August Nature Nugget – Trail Building

In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

—MARGRET ATWOOD, Bluebird’s Egg, 1983
Posing with my rock free trail! This was FULL of big rocks that we had to dig out and move.

Pandemic shutdowns saw more and more Americans turning to the great outdoors. The AllTrails hiking app reported a 171% increase in the number of logged hikes. That’s crazy! From what I’ve seen on the trails, it doesn’t seem like interest in hiking is waning any time soon. But do hikers ever think about the trails under their feet? How did it get there?

Throwback pic of Baby Hannah crushing some rocks on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee (2013). You know you’re jealous of those overalls!

Trail building is near and dear to my heart. For two years in a row in college, I spent a week in Tennessee working to build the Cumberland Trail. This was such an incredible experience and gave me a deeply held appreciation for trails and the people that work tirelessly to build and maintain them. I wanted to use August’s Nature Nugget to talk a little bit about what goes into trail building!

Tools of the Trade

What hikers don’t realize is that most trails are made completely by hand. Most times, large vehicles and diesel machinery are too big and disruptive to bring out into the woods. Most of the tools used might not look too different from what’s in your shed! Think hand clippers, hoes, loppers, and axes. But there are a few other helpful tools for trailbuilding:

Mattock – This is my favorite trail tool! It’s a double headed tool that kind of looks like a cross between an ax and a hoe. It’s perfect for cutting into the soil and also for chopping through roots. 

Rock Bar – this is a long sturdy metal rod that can be used to maneuver very heavy items like rocks and stumps.

Pulaski – Another double headed tool, this is similar to the maddox but with an axe blade on one side and a small adze or hoe on the other.


Okay so now that we have our tools, how do you build a trail? There’s a great deal of science that goes into trail building but we’ll stick to the basics here. The key to a good trail is making it sustainable. This means that they can withstand wear and weather without greatly impacting the surrounding environment as well as needing little maintenance.

DUFF – A layer of decaying organic plant matter (leaves, needles, etc.) on the ground. It is highly absorbent and quickly erodes under traffic.

Jim Schmid, Trails Primer, 2001
Smelly and dirty, but victorious!

After the trail has been marked, it’s time to start digging. Using our trusty tools, the first cuts into the soil are made. If working on a relatively flat area, just clear off the top layers of leaves and rich earth (called duff) until you reach a soil change, removing rocks and tree roots as needed. Duff is easily eroded so it needs to be cleared away. If working on a hillside, things are gonna be a bit tricker. The duff still needs to be cleared away but a deeper cut is needed on the uphill side so that a fairly flat trail can be cut. The trail should always be slightly higher on the uphill side so that water can run off but never so sloped that hikers will roll their ankles. 

Full Bench trail construction allows water to runoff easily

The biggest destroyer of trails isn’t hikers, it’s actually water! A poorly planned trail can quickly disintegrate from wash out or standing water. So it’s really important to have an understanding of water runoff where you’re building a trail. You always want the trail sloping slightly downhill so that water won’t be left pooling on the trails. You also want an up hill backslope at around 45 degrees so that water rolls down it instead of cascading off of it. Trail builders will also incorporate grade reversals where the trail will dip slightly to a point where water can run off. 

J and I worked tirelessly on building this retaining wall!

Some trails require more work and special technique than others. Last weekend, we worked on a particularly rocky section which meant that one part needed a retaining wall. To do this we sourced large flat rocks from other parts of the trail and built up a wall, compacting it with dirt and smaller stones. This technique lets you build a wide enough trail on a very steep incline. Also on steep hillsides, builders might put in a switchback which is a hairpin turn in the trail that provides a water runoff point and also makes a gentler slope down a steep hill. Sometimes steps can be made with large rocks to offset a steep downhill. Very advanced builders can even make bridges and other water crossings with large rocks. Next time you see a really interesting rock feature as part of a trail, remember that it was most likely moved by hand! 

So after reading all of this, I hope you have a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into building a trail! To put it into perspective, J and I worked for about 3 hours on the trail and probably only completed 25ft. And if you’re crazy like us and think trail-building might be for you, here are some local and national resources:

Know of any other trail building opportunities? Please share in the comments!

Our finished trail! This was definitely the hardest trail I’ve ever worked on. It was exhilarating!


American Chestnut Land Trust & Mully’s Brewery

Prince Frederick, MD

If you’re like us, you might not have ventured down into Southern Maryland very much. But this Hike & Hop is gonna change that! American Chestnut Land Trust is a huge nature reserve with so many unique trails to explore. Nearby is Mully’s Brewery, Southern Maryland’s first production brewery so they really know their stuff! Grab your hiking boots and let’s go!

Our path is marked in pink

THE HIKE: American Chestnut Land Trust – South Trailhead

Length: Variable
Elevation Gain: max 500ft
Difficulty: Easy
Time: Variable
Trail use: Hiking and leashed pets only
Parking: Large parking lot – please sign in when you arrive
H&H: 4/5

American Chestnut Land Trust is a nature reserve run by a not-for-profit of the same name and cares for over 3,500 acres. It’s split into two main sections. The north side trailhead can be accessed at 676 Double Oak Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678 and the South Side is located at 2650 Scientists Cliffs Rd, Port Republic, MD 20676. J and I had visited the south section before and had meant to go to the North side this time but Google Maps had other ideas! We somehow ended up at the South Side trailhead anyway and decided to roll with it. There were two delightful volunteers at the trailhead who gave us advice about which trails to take and how to support the ACLT. Although there’s no fee for the trails, make sure to scan the QR code at the entrance! Visitation numbers help the ACLT get grants to continue to maintain this awesome park. 

We chose to do a loop of the southern section which you can see on the map above! I’m not quite sure how long it was (forgot to put on my tracker that day!) but if you’re more of an AllTrails person, you can do this hike: I dunno if you guys know it but Maryland summers are HOT. The heat and humidity was oppressive during our hike but thankfully the greenery shielded us from the sun. As with most hikes, make sure to load up on the bug spray and be prepared to fend off gnats and midges.

Pawpaw Fruit!

I really liked this hike because it was so peaceful. We never saw a single other person on the trail. We really turned this into a nature by testing our tree knowledge and searching for mushrooms. Sometimes I really like a hard hike and testing my limits and other days I love just wandering in the woods! J is so fascinated by nature and it never ceases to warm my heart how excited he gets over a huge tree or a tiny mushroom. The East Loop was definitely my favorite part of this hike because it followed a meandering little creek that had cut deeply into the ground, leaving really interesting patterns in the mud. BUT my absolute favorite part was [drumroll please] the Pawpaw trees!! There was an entire grove of pawpaw trees with so much fruit! It was too early to pick them yet so we just took lots of pictures but it made me so excited to see this many! I’ve been fascinated by pawpaws ever since I first heard about them and I finally got to try one a few years ago. I’ve been hoping to get my hands on some again! I think I might be coming back here later in September!

My only complaint about this hike was that a small section was confusing at the end of the East Loop because you had to cross over a road and the trail was nearly invisible. Thankfully once we crossed the road, it was clear where we needed to go! 

The American Chestnut Tree

THE BEER: Mully’s Brewery

Address: 141 Schooner Ln, Prince Frederick, MD 20678
Distance from Trail Head: 9.7 miles, 15 mins
Food?: Food Trucks, check online for schedule
H&H Rating: 4/5

I love exploring new areas in Maryland but sometimes finding a good Hikes & Hops combo can be hard when there’s not too many breweries outside of the main metro areas. Thank goodness for Mully’s Brewery! Mully’s is a small brewery in Prince Frederick and according to the Brewer’s Association of Maryland it was the first production brewery in South Maryland. It’s got a pretty small indoor space so both times that we’ve been we’ve found spots outside. Mully’s is a really popular local spot so you might have trouble finding space. Thankfully, people are always friendly and have been more than happy to share a table. 

Mully’s has a really unique line up of beer. Both times we’ve been, there’s been something really interesting or different on tap, as well as some old standbys. Our favorites this time were the  Blackout IPA and Mully’s headliner IPA. Yup we’re shameless IPA people. Also if you’re a fan of sours, they had a ton on tap!

Papa Juice & Blackout

Mully’s is a bit of a drive down into Southern Maryland but if you’re looking for good beer and a fun atmosphere, you can’t miss it! They often have food trucks and music on the weekends. My only complaint is that their tent and tables are set up in a parking lot so people are often driving rather too close for comfort

Our Beer:

  • Carmelite Wheat – Hefeweizen – 5.4%
  • Mully’s IPA – American IPA – 6.3%
  • Blackout – Black IPA – 7.3%
  • Papa Juice – Blonde Ale – 4.9%

SUM UP: American Chestnut Land Trust is a park that spans nearly 3,500 acres along the Chesapeake Bay near Prince Frederick. There is a North and South section both with many miles of trail. They are open for hiking and leashed pets and there’s no entry fee but they do ask for you to sign in so visitation can be tracked. Combine several different trails together to get a nice long hike. Afterward, go to Mully’s Brewery which is only about 10 miles away in an industrial park. They make unique beers but claim your spot early; the weekends get busy! Check their website for music and food truck schedules.

Wincopin Trails & Hysteria Brewery

Columbia, MD

This is a great local park that J and I used to do at least once a week when we lived in the area. It’s surprisingly woodsy for being right in the middle of the Columbia suburbs and has trails for all levels. There are a lot of breweries nearby that you could pair with this hike but we went with one of our old standbys: Hysteria Brewing! Hysteria always makes really really good beer and has a fun indoor space. Let’s check it out!

THE HIKE: Wincopin Trails

Length: Variable (up to ~6 miles)
Elevation Gain: 335ft
Difficulty: Easy
Time: Variable
Trail use: Hiking, biking, leashed pets
Parking: Medium sized parking lot, overflow on street
H&H: 4/5

J showing off some of the quarry ruins

Wincopin Trails are located off Vollmerhausen Road in the greater Columbia area and are managed by the Howard County Parks & Rec. There’s a medium-sized parking lot but it does fill up quickly since this is a pretty popular spot! You can also park along the road or in the middle school lot up the road. Just be aware this will add an extra 0.5 mile on either end of your hike and there’s a rather steep hill.

There’s a few different trail combos that you can do here. Check the trailhead map before you get started! For some reason this map isn’t anywhere online and only a few of the trails show up on AllTrails. Wincopin trails are built along the site of an old quarry. Much of the trails around Savage run along old mills and quarries which make for interesting ruins. At the Wincopin Trails there are old bridge supports that now make for great lookout spots over the river. All of the trails in this system are clearly blazed and there are directional signposts throughout. The Red trail leads from the parking lot and then branches off into others. The Blue and Green trails go along the river while the Red takes you along the ridge overlooking the river. There are some steep inclines that keep the trail interesting. I’ve done this trail multiple times in tennis shoes so hiking boots aren’t a necessity. This trail is popular so if you want to get away, take the less trod White trail that wanders through the woods overlooking the Middle Patuxent River. It’s a fairly easy hike but with little inclines that keep you on your toes. 

Slightly rocky trail up the hill

This is a great hike to see birds, butterflies, and mushrooms! We always see tons of mushrooms here which J loves. I really like this trail because you can come for a quick walk or stay for a fairly long hike. If you were to do all of the trails including the white out and back, it would likely be about 6 miles. This is also a great one to bring the kiddos on! My only complaint about this park is that in certain areas you can really hear the highway sounds from I-95 which kinda shatters the whole woodsy experience.

The water was a little cold when we went in March!

THE BEER: Hysteria Brewing Company

Address: 9570 Berger Rd suite j, Columbia, MD 21046
Distance from Trail Head: 3.4 miles, 8 mins
Food?: Bullhead Pit Beef in the very next suite!
H&H Rating: 5/5

There are a ton of breweries in Columbia so you could easily turn your post-hike into a brew tour or just pick one of your favorites. Hysteria was one of the first breweries we went to when we moved to Maryland and it has stayed at the top of our list! They have a huge wrap around bar with tons of seating and lots of tables and chairs too. And keep an eye out for their furry mascot painted on the walls! They also have some tables in the back with some pub games like corn hole and bucket toss. New for Covid, they’ve also set up some tables and chairs outside in the parking lot. Because they don’t have their own kitchen, dogs are more than welcome and you’ll usually see lots of four-legged friends. If you’re feeling hungry, Hysteria has a great partnership with Bullhead Pit Beef right next store! Or you can always bring your own.

Okay onto the beer. Hysteria makes my favorite Maryland beer. Like ever. You may have heard of it. It’s a little thing called Trash Panda. Even if you’re not into the Hazy IPA fad, you should really try this one because it’s Ah-mazing! And I might be a little biased because once a year they do “Trash Panda Day” and make at least ten different varieties of their headliner beer and it always falls on my birthday. It’s fate! Hysteria also makes some other really good beers and frequently collaborates with other Maryland breweries. I love me a good collab! Last time we went, we got a really nice crisp lager that really hit the spot after a sweaty hike. J went for the black IPA which is a style that I’m still unsure about but this one was pretty good! I love that Hysteria always has something new and interesting on tap while keeping a few favorites around. You can also find Hysteria beer in stores around Maryland!

