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South Mountain Recreation Area (Sp,S,F)
General Description. South Mountain Recreation Area is part of South Mountain State Park, a 40 mile long, 13,000-acre multi-use state park in Washington County, Maryland. The Appalachian Trail runs down the spine of South Mountain. The habitat in the park provides a relatively undisturbed space for a variety of migrants, ample food for year-round species and supports a stable breeding population of woodland birds. The best places to bird within the South Mountain Recreation Area are Greenbriar State Park, Washington Monument State Park, and Gathland State Park. Additionally, Washington Monument State Park is an official “hawk-watch” area and one of the best places in the mid-Atlantic region for observing hawks during their fall migration. Another area of note is the Hagerstown Watershed Area, just north of South Mountain State Park, especially around Edgemont Reservoir and Warner Hollow Road.
Trip Planning. Each of the Parks, except for Gathland State Park, has an entrance fee. Greenbriar State Park also has camping, swimming and boating activities. It is best to avoid the park on weekends during the summer as it tends to be crowded. Greenbriar State Park also has some areas open to hunting, including a spring gobbler season. It is important to check the Maryland DNR website prior to your visit. This is also true for some areas adjacent to the Appalachian Trail, which may be open to hunting. The State of Maryland has a complete South Mountain State Park Recreation Guide that includes all of the trail maps for the parks.
Seasonal Variation in Birding. The best time to visit South Mountain Recreation Area is in the spring, when the Neotropical migrants are passing through. One can find Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, a good variety of warblers, flycatchers, vireos, cuckoos and thrushes as well as year-round residents, including woodpeckers, and a variety of hawks and owls. The summer is a good time to view the breeding population of birds and the fall will see the return of migrants heading south. Starting in mid-September with the Broad-wing Hawk migration, Washington Monument State Park is a great place to observe the fall raptor migration. Maryland DNR and the Maryland Ornithological Society have published a checklist for the “Birds of South Mountain Recreation Area” which should be available at Greenbriar State Park.
Details of Specific Routes. The best route for birding Greenbriar State Park is the trail that goes around the lake. Drive into the park and to the boat launch site and park in the adjacent lot. Then head west in a counter-clockwise direction around the lake and pick up the “Big Red” trail. Follow the Big Red trail until it heads up the hill and intersects with the Camp Loop trail. Follow the Camp Loop trail until it heads back to the lake. Continue around the lake to the boat launch site. This is a moderately easy trail. A shorter and easier walk is to pick up the Camp Loop trail at the juncture where it intersects the Big Red trail when the latter trail heads up the hill. This route will keep you at lake level the entire time.
The best way to bird at Gathland State Park is to park at the Visitor Center parking lot and check the trees around the Visitor Center and the edge areas of the park on both sides of the road that bisects the park. The Appalachian Trail goes through the park. You can bird along the trail as well, however, you should check the Maryland DNR website to avoid areas that may be open to hunting.
The best areas to bird at Washington Monument State Park are the edge areas around the upper parking lot, on the trail up to the monument, on top of the monument, and along the Appalachian Trail which runs through the park.
The best place to bird at the Hagerstown Watershed Area is along Warner Hollow Road. The road passes the Edgemont Reservoir, which is worth checking out, and then along the road to Pleasant Valley Road.
Directions. Greenbriar State Park may be accessed from Route 40 either heading east from Hagerstown or west from Frederick. Gathland State Park may be accessed on the west side of South Mountain from Route 67 and Gapland Road to the summit and the park or on the east side from Route 17 and Gapland Road. The maps in the South Mountain State Park Recreation Guide should be consulted. To get to the Hagerstown Watershed Area and Warner Hollow Road, take Route 70 east from Hagerstown to Route 66 north. Take Route 66 to Route 64 north to Route 491, Raven Rock Road. Take Raven Rock Road to Warner Hollow Road.