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County offers natural beauty

May 08, 2010|By JOHN LEAGUE

I am always surprised when talking to lifelong Washington County residents, especially those who love the outdoors, when they tell me they've never set foot on the C&O Canal towpath.

Over the years, I've worn out a lot of running shoes on the towpath. By my estimates, I've run, biked or walked more than 10,000 miles on its gravelly surface, using it at first as my personal gym. But it's so much more than that.

Within a mile or so of every public parking lot along the 184-mile towpath, you can quickly feel at one with nature. I'm more jock than naturalist, but the sheer force of the towpath's beauty, its sounds and its wildlife, particularly the stretch in Washington County, has made me stop and appreciate all it has to offer.

And it's right here in our backyard.

About 10 years ago, while recuperating from surgery, I would go to the canal daily to walk. Late each afternoon, I met up with a rather large owl (a great horned owl, perhaps) perched in the same tree, acting as if it were the unofficial guardian of that portion of the towpath.

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In its own strange way, seeing that bird coaxed me to get the exercise prescribed by my doctor. Our afternoon meetings for several short weeks were a standing appointment on my recuperation calendar.

Last fall, a bird watcher stopped me to point out a bald eagle (unconfirmed, but count me as a believer). Herons, woodpeckers, bluebirds, geese, turtles and deer are also easy to spot, even for a non-naturalist like me.

And nothing will increase your walking or running pace like seeing a black snake unexpectedly slither across the towpath within inches of you. (Not to worry; they aren't poisonous.)

We Washington Countians are fortunate. We have relatively easy access. Towpath entry points at Hancock, Williamsport and across the river from Shepherdstown, W.Va., offer ample parking and are a stone's throw from the trail.

There are many other beautiful spots in the county. Some are there just to appreciate, such as Pen Mar Park, Sideling Hill (the view westbound after you pass the cut is one of my favorites anywhere east of the Mississippi), and Washington Monument near Boonsboro, to name but a few. Depending on the time of day or the season, each offers a different perspective every time you visit.

And there are some neat places that combine beauty, history and exercise. I'll name but three -- Antietam National Battlefield, the Western Maryland Hiker-Biker (parking abounds at both) and the Appalachian Trail, which is a bit more difficult to access, but worth the effort.

It was a tough winter, but May is here and the weather has finally broken.

Take a Sunday afternoon, get outdoors and get some fresh air, and visit or revisit one of these areas.

Appreciate the beauty that's right here for us, 24/7, 365 days a year.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com">jleague@herald-mail.com.

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