At a Glance

Hours: Grounds are open sunrise – sunset, year-round. The Nature Center is open Wednesday – Saturday from 11 am – 5 pm, and Sundays from 12 noon – 5 pm, year-round.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Restrooms are available at the Nature Center.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Manchester SW, Littlestown SE

Local MOS Chapter: Carroll County Bird Club

Hashawha Environmental Center / Bear Branch Nature Center

300 John Owings Rd., Westminster, MD 21158
(410) 386-3580

Hashawha Environmental Center and Bear Branch Nature Center are operated by the Carroll County Department of Parks and Recreation, in partnership with the county Board of Education. “Hashawha” is a Native American word meaning “old fields,” an apt name for this site. Hashawha Environmental Center and Bear Branch Nature Center are located on 320 acres with forests, swamps, and meadows. More than five miles of multi-use trails traverse the park and provide access to all the different habitats. The Environmental Center features outdoor enclosures with captive birds of prey; a restored 19th century log cabin; picnic areas and pavilions; a lake (fishing permitted);  several small ponds;  and Bear Branch and Big Pipe Creeks. The  nature center contains hands-on educational exhibits; live animals; a Discovery Room with games, puzzles, and puppets for young children; a library; an observation beehive, and a planetarium and observatory.  A wide range of programs are offered for children and adults.

The trail system offers something for every level of hiker. There are three trails to explore and enjoy: The Vista Trail, The Stream Trail, and the Wilderness Trail.

  • The Vista Trail (marked by white triangles) is 1.2 mile loop around Bear Branch Nature Center. This trail is easy to moderate and ideal for short walks. The Vista Trail passes through wooded areas, skirts farm fields, and leads visitors to the Raptor Mews, the enclosure for Hashawha’s birds of prey.
  • The Stream Trail (marked by green triangles) is a delight for birders and wildlife-watchers. Beginning at Lake Hashawha, the trail follows Bear Branch Stream before cutting through fields and meadows. The historic Martin Cabin can also be found along the Stream Trail. This trail is approximately 1.8 miles long.
  • For visitors looking for a longer and more strenuous hike, there is the Wilderness Trail (marked by yellow triangles). The Wilderness Trail consists of three loops totaling approximately 2 miles. Lovely views of Big Pipe Creek and the Carroll County countryside can be found along this path.

Birdlife:

More than 160 species have been reported on eBird from Hashawha.  Screech, Barred and and Great-horned Owls have all been found in the park. Common birds found in the trees and shrubs around ponds and lakes in warmer months are Red-winged Blackbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Chipping, Swamp, and Song Sparrows, Eastern Towhee, and American Goldfinch. In the large field adjacent to the pond, listen for singing Grasshopper and Field Sparrows.

The large wetland area produces Swamp Sparrows and you may see a Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfishers, American Bitterns and Great-blue Herons. There is a boardwalk around the lake that leads to the Loop Trail.  In the area around the boardwalk in late spring and summer, you can easily find Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Green Herons, Eastern Phoebe and Gray Catbirds.

Follow the trail behind the trees which will lead you down to a stream area. This area is very productive for migrating warblers in spring. You may also find Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Red- and White-eyed Vireos, Catbirds, Veery, Wood Thrush, and both waterthrushes. In spring and fall you may find both kinglets and possibly a Fox or Lincoln’s Sparrows.

Bird boxes along the Loop Trail are usually occupied by House Wrens. You will hear Acadian, Great-Crested and Willow Flycatchers along the trail in warmer months. Some of the wooded ponds along the trail may also have Wood Duck.

Make sure to check the feeders around the Bear Branch Nature Center at any time of year. Mostly you will see the common feeder birds;  however, you may also see a migrant such as an Evening or Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The hill in front of the Nature Center is filled with Tree Swallows in spring and summer, and Eastern Bluebirds are common. Hashawha has many woodpeckers: throughout the year, you can find Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flicker, and in fall and winter, there are Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Parking:

Free. Parking is available at the Nature Center and at three other lots in the park.

Special Features:

Hashawha Environmental Center includes a residential camping facility that can be reserved by groups on weekends and during the summer, and serves as the home for the Board of Education’s Outdoor School, where each sixth-grader in the county experiences a week of environmental education on-site. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Carroll County Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.

Directions:

From the Baltimore Beltway/I-695, take Exit 19 for I-795 Northbound. Stay on I-795 for 9.1 miles, then take Exit 9B for MD Route 140/Westminster Pike Westbound. Go 13 miles west on MD Route 140 to the town of Westminster. On the north side of Westminster, take the ramp to go north on MD Route 97/Littlestown Pike. Travel north for ~3 miles, then turn right (east) onto John Owings Road. Travel ~1.5 miles to Hashawha Road. Turn left (north) onto Hashawha Road. Travel ~.25 miles to Bear Branch Nature Center’s driveway on the right. Turn right and proceed up the driveway to the parking lot.

Nearby Sites:

Piney Run Park and Nature Center; Liberty Reservoir CWMA – Bollinger Mill Road; Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area

Habitats:

ConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Garden or ArboretumLawn, Ballfields, Golf Course Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Bird Feeding StationBoardwalkFree - No Entry FeeHabitat Restoration ProjectHiking/Walking TrailsNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature Education ProgramsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families

Type:

Nature Centers