View from hill at McClure Cottage of Pax below


Pax Tri-Event
May 2007

Last updated June 20, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four

In June 2006, Norma and I began participating in Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC) events together. The events of the club and the friends we've made along the way have greatly enriched our lives. It was time for us to give back.

Over the 2007 Memorial Day weekend, we decided to throw together three physical activities we enjoy: hiking, bicycling, and paddling. To make this even better, we planned this around three places we love: Patuxent River Park, Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, and Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, all of which center around the Patuxent (Pax) River. It was to take place over a three day weekend. With all these "threes," we decided to name it the Pax Tri-Event 2007. After putting together a schedule filled with as many activities as we could cram into one long weekend, we posted the announcement and invited others to give it a "tri."

Day One: May 25, 2007

Memorial Day weekend traffic is always a bitch in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas and this weekend was no exception. Fortunately, I wasn't driving to the Eastern Shore to go to the beach. Instead, I drove south to Patuxent River Park. I stopped in at the Visitor Center to pick up the key to the campground and talk to Jim, one of the staff. I've dealt with Jim in the past and he's always taken care of my group.

I arrived at the campsite just before 1630 then began unloading and setting things up. Norma arrived a little later with chicken and biscuits for dinner. Gradually, the rest of our group began showing up.

In general, I find the MOC crowd to be very helpful. Just ask and participants will lend a hand. Glenn brought two coolers full of ice, Joe brought a screen shelter, and Alyssa brought firewood. Each person was also asked to bring a potluck dish which made the meals all the more enjoyable.

Jim showed up later with a truckload full of firewood...enough to last much longer than our scheduled stay.

We began our first activity of the event, a short night hike. At about 2005, we headed south from our group campsite on the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Driving Tour (CADT). This dirt road connects Patuxent River Park to Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, crossing over Mattaponi Creek. By the time we reached Mattaponi Creek, it was starting to get dark.

Lutz brought a special listening device which amplifies the high frequency sounds produced by bats. By pointing it in various directions, he can detect if bats are present and determine their direction. It wasn't yet the ideal time for listening to bats so we continued walking.

In Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, we took a short trail to a 40 foot high observation tower. From the top, Norma read some information about the general area and its impact on the environment. We listened for bats. Nothing.

Heading back, we stopped at the wooden bridge over Mattaponi Creek at 2105. Now it was pretty dark. The two-thirds full moon gave us enough light so we could see outlines and shadows. Though it was only May, the fireflies were abundant and active. So were the Fowlers frogs. Lutz pulled out his listening device and just as he expected, the area had several bats. The sound they send out to detect flying insects was amplified on his handheld device. It was a little overwhelming to think that there is a whole other world beyond our limited hearing range.

The group headed back to the campsite in various small groups. Under the tree cover, the moonlight did little to illuminate the road but since it is big, wide, and flat, there were no problems.

I locked the gate to the campsite then joined the rest of the group. I welcomed everyone to the Pax Tri-Event, went over the schedule for the next day, and then started an icebreaker game. I said my name and something interesting or unique about myself that could be said in 5 words or less. The next person would repeat my name and what I said about myself, then say their name and something about themselves in 5 words or less. This seemed to work pretty well. Here's what I remember (though one person had to refresh my memory about her factoid). Norma got bit by a prairie dog, Ali likes to solve puzzles, Melissa likes to ride motorcycles, Jimmy likes the outdoors, Joe is 6 of 7 siblings, Kathryn teaches music, Bill is the Mayor of Hyattsville, Alyssa has 2 dogs, Lloyd has math tattoos, Yvonne was blessed by the Pope, Lutz likes Greek dancing, Aimee has a twin (she is the good twin), Glenn is related to Warren Beatty, and I was a hairdresser. If there was a prize, I think Bill would have won it for the most interesting fact about himself.

Speaking of prizes, Norma and I put together a test. Norma's part was about flora and mine concerned fauna. The quiz pertained to things we would see or might see in the area. Many of the answers would be mentioned by Norma, me, or a park naturalist over the weekend. A prize was promised for the high score.

Later that night, Chip rode his bicycle to our campsite. Chip is a fellow from the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) that Yvonne and I have paddled with. He was staying at the canoe campsite just a mile away. It turns out several people from our MOC group knew Chip from their Assateague Island backpacking trip. He talked with us for awhile then rode back to his campsite.

After a night of interesting conversation around the fire, we were off to bed. The night was clear and warm with an expected low of 64 degrees. It was nice going to sleep to the sound of owls.