Hysteria will always be a favorite for us! We need to check out their new taproom in Pasadena soon!

Our Beer:

  • Be Kind, Please Rewind – Lager – 5%
  • Ultimate Dreamy Teamy – Black IPA – 7.5%
  • Trash Panda – NEIPA – 7.2% → Probably my favorite Maryland beer!


Wincopin trails are managed by Howard County Parks & Rec and are located near Columbia. They are open for hiking, biking, and leashed pets. There’s no fee but the parking lot usually fills up. The trails are nice and woodsy with some interesting architectural ruins and rocky inclines. There are several different trails that can be combined to make a longer hike. Nearby is Hysteria Brewery which allows dogs and has a partnership with the takeout restaurant next door if you’d like food. They make excellent beer and have an eclectic design inside. This is a great option for a weekday hike or if you don’t have a ton of time on the weekend!

Jug Bay Wetlands & Calvert Brewing Company

Upper Marlboro, MD

I have been so excited to share this hike & brew! Jug Bay is one of my favorite places in Maryland and this time was so special because we got to introduce it to my parents! We saw so much wildlife at Jug Bay and had some truly delicious beers at Calvert Brewing. I could do this combo every weekend! Let’s go!

THE HIKE: Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

Length: 5.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 250ft
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2 hours
Trail use: Hiking Only (No Pets)
Parking: Large parking lot, $6 per car
H&H: 5/5

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is located along the Patuxent River and is operated by the Anne Arundel Department of Recreation and Parks. It’s so much more than just a park with tons of educational events and conservation efforts happening all the time. Before you head out, check to see what events are happening, there might be something to interest you! There’s a lot of parking at the Main Entrance but please remember to stop in the visitor’s center and pay the entrance fee. It’s only $6 per car and it goes to a great cause. 

We’ve done several different trail combos at Juy Bay but no matter where we trek, we always have to go on the boardwalk overlooking the river wetlands and we also have to visit Mark’s Pond along the Upper RR Bed Trail. It’s a small pond that is just teeming with life! We sat here for over an hour, barely talking, as we watched the animals of the pond. We were completely fascinated especially by the frogs who were in the throws of mating season, singing out their calls loudly and fighting off their competition. There were turtles lined up on logs in the sun watching the entire ordeal. To be honest, we didn’t end up getting much hiking in because we couldn’t tear ourselves away from this pond! 

On a different trip, J and I did the full park loop from the visitor’s center down to the pier, about 5 miles. It’s mostly flat so it makes for a nice easy hike. Watch out for bugs though! It’s close to the water so they can get brutal. Most of the hikes in Jug Bay are easy which makes them great for the whole family. Every time we’ve gone, we’ve seen hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages! If you’d really like to get a good workout, try adding on a few extra trails. But don’t forget to stop and enjoy the park around you! This place really is all about the fantastic ecosystem!

In case you can’t tell, I really love Jug Bay Wetlands and I know I’ll be back soon! If this hike is close to you, consider getting a membership so every visit is free for a year. 

THE BEER: Calvert Brewing Company

Address: 15850 Commerce Ct, Upper Marlboro, MD 20774
Distance from Trail Head: 9.6 miles, 20 mins
Food?: Food Trucks (Some weekends)
H&H Rating: 5/5

We’ve been going to Calvert Brewing Company after Jug Bay since we first moved to Maryland. Calvert has such a friendly atmosphere and we always end up chatting with someone new. Recently, they set up tents and adirondack chairs in the parking lot and it’s been the best spot to relax with a brew. The inside is also huge so you’ll always find a spot to relax. 

Calvert’s spacious taproom
We appreciate art and nature on this blog

Since we had family with us this time around, we were able to sample quite a few of Calvert’s offerings. My favorite this time actually surprised me, the Watermelon Pucker! It was the perfect summer beer and was so refreshing after being outside. My dad is a big fan of NEIPA and he really liked the Single Hop: Sultana. We’re both really interested in single hop series that allow you to isolate the taste of a single hop variety. J has been finding a new love for saisons so he went with the Battle of the Beltway which was a collab with Peabody Heights up in Baltimore. Finally, my mom likes light beers so she went with the Indigo Luna, a refreshing wheat beer. After lots of chatting and snacking, we got one final glass to share, the incredibly thick Milkshake Smoothie Sour. This was really tasty but I’m so glad I didn’t get a full pour. I think it would have been delicious as a slushie though! 

