2019 Running Travels: The Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract

Here’s a view from Wild Turkey Way at the Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Last Thursday, Feb. 28, I traveled to Laurel, Maryland, for a Maryland Recreation and Parks Association awards luncheon. Once I found out I’d won an award, I — of course — looked to see if there were any cool places to run nearby.

But it wasn’t until I saw this RunWashington article on the North Tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge that I decided to run there. It was conveniently posted not long before my trip, on Feb. 13.

After the luncheon, I drove about 20 minutes to the North Tract, using the address in the RunWashington article, 230 Bald Eagle Drive in Laurel. I saw the visitor contact station, parked and changed into running clothes. I wore shorts and a T-shirt, as it seemed like a beautiful day for a run. One of the employees working in the visitor contact station seemed shocked that I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but that’s nothing new to me.

There were some signs like this one at the refuge. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I filled out the information on the free permit. An employee kept one copy, I carried one copy with me, and I left one on the dashboard of my car. I had to sign something saying I’d make them aware if I found any munitions, because it’s a former military training area. I didn’t see anything unusual.

Here’s an online brochure showing the North Tract trails. Here’s a brochure for the South Tract trails, which I haven’t yet run on.

Since I said I’d never been there before, the employee gave me a map, and I carried that with me as well.

It was a very remote area, so I did also carry pepper spray. Although I didn’t need to use it — I saw very few people out there — it made me feel more secure.

I decided to follow the recommended path in the RunWashington article. However, I knew I had to be back at the contact station by 4 p.m., so I didn’t think I’d be able to do the whole run that was described. I was moving relatively slowly and taking pictures during the beginning of my run. I was able to pick up the pace as I got closer to the end, but I made it back with less than 10 minutes to spare before the 4 p.m. closing time.

I headed out on Wild Turkey Way after a very short amount of time on the Wildlife Loop (I’d like to go back and explore the Wildlife Loop, which is a paved road). Wild Turkey Way is a dirt road. I followed that to Sweet Gum Lane and then turned onto Whip-Poor-Will Way, which made a U-shape.

My grandparents’ house has sweet gum trees, so I recognized the familiar pointy sweet gum balls on the trail, understanding how the trail had gotten its name.

I normally would not have expected to see a cemetery seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a refuge, but I was expecting it because I’d read about it in the RunWashington article. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Because I didn’t have much time, I then headed back the way I’d come and ran a little bit out-and-back on the Wildlife Loop to get six miles.

While I was on Whip-Poor-Will Way, I accidentally went straight at one point where I should have turned. The area was still cleared as if it were the trail, but there were some fallen trees and lots of mud. Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to suspect I might have gone the wrong way.

Here’s Whip-Poor-Will Way leading toward the meadow area. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Once I went the way I meant to, I came across the cemetery and then the meadow that were mentioned in the RunWashington article.

I did really enjoy the views of the meadow. This part reminded me of running at Soldiers Delight in Baltimore County, which I visited in 2015.

Here’s a view of the meadow area from Whip-Poor-Will Way. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

By the meadow, there was a sign and a memorial for Capt. Dean K. Phillips. I learned that soldiers used this area to practice parachuting.

I’m glad I got to run in a new-to-me location. With about 20 miles of roads and trails in the North Tract and another five in the South Tract (which a RunWashington commenter noted do not connect), there will definitely be more to explore.

I took a selfie by the meadow area.

I’ve signed up for the PHUNT 25K in January (it’s already sold out — that’s why I registered so early), so this may be a good place to do some training runs when that gets closer. I did notice some inclines as I ran.

Read the RunWashington article here.

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