 12 miles north of Blackwater Falls.  The stone sits in a four-acre field next to a small parking area.  The park is also a short distance from Cathedral State Park, Canaan Valley State Park, and Deep Creek Lake, so it is an interesting side trip, even if there isn’t any real excitement in-and-around the stone.

The small field is well-manicured and looks like a great place for a quiet picnic

The small field is well-manicured and looks like a great place for a quiet picnic

So…

If you have ever been boating or fishing on the Potomac, or watching its waters spill over Great Falls, there is a small trickle at the corner of the Maryland/West Virginia border that marks the spot where it all begins.   George Washington probably didn’t actually toss the legendary silver dollar across our nation’s river, but YOU can jump across the “official” Potomac directly below the Fairfax Stone.  Try doing that down around Washington, DC!

A small spring emerges below the Fairfax Stone

A small spring emerges below the Fairfax Stone

 

Yankauer Nature Preserve (Berkeley County, WV)

Once you find Whitings Neck Road, Yankauer is pretty easy to find

Once you find Whitings Neck Road, Yankauer is pretty easy to find

The outer loop is 1.8 miles in length and pretty flat, making for an easy excursion

The outer loop is 1.8 miles in length and pretty flat, making for an easy excursion

Yankauer Nature Preserve is located roughly halfway between Martinsburg and Shepherdstown on Whitings Neck Road.  The 104-acre tract is managed by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society for The Nature Conservancy.  There are a number of possibilities for short hikes in the preserve, but we generally opt for the outer loop, which is made up of all or part of the South, Kingfisher, and Cedar Loop Trails.  At 1.8 miles, this lariat hike is very easy (just over 50′ of elevation gain) and entertaining.

Potomac view with Maryland on the other side

Potomac view with Maryland on the other side

The “entertainment” primarily consists of the many interpretive signs along the way.  Yankauer is probably the most popular of the local PVAS sites; thus, it also offers an educational experience for kids of all ages.  I know I’ve learned a lot!  Another highlight is a great view of the Potomac River on the Kingfisher Trail.  Looking across at the Maryland shore, you’ll see the Big Slackwater boat ramp, and the recently constructed section of the C and O Canal Towpath by the same name is about a mile upstream.  Also, this overlook is the site of an interpretive sign containing a map of the entire Potomac River basin.

The Potomac, its major tributaries, and Chesapeake Bay

The Potomac, its major tributaries, and Chesapeake Bay

On a number of our trips to Yankauer, we’ve seen deer and paw paws in their various stages of ripening.  Paw paws aren’t among my favorite fruits, so my eating habits aren’t any threat to the local food supply!  Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons to pay a visit to the preserve.  I particularly like it on rainy and snowy days when longer, more difficult hikes aren’t feasible.  In all, this is a very nice place to get away from it all for an hour or two.  I will definitely go back in the near future.

Building brush piles provides cover for the wildlife

Building brush piles provides cover for the wildlife

Cover for the animals!

Cover for the animals!

The volunteers have obviously been hard at work!  The small loop trail near the parking area has also been redone since our last trip to the preserve

The volunteers have obviously been hard at work! The small loop trail near the parking area has also been redone since our last trip to the preserve

Monocacy National Battlefield

The entrance to Monocacy National Battlefield with the visitor center in the background.  Note that we hiked the battlefield over two days, one foggy and one sunny.

The entrance to Monocacy National Battlefield with the visitor center in the background. Note that we hiked the battlefield over two days, one foggy and one sunny.

The significance of the Monocacy National Battlefield is that on July 9. 1864 the Confederate army was delayed at this site by Union troops, and the result is that the rebels were forced to return to Virginia.  This was during the third–and final–Confederate push into the north, and the Union effort has since given this skirmish the nickname of “The Battle that Saved Washington, DC.”

A road runs through it!  I believe this has more to do with railroad access than the actual battle.

A road runs through it! I believe this has more to do with railroad access than the actual battle.

That’s the history in a sentence or two, but I came to Monocacy to hike as well as seek knowledge.  Upon learning that the battlefield is bisected by both I-270 and Route 355, I had a bad feeling about the place.  I have never really been on a hike I didn’t like, but I fully expected this to be the first, mainly because the trails are scattered over four locations.

Tree symmetry on the lane heading into Best Farm

Tree symmetry on the lane heading into Best Farm

Large, beautiful house at Best Farm

Large, beautiful house at Best Farm

I’ve been wrong before, and Monocacy would prove me wrong again.  In spite of the sundry sites and footpaths, I really liked this place!  Even the constant roar (in places) of interstate traffic didn’t put a damper on our two outings at the park.

Foggy Monocacy iver and railroad crossing

Foggy Monocacy River and railroad crossing near Gambrill Mill

The Junction Trail out of the visitor center parking lot is kind of bland, but the center itself is full of near souvenirs and great learning opportunities, so I’m going to give our first stop a passing grade.  We also walked to the Best Farm from this location, and the stunning house and corn cribs were well worth the additional walk.

Edgewood mansion at the Gambrill Mill location

Edgewood mansion at the Gambrill Mill location

Our second stop was a brief, circular hike at Gambrill Mill.  Much of the short jaunt was on a boardwalk suited for disabled history buffs.  We are always very impressed by equal opportunity hiking!  After completing the loop, I stopped to take a picture of Edgewood, former home of James H. Gambrill.  The mansion is now used as a National Park Service training facility.

