Nature Nugget – July 28

If a tree falls in the forest…should it stay there?

We’ve all seen fallen trees in the woods. Whether it’s from a bad storm or just the end of a tree’s life, eventually a tree will die. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that in some state parks and forests, when a tree falls it’s just left there. Coming from a world of manicured lawns where anything unsightly is removed, this always felt wrong to me. Shouldn’t they remove the log? Can’t it be used for something?

In today’s Nature Nugget, I want to talk about how dead and decaying trees actually form an important part of a forest’s ecosystem. Although the tree has died, its part in the story is just beginning! But first some terminology: a dead tree that has fallen is a log. A dead tree that is still standing is a snag.

Fallen tree that was cut to remove from trail

What do dead and decaying trees provide?

  • Roosting spot for birds such as woodpeckers
  • Main home for bugs like ants, beetles, wasps and bees. Dead logs are also prime homes for larger critters like salamanders, frogs, and even snakes. Some scientists estimate that dead wood provides food and homes for more than 40% of forest wildlife species!
  • Form the bottom of the food chain for detritivores (organisms that feed on dead material) like fungi and bacteria which are then consumed by other animals
Fungi growing on decomposed log
  • Prevents erosion by reducing stormwater runoff. Logs in running water also prevent bank erosion, as well as trap sediment so that it doesn’t flow any further along.
  • Replenishes nutrients in the soil. Research has shown that trees are the main source of organic material in soil!
  • Plays an important role in forest regeneration. Not only does a fallen tree open up the canopy and make room for new trees, they also can become an extremely fertile growing medium for seeds and seedlings that have gathered there.
  • In ponds and streams, downed trees serve as sunning spots for turtles, fishing perches for birds, and even nests for fish.
Turtles sunbathing on a log

I think it’s pretty clear that dead tree are essential to the forest ecosystem! Now some people might be wondering about dead hazards and that’s a good point! Dead trees, especially snags can be seen as a fire hazard. And with wildfires constantly in the news, it’s definitely something to be concerned about! But remember, some wildfires are natural and can even be good for the ecosystem. There are certain species of plant that even need fire in order to germinate! However, if you have a dead tree on your property, you should get it removed. Dead wood is still a fire hazard and also a falling hazard especially near homes and people. Leave the dead wood to the forest!

Dead and decaying trees form an important part of a forest’s ecosystem. That’s why they are often left on the forest floor in parks. It doesn’t mean that the park isn’t well taken care – quite the opposite actually! Next time you pass a decaying tree, just think of all the life that could be starting a new inside of it.


Liberty Reservoir & 1623 Brewing Company

Eldersburg, MD

Liberty Reservoir is one of those amazingly peaceful places that I am more than happy to drive over an hour to visit. But I’ll be honest that it was originally 1623 Brewing that brought me to the Eldersburg area. When I’m on the hunt for a new Hikes & Hops, I actually start with a brewery and then find out what trails are nearby. Finding Liberty Reservoir was my lucky day since it has quickly become one of my favorite hiking spots in Maryland. Not to mention that 1623 Brewery is worth the drive in their own right! They have excellent beer and a HUGE space with lots of indoor and outdoor seating. They never disappoint. So let’s get to it!

THE HIKE: Liberty West-Morgan Runs Trail (Includes Coots Peninsula) 

Length: 7.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 987ft
Difficulty: Moderate 
Time: ~3 hours
Trail use: Hiking, biking, dogs
Parking: Lot on side of busy road so be careful when parking
H&H: 4/5

Liberty Reservoir is pretty big and there are no shortage of different trails you can take. My absolute favorite hike here is Coots Peninsula, so much that I hardly ever try anywhere else in the park! If you’re looking for a shorter hike than this, just the peninsula loop is about 4 miles and starts at the end of Bollinger Mill Road. J and I have been wanting to build up to longer hikes so we chose this extended loop that starts from a parking lot off of 32. Please be careful when pulling in and out of this space, there are some blind corners and it’s a major road. 

Although many of these trails are listed as “heavily trafficked” in the AllTrails app, every time I’ve been here it’s felt so peaceful and I hardly ever see anyone else. The highlight of this area really is the reservoir with its sparkling clear waters. The Reservoir is owned by the city of Baltimore and brings water to nearly 1.5 million people in the city and surrounding suburbs. It wasn’t always a lake though and in 1954 the city made a LARGE purchase of the land. It had once been a thriving mill town and after all of the buildings were abandoned they were left intact and the reservoir just filled in around them. Kinda spooky to think of factories and houses just sitting under that pristine water! 

