“Celebrating Our Past, Creating Our Future.”

Patapsco Valley State Park - Maryland's First State Park
Plaque Dedication - May 23, 2006

Patapsco Valley State Park Plaque

Pictured (l to r): DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks, State Delegate James Malone, State Delegate Steven DeBoy, Assistant Secretary for Resource Conservation Mike Slattery, Mr. Kirk Rodgers (grandson of Fred W. Besley), Park Manager Captain Gary Burnett and Maryland Park Service Superintendent Colonel Rick Barton with newly dedicated plaque. 

Pictured (l to r): DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks, State Delegate James Malone, State Delegate Steven DeBoy, Assistant Secretary for Resource Conservation Mike Slattery, Mr. Kirk Rodgers (grandson of Fred W. Besley), Park Manager Captain Gary Burnett and Maryland Park Service Superintendent Colonel Rick Barton with newly dedicated plaque.

Dedication of the Plaque
Recognizing Patapsco Valley as Maryland’s First State Park

The Maryland Park Service dedicated a plaque in the Hilton area of the park on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006. It recognizes Patapsco Valley State Park as Maryland’s first state park. After welcoming remarks by Captain Gary Burnett, the park’s manager, guest speakers included C. Ronald Franks, the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Paul Farragut, President of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park, and Robb Bailey, Maryland Park Ser-vice Historian. Offutt Johnson, a retired park naturalist, portrayed Fred W. Besley, Maryland’s First State Forester and told those assembled how it was back in those early days. After the plaque was unveiled, Colonel Rick Barton, the Superintendent of the Maryland Park Service gave the closing remarks.

The plaque is located adjacent to the tire playground near the restrooms. It has the great seal of the State of Maryland on the upper right and the Maryland Forestry & Parks Centennial 1906-2006 logo on the upper left. The inscription reads as follows, “Patapsco Valley State Park – Maryland’s First State Park…In 1907, Catonsville’s John Glenn planted the seeds for Patapsco Valley State Park, Maryland’s First State Park, by donating 43 acres of his Hilton Estate to the Maryland State Board of Forestry. State Forester F.W. Besley promoted the Patapsco Forest Reserve as a recreational park in 1910 – a pioneering concept. The “park” attracted picnickers and campers from Baltimore City and surrounding communities. By 1916, about 75 campsites were open, accommodating hundreds of campers and thousands of visitors. Patapsco’s establishment laid the foundation for today’s Maryland State Park System. Now one of Maryland’s largest State Parks, Patapsco welcomes visitors and campers from around the world. Dedicated May 23, 2006.”

New Bridge on the Grist Mill Trail

A new pedestrian bridge over the Patapsco River completes the 1.25 mile Grist Mill Trail Extension, a multi-purpose trail that provides ADA accessible access into the Patapsco State Park from Ellicott City, Catonsville and other upstream communities for the first time since Agnes struck in June of 1972 and wiped out portions of River Road, eliminating the Howard County connection to the Park.

The new bridge in the Orange Grove area of the park, crossing the Patapsco River at the location of the old Patterson Viaduct, connects the Baltimore County side of the river to the Howard County side. The suspension bridge is approximately 200 feet long and is designed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic only (motorized vehicles are prohibited).  Bikers and hikers can now cross the river without having to make a long detour. The new bridge was actually built in the state of Washington. It was shipped cross-country in several sections and then assembled on site. An official dedication ceremony was held on November 4, 2006.

New suspension bridge that completed the Grist Mill Trail extension

The Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, in cooperation with Patapsco State Park, DNR and Howard County Tourism celebrated the completion of the Grist Mill Trail Extension and its pedestrian bridge on Sat., Nov. 4, 2006 as part of DNR' Centennial Year Celebration.

The Grist Mill Trail is a paved pathway in the Avalon area of the Patapsco State Park. It is located along the eastern or Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River from near "Lost Lake" upriver to the Swinging Bridge. The paved portion is eight feet wide and there is a 2 to 3 foot gravel horse path, which runs along the length of the trail. The trail is approximately 1.4 miles long and it is "ADA" or "handicapped accessible".

The Bigger Picture - Patapsco Heritage Trail

The Patapsco Heritage Trail is envisioned to be an on/off road trail that connects Ellicott City/Catonsville to the BWI Regional Trail System.The BWI regional trail system in turn connects BWI to the Annapolis area where the regional trail connects to two national trails - the East Coast Greenway running North-South from Calais, Maine to the Florida Keys and the American Discovery Trail running East-West from Lewes, Delaware to Point Keyes in California. The on-road sections of the Patapsco Heritage Trail are back country roads to the North and South of the Avalon section of the Patapsco State Park. These roads follow along the Patapsco River from Ellicott City to Elkridge. The trail follows the Grist Mill Trail and its recently completed extension with the Park. For more information, visit www.patapscoheritagegreenway.org/

Celebrating the Centennial of Forestry and Parks in Maryland 1906-2006

Maryland was a leader among the states in establishing a program of forest conservation, and out of that forest conservation initiative, Maryland’s system of state parks emerged almost immediately. In 1906, philanthropist brothers John and Robert Garrett challenged the state to establish a forestry program by donating nearly 2000 tree-stripped acres of land in Garrett County to the state on the condition that the state establish the governmental machinery to promote wise use of forest resources.

