Temporary partial closure in effect. The National Park Service has announced that the Greenbelt Park campground and picnic areas are closed until late spring 2020. Park trails remain open but the main Park Central Road and Sweetgum Picnic Area are closed effective October 1, 2019. The closures apply to drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.The closures are due to a major road paving project along with replacement of a bridge and stormwater culverts. During the work, visitors will have foot access to park trails, but picnic areas and the campground will remain closed until spring 2020. The National Park Service is operating a temporary visitor contact station in the park’s administrative offices. Visitor parking is available at Greenbelt Park Headquarters throughout the project.
Greenbelt (National) Park is managed by the National Park Service and is located in the Maryland suburbs of Prince George’s County, just inside the Capital Beltway near the cities of Greenbelt and College Park. Don’t confuse this park with the nearby Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park, a community park managed by the Town of Greenbelt. The land for the national Greenbelt Park was originally set aside during the 1930s as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal project to develop the city of Greenbelt as a model community. At the same time, the right-of-way for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was laid out across the planned park boundary, so the park ended up bisected into a western parcel (about 2/3 of the park area) containing all the roads, trails, and visitor facilities, and a little-visited eastern 1/3 on the other side of the Parkway, inaccessible by vehicle and scarcely by foot – wild, overgrown, and forgotten. The park received its national park designation in 1960, and offers camping amid a natural setting easily accessible to city dwellers.
Greenbelt Park is unusually large for a park in the DC-area suburbs, at about 952 acres. In fact, Greenbelt Park constitutes one of the largest tracts of forest inside the Washington Beltway. Upland forest trees include Virginia Pine and oaks, often with an understory dominated by American Holly, Mountain Laurel, and blueberries. This habitat supports nesting populations of Forest Interior Dwelling Species. Oaks killed or damaged by outbreaks of gypsy moth caterpillars (Lymantria dispar) in years past provide habitat for cavity nesters such as Great Crested Flycatchers, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Carolina Wrens. Scrubby vegetation along forest edges or in disturbed areas provides nesting habitat for Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings. Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and occasional other sparrows use these habitats in other seasons. Urban birds like Rock Dove, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, House Finch, and House Sparrow are found sparingly in Greenbelt Park, mostly along the edges that border residential neighborhoods.
There is a good trail network throughout the mostly wooded western tract. There are clearings along roads and around campsites. Given the busy highways nearby, traffic noise can be distracting. Note that along Kenilworth Avenue on the western edge of the park, there is an inholding: the privately owned Westchester Apartments. The open space near the apartments is a traditional venue for American Woodcock in late February through March. The campground area is sometimes good for migrants in spring and fall. Come early and walk quietly so as to avoid waking the campers.
The adventurous may like to try the eastern parcel of the park. The access is on Good Luck Road at the south border of the park. Leave your car at the small parking lot on Good Luck Road just west of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and walk (with extreme caution on this busy road!) along the shoulder of Good Luck Road, crossing over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, to the gated-off old fire road, now abandoned, that goes north into the park (see trail map at link at left). The start of the fire road is located between Oakland and Auburn Avenues on the opposite side of Good Luck Road. The fire road affords some access, though much encumbered by fallen trees, overgrown shrubs, and standing water, and may be difficult to find in summer when trees and shrubs are fully leafed out. But in winter or early spring, the fire road is more visible, and will eventually bring you to a sizable marshy section that may harbor wetland birds, and surprises may await the keen-eyed.