Anyway, now the reservoir is perfect for hiking, especially since only paddle boats are allowed on the water, so you feel miles and miles away from civilization. Coots Peninsula is particularly beautiful as you are surrounded by water as you walk through the pine woods. The point at the end of the peninsula was really stunning with some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen! No swimming is allowed but we bent the rules and dipped our feet in. I’d call this trail moderate since the loop back had quite a few steep hills which I really enjoyed! If you go in the summer, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray! Even with it, at times the gnats and flies got pretty annoying. This has definitely been a favorite spot of ours and we’ve been back a few times! 

THE BEER: 1623 Brewing Company 

Address: 5975 Exchange Dr Suite H-L, Eldersburg, MD 21784
Distance from Trail Head: 4.3 miles, ~8 mins 
Food?: Snacks and Food Trucks (Everyday) 
H&H Rating: 5/5

1623 Brewing has been brewing since 2018 but only opened their brand new taproom in February 2020 right before all of the ‘rona shutdowns. But it never seemed like it held them back because their brand new facility was AH-Mazing! We were so impressed with the amount of seating available and the living room vibes. We settled in on their patio under a pergola which was so inviting and kept the sun from frying us. Although they don’t have a kitchen, they do have food trucks every day that they’re open. Score! But the most important thing: how was the beer?! 

We were really excited to finally get some 1623 on tap, having had cans of their Dry Irish Stout in the past (Go get it, it’s delicious). Everything we had on tap was great! I didn’t get it this time around, but my favorite 1623 beer is their Hefeweizen. It’s the brewer’s specialty and really it shows. It’s quite honestly the best hefe I’ve had on draft! This time around I wanted to have a sour since it was hot and muggy out. Dang, this was the sourest sour I have ever had! Still delicious though with a subtle passionfruit flavor. J opted for the Ella Mental Lager which was part of a series of Single Hop Single Malt lagers. I’m always really into SMaSH series because I love to learn more about beer ingredients and to single out flavors. This one was made with Australian Galaxy hops and was quite refreshing. They also made a version conditioned on spruce tips that my nature heart desperately wanted, but I know I don’t like sprucy beers so we passed on that one. Oh and we got a 6 pack of the pilsner to take home as a porch beer. 

(Also I’ve been having a moment with pilsners? So underappreciated and yet it’s one of the harder styles to make! Yup, I’ve already got plans for a pilsner appreciation post for one of my beer bytes soon!) 

Another thing I really appreciate about this brewery is all of their glassware. No basic pint glasses here! They’ve got all of the proper glassware for the style of beer! Ah, it’s the little things. 

Our Beer:

  • Tart Attack – Sour – 3.1%
  • Ella Mental – Lager – 6.4%
  • Pilsner – Pilsner – 5.2%

SUM UP: Liberty Reservoir has a variety of trails and the Coots Peninsula Loop is particularly beautiful and is of moderate difficulty. There is ample off-street parking at the trailhead. While the water views are beautiful, be prepared for mud and bugs. Nearby is 1623 Brewing Company which always has rotating food trucks and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a perfect combo!

Nature Nugget – July 21

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

John Muir
Pine Grove in Seneca Creek State Park

Guys I wanna take a sec to talk about trail etiquette. Since the onslaught of COVID-19 there are more people than ever interested in hiking (YAY)! But I’ve also been seeing a lot of bad trail etiquette (BOO). So I want to talk a little bit about what to expect in the woods and how to be a good neighbor to your fellow nature-lovers, including plants and animals.

