Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary / Gatewood Preserve / Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm
2880, 2800, & 2695 Grays Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678
Temporary closure in effect. Calvert County Parks and Recreation has posted the following notice on the web: “Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary and Nature Center will close temporarily beginning Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2019 for major renovations to the nature center’s reception center, classrooms and office space. The work is expected to take approximately four months. The renovations will improve visitor experience by providing an updated space for programs, with conversion of the center’s multipurpose room into a classroom and small meeting space. For those seeking an outdoor winter hike, the nearby Gatewood Preserve and Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm will be open dawn to dusk.”
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, the Gatewood Preserve, and Biscoe-Gray Heritage Farm are a trio of county parks located in southwest Calvert County. Altogether, the three parks protect over 360 acres on the east bank of Battle Creek, a tributary of the Patuxent River. The creek in this area is surrounded by a noteworthy swamp of Bald Cypress trees.
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1957 as its first sanctuary in Maryland. Battle Creek is now operated by Calvert County Parks and Recreation Department. The Sanctuary is approximately 118 acres in size and was established to protect one of the northernmost Bald Cypress swamps in the US. A quarter-mile elevated boardwalk trail leads directly through the swamp and an additional quarter-mile arboretum trail leads through a fallow field of approximately 20 acres. The gardens surrounding the Nature Center and parking lot are productive for spring migrants. The Nature Center at the Sanctuary offers interpretive programs and live animal exhibits.
In 2018, the County acquired the 48-acre Gatewood Preserve, which lies between Battle Creek Cypress Swamp and the Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm. The Gatewood Preserve property was a private residence and includes a house and barn. The majority of the property is open field and pasture which will be restored to grassland and meadow habitats. It has a breathtaking view of Battle Creek and direct water access. The vision for the Gatewood Preserve is to focus on passive recreation uses such as hiking, nature study, fishing, and paddling. Future improvements may include a floating kayak launch and/or a dedicated fishing pier and a boardwalk. The residence would be converted to a nature center that will support the county’s outdoor education programs. There is no trail system or trail map as yet, but eventually there will be a trail system interconnecting with the trails at Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm and Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary.
Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm is an adjoining property acquired by the County in 2002. The development of Biscoe-Gray as a park is ongoing; the master plan provides that it will be a showcase for Calvert County’s agricultural heritage and a model for effective stewardship of land and water resources. The property consists of rolling fields surrounded by second-growth hardwood forest that is relatively free of invasive plants. There are traces of a road dating back to colonial times that extends from Gray’s Road all the way to Battle Creek, where a 19th century house is located. The farm also includes an early 20th century farm house and many barns and outbuildings. A hiking trail network extends through the property; see trail map at link at left. For the birder, the primary attractions at Biscoe Gray are the access to the water and swamps of Battle Creek and the field and forest habitats. Across the road from the Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm is the Gray’s Road Dog Park, consisting of open fenced fields surrounded by woods. Though there are no restrooms at Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm at present, there are portable restrooms at the Dog Park parking area.
Over 135 species have been reported on eBird from Battle Creek Cypress Swamp. The preserve is well known for its breeding population of Prothonotary Warblers, which are relatively easy to see from the boardwalk that winds through the swamp. Many Maryland birders have scored their life bird Prothonotary here. Other nesting warblers include Northern Parula, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, Kentucky, Yellow-throated, and Pine. There are also breeding Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos. This is a great place to spot both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. Significant winter species include Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, and Purple Finch.
There is not yet an eBird hotspot at Gatewood Preserve, and Biscoe Gray has received very little visitation from birders, with only 73 species reported at its eBird hotspot. With additional visitation by birders, the birdlife at Biscoe Gray will probably prove to be similar to that at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, with perhaps some additional representation of field and edge species.
Paved parking near Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Nature Center. Parking along entrance drive at Gatewood Preserve and at Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm.
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1957 and is operated as a partnership between Calvert County Natural Resources Division and The Nature Conservancy. For more information on the sensitive habitats present at this site, see https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/battle-creek-cypress-swamp/. ◾ A 1956 article on Battle Creek Cypress Swamp published in the Maryland Conservationist makes interesting reading. ◾ Brent Steury completed a detailed fleuristics survey of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp; his detailed report can be downloaded from https://calvertparks.org/resources/Documents/BattleCreek/Cypress%20Swamp%20Floristics%20Study.pdf. ◾ The nature center at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp offers a number of programs that focus on the natural and cultural heritage of the area. See the calendar. ◾ Ranger-led group programs at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp may be possible but must be scheduled in advance. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp has been designated as one of the state’s Natural Areas. ◾ The Battle Creek Cypress Sanctuary is a part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of the National Park Service. ◾ Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm has proven to be a rich archaeological site, with evidence not only of the colonial area farmers, but also dating back to prehistoric Native American settlements. ◾ There is no chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society in Calvert County, but many birders participate in MOS through the Anne Arundel Bird Club or the Patuxent Bird Club; both of these MOS chapters offer field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public. ◾ In addition, the Southern MD Audubon Society serves birders in Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s, and Prince George’s Counties.
The Nature Conservancy has an audio tour of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, narrated by park naturalist Andy Brown; download the audio tour from https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/battle-creek-cypress-swamp/?tab_q=tab_container-tab_element_191323501.
From the Washington DC Beltway/I-495: Take MD Route 4 South into Calvert County. Continue south of Prince Frederick. Continuing on Route 4 south of Prince Frederick, turn right (west) onto MD Route 506/Sixes Road. In 1.9 miles, look for the Battle Creek sign and turn left (south) onto Gray’s Road. The Battle Creek Cypress Sanctuary will be on your right in approximately one-quarter mile. Gatewood Preserve is the next property on the right side of Grays’s Road, immediately south of Battle Creek Cypress Swamp. Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm is the third property on the right side of Gray’s Road as you head south.
From the Baltimore Beltway/I-695: Take I-97 south to US Route 301 South. Follow Route 301 South to Upper Marlboro and take the exit for MD Route 4 South. Then follow the directions as above.
Calvert County: American Chestnut Land Trust – Parkers Creek Preserve, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Ponds Nature Park, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, Kings Landing Park & Huntingtown Natural Resources Management Area, North Beach, Solomons Island
Charles County: Indian Creek Natural Resources Management Area
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsHay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainRivers & Streams
BeginnersBoardwalkFree - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesHorseback RidingNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Chesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkGardens & ArboretaHistorical SitesNature CentersState Natural Areas & Wildlands