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Best Natural Areas

Hawlings River, Rachel Carson Conservation ParkRachel Carson Conservation Park

Laytonsville, Maryland

793 acres (Best Natural Area accounts for 635 acres)

Rachel Carson Conservation Park is an exceptional Best Natural Area of contiguous, high quality mixed-deciduous forest, with oak dominated uplands, lush floodplain forest, and old fields in varying successional stages. This Best Natural Area includes the entire conservation park, which lies southwest of Brink Road, north of Gregg Road and west of Georgia Avenue

This Best Natural Area is named for the renowned biologist and conservationist, whose most important work Silent Spring, published in 1962, is credited with helping spark the modern environmental movement. Carson was quoted as saying “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Visits to this park clearly fit well with Rachel Carson’s philosophy.

Natural Features
Rachel Carson Conservation Park is dominated by maturing, mixed-deciduous forest underlain by gneiss bedrock.  Uplands are dominated by chestnut oak, white oak, red oak, black oak, scarlet oak, red maple, tuliptree, black gum and hickories.  The understory and shrub layer includes American chestnut saplings, blackhaw, and mapleleaf viburnum. Floodplain areas are dominated by tuliptree, red maple, black gum, sycamore and pin oak in the overstory.  Spicebush, musclewood, arrow-wood, mapleleaf viburnum, serviceberry, blackhaw, flowering dogwood, winterberry and witch hazel comprise a majority of the understory. The herbaceous layer is lush, and includes many species of ferns, woodland herbs, wildflowers and native vines.  A wonderful selection of orchids including showy orchis, lady’s slipper orchid, large whorled pogonia, putty-root, and large twayblade have all been identified here.

The Hawlings River within Rachel Carson Conservation Park exhibits good to excellent water quality. The park contains numerous seeps, springs and mostly small wetland areas associated with the Hawlings River and its tributaries. These wetland areas throughout the park provide good habitat for reptiles and amphibians.   A total of 18 species of fish, including pollution intolerant species such as northern hog sucker and shield darter, have been found in or just outside the park.

Box turtle in Northwest Branch Stream Valley ParkThe rich combination of quality forest, ponds, streams and old fields in various stages of succession provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species.  Noteworthy species include the meadow jumping mouse, gray fox, river otter, eastern newt, and spotted salamander.  Forest interior birds to look for in this Best Natural Area include the Kentucky warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, scarlet tanager, ovenbird, worm-eating warbler, pileated woodpecker, great horned owl and barred owl. 

The area of Rachel Carson Conservation Park north of Sundown Road contains a large forested area once part of the historic Edgehill Farm. This farm is a rare surviving example of an intact working farm dating back to circa 1780. Intact, well crafted and well maintained domestic and agricultural buildings from the 18th century abut this Best Natural Area. The Griffith Family and descendants have resided on the property since the 18th century, and through their stewardship provide a window into Montgomery County’s agricultural past.

Things to Do
There is an existing expansive network of natural surface trails through the Best Natural Area. Ultimately with several addition land acquisition, this park will be part the completed Rachel Carson Greenway that will provided greenway and trail access from the Patuxent River all the way to the Anacostia River. The Park is accessible from trail head parking near the intersection of Zion Road and Sundown Road and where the Hawlings River crosses Zion Road.  - trail map

Above - Top: The Hawlings River.
Above - Bottom: A hesitant box turtle along the Hawlings River.

back to top - Last update: September 13, 2011