  1. Leave. No. Trace – Guys, if you forget everything else from this post please please please remember this one thing. Everything you bring has to leave with you. Some things are obvious, like don’t leave an empty water bottle or a plastic food wrapper. But remember, you also shouldn’t toss an apple core. But wait, you think, isn’t that composting? NO. You are introducing something unnatural to the environment and that could have bad effects. Not to mention that now people that come after you have to smell your rotting apple. I like to pack an extra plastic grocery bag in my daypack to put any trash in!
  2. Right of Way – Yup, just like on the road. If you need to yield step carefully off the trail, being aware of plants and animals nearby. It’s usually better to step downhill. Now this might vary trail to trail based on usage but generally:
    • Hikers going uphill have the right of way
    • Bikes yield to hikers and horses
    • Hikers yield to horses – always step slowly to the side so not to startle the horse. If coming up behind a horse, make yourself known to the rider and animal.
  3. Make Yourself Known – it’s always nice to greet a fellow hiker plus it’s great to not be startled by someone coming up behind you. I try to say hello to everyone I see on a trail and I’m always surprised how few reciprocate. It’s always good to foster a friendly trail atmosphere.
  4. Stay on trail – going off trail can hurt the local plants and animals. You’re in their home, don’t mess it up! In this vein, it’s better to walk through a puddle or mud. Widening trails like that is bad for sustainability. If it’s rainy or muddy, maybe leave the hiking for another day!
    • If you have to go off trail to relieve yourself (it happens), make sure to be at least 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources. Leave No Trace applies to toilet paper too!
  5. Leave Wildlife Alone – Don’t try to approach animals, this could be potentially dangerous to you and also hurt the habitat. Animals want their space too! Also don’t feed the wildlife, this disrupts their foraging habits and wrongly teaches them that humans provide food
  6. Enjoy the Quiet – Nature is so peaceful and nothing ruins it more than a loud group or someone playing music. Personally, I only use my phone for taking pictures on the trail, but just bring headphones if you want to listen to something. Just be cautious of your surroundings and only ever have one headphone in at a time! Remember, you don’t want to ruin someone else’s peaceful hike.
  7. Pets – If bringing your furry friend, always keep them on a leash. Make sure they can stay under control if you encounter wildlife! And bring bags to carry out pet waste. Aside from litter, nothing enrages me more than dog poo on the trail! C’mon people!
  8. Be Prepared – This may sound self explanatory but seriously make sure you know what you’re getting into!
    • Wear proper clothing for the trail conditions. Bring a jacket if the elevation changes a lot, or a rain jacket if you anticipate precipitation. Wear the right shoes and have crampons if it’s snowy or icy
    • Look over the trail map before heading out and know approximately how far you’re going. If applicable, know what trail blazes to follow
    • Bring plenty of water! Yes it’s heavy but when you’re hiking sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re getting dehydrated until it’s too late! I bring a huge bottle with me and also leave some in the car
    • If you’re going for a long hike, make sure to have some snacks to keep you going. We almost always pack a lunch to have during our hike.
    • Check the weather before you leave! Weather conditions can change so quickly and you don’t want to get caught outside during severe weather
    • Let someone know where you’re going, especially if you’re hiking alone

At the end of the day, respect is the key to trail etiquette. Have respect for other hikers and for the plants and animals whose home you’re visiting. Now get outdoors!

King and Queen Seat at Rocks State Park
Weverton Cliffs

Beer Byte – July 16

Hops Lightning Round – Beer’s Misunderstood Ingredient

What are hops? – they are the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant, which needs a lot of sun and a moist environment to thrive. That’s why most American hops come from the Pacific Northwest

Why add them to beer? – hops add flavor (often balancing out the sweetness of the malts) to a beer, but most of all they stabilize it! Back in ye olde days, beer was made from a herb mix and was very prone to spoiling. Hops actually helped preserve it, plus were much cheaper then those herbal concoctions. Fun Fact: Beer made without hops is called a gruit. Not too many people make them anymore but I’m now determined to track one down someday!

All of these beers have hops!

Hops are only in “hoppy” beers, right? – NO. All beers have hops. Along with water, yeast, and malt, they make up the four main ingredients of beer. If someone tells you they don’t like hops, I give you permission to set them straight!

When are hops added? – Hops are generally separated into two main categories: bittering and aromatic. Bittering hops are added earlier in the beer making process but lose much of their flavor during the boiling. Aromatic hops are added later in the process and are more what we think of as “hoppy”. And of course, it can get a lot more complicated with things like dry-hopping, wet- hopping, hopback…honestly I think we’ll save all that for another time!

Can I grow hops? – It depends. Although you might see a small hop plant at your local brewery, the best environments for growing hops are temperate and moist. Today about 75% of the American hop market is grown in the Yakima Valley area of Washington State.

Hop Farm in Washington State (Source: Creative Commons)

Hoppy and bitter are the same thing right? – Yes and No. So hops do add bitterness which helps to balance the sweetness of the malts. But bitterness in beer can also come from other things like fruit or herbs (think spruce tips). And remember, all beers have hops but not every beer is bitter! I think people think this because IPAs and hop-forward styles have just flooded the market. If you don’t like bitterness, try a malty beer like an Oktoberfest, or a nice thick stout. Or if its summer go for a refreshing Gose! There’s plenty of beers out there without the bitterness!

But wait, why do hops in a brewery look like rabbit food? – okay yes, this was my first thought when I saw pelletized hops for the first time. I wasn’t entirely convinced the brewer hadn’t just gone to Petsmart. In order to preserve the fresh hops, they are dried, ground up and made into pellets. This is the most common form of hops on the commercial market.

Pelletized vs fresh hops (Source: Creative Commons)

Thanks for reading all about hops! It’s so fun learning more about my favorite beverage as I grow this blog. Got any fun beer facts for me? Or resources I’ve got to check out? Let me know!