Tree tunnel at the Thomas Farm location

Tree tunnel at the Thomas Farm location

The hiking/sightseeing improves after a short drive to Thomas Farm.  Here, a 2.2 mile lariat includes a nice walk along the Monocacy River.  After completing these trails, the Worthington House is about a mile down the road, and a 3.8 mile double-loop circumnavigates a cattle farm.  In this section, we were fortunate enough to see two bald eagles and several deer.  One eagle was clutching what looked like nesting material and made a quick beeline across a large field near the river.

Worthington House.  This commenced the second day of the Monocacy experience.  Note the sunny skies

Worthington House. This commenced the second day of the Monocacy experience. Note the sunny skies

Our journey around the Monocacy National Battlefield resulted in 8.7 total miles of hiking with an approximate combined elevation gain of 460′.   Monocacy doesn’t have nearly as many signs and props as Gettysburg or Antietam, but it does allow for a bit more use of the imagination.  The bottom line is that this is a great place for a historical hike, and I’m already looking forward to going back someday!

A field at the Worthington House location.  his is where the bald eagles were sighted.

A field at the Worthington House location. This is where the bald eagles were sighted.

Along a farm lane directly behind the Worthington House

Along a farm lane directly behind the Worthington House

Eidolon Nature Preserve

The Old Stone House.  The house has been gutted, but it's still a nice-looking remnant of the past.

The Old Stone House. The house has been gutted, but it’s still a nice-looking remnant of the past.

Today marked the final step of my local nature preserves tour, and Eidolon didn’t disappoint.  The preserve is a lonely place on top of a mountain outside of Great Cacapon, West Virginia, and it offered up the opportunity to take a long stroll without running into a hoard of other hikers.

We weren't able to hit all of the trails.  The ending point for the Old Coach Road (see right) is a little bit confusing, but the rest of the trails are very well-marked

We weren’t able to hit all of the trails. The ending point for the Old Coach Road (see right) is a little bit confusing, but the rest of the trails are very well-marked

The 354-acre tract is run by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society and is the property of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  The land was willed to TNC by Marguerite Zapoleon, longtime resident and author of Everyone Needs a Mountain, or Skylife at Eidolon.  The book describes living on the mountain and is out of print; however, older copies are available from a variety of sources on the internet.

There are two entrances.  There is very limited parking along Orleans Road.  Walking up the road from the green gate leads to a placard with information and maps.

There are two entrances. There is very limited parking along Orleans Road. Walking up the road from the green gate leads to a placard with information and maps.

There are a number of trails in the preserve, the most-rugged of which is the Old Coach Road.  This 18th century trail starts out relatively flat before descending to a dead-end near Woodmont Road.  Staying on top of the mountain allows hikers to wander a series of easy loops and connector trails, the highlight of which is the remains of the still beautiful shell of the old stone house.

At the junction of Old Coach Road and the Yellow Trail

At the junction of Old Coach Road and the Yellow Trail

There weren’t enough hours in this short winter day to hit every trail (we missed the blue and white trails), but we did rack up 4.3 miles with a combined elevation gain of 916′.   On the way down the mountain on the Old Coach Road, several deer took off in front of us.  This preserve is open to hunters, so hiking during deer season should be done with extreme caution.  Eidolon doesn’t have the rare plant and animal life of other nature preserves, but today it more than made up for it in solitude.  In all, I would advise anyone to take in the local nature preserves and find a favorite of his or her own.  They all have strong points certain to satisfy anybody looking for a short hike.

Parting shot from one of the many trails

Parting shot from one of the many trails

Cool Spring Preserve (1469 Lloyd Road, Jefferson County, WV)

The main building at the  Cool Springs Preserve

The main building at the Cool Spring Preserve

And a colorful building that I assume is used for storage

And a colorful building that I assume is used for storage

I first heard of Cool Spring Preserve a couple of months ago, and I’ve been looking forward to taking the short trip down Routes 9 and 340 ever since.  This relatively new addition to the local natural sites operated by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society contains approximately 1.25 miles of hiking trails and a rare wetland that makes it a must see for local wildlife enthusiasts.

A map of the preserve.   I didn't even get lost.  Wow!

A map of the preserve. I didn’t even get lost. Wow!

Marshland and Bullskin Run

Marshland and Bullskin Run

Only 100 known acres of Shenandoah Wet Prairie Marl Marsh exist worldwide, and Cool Spring contains the only tract of this wetland located in West Virginia.  This marshy area located along Bullskin Run contains 18 rare plant species, and it is known locally as a birding hotspot.

More stream and marshland, the rare Shenandoah Wet Prairie Marl Marsh

More stream and marshland, the rare Shenandoah Wet Prairie Marl Marsh

I like totally dig this cosmic trail sign, dude!

I like totally dig this cosmic trail sign, dude!

The hiking trails include the Studio Loop, Meadow Loop, and Rock Break Trail.  The paths are very well-maintained, and the slightly rolling countryside is easy for hikers of all ages and skill levels.  We walked all of the trails and registered less than 50′ of elevation gain.  It doesn’t get much easier than that!  Also, there are colorful, artsy trail signs and bird feeders, and the kiosk and map provide all of the information you’ll need to get started.

Pileated woofpecker  birdhouse

Pileated woofpecker birdhouse

Typical, well-groomed stretch of trail

Typical, well-groomed stretch of trail

In the future, this site’s main building will serve as the headquarters of the PVAS, and with that, there should be numerous birdwatching opportunities for novices (like me!).  Cool Spring is a great place to spend a couple of hours, and I’m already anticipating my next visit!

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