Trail Running in Patapsco Valley State Park
Part 1 of 3: Catonsville's local state park is the ideal place for running, biking or hiking, even in the winter.
Ferris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The same could be said for Patapsco Valley State Park; it lies right next door to Catonsville, but if you’re like me, you often overlook what the park has to offer.
Patapsco Valley State Park is a dream come true for runners, bikers and hikers. According to the park’s website there are “170 miles of trails, with 70 of those miles identified as maintained trails.” The park features ponds, bridges, tunnels, playgrounds and picnic areas. It is even used by equestrians who enjoy taking a leisurely ride the old-fashioned way.
Patapsco Valley stretches across four counties and has a rather unusual shape. According to Robin Melton, Patapsco Valley State Park manager, “the park started as a 40-acre area and has been built over time by the purchase and donation of land along the Patapsco River.”
It is the goal of the park to protect the river and the surrounding forest from pollution and development.
Trailheads can be found at a number of different locations. The most easily accessible trail for those of us in Catonsville is arguably the Soapstone Trail with its entrance along Rolling Road, adjacent to the Park-and-Ride by I-195.
As a runner, I wanted to find out more about the trail running opportunities available in the Catonsville area so I drove to the aforementioned trailhead and began down the snow-covered path. Even in the snow there was no danger of getting lost since the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has done a first-rate job of clearly marking their trails.
When I began my run I was cold, but within minutes my mind was completely taken off of the temperature by the beauty of the trail. Rolling hills, river crossings, and fallen trees can make your mind float off, and before long I had nearly forgotten that I was still in Catonsville, just a few miles from home.
The hour turned to 12 p.m. as I stopped to check my trail map. In the distance a church bell began to toll the hour, and as I stood there in the middle of the woods listening to the bells chime I was struck by how completely different life can be in the park. The fresh air made me feel better and I was overcome by a sense of calm. It is difficult to fully explain just how I felt at that moment, but I imagine the feeling must have been similar to what Beethoven felt before composing Ode to Joy. It was a moment to decompress and just simply exhale, a moment to set aside the issues of the outside world.
When the bells stopped I folded my map and continued along the trail, following its descent as it runs alongside the Soapstone Branch creek. Eventually the trail strayed from the side of the creek and started to climb the side of a steep hill. By the time I reached the top I was breathing hard and sweating profusely, despite the cold temperature. Don’t let the scenery fool you, these trails can be extremely challenging!
At the end of the Soapstone Trail I made a right turn and followed the road into a tunnel which ran underneath a series of railroad tracks. On the other side of the tunnel I found Lost Lake, a small pond with decks which reach out over the water. In warmer times I can imagine people sitting and relaxing here, but on this cold day there was no one to be found. I made yet another right turn at this point and followed the paved path which paralleled the railroad until I arrived at the trailhead for the Vineyard Spring Trail.
This trail further removed me from any semblance of civilization. Near the top of the trail the only noises could I hear were the rustle of the tree branches above as they were blown by the wind and the movement of leaves skittering along the ground. If not for the faint noise of a plane flying high above I almost would have been able to believe I was standing on the Earth alone. It is truly amazing that here, inside of the Patapsco Valley State Park, you can simultaneously be so close to civilization and yet so far away.
The Vineyard Spring Trail shares a connecting trail to the Soapstone Trail, and I followed this to return to my car. As I neared the end of the trail I could begin to see and hear the sights and sounds of the real world again. I felt in that moment very much the way I feel at the end of vacations, happy to have had the time away but sad to see it come to an end.
At least with Patapsco Valley State Park, however, I can get away whenever I want and enjoy this scenic treasure which we in Catonsville have lying in our backyard.