At that time, Maryland’s tree cover had been reduced from nearly 90 percent of its land surface when the first colonists arrived to a paltry 35 percent. Maryland was running out of wood, losing wildlife habitat, suffering the ravages of erosion and stream siltation, and being scourged by unchecked forest fires.

The state legislature, spurred by Senators William McCulloh Brown and Joseph B. Seth, with the aid of State Geologist W. Bullock Clark, responded with Maryland’s first forestry law, which Governor Edwin Warfield signed into law on April 5, 1906. Maryland was thus the third state in the union, preceded by Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to establish a statewide forestry program. The law established a Board of Forestry, made up of influential Marylanders, to oversee the management of the Garrett bequest, to institute a statewide program of forest conservation, to accept additional land donations, and to hire a state forester. Acting upon the board’s recommendation, Governor Warfield appointed an able young forester working for the U.S. Forest Service, Fred W. Besley, who would serve as Maryland’s first State Forester from 1906 until 1942. A Yale School of Forestry trained protégé of Gifford Pinchot, first U.S. Forester Besley proved to be an able and energetic choice.

Besley realized almost immediately that one good way to promote the forestry agenda was to encourage the public to use forest reserves for recreational purposes. When, in 1907, John Glenn, a resident of Catonsville, donated the beginnings of another forest reserve along the Patapsco River near Baltimore, Besley saw the opportunity to entice Baltimore area residents to come recreate in the great out-of-doors, and by 1910 was informally calling the Patapsco Forest Reserve “Patapsco Park.” By 1912, Besley had developed a small recreation area along the river, and by the middle of the decade, people were flocking out of Baltimore to picnic, swim and camp at the “park.” Now a 14,000 acre, 32 mile long stretch of public land, Patapsco Valley State Park hosts over a half million visitors a year.

Besides establishing additional forest reserves and parks, Fred W. Besley taught forestry practices at the University of Maryland and established the first state tree nursery there. He also traveled, in his words, “every cow path in Maryland” producing a comprehensive inventory of all tree stands in the state that exceeded 5 acres. He gave illustrated talks to farmers, lumbermen, public service groups, and to anyone who would listen, on the benefits of wise forest management. He and his small staff provided advice to wood lot owners on how best to manage their forest re-sources, and created a roadside tree program to beautify Maryland’s growing network of public highways. Most significantly, Besley created a staff of over 300 volunteer forest wardens, along with a network of more than 40 fire towers, across the state to reduce the incidence of forest fires, an effort at which the wardens succeeded splendidly. After the legislature started providing money for forest reserve acquisition, Besley purchased historic Fort Frederick, a relic of the French and Indian War (1756-1763), which, like Patapsco, was informally known as a park. He thus earned the gratitude of people who wanted the ruined fort preserved in the public interest. With the acquisition of state-owned forest lands came the necessity of paid employees to watch over it.

By 1916, Besley had two salaried “resident forest wardens” on duty, Edmund G. Prince of the Patapsco Reserve and Abraham Lincoln Sines of the Potomac Reserve (now Garrett State Forest in Garrett County). As more lands were acquired, with some dedicated for recreational use, it eventually became necessary to hire forest and park guards to assist the wardens with protecting the resources and assisting the public in the use and enjoyment of forests and parks. Out of this early workforce has grown today’s force of professional resource managers, forest and park rangers, technicians, conservation aids and other forest and park resource specialists.

The Great Depression of the 1930s, as devastating as it was to the nation as a whole, proved a boon to forest and park development. One of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which, in Maryland, put 30,000 young unemployed men to work reclaiming forest and other natural resources, building recreational facilities and restoring historic structures on public lands. Most of the recreational facilities that the CCC built in Maryland forests and parks are in use today. Besley later stated that all the good works of the CCC set Maryland’s forests and parks ahead by 20 years.

The CCC and Patapsco State Park  CCC Camp - Patapsco State Park
(now known as Patapsco Valley State Park)

Conservation efforts began in the river valley in 1907 when the Patapsco State Forest Reserve was established. During the Depression years of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted trees and built trails, picnic areas, campsites and handsome cut-stone pavilions to improve what had by then become "Patapsco State Park".

Company 356 of the Civilian Conservation Corps made its encampment near Lost Lake at Camp Tydings in the Avalon Area. The CCC built the stone picnic shelters in Orange Grove and Glen Artney (not visible from the river). The CCC was also responsible for planting trees in the river valley to advance the reforestation efforts and reclaim the over-used and abused land.

This Civilian Conservation Corps Camp (CCC) was operational between 1933 and 1942. Following the start of World War II, the CCC Camp was converted to the nation's first Conscientious Objector Camp.

During the Second World War, despite the drain of manpower to the military, public demand for outdoor recreation remained constant, then accelerated after the war as prosperity returned. Maryland strove to keep up, placing new emphasis upon carving state parks out of existing state forest land and acquiring new parks altogether. In 1969, the State established Program Open Space, a dedicated tax fund that added tens of thousands of new acres to the state’s park system. Today, Maryland's system of state forests and parks provides over 300,000 acres of public lands. Eleven million visitors come to these valuable resources each year and contribute over $300 million dollars to the state’s economy. There is a state forest or park within 20 miles of every state resident. Both Marylanders and visitors to the “Old Line State” enjoy a precious outdoor resource thanks to the farsightedness of Fred Besley and the many other dedicated forest and park professionals over the past century.


Patapsco Tributary,
Volume 5 Issue 2 Fall & Winter 2006/2007
Friends of Patapsco State Park
Patapsco Heritage Greenway