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Discovering Patuxent’s North Tract

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Greenbelt Live has previously reported on the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge (here and here) but little did I know that I had only seen the South Tract of the Refuge, the part that’s just outside of Greenbelt.  Finally last month I discovered the North Tract when I visited for what was billed as their “Wildlife Conservation and Recreation Day.”

Turns out, that’s the new name for what used to be called their Hunting and Fishing Day.  The logic being that hunting is controversial but “wildlife conservation and recreation” aren’t. But by whatever event name got me there, I was glad for the introduction to the North Tract, which I found out has tons of things of interest to even a nonhunter – horses, biking/hiking (20 miles of hiking), fishing, birdwalks, night hikes, running trails, and opportunities to observe wildlife.

"Botany Bill" with some of his North Tract plant inventory.
“Botany Bill” with some of his North Tract plant inventory.

I got to meet and chat with an avid naturalist – “Botany Bill” Harms. Bill has his  own website where he explains “Why the North Tract is so special,” so check that out. Bill is continuing the work of Neil Hotchkiss in identifying and cataloging some 1,000 species of the 1,200 – 1,300 species there in the North Tract as a volunteer, working with Towson U., U.Md. and the Smithsonian Herbarium.

And it isn’t just BARC that has bird-nest boxes. The North Tract has about 50 of them, maintained by Nest Box Coordinator Jay Pape.

Naturalist volunteer Joe DiGiovanni, North Tract of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge

Thanks to Master Gardener/amateur naturalist Joe DiGiovanni, pictured above, the North Tract has one official Monarch Butterfly Waystation (#3198) and three other butterfly gardens.  Joe has collected and planted milkweed seeds, as well as other plants that provide nectar for the Monarch.  A busy retiree, he also makes sculpture out of soapstone, a Maryland native stone, and teaches pruning.  Joe’s shown here with native plants Lonicera semperviens (Coral Honeysuckle) on the left and Pycnanthemum tenifolium (Narrow-Leaved Mountain Mint) on the right.



There was lots about fishing that day in the North Tract.  Casting for Recoverywhich teaches fly-fishing and holds retreats for breast-cancer survivors, was there; that’s Casey Peltier in the photo, demonstrating various flies.  Another way she encourages fishing among women is working to establish a Fishing Badge for Girl Scouts.  Locally, any of us can learn through Chesapeake Women Anglers, also tabling at the event. 

Another worthy fishing-related project I learned about is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which promotes flying for wounded veterans.  And there’s lots more for men, women and children at Trout Unlimited, a national organization with local chapters.


 North Tract of Patuxtent Wildlife Refuge

Above, teaching kids to cast.

Wild Turkey Federation at North Tract of Patuxent Wildilfe Refuge


Who knew there was such a thing as the National Wild Turkey Federation?  They even have a local chapter.



I took some bad videos of dogs fetching fake ducks in the water but forgot to take photos of them in action.  Maybe I was distracted by this hilarious bumper sticker.

archery at North Tract of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge


Lastly, the hunting. Fortunately for this squeamish visitor, only fake deer were shot that day.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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