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Trail blazers

Charlestown nature lovers help preserve outdoor oasis

Created date

April 17th, 2018
A covered bridge leads walkers over Herbert Run along the half-mile-long nature trail at Charlestown.

A covered bridge leads walkers over Herbert Run along the half-mile-long nature trail at Charlestown.

Charlestown, the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., is well known for its unique under-one-roof design that connects every amenity on campus and allows residents to enjoy an active lifestyle year-round. But there’s another, often overlooked side to Charlestown that is equally as impressive: the outside.

Charlestown’s park-like campus features beautifully landscaped courtyards, a magnificent fountain, vegetable and flower gardens, a three-acre lake, and a half-mile-long nature trail that meanders along Herbert Run, a stream that flows through Baltimore County and is a tributary of the Patapsco River which flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

On any given day, that’s where you’ll likely find volunteers from Charlestown’s Nature Trail Committee.

Labor of love

The Nature Trail Committee, a group of a few dozen outdoor enthusiasts, volunteer their time preserving and protecting the dozens of species of wildflowers and trees found along the trail.

The trail is divided up into numbered sections, each assigned to a committee member. Throughout the year group work days are also scheduled where volunteers work together taking care of the wildflowers, clearing invasive plants, and smoothing out the woodchips along the trail.

Any heavy work like a downed tree or hauling mulch to freshen up the trail is done by Charlestown’s grounds department. The grounds department also replaces the wooden rails and markers along the trail when needed, does weekly inspections of the trail for any hazardous trees or limbs, and collects trash from the receptacles along the trail.

Pat Kasuda, a graduate of the Master Gardener program through the University of Maryland Extension, has been volunteering on the trail since she and her husband moved to Charlestown nine years ago.   

“Working with the other volunteers to keep the trail clear of invasive plants is satisfying,” says Pat. “We know that we are protecting our environment and making a contribution to controlling pollution in the air. It also creates a climate for comradery.”

Markers placed along the trail on trees and near wildflowers identify the different species, and a collection of wildflowers are kept and cataloged by the committee.

The natural environment attracts foxes, tortoises, squirrels, rabbits, and a variety of birds. Benches are situated along the trail; a butterfly garden and gazebo at the entrance is the perfect spot to relax and bird watch.

Out on a limb

Forty percent of Charlestown’s 110-acre property is forested, boasting more than 70 species of trees. The health of the trees, especially those along the nature trail, is a top priority for the Tree Working Group (TWiG), a group formed as an offshoot of the Nature Trail Committee.

TWiG volunteers work with Charlestown’s administration to identify, remove, and replace diseased trees. The group is currently working to remove several ash trees damaged from the Emerald Ash Borer (an invasive wood-boring beetle).

The 22-page document Eco-Charlestown, written by former Nature Trail Committee cochair and biologist Bert Clegern, is available to Charlestown residents and staff and covers virtually every environmental aspect of Charlestown, including the natural history of the Charlestown area; the management of Charlestown’s watershed and vegetation; and a list of the trees, birds, and mammals on campus.

In April, the Nature Trail Committee held a Nature Festival celebrating Charlestown’s natural environment. The festival featured guided walks along the nature trail, displays with specimens from the trail, as well as resident artwork inspired by the nature trail.

“The trail is a wonderful respite for people to enjoy nature to its fullest,” says Pat. “The quiet sound of the stream running along the trail and birds singing in the trees set the stage for being out of the bustling noises of a busy community. Having many varieties of trees and wildflowers only adds to this treasure.”

History of the trail

The nature trail was the innovation of Paul Gaudreau, a naturalist who once lived at Charlestown. Paul envisioned a trail that followed the course of a stream in the woods and proposed the idea in a letter to Charlestown management.

Within days, work on the nature trail began, and Paul’s vision took shape. As the trail became a reality, Paul recruited his friends and neighbors and started the Charlestown Nature Trail Committee.