Day Two: May 26, 2007

Norma and I were up at 0800. We started making breakfast, then sounded reveille at 0830. Norma cooked up fresh eggs laid by chickens on her parents' farm. I cooked bacon. With people so willing to help out after eating, we managed to have pots and pans cleaned off quickly.

Chris, the final member of our group, showed up. His interesting or unique fact about himself is that he lived in the Virgin Islands.

At 1000, we began a bike ride along the CADT. We started at Selby's Landing then rode south, retracing much of our route from the night before. I spotted a small eastern painted turtle in the road.

We stopped at a small wooden observation tower on the north side of Mattaponi Creek. See first photo at left.

At the bridge (see second photo at left) we saw two snakes. One was covered with mud so we couldn't tell what it was, but the other was definitely a northern water snake. See third and fourth photos at left. There were also numerous small fish. We crossed the bridge and continued riding into Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary.

We climbed the 40 foot high observation tower where, unlike last night, instead of listening to night sounds, we saw the visual beauty of the Pax. See fifth photo at left. The high for the day was expected to be 88 degrees. Up on the platform without tree cover, one could only speculate how uncomfortably hot and humid it gets in the middle of summer. There were some terrific views to the north (sixth photo) and south (seventh photo).

Continuing onward, we biked another mile to a small dirt trail that took us to a boardwalk. Norma lectured about aquatic vegetation.

After biking just a little further, we stopped and walked on Lookout Creek Trail. Jimmy found ticks on himself which gave the rest of us the heebee jeebees. We spotted numerous frogs which blended nicely into the background. See eighth photo at left. Another turtle was spotted.

A few months prior, when Norma, Brian, KC, and I scouted the area on March 4, 2007, Catfish Pond was full back then, but this weekend it was dry. I assume the pond housed the tadpoles which later became the frogs that thrive so abundantly in the area.

After walking Lookout Creek Trail, we biked to the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary Visitor Center. See ninth photo at left, provided courtesy of Lutz. We had no tree cover for this last part and there was one loose gravelly hill near the end that pretty much kicked our collective asses.

At the Visitor Center, we ate lunch, used the toilets, and rehydrated. There was a nice view to the west of an extra large osprey nest on the roof of a silo. See tenth photo at left.

Just north of the Visitor Center was Merkle Pond. See eleventh photo at left.

Norma commenced leading a 4.3 mile hike on the Paw Paw, Mounds, and Poplar Springs Trails. On the Mounds Trail, we saw some scenic wetlands and white flowered mountain laurel. See twelfth photo at left, provided courtesy of Lutz. I pointed out where there used to be a beaver dam and how it changed the landscape on Lookout Creek. Though the trails were mostly shaded, the heat was starting to get to some. This was pretty much the first hot weekend of the new year so people hadn't yet had a chance to acclimatize.

After the hike, we headed back to the campsite via quiet paved roads. I led the faster group and Norma led the slower one. Only a one mile stretch of Croom Road (route 382) in the town of Croom was busy. The faster group biked an extra 3 miles to see the Rural Life Museum and Duvall Tool Museum at Patuxent River Park.

I biked back to check on Norma's group. A few were feeling the effects of the heat so they waited at Saint Thomas Church where Jimmy and I picked them up later in vehicles.

That night, I grilled burgers and hot dogs while Norma grilled vegetable skewers, asparagii, and mushrooms. An interesting survey of the participants showed that we were almost evenly split as to who preferred propane to charcoal. I'm a propane man.

Kathryn saw a black snake in the outdoor shower.

I went over the plans for tomorrow. I was surprised as to how many people had experience with canoes and/or kayaks.

Lutz took some people out for another night walk to listen for bats. Others took a walk much later. The atmosphere was festive, but since there is often an inverse correlation between festivity and sleep, it only made for a rougher morning the next day for some.

Lying in bed, I listened to the late night campfire group. I kept hearing mention of some fellow by the name of Mike Hunt, who I never met. Seems like a popular guy.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three, May 27, 2007

Norma and I were up at 0600. Reveille went at 0700. We made eggs and sausage.

Since Yvonne and I brought our own boats, we left a little early. Jimmy joined us to help me with my tandem sit-on-top kayak. We launched from Jackson's Landing then paddled north and across the Pax to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. We landed at their pier at the end of Railroad Bed Trail. This trail was once part of the Chesapeake Beach Railroad and was operational from 1898 to 1935. We secured our boats then walked about 0.75 miles to the Visitor Center where we joined the rest of the group. There was no public road to the pier so paddling was the only way to get our boats there.