Annapolis Rock & Cushwa Brewing Company

Williamsport, MD

Okay so this one is a throwback hike but I couldn’t not share it! According to the Alltrails app this is the #1 hike in Maryland. Like seriously, the #1 in the whole state! J and started doing a ton more hiking last year (thank ‘Rona) so we set ourselves a challenge to do 20 hikes in 2020. Since getting outside was pretty much the only thing we could do, we ended up hitting our goal pretty quickly. We wanted our 20th hike to be a big one so we tackled a section of the Appalachian Trail leading to Annapolis Rock and Black Rock. It was amazing and so worth it and you should all hike it. Plus it was a great excuse to hit up a brewery I had heard tons of good things about. 

All Trails Map

I had heard A LOT about getting to this hike early so we got there around 8am. J and I are not morning people so this was quite a struggle for us. Thankfully we managed to get ourselves up and moving. By the time we finished up our hike, the lot was absolutely PACKED so we’re not kidding about getting there early!

THE HIKE: Annapolis & Black Rock via Appalachian Trail
Length: ~7.4 miles
Elevation Gain: ~900ft
Difficulty: Moderate (Some rocks and mostly uphill the first mile)
Time: 3-3.5 hours
Trail use: Hiking, running, leashed pets allowed
Parking: Limited parking, get there early!
H&H: 5/5

At the time, this was the longest hike we had ever tackled, but despite some inclines and rocky terrain, neither of us felt like this trail was particularly difficult. It was the perfect mix of challenge and payoff at the overlooks. The first overlook you’ll come to is Annapolis Rock. This is actually about 0.25 miles off of the Appalachian Trail so keep your eyes open for the signpost! The view is really incredible but we found that the popularity of the trail meant that the overlook was crowded. We didn’t stay too long and decided to head onto the next overlook. Black Rock really was a delight. It has all the views of Annapolis Rock with far fewer people. In fact, we were the only ones at the overlook when we arrived! We spent a lot of time taking pictures, clambering over rocks, and just taking in the incredible views. 

Annapolis Rock Overlook

The great thing about this hike is being right on the Appalachian Trail. If you need a bit more, keep on going! Or if you’re feeling done after one overlook, that’s cool too. This hike took us close to 3.5 hours, so make sure to bring plenty of water and maybe some snacks too. We did this hike in the dead of summer but it’s completely shaded the whole time so that helps to keep down the heat. Also watch out for ground hornets! I got a nasty sting through my pants on our way back down. A less than gentle reminder that I need to pack a small first aid kit. Overall, this was a fantastic hike to celebrate our 20th outing and I will absolutely do it again! I’d love to start at a different point along the AT and end at Black Rock again. I’m hoping to hike all of the AT in Maryland. I’ve got a ways to go!

THE BEER: Cushwa Brewing Company
Address: 10210 Governor Lane Boulevard #2010, Williamsport, MD 21795
Distance from Trail Head: 14.2 miles, ~20 mins
Food?: Full Menu – Rad Pies (in house restaurant)
H&H Rating: 4/5

I had been hearing good things about Cushwa Brewing Company since moving to Maryland, but they always seemed pretty far away. Thankfully, this hike proved the perfect opportunity to bring us to the area! The drive from the trailhead to brewery is a little longer than my past combos, but it’s a very easy route and Cushwa is definitely worth it! They have indoor and outside seating and offer up a surprisingly large tap list. They have offerings for every palate but seem to focus in on the Pale Ale/ IPAs. Which was perfect for me! They also offer local wine, cocktails, and beer slushies in the summer. 

Probably the best thing about Cushwa (especially after nearly an 8-mile hike) was the in-house pizzeria, Rad Pies. And let me tell you, they were fricking RAD. Seriously, every hike J and I pack sandwiches or veggies and hummus in hopes that we don’t order food at the brewery. Ya know, health and all. But honestly when a brewery is slinging some Rad Pies, what were we supposed to do?! 

We’ve been back to Cushwa twice now and it’s been really solid both times. There’s also a brand new brewery in the same plaza called Homaide that we absolutely need to check out next time. Maybe when we’re back to do another section of the AT. 

Our Beer: 

  • Fraction of Fiction – NEIPA – 6.6%
  • Cush, Jr. – Table Beer – 4.2% 
  • Me, Myself & Citra – NEIPA – 6% 
  • Tenuous Pawn – Brown Ale – 6.6% 
  • French Fog – Saison – 6.4%

SUM UP: Annapolis and Black Black via AT is a 7.5 mile, out-and-back trail that is moderate in difficulty. It is very popular so parking can be limited. The two overlooks are breathtaking and make any difficult inclines worth it. About 15 miles away is Cushwa Brewing Company which has a delicious in-house pizzeria and offers up a solid beer selection. Perfect after a morning out on the trail!

H&H Overall Rating: 4/5