Boardwalk to Beach
“Best boardwalks in Maryland”, which we posted back in January, was one of our most popular stories. But it turns out that it wasn’t complete.
Recently, Sara Rivers-Cofield, the curator from the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Lab — whom we profiled in “Maryland History, Bit by Bit” in March — wrote to ask if we knew that Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum also had a boardwalk. Although she didn’t say so, the implication was that our January list was woefully inadequate.
JPPM, of course, is home to both the MAC Lab and PEARL — the Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Lab. It’s also one of the gems of Southern Maryland, with 560 acres of woodlands and meadows, a facsimile of an Indian village, and miles of trails. And, for paddlers, it offers some of the best access to beautiful Leonard Creek and the Patuxent River.
As you can probably tell, we’re fans of JPPM. And no. We didn’t know it had a boardwalk.
Two other boardwalks that probably should have made our list were the “Life of the Forest Trail” and the “Life of the Marsh Trail” on Assateague Island. In this case, though, the omission wasn’t our fault. When we visited in January, the trails were closed for repairs. Now, though, they’ve been reopened and are ready for visitors. They look pretty lovely in the videos (thanks, Visit Assateague!)
We’ll certainly check out both trails the next time we visit the National Seashore.
But we didn’t have to wait that long to visit the boardwalk at JPPM. Since it’s just up the road from our house, I ran over there on my lunch hour today to check it out. All I can say is, Sara was right (even if she didn’t actually say anything.)
One of this boardwalk’s charms is that it’s reached by a paved trail, which means it’s accessible to people with limited mobility. The hike, including the walk from the parking lot, is about a half mile each way, but it’s mostly flat and is doable for someone in a wheelchair. The only other boardwalk on our list that’s so accessible is the Rail Trail in Chesapeake Beach.
The JPPM boardwalk does include a drop in elevation of about 10 feet before leveling off to cross a small marsh. But a series of switchbacks heading down the embankment keeps the slope to a minimum. There are also several places to pull over and take in the river views. The main limitation for people with disabilities or using a walker is a lack of benches on the boardwalk. On the way there, though, there’s a pavilion with picnic tables, shade, and even a semi-accessible porta-potty.
The paved trail also leads to JPPM’s Indian Village, a charming spot to see how Native American’s lived before the arrival of Europeans. The village consists of four wigwams built of thatch and bark, a working garden, and a dugout canoe. It’s protected by a stockade consisting of a row of tall poles speared into the ground.
When I was there, a small group of school children were learning about Indian crafts and there were trays set up outside the wigwams displaying artifacts like adze heads, stone scrapers, and garden tools made of deer bones. A park guide was showing the children how to start a fire with a hardwood spindle and a piece of soft wood with notches bored into it.
Rolling the spindle between their palms while pressing the tip into one of the notches, they were surprised when it started to smoke.
Just beyond the village is where the boardwalk begins. As it winds its way through the forest and down the embankment, it affords excellent views of the Patuxent River and the wooded slopes on the far shore. When you reach the level part of the boardwalk, you begin to get glimpses of the marsh and the little beach that borders it.
Mid-marsh, views of the river open up and there’s a display telling you about local wildlife. It’s a great place to pause and take in the scenery.
The boardwalk ends on the other side of the marsh where the forest opens onto a broad field. Once again, there’s a paved path to take you up to the roadway. Or, if you prefer, you can simply reverse your steps and head back up the slope, past the village, and back to the parking lot.
Another option would be to turn right and take the narrow dirt path down the slope to the riverside. Although not accessible by wheelchair, it’s well worth the detour.
The beach here is small and peaceful. In fact, you’re likely to have it to yourself. The beach is protected from the rear by the marsh, and from the front by little stone groins built just offshore to prevent erosion. A sign says no swimming or fishing, but it would be hard to find a better place to while away an afternoon watching the river.
Dennis is a travel, science, and business writer who has traveled all his life. The son of an Air Force pilot, he was born in England and lived in ten states growing up. Much of his youth was spent in Hawaii and Southeast Asia, where he traveled widely, including extended visits to New Delhi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vientiane, and old Rangoon.