At a Glance

Hours: Open from 8 am to dusk, year-round.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Join a monthly bird walk sponsored by the Patuxent Bird Club and Prince George’s Audubon Society. The walks are on the third Saturday of each month and start from the parking lot at 7:30 am.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Local MOS Chapters: Patuxent Bird Club

Governor Bridge Natural Area

7600 Governor Bridge Road, Bowie, MD 20716
(301) 627-6074

Located on the bank of the Patuxent River, Governor Bridge Natural Area is on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry. As such, it is pock-marked with numerous small ponds embedded in woodlands; there are also gravelly semi-barren areas. The property is operated as part of the Patuxent River Park by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and contains about 354 acres. A natural depression has been converted into a substantial (8-acre) pond, and another is an emergent-vegetated wetland.  There are numerous small streams that flow into the Patuxent.  Much of the park is wooded, but there are also shrubby fields, grassy areas, and farm fields.   There are many native plants that are attractive to pollinators.

Trails criss-cross the park, allowing a walk through all the different habitats.  From the parking area just off Governor Bridge Road, there are three main choices:

  1. Go straight ahead, heading south on a gravel lane, which takes you past the large pond on the left. There are a couple of small trails leading to the left that go around the pond or through the adjoining woods. Continuing on the gravel lane past the pond brings you up a hill to a gate in a chain link fence. The area beyond the gate and fence is still MNCPPC property, consisting of some large arm fields, leased to a local farmer, interspersed with woodlands.  This area is good for sparrows and other passerines.
  2. The second choice from the parking area is to go to the left (east), past a metal gate, onto a trail marked with a sign for the canoe launch.  This trail winds a bit through woods, past a scrubby/shrubby field and a couple small ponds and wetlands, to eventually go downhill to the canoe launch at the Patuxent River. Before reaching the river, a prominent side trail on the left leads to the northern property boundary at Governor Bridge Road. Another prominent side trail on the right, just past a large wetland, leads south toward the large pond.  If you continue past the large pond into the woods, another trail will take you west to adjoin the gravel lane described in #1 above.  You can then turn right (north) onto the gravel lane to return to your car. This option makes a nice loop.  If you want a longer walk, you can pick up a one-way side trail that runs along the Patuxent River, passing through heavy undergrowth.
  3. The third choice from the parking area is to go to the west, using a dirt road beyond a green metal gate.  This dirt road will take you uphill into the woods, passing by a large open equipment shed left over from the gravel mining days. The dirt lane continues into an area of second-growth forest, and breaks up into many threaded trails.

All three options take you into good habitat for thrushes, tanagers, orioles, flycatchers, warblers, vireos, and other passerines. Option 2 has the added advantage of the open water on the pond, so there may be waterfowl as well as swallows, herons, and egrets in season. The side trail along the Patuxent River is excellent for breeding warblers, including Kentucky and Hooded.

Birdlife:

Over 205 species have been reported on eBird from Governor Bridge.  The park offers good birding year-round, but especially so in spring migration. The area around the pond is especially good for warblers. Olive-sided Flycatcher is almost regular in spring and fall migration. In fall, sparrows may be found in the shrubby areas. In winter, the river trail is good for wintering passerines, and the pond may host various ducks and grebes. Breeding birds include Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak. American Woodcock formerly bred here, and some still come through on migration.

Parking:

Large gravel lot immediately off the entrance from Governor Bridge Road.

Special Features:

This property provides access to the river for canoes and kayaks. Governor Bridge Natural Area is one of the sites on the Patuxent Water Trail. There is a locked gate between the parking area and the put-in; contact the park office at the telephone number above to arrange for access. ◾ The “Governor Bridge” itself spans the Patuxent River between Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties. This historic bridge, built in 1912, is now closed to vehicle traffic but one may walk across on foot. It is a metal truss bridge, one of only two remaining in the State of Maryland. A bridge has stood at this site since the mid-1700s; the first bridge was constructed by Governor Samuel Ogle, who lived in Bowie – hence the name of the bridge. To reach the bridge, continue on Governor Bridge Road past the park to where concrete barriers block the road. Park on the side of the road and walk to the bridge. ◾ 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 US Route 301 in Bowie, just south of the US Route 50 interchange, turn east onto Governor Bridge Road. Go 1.5 miles to the park entrance on the right (south) side of the road.

Nearby Sites:

Fran Uhler Natural Area; Greenbelt National Park; Lake Artemesia Natural Area; Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park; Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract; Schoolhouse Pond.

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Reclaimed Industrial Site Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedYoung People / Families

Type:

Community and Urban ParksThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails