At a Glance

Hours: 7 am to dusk, or as posted.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Smoking is not allowed in any Howard County park. ◾ Weekends during warm months can be very crowded.

Best Seasons: Year-round, but East Area parking is closed in winter (walk-in is allowed).

Local MOS Chapter: Howard County Bird Club

Centennial Lake and Park

Main/South – 10000 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042
East – 4800 Woodland Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042
West – 4651 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City, MD 21042
North – 9801 Old Annapolis Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042
(410) 313-7271 or (410) 313-7256

The 337-acre Centennial Park, operated by Howard County Recreation and Parks, features a 54-acre man-made lake, which is stocked with fish. The lake and park are home to a variety of wildlife, with over 230 species of birds reported, making it the #1 eBird hotspot in Howard County. A 2.6-mile paved pathway encircles the lake, and there is an additional 7.3 miles of interconnecting paved pathways that include links to surrounding neighborhoods.

With its variety of habitats, Centennial Park is a good year-round birding site. The park has four main areas: North, South, East, and West, each with a separate entrance. The lake ranges from 32 feet in depth at the dam on the east end, to a foot or less at the wildlife (west) end. Islands in the west end of the lake can have attractive muddy edges, depending on the season and rainfall. Young or maturing deciduous trees and scrub dominate the north side of the lake, where there is little development (except near the North Area parking lots). Two ponds can be found on this side of the park. (See trail map at link below). The level of the pond nearest the dam fluctuates dramatically and is often nearly or completely dry by late fall. The pond west of the cove bridge retains water year-round and is surrounded on several sides by deciduous trees.

The South Area contains extensive areas of mown grass and recreational attractions. It also has some parcels of meadow habitat that are mowed every few years on a rotating basis to halt succession. Several dozen conifers have been planted along MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike and Centennial Lane. Floodplain deciduous woods can be seen east of the dam on the north side of the outlet stream. Most of this wooded tract is private property, but the edge is within the park.

In the East Area, a paved extension of the loop trail east of the dam (Centennial Park Access Pathway) continues past Pavilion H, across Woodland Drive, and over the Little Patuxent River as far as Old Annapolis Road. (see East Area inset on trail map at link below) This pathway provides access to floodplain habitat. In the southwest corner of the park, a pollinator meadow was added by the Howard County Bird Club in 2015.

The park has extensive visitor amenities and athletic facilities, including 9 picnic pavilions, concessions, boat rentals, and ball courts and ball fields. For more details, including suggested walking route, see the Howard County Bird Club website:  http://www.howardbirds.org/birdinghowardcounty/Centennial/centennial_overview.htm

Birdlife:

Over 230 species of birds have been reported on eBird from Centennial Park and Lake.  The lake is good for geese and for puddle and diving ducks in migration and in winter, with an impressive 32 species of waterfowl reported. Notable birds found here are virtually annual Cackling Geese, occasional Snow Geese, a few Greater White-fronted Geese, rarer Ross’s Goose, and the county’s first Little Gull. In winter, large flocks of Canada Geese congregate to bathe and preen, helping to keep open a substantial hole in the ice, even after most other ponds and lakes have frozen. This helps to attract the remaining waterfowl from all around the county.

Pied-billed, Horned, and Red-necked Grebes are regular, and an occasional Eared Grebe may turn up in early spring. A modest assortment of shorebirds can show up in the warm months. Caspian Terns are regular in spring and fall; Black Terns and Forster’s Terns less reliable.  Common Loons come through in spring.

Songbirds include all the usual flycatchers, vireos, sparrows (13 species), and warblers (33 species). Six species of swallows fly over the lake in the warm months.

Parking:

Paved lots with grass overflow lots. See trail map. East Area parking is closed in winter.

Special Features:

The paved trail around the lake and other paved paths provide wheelchair access. The paved loop trail has gentle grades. Some parts of the path system away from the loop trail may be more steep (South Area) or may be gravel (North Area). ◾ At the South Area concession stand and restroom facilities, there is a Howard County Bird Club information board and a box with a list of recent sightings. ◾ Emy’s Meadow, a pollinator plot in memory of Emy Holdridge, former treasurer of MOS and the Howard County Bird Club, is located in the southwest corner of the park near the intersection of MD 108/Clarksville Pike and Centennial Lane. This is a great spot for butterflies. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, holds bird walks at Centennial Lake and Park; such walks are free and open to the public. See the Howard County Bird Club’s calendar for more information. ◾ A seasonal list of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and herps is available at https://www.howardbirds.org/birdinghowardcounty/Centennial/centennial_species_lists.htm, courtesy of the Howard County Bird Club. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club has a detailed online guide, Birding Howard County, on their website at https://www.howardbirds.org/birdinghowardcounty/birding_howard_county.htm. Edited by Joanne Solem, the online guide replaces an older printed guide, now out-of-print. The website is up-to-date and extremely detailed. Check it out!

Directions:

To reach the South (Main) Area of Centennial Park from points south, use I-95 or I-295 or I-97, and then take MD Route 32 westbound toward Columbia. From MD Route 32, take Exit 16A for US Route 29 north. Go about 4.5 miles north on US Route 29, and then take Exit 21 for MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike westbound. The entrance to the park will be ahead on the right (north) side of the road in about 1.2 miles. ◾ To reach the West Area from the South Area, return to MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike and turn right (west) on exiting the park. Go west on MD Route 108 for about 0.5 miles and turn right to go north on Centennial Lane. The entrance to the West Area will be on the right (east) side of the road in about 0.5 miles. ◾ To reach the North Area from the West Area, return to Centennial Lane and turn right (north) on exiting the park. Go north on Centennial Lane for about 1.0 mile and turn right to go east on Old Annapolis Road. The entrance to the North Area of the park will be ahead on the right (west) side of Old Annapolis Road in about a mile, just past Natalie’s Way on the left. ◾ To reach the East Area (closed in winter) from the North Area, return to Old Annapolis Road and turn right to go southeast. Go about 0.4 miles and turn right (south) onto Woodland Road. The entrance to the East Area of the park will be ahead on the right (west) side of the road in about 0.4 miles. ◾ To reach the South (Main) Area of Centennial Park from points west, take I-70 east to Exit 87A for US Route 29 southbound. Take US Route 29 south for 4.2 miles; then take Exit 21B for MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike westbound. The entrance to the park will be ahead on the right (north) side of the road in about 1.2 miles. For other park entrances, follow directions above. ◾ To reach the South (Main) Area of Centennial Park from points east, including the Baltimore Beltway, take I-70 west to Exit 87A for US Route 29 southbound. Take US Route 29 south for 4.2 miles; then take Exit 21B for MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike westbound. The entrance to the park will be ahead on the right (north) side of the road in about 1.2 miles. For other park entrances, follow directions above.

Nearby Sites:

David Force NRA; Lake Elkhorn; Middle Patuxent Environmental Area; Mount Pleasant Farm (Howard County Conservancy); Patapsco Valley SP – Daniels Area; Patapsco Valley SP – Henryton Birding Trail; Rockburn Branch Park; Schooley Mill Park; Wilde Lake.

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Garden or ParkLawn, Ballfields, Golf CourseSuburban Neighborhood Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

Ball Fields or Other SportsBeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families

Type:

#1 Hotspot in County or CityCommunity and Urban ParksHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)Ponds, Lakes, and Reservoirs