Cool off in Patapsco Valley State Park

The writer's dog stands in thick grass near a trail marker in Pataspco Valley State Park.

by Eric L.

You may be hot and it may be humid, but this doesn’t mean you should stay indoors. To the contrary, you should get outside. If you’re reading this, it’s probable that you live close to Patapsco Valley State Park. The Park was founded prior to the National Park Service and encompasses approximately 16,000 acres. It offers some very fine East Coast nature, in my opinion. 

I’m from Baltimore, I have spent a lot of hours hanging around it, the recreation areas and even camping right off Route 40. My significant other finds this hilarious. I’m assuming because of the proximity to suburbia and the bustling thoroughfare right next to the camping area.

I’ve ridden my bike in it and hiked so many miles. I’d be curious to know the total – maybe thousands! I moved to Ellicott City to be in the Patapsco Valley. My neighborhood is on it, and I consider myself very lucky. There are not as many cicadas back there now, and it’s cooler than the blacktop world. Some of the views are just spectacular (perform an internet search for some of the scenery). 

All three of the dogs I’ve owned as an adult have logged thousands of miles with me. To be sure, I’m not a dog training expert, but I’ve been lucky, patient, diligent and have walked my dogs all over it, sometimes even off-leash. It’s a great place to take your kids to play, outside! My kids have also enjoyed many great afternoons in the Patapsco Valley. 

If you feel as though you need some motivation, borrow some of the great materials we have.  

Also, a great nonfiction read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (also as a book on CD, as well as an eBook and eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive)Bryson tells the humorous account of his discovery, and attempts to hike the Appalachian trail. To be sure, this is not the story of an experienced hiker doing the entire trail from Maine to Georgia in record time, but rather the story of an average middle-aged person and his old friend hiking and discovering together. He interweaves interesting history and social commentary. Or try the film, starring Robert Redford.

There are so many different terrains one can hike, from flat, paved trails to some rocky terrain. That said, you need not be exceptionally fit, after all, it’s just a walk. You will need some comfortable shoes, running, or trail running. Hiking boots, or shoes, are certainly nice for some of the more rocky, advanced terrain. Please keep in mind that Maryland has a large deer population, and thus deer ticks. That said, dress accordingly, and use bug spray as needed. Do some research (Consumer Reports) about the most effective ones, it is very important! 

At any rate, don’t miss out. Get back there! It’s thought by many a lay person, psychologist, scientist that a walk in nature will make you feel better. View the Park’s website to find the right trail and place for you. Stop by the Elkridge Branch + DIY Center, where you can borrow trekking poles, a compass, binoculars in case you spy something you’d like to view up-close, and metal detectors for treasure hunting.  

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Flowers and Planters are Great

The photograph shows DIY INstructor Eric seated in a red adirondack chair, with outdoor tools, a hammock, and a kids' swimming pool in the background, and his dog at his side with his feet up on a white DIY planter box he constructed.
DIY Instructor Eric and friend.

By Eric L.

I used to be young and naïve and I didn’t appreciate flowers, or maybe didn’t realize I appreciated them. Deep down, I was probably always the sort of person that would admire beauty around. That said, I’d implore you to get some flowers, plants, vegetation in your life.  

After renovating two entire houses I have come to appreciate the beauty of living space, indoor and outdoor. How one’s surroundings engender certain feelings. My surroundings make me feel comfortable and then calm. I recall the first place that my significant other and I shared, and changed. I felt more comfortable there than I had before. 

I’ll be honest, I used to think that flowers, gardens, and more generally my surroundings at home were sort of a bourgeois waste of time. Why would I spend work attending to these sorts of things, when I could read, hang out with friends, chat, drink at bars, or so many other exciting things? However, my mind has changed with innumerable carpentry projects accomplished, many, many holes dug, trees planted, landscape projects complete, planters made, and a stacked stone wall, literally built from two tons of rough stone (my least favorite project, ever).  