Norma led the rest of the group to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary via car. We managed to meet at the Visitor Center at the same time.

Norma led a 5 mile hike along Forest Trail, Middle Trail, Upper Railroad Bed Trail, Beech Trail, Pindell Bluff Trail along Pindell Creek, and Farm Trail. See first photo at left. A box turtle and snakeskin were seen. See second photo and third photo at left. We stopped at the Sweet Flag Picnic Area for a break and a group photo. See fourth photo at left. This clearing gave me a chance to orient the group with our place on the shore and talk about the area.

I spotted a brush rabbit. See fifth photo at left.

As we walked through River Farm on Farm Road, I spotted a bluebird box nest with a tenant peering through the door. See sixth photo at left.

Back at the Visitor Center, we ate lunch.

Lindsay, the park naturalist, gave us a brief canoe lesson and then walked us along Otter Point Trail. We stopped at the observation deck where we got a nice view of North Glebe Marsh. See seventh photo at left. Lindsay's entomologist husband, Ben, joined us. At the pier, we got the boats ready for launch. See Bill and Glenn in the eighth photo at left. Norma and I paddled my tandem kayak and Yvonne paddled her Mystic sea kayak, which later earned her the trail name "Miss Mystic." See ninth photo at left. Everyone else was in an Old Town canoe.

A few other trails names were handed out that weekend. Melissa is "motorcycle mama" and Alyssa is "giggles." I think Lutz should be named "batman." You know you've gotten to know your fellow campers when trail names are handed out.

We paddled north on the Pax, then up the Western Branch. The tide was on our side. We saw Billingsley Point in the distance, which is the oldest structure in Prince Georges County (1692). Lindsay pointed out red winged blackbirds (tenth photo), ospreys, and herons (eleventh photo), provided courtesy of Lutz. We paddled past open grassy wetlands, then into narrower spots with tree cover. See Alyssa and Chris paddling in such a spot in the twelfth photo at left.

Several snakes were seen swimming in the water. I assume they were northern water snakes which are harmless.

We turned around at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. See thirteenth photo at left.

A lazy snake was spotted on a log as we paddled upstream. Coming back downstream, it hadn't moved. See fourteenth photo at left.

Knowing we were all quite warm, I found it my duty to spray everyone (or at least try to) with my water cannon. Many found the cool water a cold Sierra Mist.

We stopped at Iron Pot Landing for a swim. Joe demonstrated some massive cannonball splashes. Yvonne showed us some kayak sculling, and then taught Jimmy to do an Eskimo Roll in only 5 minutes! Sounds like a good combination of great teacher and fast student. See fifteenth photo at left.

I found a nest of baby birds under the pier. They knew enough to keep quiet when we were around. See sixteenth photo at left.

Jimmy and Melissa swapped boats with Norma and me. I got to see how a carbon fiber wing paddle worked with a canoe. See seventeenth photo at left. Photo provided courtesy of Aimee.

We paddled back down the Western Branch then up one of the tributaries where we saw a beaver lodge. See eighteenth photo at left where Jimmy, Melissa, and Kathryn sit just to the right of the lodge. Lindsay spoke about aquatic vegetation and showed how one can cut a reed to use for breathing underwater. It works well because of the hundreds of miniature tube-like partitions that make for good air flow. See nineteenth photo at left.

Back at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, we put away the boats then headed back to the Visitor Center. We finished paddling about 4 miles that day. Lindsay then took us on a short walk along the Marsh Boardwalk where we saw a small bird nest, numerous spatterdock flowers, and an iris. See twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second, and twenty-third photos at left. I learned the difference between a swamp and a marsh. A swamp has trees and a marsh does not.

After our guided tour of the Sanctuary, I took Jimmy and Yvonne back to the boats while Norma led the rest by car back to the campsite.

Yvonne, Jimmy, and I saw a green snake (see twenty-fourth photo at left) and Jimmy saw another snake which Yvonne and I did not see. We saw what we think is a muskrat lodge (see twenty-fifth photo at left). Next, the three of us stopped at the observation blind on South Glebe Marsh. See twenty-sixth photo at left. Finally, we paddled back to Jackson's Landing then drove to meet the rest of the group at the campsite.

Norma laid out the fixins so we could make our own tacos. The tasty ground beef was from cows raised on her parents' farm. Lutz made a fantastic pear cake.

Chris saw the same snake in the shower that Kathryn saw the previous day.

