Eighty-eight acre High Ridge Park opened in 2006 making it one of Howard County's newest neighborhood parks. It is positioned along the Fall Line below I-95 and Rocky Gorge Dam and consists mostly of upland deciduous and pine forest. There are steep slopes and a narrow floodplain along the southern boundary adjacent to the Patuxent River.
GPS: Entrance N39 06 51.2 W76 51 45.7
Habitat: Several decades ago Virginia pine constituted a much larger proportion of the predominantly oak and tulip tree woodland than it does today. Mature pines are dying (a normal aspect of succession) while the primary shrub understory of mountain laurel and lowbush blueberry along the trail indicates that the soils remain highly acidic, a byproduct of the diverse soil formation processes of the upper Coastal Plain. Here deep, well-drained Chillum loam, with its loess overburden dropped by glacial winds, and ocean-born Sassafras loam (Maryland's State Soil) cap the high ridges. The eroded remnants of the once mighty Appalachians are the parent material for these extremely acidic soils. In several locations, these sediments have eroded away as the ancient Patuxent and its tributaries slowly cut downward exposing the underlying gneiss of the Piedmont bedrock. With both alluvial Coastal Plain and residual Piedmont parent materials adjacent to the deeply cut Patuxent River Valley, the geological position on the Fall Line gives the park a complex soil environment with many natural features shaping a diverse wildlife habitat. The portion of the park that is visible from the paved paths contains an open understory. Fortunately, invasive plants have made little impact here. (See Site Soil Surveys– High Ridge.)
Layout: At the request of area residents, most of the park remains undeveloped woodland. Active recreational facilities are clustered around the parking lot near the entrance at the west end of Superior Avenue. One mile of paved paths encircles the developed section of the park. Because much of the path goes through mixed deciduous/pine woods, it is pleasant for summer walking. Along the trail, a wooden gazebo with benches is set at the edge of a steep slope above the Patuxent River, while the central recreational area offers a good view of the sky. A small sediment pond on the east side below the pavilion contains a fluctuating amount of water, depending on the season and the amount of rainfall. It attracts a few frogs and dragonflies. The catch basin in the center of the parking lot not only helps to reduce the environmental impact of runoff, but the flowers planted there were chosen to serve as butterfly nectaring plants. Cardinal-flower attracts Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in summer.
Best Time to Visit: Weekdays before mid-morning produce the most birds, although traffic on the path is generally light even when the central area is busy. Butterflies in summer are more active after the birding slows. The heaviest park usage is on warm weekends and weekdays between mid-morning and sunset. Most of the activity is in the vicinity of the tot lot, especially during the middle of the day. In winter the park can be almost devoid of birds.
Birding: Although this park has been open to the public only since June 2006, the county has owned much of the land for many years and a few neighbors have long birded here on at least a limited basis. This park's location on the Fall Line, its habitat, and the paved loop trail combine for a pleasant stop. If there is water in the sediment pond, there may be birds nearby. The opening around the gazebo and adjacent portions of the path are often productive, especially during migration. The westernmost section of the path parallels a stream valley where breeding Acadian Flycatchers, Wood Thrushes, Ovenbirds, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Scarlet Tanagers can be heard in the summer. Spring and fall migration produces the most variety. Late fall and winter visits offer few birds on this high dry ridge although an occasional hawk, vulture, or Bald Eagle may drift over. There is little dense undergrowth so birds requiring that habitat are almost nonexistent.
Highlights: Blooming mountain laurel, the dominant understory plant, peaks during the last 10 days of May. The display is worth a visit.
Handicapped Access: Access is easy because there is a paved path with gentle grades. From mid-fall to early winter, there may be a problem with leaves and acorns along some sections.
Deer Hunts: Managed deer hunts are held on a few days in fall and winter. Check specific dates elsewhere on this website.