At a Glance

Hours: 8 am-dusk, access restricted. Gate is locked except for monthly bird walks.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Join a monthly field trip offered by Prince George’s Audubon & Patuxent Bird Club. See MOS calendar for details.

Best Seasons: Spring is best. Fall and winter also good.

Local MOS Chapters: Patuxent Bird Club

Fran Uhler Natural Area

10300 Lemons Bridge Road, Bowie, MD 20720
(301) 627-6074

The Fran Uhler Natural Area borders the Patuxent River and the Patuxent Research Refuge and its Wildlife Research Center. It is named for legendary wildlife biologist Francis Uhler, who worked at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and donated the money used to allow Prince George’s County to purchase the property, then an abandoned quarry and farmstead that was being used as an illegal dump. Today, the 450-acre property is managed as part of the Patuxent River Park by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). Prince George’s Audubon Society, which campaigned for the area to become a public park, works with MNCPPC in management of the park and offers monthly walks here on the first Saturday of every month at 7:30 am.

The Fran Uhler property has indeed become “natural,” the more so since it surrounded by other natural areas. Much of the terrain is marked by ridges and hollows reflecting earlier land use. Most is wooded, while open areas remain under a power line., where forest succession is taking place. Be aware that some parts of the park may become flooded after heavy rains.

The park is accessed from Lemon’s Bridge Road.  Park at the gate and continue on foot along Lemon’s Bridge Road, which becomes a gravel lane running parallel to the MARC rail line. The lane passes old fields bordered by woods, and then enters woodland as it nears the Patuxent River. After entering the woods, the road/trail turns north to parallel the river bank, and comes eventually to the pilings for the old Lemon’s Bridge over the river.

South of the railroad lies another, state-owned, property – the Uhler Natural Resource Management Area, which can be accessed by an underpass under the railroad near the Patuxent River.  The Uhler NRMA is adjacent to Bowie State University.  Just south of Bowie State University, the WB&A Trail, a paved 5.6 mile hiker-biker trail that follows the right of way of the abandoned WB&A Railroad, cuts across the north side of the town of Bowie.  The Fran Uhler Natural Area and Uhler NRMA are linked to the main part of the WB&A Trail by the 2-mile-long Horsepen Branch Spur Trail.  The northern end, near Fran Uhler Natural Area and Uhler NRMA, is unpaved clay surface, but the southern 3/4 of the Horsepen Branch Spur Trail is paved.

A nice long hiking loop or bike ride is to start at the Park & Ride on Lemon’s Bridge Road, walk or bike through Fran Uhler NA and then use the underpass to go south under the railroad to enter the Uhler NRMA and access the northern terminus of the Horsepen Branch Spur of the WB&A Trail.  Go south on the Horsepen Branch Spur, and then turn right  (west) where it joins the main part of the WB&A Trail, which will bring you to Race Track Road. Turn right (north) onto Race Track Road; in 0.4 miles, bear right onto Jericho Park Road, which in another 0.5 miles will take you into Bowie State University. Continue straight ahead to reach the south side Park& Ride lot near Route 197, and then use the pedestrian underpass in the Park & Ride to get back to your car in the Park & Ride on the north side of the tracks.

Birdlife:

Over 160 species have been reported on eBird from Fran Uhler. Spring migration can be very good, especially along the gravel lane, and also on trails to a wetland area. Both American Woodcock and sometimes even Whip-poor-wills can be heard in spring – you might actually be hearing Whips that are located across the Patuxent on the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, where there is a remnant breeding population. Fall migration can be active or quiet – it’s hard to predict. Breeding birds include Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, Barred Owl, Brown Creeper (some years), and Prairie Warbler. In season, winter finches may occur.

Parking:

At gate at end of Lemon’s Bridge Road, or (preferred), park at the adjacent Bowie State MARC train station Park and Ride, on the right after turning onto Lemon’s Bridge Road.

Special Features:

The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Patuxent Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.

Directions:

From the Capital Beltway (I-495), exit onto MD Route 450/Annapolis Road, eastbound. Make a left to go north onto MD Route 197/Laurel-Bowie Road. Just north of Bowie State University and after going over an overpass over the MARC railroad line, make a right to go east on Lemons Bridge Road. Follow road to the gate at the park entrance, or (preferred) turn right to enter the Bowie State Park & Ride and walk the rest of the way into the park. From the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), exit onto I-205/Baltimore-Washington Parkway southbound. Travel south on the Parkway for approximately 15 miles to the unnumbered exit for MD Route 197 south. At the stoplight at the end of the exit ramp, turn left to go south on Route 197 for approximately 5.6 miles. Make a left to go east on Lemons Bridge Road. Follow road to the gate at the park entrance, or (preferred) turn right to enter the Bowie State Park & Ride and walk the rest of the way into the park.

Nearby Sites:

Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract; Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park); Greenbelt National Park; Lake Artemesia Natural Area; Governor Bridge Natural Area

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerows Reclaimed Industrial Site Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

Bicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Free - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets Allowed

Type:

The Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails