At a Glance

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, or as posted.

Cost: Free.

Tips: There is a comfort station at the Trotter Road parking area, which also has drinking water available during the warm months. ◾ Smoking is not allowed in any Howard County park. ◾ Trails may be muddy and grass wet; wear waterproof boots.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Local MOS Chapter: Howard County Bird Club

Middle Patuxent Environmental Area

5795 Trotter Road, Clarksville, MD 21029
(410) 313-4726

The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks manages the 1,021-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) in cooperation with the Middle Patuxent Environmental Foundation. This natural area is home to a diversity of wildlife, including an impressive list of over 175 species of birds, over 40 species of mammals, and numerous amphibians, reptiles, fishes, butterflies, plants and other wildlife. The MPEA protects the valley of the Middle Patuxent River, which flows from north to south through the MPEA.  Natural resource conservation, environmental education, research, and passive recreation, are goals for the management of the MPEA.  The MPEA is actively managed to control invasive exotics, control the deer population, monitor stream quality, and monitor birds and other species.

Five and one-half miles of hiking trails, with two interpretive nature trail brochures, give visitors an opportunity to enjoy and learn about the area. The MPEA contains a combination of upland, steep slopes, and floodplain along with deciduous woods, edge, second-growth, a warm-season grass meadow, river, streams, ponds, wooded wetlands, and a few pines, making this a premier Howard County birding destination. American Woodcock management is a major focus.

Like much of the county, the MPEA has suffered in the last four decades from an exploding white-tailed deer population. Much of the native understory has been destroyed and large sections have been invaded by non-native plants. Managed hunts have stabilized deer numbers to some degree, and there are signs that the understory is improving. It is hoped that, eventually, some of the ground-nesting birds that formerly nested will return.

The marked nature trails and main conservation sites are reached from either of two entry points–one off Trotter Road and the other from South Wind Circle. Both entrances feature a large display map and “take one” tri-fold brochures with maps and accompanying interpretive descriptions tied to the numbered marker posts found along the trails. Each brochure is specific to the particular entry point, although each also features a complete MPEA map.

Note that a recent upgrade at the Trotter Road parking area has brought improvements including pervious-surface parking, a comfort station, and a maintenance building. The comfort station restrooms are all-season and will be open year-round. There are also outside drinking fountains but they are not freeze-proof and are turned off for the winter.

For more suggestions regarding exploring Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, see the detailed site guide provided by the Howard County Bird Club at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/MPEA/.

Birdlife:

Over 175 species have been reported on eBird from the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. There are three eBird hotspots covering the park:

Breeding birds include Wood Duck, Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky Warbler. American Woodcock also breed here and perform breeding displays in early spring. Veeries and Yellow-billed Cuckoos are relatively plentiful. The three county-breeding owls (Barred, Great Horned, and Eastern Screech) all occur here, with Barred Owls the most conspicuous.

The best potential for species diversity is during peak migration periods when almost any county passerine can occur here and a variety of waterfowl, long-legged waders, hawks, and gulls may be seen overhead. MPEA is a prime county location for migrant and breeding thrushes. Twelve species of sparrows and 35 species of warblers have been reported. MPEA is fairly reliable for Mourning and Connecticut Warblers in migration.

Generally, the most productive areas year-round are the trails adjacent to the Middle Patuxent River. This is particularly the case in less-than-perfect weather.

Parking:

Gravel lot at Trotter Road, curbside at South Wind Trail.

Special Features:

Most of the MPEA is not handicapped-accessible, although a short section at the entrance to each main trail is level and either grass or gravel. Parts of all trails are rough and contain steep slopes; portions along the river may contain standing water after heavy rains. ◾ The two major trails (South Wind and Wildlife Loop) contain numbered signposts at points of interest keyed to a brochure available at each entrance kiosk. Or, download the brochures, as well as a Virtual Tour of the MPEA; click on “Amenities/Natural History,” then scroll down and click on the slide-show-type links. ◾ A seasonal list of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and herps at MPEA is available at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/mpea/mpea-species-lists/, courtesy of the Howard County Bird Club. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, holds bird walks at MPEA and other locations in the county; such walks are free and open to the public. See the Howard County Bird Club’s calendar for more information. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club has a detailed online guide, “Birding Howard County,” on their website at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/.  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:

See also the Howard County Parks website for directions and a map showing the location of the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area with reference to major roads.

From points south: Take I-95, I-295, or I-97 north and then take the exit for MD Route 32 westbound. From Route 32, take Exit 20, turning right to go north on MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike. Proceed 1.4 miles and then turn right (southeast) onto Trotter Road. The Trotter Road parking area will be 0.9 miles on the left (east side of the road). To reach the South Wind Circle trailhead, continue south on Trotter Road for an additional one-quarter mile; at the traffic circle turn into South Wind Circle, and park roadside where you see the trailhead kiosk.

From the Baltimore Beltway/I-695: Take Exit 11 to go south on I-95. Stay on I-95 for 14 miles, then take Exit 38B to go west on MD Route 32. From Route 32, take Exit 20, turning right to go north on MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike. Proceed 1.3 miles and then turn right (southeast) onto Trotter Road. The Trotter Road parking area will be 0.9 miles on the left (east side of the road). To reach the South Wind Circle trailhead, continue south on Trotter Road for an additional one-quarter mile; at the traffic circle turn into South Wind Circle, and park roadside where you see the trailhead kiosk.

From points west: Take I-70 east to Exit 80 for MD Route 32 eastbound. In 8.6 miles, take Exit 20 for MD Route 108/Clarksville Pike northbound. Follow Route 108 north for 1.4 miles and turn right (southeast) onto Trotter Road. The Trotter Road parking area will be 0.9 miles on the left (east side of the road). To reach the South Wind Circle trailhead, continue south on Trotter Road for an additional one-quarter mile; at the traffic circle turn into South Wind Circle, and park roadside where you see the trailhead kiosk.

Nearby Sites:

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

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass Field Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

FishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanParkingPets Allowed

Type:

The Rivers of the Western Shore