Having trees, flowers, and plants around does indeed make me calm. (There is science to support this). So let’s take it even further: imagine if you’ve selected the plants, then planted them yourself, and watched them grow and or blossom. How about even further: what if you’d made the planter, planter box, or raised bed that holds your plants? While it may not change your life, I think you may feel happy and proud. I do, so why not try it?

Building planters, window boxes, and raised garden beds are all relatively easy DIY carpentry projects. I’ve done these all with groups in person at the HCLS Elkridge Branch DIY Education Center. I don’t mean to oversimplify this, but you’re essentially making a box, one that you spruce up however you like. For example, add some architectural detail, paint it, hand-paint a design, stain it, make it rustic, use pallet lumber. There are myriad possibilities! It is a great way to practice and learn all sorts of carpentry skills. This endeavor is made even easier because you can borrow everything you need from HCLS. 

Please watch the video, and try it out. And it looks as though we’ll be able to do this in person soon at the Elkridge branch! 

There are two men, radical in many respects, and I’m a fan of both, who would receive flowers from fans. I can’t say I thought it was odd, but realize that some may consider it “feminine” for a man to receive flowers. It seems strange that flowers are associated with gender at all; they’re beautiful, please bring them to me!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Local Bike Rides

The photograph depicts a bike trail road sign in green and white against a blurry background of yellow fall leaves.  The bike is beneath a green arrow pointing to the right.

By Eric L.

Autumn is wonderful time, and it’s my favorite. I always enjoy how the humidity fades and cooler air takes its place. As my bio reads, I do really enjoy being outside in nature. Numerous studies show that it is healthful just to be outside.  

I’d recommend that if you’re able, get out there on a bike. Maybe you have a neglected one around the house, or could borrow one to try it out. You do not need an expensive bike and spandex to have fun – just a bike, a helmet, and some comfortable clothing. Start slow, just take a short ride around your neighborhood away from traffic.  

Speaking with people at bike shops, I’ve discovered they’re short on bikes to sell and appointments for repairs and maintenance. Therefore, I’d encourage you to watch this short video I made for the library about how to perform some simple maintenance and change a flat tire. You can borrow, via contactless pickup, a bike tool kit, a pump, and even a professional bike repair stand at the DIY Education Center at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  

After that, you can do a quick internet search on all the great spots to cycle in the Baltimore metro area. I’ll give you a few of the ones I like, all of which provide a nice scenic autumn ride. Find a friend (I think biking is more fun with company), but you may want to avoid any tandem bikes as a beginner and with social distancing guidelines. 

The BWI loop is a paved trail that essentially goes around the airport; it’s about 12.5 miles and does have some hills. It has a nice playground on the loop, if you’re with little ones and an observation area to watch planes.  

The B&A Trail, connected to the BWI loop, is a smooth, fully paved trail which goes all the way to Annapolis. It’s a very pleasant ride, and you need not do the entire thing, just whatever is in your comfort range. There are numerous spots where people get on and off the trail.  

The Grist Mill trail in the Avalon area of the Patapsco Valley State Park was closed for long period of time, but is open (as of now) and is a very smooth and scenic ride. It passes by a swinging bridge and where the Bloede dam was removed (which I find pretty cool to view). What’s more, if you’re more adventurous, the Patapsco Valley State Park has miles of great trails for mountain biking. To be sure, it’s not for beginners (the DIY center can lend you trekking poles if you’d prefer to take a nice long walk to see the park instead). 

My personal favorite of late is the NCR trail, which begins in Timonium and goes all the way to York, PA. This trail is mostly gravel and thus requires a hybrid, mountain, or basically a bike with anything other than super skinny “road” tires. I ride it frequently from Monkton Station to New Freedom, PA. The NCR is slightly uphill (you don’t even notice at times) heading north and thus a slight downhill on the return south. 

You will encounter some folks, as these trails are more popular than in previous years with many looking for socially distanced activities, especially on the weekend. But don’t be intimidated, just let those riding fast pass on by, and stay on your side of the trail. And again, keep in mind to just have a good time and enjoy the beautiful season! 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.