Secretary’s Message: Maryland State Parks Are Always Worth Celebrating

Photo of group in wooded area

Staff and volunteers help clean up invasives at Gunpowder Falls State Park for Earth Day 2024, which was the final day of Maryland State Parks Week this year. Maryland Department of Natural Resources photo.

In April, the Department of Natural Resources celebrated State Parks Week, an annual acknowledgement of the special significance of our public lands. Our state parks, under the leadership of the department’s dedicated Park Rangers, provide the amenities and activities that nearly 20 million Marylanders enjoy every year, each with its own unique opportunities to connect with Maryland’s natural and cultural treasures.

The Maryland Park Service is encouraging visitors to complete challenges this year related to its 2024 theme: “In their footsteps, stepping forward in nature and back in time.” Challenges include visiting a park they have never been to before, finding animal tracks and visiting historical sites to appreciate those who walked the land centuries ago.

During State Parks Week, my staff and I conducted our own visits to several of our parks to see new and upgraded amenities for this year. Among some new additions around the state this year are:

Smallwood State Park celebrated the reopening of its newly renovated campground in April. The campground has fresh picnic tables and fire rings, new lantern posts, a new bathhouse, and a repaved road, as well as two new mini-cabins overlooking Mattawoman Creek. Reservations are open.

The newly named Lonacona Loop at Dans Mountain State Park is a stunning example of the thoughtful trailscaping of DNR trail planner Dan Hudson. Significant consideration went into the trail’s name, which recognizes a historic Native American man who lived on the land and played an important role in the region’s history.

Sec. Josh Kurtz signs a stud framing the old barn being renovated by Warrior Canine Connection at Seneca Creek State Park. Credit: DNR Staff

At Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, we had the pleasure of meeting with staff from Warrior Canine Connection, a park partner organization that teaches veterans to train service dogs to assist other veterans diagnosed with conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The organization is repairing an old barn at the park to create a new headquarters so it can expand its nationwide efforts to provide veterans with highly-trained assistance dogs.

Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park celebrated the opening of the Old Ellicott City Connector (OEC) Trail on April 26, a project forged and funded by the volunteer group. The trail connects the historic downtown to the Hollofield campground, an example of our continued efforts to provide access between all Marylanders and the great outdoors. 

The Park Service is also reinvigorating the Senior Rangers Program, engaging our population of retirees with the outdoors. Senior Rangers attend six weekly sessions that cover plants, animals, history, conservation, and more. Program locations are at New Germany State Park, Bohemia River State Park, Patapsco Valley State Park, Seneca Creek State Park, the Southern Maryland Recreational Complex, and Janes Island State Park.

All of these efforts are possible thanks to the thoughtful leadership of Park Service Director Angela Crenshaw, Deputy Director Rachel Temby, experienced park managers, and the hard work of the entire Park Service team.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources manages a half-million acres of land. This area encompasses the state parks, but also includes state forests, fishing and wildlife management areas, and other locations where one can experience the outdoors in every corner of Maryland, during all four seasons. We encourage Marylanders to get out and experience these beautiful areas we all share.

Josh Kurtz is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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