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The past is alive in former mill town of Waterford, VA

On the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs to the nation’s capital, there’s a time machine of sorts that can transport you back a century or two. It’s a quaint village called Waterford.

You’ll find it preserved like a dragonfly in amber amid the cookie-cutter housing developments that are gradually consuming the rural remnants of Loudoun County, VA, one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities.

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Cove Mountain forests offer refuge for animals, people

From a distance, Cove Mountain looks like it floats on the Susquehanna River. Closer up, it’s a typical Pennsylvania red oak-dominated forest, with scattered lichen and moss-covered boulders, clear mountain streams and clearings well-stocked with wildflowers.

This unspoiled wilderness is also one of the largest plots of undeveloped mountain land just outside of Harrisburg and, as such, has been eyed by developers for years.

Construction of a 500-home development, a bedroom community to Harrisburg, has begun on one side of Cove Mountain; the other side is now a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy.

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Cumberland Marsh beckons birds and birders alike

Fall migration is an excellent time to spot a wide variety of birds, and identifying a few birding hotspots can help fledgling birders — as well as experienced ones — know where to go. During fall and well into winter, bird watching groups in the Chesapeake region often flock to Cumberland Marsh Natural Area, about 35 minutes east of Richmond by car.

The 1,100-acre preserve, one of 45 in Virginia, overlooks some of the most pristine tidal fresh wetlands along the Pamunkey River and often yields unexpected sightings.

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Imagine a flight from slavery on Woodlawn Manor trail

Dr. William Palmer married his second wife, Cleorah Duvall, shortly after moving to Woodlawn Manor in Sandy Spring, MD, in the mid-1820s. The marriage came with a dowry gift that would change his plantation’s future: its first slave.

Woodlawn Manor, now a Montgomery County park, would eventually depend on the labor of more than a dozen enslaved people.

The choice to become a slave owner brought personal consequences, too. Palmer was a Quaker, and Quakers were opposed to slavery.

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Lower Chickahominy’s fish, wildlife lure visitors

The broad marshes along the wooded banks of the Chickahominy River in Virginia still evoke the landscape that English explorer Capt. John Smith first saw when he visited this area in 1607.

And it is the same mix of forest, river and marsh that made my paddle down Morris Creek — a tributary of the Chickahominy — so compelling on an early spring morning.

I launched my kayak with Jack Snell, a member of the River Rat volunteers who keep watch on area waterways for the James River Association. A thin mist rose from the creek as we slipped silently onto the dark water just after sunrise.

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Catoctin adventures invoke the (inner) child in visitors

In the 1980s and 1990s, my family and I lived at the very edge of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a mere five miles from the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In Walkersville, MD, just outside Frederick, we were close enough to a portion of the Blue Ridge — Catoctin Mountain — that we could see it in gaps between the neighbors’ houses across the street. And from the roof of our house, where the occasional whiffle ball or Frisbee would get stuck, I’d get an even better view of that long forested wall to the west, stretching north toward Pennsylvania.

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Into the woods: Diversity of Tizzle Flats casts its spell on hikers

High on the ridge of Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountain, I hunkered down to examine some toadstools when my eyes caught a series of regular hatch marks etched into the tree trunk just above me — the kind of marks made by large, chiseled claws, leaving rags of torn bark hanging down at about chest level.

I called back my hiking buddies, who were tramping on down the trail ahead, and we shared a hushed diagnosis: A large, male black bear had sharpened his claws and marked his territory here. It happened recently, judging from the tattered abrasions that were still bleeding sap.

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Rent a handcrafted boat at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

With more than 95 percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s shoreline in private ownership, getting out on the water can be a challenge. Recently, outfitters and nonprofit groups on both sides of the Bay have tried to scale that barrier by offering more rentals for boats and paddleboards and providing maps of trails and launch sites.

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Meander through Parkers Creek Preserve

Thirty years ago, a group of scientists and preservationists pooled their resources to save a pristine forest abutting the Chesapeake Bay from a future of golf courses, marinas and subdivisions.

The result is Parkers Creek Preserve, a 3,500-acre wonder in Calvert County on Maryland’s Western Shore. Just off MD Route 2/4, this expanse includes 22 miles of public hiking trails meandering through forested uplands and fragile marshes, past tall cordgrass and scrubby marsh flowers. There are majestic views of the ancient shoreline cliffs, which frame the winding creek as it spills across a narrow beach into the open Chesapeake Bay.

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