Blockhouse Point is a 650-acre conservation park which stretches from a historic Potomac River overlook near Callithea Farm and Violette’s Lock up across River Road.
While Blockhouse Point is designated for conservation, park planners have been grappling for more than a year to develop a plan that would balance the interests of those who would like to use the park.
The park is one of the largest blocks of contiguous forest in the county. Although the list of plant species was not available at presstime, six distinct forest stands have been identified including trees such as black birch and shagbark hickory, both uncommon in the county.
This forest provides a home to well over 100 different animal species including Bald Eagles and Black Bear. 38 species of birds nest in the park.
The park also contains 32 identified sites of historic significance, ranging from prehistoric spear tips dating to between 3,000 and 1,000 B.C. to battlements built during the Civil War.
Proposals for the trails system, likely to be the most controversial facet of the plan, may upset both bikers and equestrians.
Staff decided to restrict access in order to preserve some of the most sensitive areas. “The natural and cultural resources of that park are special and unique,” said John Hensch, the Park and Planning supervisor who has been heading the development of the plan. “Blockhouse Point is one of the top five sites in the county.”
Only one trail through the park will be allowed to be used by bicyclists. The Muddy Branch Trail, a generally north-south trail which connects Esworthy Road to the C&O Canal and Pennyfield lock, will also be open to hikers and equestrians.
“We are providing a natural surface trail that links the City of Gaithersburg with the C&O Canal,” Hensch said.
There will be one other trail open to equestrians and hikers, an east-west trail which will connect Callithea Farm, recently acquired by the county under its Legacy Open Space program, with the Muddy Branch Trail to the C&O Canal. “Staff felt that we needed to keep a natural surface trail to Callithea,” Hensch said.
The equestrian trail will allow for development of a loop trail along the Canal, which the plan also calls for formalizing.
Numerous hiker only trails will exist throughout the park, although several have been eliminated or re-rerouted. The adjustments were made for a variety of reasons, in some cases the trails went through steep areas which staff felt was hazardous, other areas were deemed environmentally sensitive or having proximity to sensitive cultural areas which may have Native American or Civil War era relics. “There are some archeological resources that are special,” Hensch said.