Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defenders Trail, Day Two

Since I walked the middle section of the Defenders Trail first, in January, I would have to complete the entire trail in 2 remaining steps, whether on one day or two. And since I'm hiking the trail by myself, I want to be extra cautious in not overextending my reach, to find my car is miles away as it gets dark, stormy, or tiring. After flipping a mental coin, I chose the northern part of the trail as my next segment.

Two historic monuments/areas I wanted to be sure to visit on this hike were Battle Acre, and the Aquila Randall monument. A bit of research on the old Defenders Trail guide book, searching the internet with the excellent Historic Marker Database (HMDB), and viewing maps both online and on paper led me to decide to park near Battle Acre, hike south past the Randall monument, then return to my starting point, looping as far north as time, weather and my condition allowed.

Near Battle Acre park are houses, some row homes, and some individual. To minimize interfering with neighborhood parking, I left my car on Kimberley Road very near North Point Road and walked over to the park.

The two photos of the marker, and the center of the park itself, on the HMDB, don't show the whole picture, as it were. The park is surrounded almost entirely by a fence, but it's split in parts, and the gate pillars are askew, as seen above. Because the park is bordered by busy roads, commercial establishments and high density housing, it felt more like a vacant lot than a park on a winters' day. The sad condition of the American flag on a pole at the center contributed to the rundown feeling.

I thought of North Point Boulevard, along with North Point Road, as resembling a dollar sign; the older "road" section being the "S" part, winding along the the original topography, and the newer "Boulevard" section as the 2 straight lines cutting through in a wide, smooth bypass of anything close to nature. I guess that's the price of progress, having fast roads where you barely know what you're driving over, but it means a few things to planning and executing a hike. Normally, I'd want to travel on the older road sections, because that's where the local historical events happened, and because slower traffic can be less risky to the pedestrian. But the newer four lane divided highway has wider shoulders and off-road sections to walk on, including paved surfaces wider than a car, while the older two lane road has few if any sidewalks, and the off-road section is typically not paved any wider than the white stripe down the side, plus the drainage ditches can be hazardous to walk near, requiring more concentration to each footstep than to the world around. With all that, I chose to walk on both old and new areas, varying my route to minimize back tracking. With more people, and more cars to drop off and pick up, you might be better off staying on the older roads, as long as you watch intently for traffic at the narrowest parts. Pedestrians seem scarce around here.

The Aquila Randal monument is less than a mile away from Battle Acre, on the other side of North Point Boulevard. The crossing of North Point Road is tricky, as the northern part merges onto the four lane in a tight curve with low visibility. I'd recommend getting to the east side of North Point Boulevard at the Cove Point Road intersection since it has traffic lights and cars actually stop for periods of time. The intersection with the eastern part of North Point Road is a "slow down and turn left" process, where you'd be racing across the median to get to safety.

Unlike the HMDB photos, which show the business to the south of the Aquilla Randall and North Point Battlefield monuments in the background, the above shot is from the road, with the nearby residence behind. And when I say nearby, it's more like the statue and plaque are lawn ornaments, as there is no separation between their yard and the historic area. You could obviously drive right past this and not notice the historic significance at all.

The remainder of the hike on February 12, 2011, was more contemporary than historic, as I traversed industrial areas near the Beltway, taking a side trip over I-695 to railroad sidings, warehouses and maintenance buildings. Probably the most pleasant surprise was near an enclosed "pond" that I thought was for stormwater management, but may actually be a tidal marsh of sorts, when I startled a great blue heron that was crouched in the vegetation not far from the highway (several feet). As it took off and spread its wings widely, I fumbled to get the cell phone camera on and pointed in the right direction. If you zoom in and look closely, you can see it is on the far side of the water by the time I snapped this.

Once I reached the area I had hiked on the first leg, I turned back north, generally following the wider North Point Boulevard, but side tracking onto North Point Road for variety. When I was parallel to my car, after about 2 hours of walking, I continued north and west toward the shopping center now called North Point Plaza. The older guide book mentioned a "North Point Shopping Center", but I'm not sure if is that one, or the smaller North Point Village Shopping Center near where the drive-in was. After seeing very few people outside of their cars for nearly 3 hours, the activity at the "Amish Market" and other Saturday commercial activity was a big contrast.

As I have visited portions of the Defenders Trail, I've taken many pictures, uploading those that might be interesting to Panoramio, and then to Google Earth. Before I started walking, I noticed Google Earth had few if any photos of the neighborhoods in this historic peninsula. With the second leg complete, there are now 56 shots tagged with DefendersTrail, along with others in the vicinity. The Google Maps truck has driven on North Point Road, and North Point Boulevard, but there is no substitute for putting your own feet on the history trail.

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