Bonna Nelson - April 2008

Adkins Arboretum Day Trip


Bonna Nelson

The dog was created especially for children. He is the god of frolic.
– Joseph Addison, 1712

    Our “son” Jake, a burly, curly, adventurous Golden Retriever, was ready for a Tidewater Day Trip. He wanted to explore new places too. He wanted to stretch his legs, visit with others of his kind and maybe spot some Real animals. We are blessed with many nature preserves on the Shore, but not many that let you bring your pooch to enjoy the scenery. Leashed dogs can enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer on the grounds of the 400-acre Adkins Arboretum near the town of Ridgely in Caroline County on Maryland’s Mid-Shore.
     Preparation is key to any travel adventure and for a pet it is critical. Jake knows what a dog crate in the back of the car means, and he is always ready to hop in, all 70 furry pounds of him. His crate is lined with a cozy fleece blanket and there is water in a tray in the crate. We packed bottled water for all three of us, people and doggie snacks, plastic pick-up bags, and the usual necessities – sunglasses, bug repellent, sunscreen and camera.
     Jake is usually a little restless at the beginning of a car ride. He will stand in his crate people and car watching for the first few miles. He probably thought he was going goose hunting with Dad or to see his friends at the vet’s office. But by the time we were on Cordova Road (MD-309 off of US-50), he had settled down and was nestled in his crate waiting patiently for the adventure to unfold.
     The car trek to Adkins was a peaceful one. I daydreamed as we passed greening farm fields, turret-like grain silos, budding spring hardwood trees edging either horizon, and here and there spots of color from crocus, daffodils and azaleas surrounding farmhouses and cottages. Grape vines draped over wooden frames filled a field at one farm site, making our mouths water for some fresh grapes or wine, either would do. We also passed inviting country stores and energetic bikers appearing to be on a mission, perhaps to Adkins where in addition to dogs, bikers are also welcome.
     Hopping from MD-309 to MD-404 and then to the winding Ridgely Road, MD-480, we took note of the great signage proclaiming that Adkins Arboretum was nearby on Eveland Road. Passing Tuckahoe State Park I noted that we would have to come back one day to test the trails and sights there too.
     We pulled in through the gates into a large parking lot. My husband, John, tended to Jake while I checked in at the Visitors Center. A magnificent sculpture of a Great Blue Heron stands guard in a creek on a bridged wetland area next to the Center. The Center offers trail maps, audio players for self-guided tours, an introductory video about the Adkins’ campus for visitor viewing, gifts, books, brochures, and a friendly, welcoming Adkins receptionist to answer questions and provide suggestions on how to spend the day. After paying the small admission fee of $3.00 (none for the pooch) I retrieved John while Jake stayed tethered outside so that we could view the video about what Adkins had to offer. The video is well worth the time to learn about the wonders of the Adkins forests, marshes, flora, and fauna as well as their many programs. And, I highly recommend the audio guides and tour maps for first time visitors.
     Now we were ready for Jake’s big adventure. Each of us downed some water and then we headed for the Woodland Walk. The wide gravel walk well accommodated the three of us. Trail etiquette requires that you step aside to allow others to pass. We passed families with babies in strollers, toddlers in tow, doggies pulling at their tethers, and cyclists. Everyone smiled and said hello while enjoying the sights at their own pace. Several tots and adults asked to pet the silky-haired Jake who loved the attention and adoration and said so with his wagging tail. On the wooded trail there was a sense that we were on hallowed ground and everyone was quiet and respectful.
     In addition to the audio stream of information the signage provided additional help about where we were on the trail and what we were seeing – trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs. The trail meandered through the Adkins woodlands which drain into the Tuckahoe Creek. The Tuckahoe flows into the Choptank River which meets the Chesapeake Bay about 45 miles downstream from the Adkins. Riparian forest buffers surrounding the water absorb sediment, nutrient and pesticide runoff and hold the soil in place.
