The Black Marsh Trail An Effortless Portal for Nature Voyeurs
The Black Marsh trail readily reveals itself with minimal exertion and time. Bursting with life and only a 30 minute drive from downtown Baltimore — you can discover another world repeatedly. As natural areas go, THIS is a rare bird.
The 1320 acres within North Point State Park have hosted human activity for 9000 years but its modern history began in 1906, with the establishment of the Bay Shore Amusement Park. Bay Shore enticed would be day trippers to escape the monotonous confines of urban drudgery via a new trolley system that transported them to the pleasures of the Chesapeake Bay shore. Replete with water rides, fine dining, dancing, a roller coaster and more — Bay Shore was an oasis. The park ceased operations in 1947 when the property was purchased by Bethlehem Steel. For many years after, it was a private hunting ground for Beth Steel executives but in 1987 — through a joint effort by the Maryland DNR, The Nature Conservancy and Baltimore County — North Point State Park was established.
My affair with North Point began while getting re-acquainted with cycling as an adult. No traffic, no noise, no getting jumped, and some bonus greenery — this place called North Point seemed ideal. Having not yet developed an engaged appreciation for nature or the outdoors, it was all simply scenery for my task. Signage for the Black Marsh trail was posted at the rear of the parking lot but my tunnel vision only registered the icon that conveyed “Restricted access, NO BICYCLES”. I dismissed the trail for several visits but one afternoon, after I had loaded the car, and was not experiencing the usual gravitational anxiety to return home, I took my first steps into the Black Marsh and found the real gem of North Point.
The Black Marsh changes its character significantly week by week. The tug of war between land and shore, the spinning of the food web, and the effects of seasonal change are rapid, palpable, and in close proximity. You are embedded in a dynamic habitat and can see all of its gears turning in real time. My fascination with nature, the environment, ecology and earth systems began here and it continues to stimulate.
A Swamp Sparrow seeks treasure and refuge in the Black Marsh. April 2018
With the exception of shallow washouts that may occur during wetter seasons — the trail is leisurely, flat, graveled and hard-packed through a 2.2 mile loop of freshwater and brackish wetland. The lushest parts can be had by walking the former trolley bed that runs directly through the center of the Black Marsh, leading to a secluded sandy shoreline. On this stretch especially, spring through early autumn, the Black Marsh allures from every angle with an abundance.
Great Blue heron, Little Blue Heron, Egrets, Swamp Sparrow, Osprey, Bald Eagle, hawks, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red Winged Black Bird, ducks, turtles, eastern toads, American Bullfrog, Muskrat, snakes and the usual assortment of yard birds are all regular sights. The Black marsh trail was my first encounter with many of these animals and (as of this writing ) is the only place that I have spotted Bittern and Cedar Waxwings.
Given its accessibility and lack of athletic commitment, the trail makes for an ideal introduction to the outdoors for nature wary friends, family outings, or a 2nd date with a new interest. Whether you have 30 minutes or several hours, a mild curiosity or an obsession, The Black Marsh Trail and North Point will inspire and satisfy.
NOTE: North Point State Park currently charges a 3 dollar per vehicle entry fee. The gate attendant is not always on duty and an envelope /drop box system is used. It is advised to bring cash for this entrance fee.