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Blockhouse Point: Potomac's Secret Garden

Blockhouse Point Park is home to plants, animals and history.

“This is a top area,” said Carole Bergmann, forest ecologist for Park and Planning of Blockhouse Point. The 630 acre park straddles River Road between Tobytown and Callithea Farm.

The Staff Draft of the Blockhouse Point Conservation Park Master Plan was released last week. The plan would govern the development of a trail system and conservation of environmentally sensitive and historically important areas.

Blockhouse Point presents a large, relatively uninterrupted block of forest. “The park is mostly high-quality, large blocks of contiguous upland forest,” Bergmann said. “The main thing about this place is the quality of the ecosystem.”

The park consists of seven different blocks of forest and Bergmann said that it is a classic example of what an upland forest should be.

The forest has tall trees forming a canopy, mid-level trees and a good amount of underbrush. “We have a well developed forest community there,” Bergmann said.

Within this upland forested area, there are some wetland areas which are home to several rare, threatened and endangered species of plants. “There’s a number of little communities that are in this park,” Bergmann said.

Additionally, along the cliffs overlooking the Potomac River, some small communities exist. “There are some rare communities on those bluff areas,” Bergmann said.

Although much of the park does not contain these rare species, the park as a whole is necessary to protect them. “These plants wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have a place to be in. The area can’t just be cordoned off,” Bergmann said.

More than 100 species of animals also make the park home. The size of the park is necessary for many of these species, particularly birds, to exist.

“The bare minimum is 100 acres,” said Rob Gibbs, natural resource manager with Park and Planning. Many different species and individuals within a species can co-exist in that 100 acres because many need interior forest as opposed to narrow edges that proliferate in the suburbs.

The size is critical to allowing these different birds sufficient habitat. “Generally, you need 100 acres so that you have some interior,” Gibbs said. “That’s the habitat that they require to nest … [and] that’s one habitat that’s disappearing in the county.”

In addition to the many species of birds a number of butterflies, reptiles and mammals make their home at Blockhouse. While Gibbs does not believe there are nay bear living in the park, “There have been bear reported there,” likely bear who were simply passing through.

Gibbs said that trails through a park can disturb animal communities in a wider area than the trail itself. Many animals would not be willing to make their home within 50 feet of an area frequented by people, such as a trail. “People think of a foot trail, but in reality its much broader than that. It’s more like a 100 foot wide corridor,” Gibbs said.

Both Gibbs and Bergmann stressed that while trail access in Blockhouse Point is not extensive, there are many other opportunities for recreation in the county and that the master plan is an attempt to allow conservation.

“Maintaining large blocks [of forest] is important because it protects it for future generations,” Gibbs said.

“We’re trying to leave it as untouched as we can for some species other than us,” Bergmann said.