After reading the description of Monocacy Hill Recreation Area in the Penn State study, I was both excited to visit and surprised I had never been there before. I enlisted the help of a friend and her kindergartener to explore this huge place. Before we left, I made up a small scavenger hunt to take to the park, something I have done with my kids before. It’s nothing fancy, just a few simple things for the kids to find on a hike, and now they can find them and take photos with the digital camera, which makes it even more fun.
Our list (geared toward a newly reading kindergartener) included:
We stopped for a few minutes to check out the information board that sits at the entrance to the park and to read a little about the park and the types of plants that live there. I definitely learned something at Monocacy Hill, because I had no idea that there were invasive plants threatening our forests. The Conservation Association has, as one of its missions and part of its Forest Stewardship Plan, an initiative to combat invasive non-native plants. From its website:
BASICS: Plants, insects, animals taken out of their natural habitat may not have the natural predators and diseases that previously kept their population under control. So they are able to aggressively compete with native species for space, light, water and nutrients and spread through the forest displacing our native species. In our area, for example, deer will browse on native plants and rarely eat non-native food sources.
This recreation area is like “park meets museum,” because there are informational stops all along the path and many of the trees and shrubs are marked with the species, origin, and more. It certainly makes for more than just a walk in the park when you visit Monocacy Hill.
We set out on our way after a quick stop at the restroom (an outhouse-not fancy, but definitely a convenience especially if you’re taking a long hike.) We saw a sign marked “creek trail” and decided unanimously that we wanted to see the creek, so we started on the path. Our young explorer started immediately on his list and was very selective in what he chose for each of his scavenger hunt items. He didn’t take a photo of the first thing he found for each category; he wanted to be sure about his choice.
The path wound its way downhill and the scenery was breathtaking. I already love fall and all the colors it offers, but there was something special about this particular place and the sheer height of the trees. There was a light wind that would make the canopy sway and leaves of all shapes and colors made their way down to us.
The scavenger hunt was on – a log with moss was selected as something green, living and wood! Next up was a pile of leaves that were obviously dead. A striking orange, red and yellow leaf fit the bill for something orange, and the hunt (and hike) continued. By then point, I was already planning my next trip to Monocacy Hill and wondering how soon I could get back here with my kids and husband.
The path, which to this point had been a mixture of mud, leaves, gravel and some medium-sized rocks (which our scavenger hunter astutely told us meant we were nearing the creek) now turned into carved stumps. We were all thrilled as we forged ahead in pursuit of the creek and the rest of the scavenger hunt. As we passed another hiker with her dog, the path changed again, to boardwalks, and soon we found the creek, followed by shouts of “water!” and a request for the camera to check one more item off the list.
After passing the creek, we walked a bit further and then realized we had made a rookie mistake. In our enthusiasm to see the creek, we hadn’t looked at the map of the park trails! We had to decide whether to keep going and see if our path would circle around (which it didn’t seem to be doing) or to double back and retrace our steps. If we had unlimited time, I think we would have kept going, even not knowing what was ahead, but afternoon kindergarten awaited our scavenger hunter so we turned around.
Amazingly, the two hardest items on the scavenger hunt to find were the animal and the insect. My friend bravely turned over a log to uncover a characteristically gross specimen of insect, and we finally found a chipmunk to satisfy the animal requirement of our list. We followed the creek trail back up the hill and toward the entrance where we (finally) read the map. If we had gone just a bit further, our trail would have merged with another one and wound its way back to the main entrance, but there’s always next time.
Just for fun, we checked the mileage of the creek trail, which is 1 mile, and figured we walked about ¾ mile each direction-which took nearly an hour with several stops for scavenging, photo taking and just general staring at the beautiful setting. The Monocacy Hill Conservation Association has several events coming up in November so there is plenty of autumn left for exploring this beautiful site:
Walks in the woods: Sundays, November 7th and 21st at 1:30 PM
Moonlight Hike: Sunday, November 21st at 8:30 PM
Of course, you absolutely do not have to wait until a scheduled event to visit the Monocacy Hill Recreation Area. Thanks to the well-marked trails and the information spots scattered throughout the park, any day is a great time to have an adventure here.
MONOCACY HILL RECREATION AREA
Location: Geiger Road, between Hill Road and Limekiln Road in Amity Township
Size: 420 acres
Suitability: Anyone can enjoy connecting with nature at this beautiful park. Some of the trails are more challenging and would be tough for people with limited mobility. Check the map before heading out on the trails. Know your own physical limitations when you start the hike.
Facilities: Miles of trails, picnic tables, grills, study spots with information about the foliage and the area
Activities and tips: Check out the trail map before you go so you can choose how long you want to hike. There are short trails of a mile or less; for the more adventurous, hike the entire perimeter! Wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle, especially if you are taking one of the more challenging trails-these paths are natural and include stumps and boardwalks as well as stones and gravel. If you pack a lunch or snack, there are picnic tables near the Geiger Road entrance to the park.
Hours: Dawn until dusk
Monocacy Hill Conservation Association
P.O. Box 3
Douglassville, PA 19518
Recreational Facilities webpage