We really love Calvert Brewing and we can’t wait to come back! We also really like their Route 4 IPA and the Excellent Adventure IPA which you can find in store around Maryland!

Our Beer:

  • Indigo Luna – Wheat Beer – 5.2%
  • Battle of the Beltway – Saison – 5.2%
  • Single Hop: Sultana – NEIPA – 6.7%
  • Watermelon Pucker – Sour – 5%
  • Strawberry Pineapple Milkshake Smoothie – Sour – 5%

SUM UP: Jug Bay is a large wetland park maintained by the county that offers miles of hiking and educational activities that are suitable for all ages. The park is teeming with wildlife so keep your camera ready. There is a $6 entrance fee and the park is only open to hikers (sorry, leave your pets at home). There are wooded trails and boardwalks over the marshlands. About 20 mins away is Calvert Brewing Company which is at the end of a business park. They make a wide variety of beers and the atmosphere is always laid back and friendly. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting with someone new!

Beer Byte – August

MALT: The Backbone of Beer

Barley is one of the main grains used in beermaking

So we’ve already talked about hops, let’s get to the next main ingredient in beer: MALT! Okay so we need to clear something up first. Malt is actually a verb and a process but in the brew world it’s generally understood as the grain used in beer. It’s better to understand malt as “grain that has been malted” 

Malted Barley

What is malt? – Malt is one of the four main ingredients of beer (the other are hops, water, and yeast). It refers to the roasted grain in a beer recipe

What is it for?  – Malt adds flavor, sweetness, and color to beer. It’s what adds carbs to beer, giving it the classic “liquid bread” nickname. 

A maltster raking grains to dry out before kilning

What is the malting process? – Let’s keep it simple. First, grain is picked and allowed to dry. Water is then added so the kernels sprout. Then heat is added to stop germination and finish drying out the grain. The temperature and time used in the roasting process creates different malt. This whole process allows for the starches in the grain kernels to begin to convert to sugar but stops them before they can grow into new plants. This sugar is key to the brewing process since it’s what the yeast will feed on! (Spoiler alert: yeast is my next Beer Byte!)

What type of grains are malted? – Most brewers use malted barley in their brews. Wheat or rye are also common but barley is definitely the king. But any grain can undergo this process. Over 90% of malted grains processed around the world end up in beer! Some beer are even made with unmalted grains

Beermaking Term: Grain bill refers to all the grains used in a specific beer recipe

Is malt used for anything else? – There are plenty of other things that use malt! Whiskey also uses malt (think a blended vs a single malt scotch). Malted grains can also be used in baking, either as the ground up grain or as an extract that takes the form of a sweet syrup. Malt is also found in treats like malted milk balls, malted milkshakes and Ovaltine. Malts are more common than I thought!

Are there different kinds of malt?  – Just like hops, there’s a huge variety in the types of malt used in brewing. The type of malt used is really determined by the type of beer one is making. The majority of the malts used in a recipe are called base malts which make up 60-100% of the grain bill. But their flavor can vary wildly based on type of grain used, where its grown, and how it is malted. These base malts also effect the color of the beer! Pale Malt is the most commonly used variety which gives the resulting beer a nice golden color. Malt that is roasted (kilned) for longer are darker and are used in dark beers like stouts. Some of these darker grains are called specialty malts and are used in lesser quantities than base malts. The biggest difference between base and specialty malts is that base malts must undergo the mashing process to add fermentable sugars to the beer. Specialty malts add color, aroma, and flavor and only need to be steeped in hot water to add their deliciousness to the beer. Science!

What about non-barley beers? – until the early 2000s, beer needed to have at least 25% barley to be considered a beer. But with increasing interest in gluten-free beer, that definition has changed to include any cereal grains. Now, brewers make beer using sorghum, millet, buckwheat, corn, rice and more! In fact, some breweries are completely gluten-free! I’ve personally been to Aurochs Brewery a completely gluten-free brewery in Pittsburgh and had the Session IPA made with millet and quinoa. Fascinating, right?

All of these beers have a different grain bill that gives them all unique colors and flavors!

I’m already learning so much about beer! I can’t wait to dive into yeast next month! Cheers!