Dark clouds moved in along with the sound of thunder. We put rain flies on our tents, staked down tents and screen shelters, and covered food. Then we went into a nearby barn where we ate ice cream and played games. Fortunately, the barn had lighting, tables, and benches. One could hardly call our camping "roughing it." The campsite bathrooms even had air conditioning!

A kayaker came to us seeking assistance. He was apparently locked in and couldn't drive out. He was told the gate wouldn't be locked until 2000 but the parked shut the gate early. I walked over to see if my campsite key would open the gate to which he referred. When I got there, I realized the gate was not locked. Just shut. The kayaker was embarrassed but I'm sure many of us would have made the same assumption.

The rain hit but it hardly turned out to be the torrential downpour we expected. Instead, it was a sprinkle with lots of lightning. It soon passed and was gone by about 1930.

We moved back to the campsite and got a fire going. I went over the schedule for the next day.

The group was a good deal more tired than the previous night so there weren't so many people staying up late.

That night we heard several dogs. Joe said he saw them run through our campsite. A friend later told me that a local claims that there is a pack of wolves running around in the area.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Four: May 28, 2007

Again, Norma and I were up at 0600 to make breakfast. This time it was pancakes and sausage. Reveille went at 0700.

We had a lot to do this morning and we needed to be out of the campsite by 0900. The group worked together nicely and I was pleased to find people more than willing to help out. We got pots and pans cleaned off and food put away. Personal items were packed. The screen shelters were taken down and stowed. The area was policed for trash.

We drove to the Patuxent River Park Visitor Center.

Lloyd was declared the winner of the flora and fauna quiz created by Norma and me. His prize was a large book about local birds purchased from the Visitor Center.

We carpooled to Patuxent Wetlands Park. Park staff transported the boats then helped us launch. This enabled us to do a one way trip.

Yesterday, the Sanctuary provided canoes. Today, we had 10 kayaks (including personal ones) and one aluminum canoe, paddled by Chris and Alyssa. A few people left early so we were able to have a higher percentage of people in kayaks than we originally expected since there weren't enough kayaks for everyone. See first photo at left for the batman in a kayak.

Paddling downstream, we spotted a great blue heron that teased us by waiting until we got within camera range then flew off just a ways ahead until we caught up. It repeated this several times.

We passed a beaver lodge near Galloway Creek. See second photo at left. The beaver had an osprey as a neighbor. It makes me wonder if the beaver did that intentionally since osprey make good early warning devices when intruders are in the area. See third photo at left.

We stopped at Bristol Landing where Norma told how the Landing was an important tobacco shipping point. She later mentioned the historical significance of the nearby Pig Point where sunken ships were found from the war of 1812.

My water cannon was now being passed around which kept the paddling atmosphere upbeat.

We stopped for lunch at Mount Calvert Historical and Archaeological Park. See fourth photo at left for Alyssa at the Mount Calvert house. Walking up the hill to the house, we ran into Greg and Jenny of the CPA who are kayaking friends of Yvonne and me.

The lunch area was on high ground which gave us a nice view of the Western Branch and the Billingsley House. See fifth photo at left. The House is in the upper left corner off in the distance.

After lunch, we continued paddling downstream. In the sixth photo at left, Joe demonstrates the incorrect way to paddle a kayak. Sit down Joe!

At a support base for the former Chesapeake Beach Railroad, we spotted a duck which appeared to be on its nest. I don't think that bird was going to move for anything. See Kathryn having a staring contest with the duck in the seventh photo at left.

We paddled a ways into Jug Bay then turned around and landed at Jackson's Landing. Our group paddled about 5 miles that day. We got the boats unloaded and put away, then met at the Visitor Center. Yvonne and Jimmy stayed behind to work on their paddling skills.

Most of the rest of us did a short walk through the Black Walnut Creek Nature Study Area. This is probably the most scenic part of Patuxent River Park. See eighth photo at left. We spotted a five lined skink. See ninth photo at left.

Afterwards, we met at the top of the hill near McClure Cottage for a group photo before bidding our farewells. See tenth photo at left.

On the drive home, I saw two black snakes, the larger being about 5 feet long! Both were in the road. Not a good place for a snake but a worse place for a turtle.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

My goal for this event was for everyone to have a good time. It didn't matter if people stayed for the whole weekend or completed every activity. It wasn't meant to be a challenge, a race, or a test. I hope the participants left with a greater appreciation of the wetlands, a deeper love of the outdoors, a sense of accomplishment, and maybe a new friend or two.