Our first stop, as always, was the Visitor Center where we talked to a Ranger about hiking options (there are 25 miles of trails in the park) and picked up a map.
We also spent some time checking out the exhibits that provide information about wildlife in the park as well as some cultural history. Settlers first came to the valley in the 1700s and harvested oak and chestnut bark that yielded tannin (was sold to tanneries). When iron was discovered in the area, the Catoctin Iron Furnace (built in 1770) opened and remained in operation 100+ years. Stoves, wheels, rims, cannon, and shot were the primary items manufactured there. Clear cutting for charcoal making, stripping bark, and logging depleted the natural resources in the area. Distilling grain to alcohol also began in the 1700s, and it was the last profitable business in the area.
Hundreds of local men were hired in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (a New Deal agency) to build picnic areas, cabin camps, and a visitor center. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers were brought to the park to return the depleted forests to native hardwood forests. They also built roads, trails, guard rails, shelters, and more until 1941 when the park closed during WWII. It was used as a rehab center for the Navy and a training office for the Office of Strategic Services.
The area was also used as a retreat by President FDR that he named Shangri-La. President Eisenhower renamed the retreat Camp David (after his grandson). It is, of course, closed to the public and does not appear on any map of the park.
Our first hike was on the short (.6 mi) Blue Blazes Whiskey Trail. It starts in the parking lot across the street from the Visitor Center. The trail runs along the Blue Blazes Run to a reproduction of of the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still. Brook trout thrive in the creek.
When the Deputy Sheriff raided the still in 1929, he was fatally wounded in a fight at the still. Two moonshiners were convicted of the crime after conflicting testimony. When the police found eighteen 500-gallon vats, they realized that it was a large, illegal, commercial operation shipping whiskey to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and NYC. During the prohibition years, the the cost of alcohol rose from $2 to $22 per gallon.
Our sweet doggie, Sadie, had so much fun on this trail. It was just lovely.
We hopped in the car and drove along Park Central Road to the 4th parking lot. There we picked up the trail that leads to the Blue Ridge Overlook Summit. There are lots of interesting rock formations along the trail through the Eastern hardwood forest to the first overlook.
Lush, green moss blanketed much of the forest floor...beautiful.
We continued along the trail the the next overlook. Trees grow at crazy angles and right on top of rocks!
As we continued on the trail loop we came upon this black snake (about 6') slithering through the forest and over logs. Very cool.
Camping is permitted at the park in campgrounds, cabins, and shelters. Reservations can be made online. Swimming, boating, and fishing is available at Hunting Creek Lake.
I had never heard of this park until I checked out the national park service resources when we arrived in Hagerstown. It is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life with both hiking and equestrian trails. For additional information it, go to their website at www.nps.gov/cato.