|True Winter in Western Maryland
It was whisper quiet, an invigorating solitude that rarely occurs anymore, and the only unnatural sound was that of our thin skis pushing through the thick cake of freshly fallen snow. Layered white powder like confectioner's sugar blanketed the branches of the huge hemlocks and white pines that line the trail, creating a natural tapestry sewn from white flakes and green needles. The tree arms draped low over the trail and partially hid our path. Often, deer tracks ran perpendicular to the man-made trail, though the deer were nowhere to be seen.
The constant pull of gravity rushed the water of small mountain streams bordering the trail toward the Youghiogheny River, which cuts through the nearly 7,000 acres of Garrett State Forest in Garrett County. Among the peaks and valleys of Western Maryland, secluded in Maryland's Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, this region holds some of the state's most ancient forests. Overall, there are 120,000 acres of parks, forests, lakes and rivers in Western Maryland, making it truly Maryland's last frontier.
On some streams, where beaver dams and dens slowed the flow of water, ice had formed, creating a dynamic example of the properties of water. The cranberry bogs described by park literature, however, were invisible. Massive stands of white pine and hemlock dominated our route, complemented by huge oak (red, white, and scarlet), black cherry and hickory trees that shot skyward like natural skyscrapers.
Mimsy Molter and I started our cross-country jaunt at Herrington Manor State Park, which was initially a project started in the 1930s by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Ten of the 20 cabins in the park reflect the Corps' style, with rounded chestnut logs cut flat on their top and bottom surfaces and overlapping at the corners.
Formed in the Great Depression, the Corps was created to do emergency conservation work and help preserve our nation's natural heritage. The Corps also gave thousands of unemployed young men work as it reforested thousands of acres of land, built park roads and erected dams and bridges. The workers also restored historic sites and fought forest fires.
Mimsy and I broke through the dense forest into Swallow Falls State Forest after nearly six miles of traversing the snow-sculpted landscape. This was also a Corps project, built by the 100-man strong Company 304 of Roosevelt's Tree Army, the fourth such company organized in the United States. The company arrived at Swallow Falls in May 1934; in the autumn they built barracks, which were to be their home until May 1940. The standard wage was $30 a month, $25 of which went directly to the worker's families or parents. It was hard and demanding work, creating an enduring legacy.
At Swallow Falls, which was named during the westward movement because of the great flocks of cliff shallows that nested on Swallow Rock, we joined friends Karl and Robin Roscher. We made our way to Muddy Creek Falls, named for the dark tannins that color the water. Muddy Creek - the highest falls in the state - rushes over a plateau and crashes 63 feet straight down on its way to join the Youghiogheny River. There are also three other spectacular falls in the park.
Muddy Creek Falls was partially frozen, and glacier-like formations jutted down from the top like a precarious ice slide. Images formed in the carved ice, making a fitting end to a magical day deep in the woods of Western Maryland.