Tuesday, March 23, 2010

C&O: the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area

Bluebells along the C&O Canal towpath
Photo credit: LostBob Photos(Flickr Creative Commons)
This week we're venturing outside the beltway to tell you about one of our favorite places to see spring wildflowers: McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. It's a sweet little stretch along the C&O Canal that will be bursting with color in April.

This is not the canal of Great Falls and Georgetown. The sides have caved in, the plants have taken over -- it's basically a series of ponds rather than a recognizable canal. But the towpath remains, and the Potomac on the other side of it. On the other side of the canal are fields and woods that are managed mainly for attracting wildlife for hunters. And all around, the flowers.

Photo credit: The Natural Capital
In fact, I suspect there may be more flowers along the canal here because it's bordered by this Wildlife Management Area (and Seneca Creek State Park, which also allows hunting). Allowing people to shoot the deer may be keeping the browsing down a little more here compared to other parks in our area, where the deer population is out of control and eating anything they can get their hooves on. Just a theory.

In addition to the spring, McKee-Beshers is also fun to visit in summer: some of the wildlife-attracting fields are planted with sunflowers, which should be blooming around mid-July.

Hiking and biking: Your main option is to go out and back on the canal, in either direction. Hunting Quarter Road is also lightly used outside hunting season and offers some different scenery (see park map). It's good to be aware of hunting seasons -- wild turkey season starts on April 17.

Golden ragwort along the C&O Canal
Photo credit: The Natural Capital
Directions: From the Beltway, take exit 39 for River Road (Rte 190) west, in the direction of Potomac. Go for 11 miles. Where River Road intersects Seneca Road, go left to stay on River Road. Keep going for 4.8 miles, then turn left on Sycamore Landing Road. There's a dirt parking lot near the end. This is the parking area closest to the towpath. (Google Map)