     The trail wanders under canopies of trees and over bridges in the forest which is over 100 years old. Ground signs identified ferns, paw paw trees, hollies, magnolia, oaks, loblolly pines, azaleas, black gum, tupelo, river birches, cedars, dogwood, arrowroot, jack-in-the pulpit, orchids, tulip trees and skunk cabbage. Adkins is also home to many critters including squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, deer, turkey, mice, snakes, salamanders, song birds and waterfowl. Occasionally, Jake spotted a bird or a squirrel and was anxious to play but a quick tug on the leash brought his attention back to the trail. His playmates that day included a pair of chocolate Labrador Retrievers. The three of them yearned to be free to run through the Woodlands but after some sniffing of each other the dogs settled instead for hikes with Mom and Dad.
     Taking a breather we paused while crossing one of the small wooden bridges. Jake poked his head through the bridge railings and peered at the trickle of brook below. He looked up at us for permission to jump in. Permission not given. But I know that he could envision himself splashing and rolling in the stream then shaking that muddy spray all over us. Next, if allowed, he would have explored last night’s footprints from raccoons and foxes and seen where it would take him deep in the woods. Again he settled for moving forward on the trail.
     As we walked up a small hill John said that a dog exploring the woods is like a human reading the morning paper. Dogs learn everything they need to know about their surroundings through their keen sense of smell. They register the scents of people, dogs, wildlife and plant matter and in that way the world is revealed to them. We humans on the other hand gain our understanding of what is going on in our world through reading the morning paper, watching a televised news show, or on the Web. Though my sense of smell is not as good as Jake’s I did enjoy the sweet aroma of spring flowers and the beauty of the pink and white azaleas on the forest floor.
     In a clearing deep in the forest we came across a Native American ceremonial site replete with a tepee, a fire pit and wooden benches in a circle. Jake hopped up on the bench to observe the site. John, just as much an explorer as Jake, stumbled upon a grouse feather (not native to this area). In addition to holding Native American ceremonies at the site it is used for storytelling. I can imagine sitting in the circle around the fire on a moonlit night listening to tales of how life used to be on this land between bay and ocean before the Europeans arrived.
     Rambunctious Jake was ready to continue our trek. His lion-like golden fur flounced in the breeze created by our brisk walk and his large topaz eyes and black nose scanned both sides of the path as we moved forward. Occasionally a robin or cardinal flew up from a shrub to higher safer ground in a tree in advance of our approach. Oh, would Jake have loved to chase the birds that he could never catch!
     Another family approached and our well-trained pooch sat on command so that the blond tousled-haired little girl could pet him and pull on his ears. He loves to have his ears and neck rubbed so he was in doggie heaven.
     An observation platform over the marsh allows viewing of spring wildflowers and birds at play. In the native woods and meadows of the Arboretum visitors can observe 600 native plants species and 60 bird species – an ever-changing display of nature the year round. The Arboretum includes wetlands, bog gardens, native plant gardens, a butterfly garden, orchid research, and wildlife habitats in the meadows, marshes and forests. The preserve is dedicated to promoting the appreciation and conservation of the region’s native plants.
     From a check of their Web site at I learned that there are four miles of walking paths along streams, through meadows and native plant gardens and under the shade of a rich bottomland forest. Nature lovers, gardeners, birders, families, students and, of course, dogs are frequent visitors.
     The grounds and Visitor’s Center are open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily (except major holidays). Adkins takes an educational and science-based approach to land stewardship and offers year round events such as art classes and exhibits, soup n’ walks, docent-guided tours, self-guided tours, lectures, symposiums, native plant sales, demonstrations, and seasonal community events. All events are listed on the Web site. New members and volunteers are always welcome and needed. For more information call 410-634-2847.
     At the end of the trail we headed back past a broad greening meadow toward the Visitor’s Center. Jake greeted a German shepherd along the way and a jogger who stopped to give him another back scratch and neck rub. He was loving life. He had “read” the forest and would dream well that night. And would we be dreaming about our next Tidewater Day Trip.