Finding solitude and sanctuary has become nothing short of an art these days, especially over the past eight months (and counting) of the coronavirus pandemic. One place to find such solace is off the beaten path only a short drive away. On the outer edge of Anne Arundel County at its border with neighboring Prince George’s County lies the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
Saving Jug Bay
What once was in the crosshairs of developers is now run by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks. This fragile 1,700-acre ecosystem of tidal freshwater wetlands, forests, meadows, and fields is now preserved for generations to come. Admission is $6.00 per vehicle (free to Friends of Jug Bay members), and while Covid-19 restrictions are in place, you can still hike the trails of this amazing marshland. (subject to change, visit website for up-to-date information).
A trail map of Jug Bay shows the old retired railroad lines of the former Chesapeake Beach line. Image courtesy of Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
A brief history
Just across the river in Prince George’s County is the Patuxent River Park-Jug Bay Natural Area, where the Patuxent empties into Jug Bay proper. The closest town on the Anne Arundel side is Lothian, and the sanctuary is just over 17 miles from Annapolis. Preservation began in 1985 and eventually the sanctuary became part of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve System, just five years later. It’s a veritable mecca for tidal natural history as its trails wind through marshes. Hiking on the wooden walkways allows for close observation of the abundant native flora and fauna in the area. It's also well-known as a “National Important Bird Area”, so named by the Bird Conservancy and the Audubon Society. They are steeped in human history as well. Native-American artifact evidence has been recovered by the Archaeological Society of Maryland from digs at “the River Farm.” The site dates back 10,000 years to the ""Honeysuckle Route"" of the old Chesapeake Beach Railway. The former rail bed still exists and serves as a trail, marking part of the route taken by Washington-area residents, from Seat Pleasant to Chesapeake Beach and back, until the Great Depression forced it to close in 1935.
Governor Parris Glendening
It would be hard to find anyone more immersed in and supportive of the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary than three-term Prince George’s County Executive and two-term Maryland Governor Parris Glendening. He championed the wetlands while in office and he helps to ensure they are kept alive today with what he calls “Smart Growth.” He also has a part of the Jug Bay sanctuary named after him: The Parris N. Glendening Nature Preserve. We recently caught up with him from his home in Annapolis. We wanted his view on this important eco-system and what they mean to him today. What we found was that Governor Clendening is committed to Jug Bay with an enthusiasm that refuses to wane.
The Story of Jug Bay
Annapolis Discovered: What is the allure of Jug Bay and how have you seen it transform over the years?
Governor Glendening: It’s the human story as well as the policy story. The Jug Bay sanctuary started back in 1985, but the huge change came in 1997, which affected the Patuxent River, the marshland, and just about everything else in the area. When we established the 'Smart Growth' policies, we said we would invest in existing areas, trying to limit the amount of sprawl that was destroying so many of our natural assets. One of the tools we put in place to make that work is what was called Green Print, through the Department of Natural Resources. With all the major pieces of land that the county, the state, and the federal government owned, we tried to figure out how to integrate them and make them contiguous areas at certain locations.
Right about that time, there were two big controversies in that immediate area. One was on the Prince George’s County side called Chapman’s Landing. In the planning was a huge subdivision on the Potomac River. It was located next to two parks, and we went in with some money and ended up buying Chapman’s Landing and made it a park, as well. Just as we started to do that, there was another controversy brought about by a proposal right where Jug Bay [sanctuary] is now, called Baldwin’s Choice, which was going to be a huge subdivision and a shopping center. Just think of the impact, right up to the wetland mark. We arranged a deal with a builder named Jim Jacoby and he sold us the entirety of the parcels he owned there—400-some acres—at a very reduced price. We worked with Baltimore County to increase the Whitemarsh development, which was supposed to be a high-density development area. Jim Jacoby walked away happy, because he had increasingly become an environmentalist. We got it at something like 20 percent of the appraised value.
The Future of Jug Bay
Annapolis Discovered: Have you been able to see the fruits of your labor?
Governor Glendening: I have seen this on a very personal level. I go to Jug Bay fairly often. We have a daughter, now 18 years old and a student at the University of Maryland. We had gone there together her entire life. When the pandemic hit, she was eventually forced to stay home and do her courses virtually. She and a friend went for a hike at Jug Bay, and that’s what you see in the photo I sent you. She had been there so many times as a little girl, and right now, it’s become part of her outlook on the world. She’s a big environmentalist as well, which shouldn’t surprise you. If you’re a 17-year-old locked up in isolation from the pandemic, where do you go? I was stunned that they went for a hike and stopped at the Parris Glendening Natural Reserve. I say this because it’s not just educational. It’s ‘in-your-face’ beauty and connection with the land, and what we almost lost. That’s the way I view it. I still get very excited about it. My colleagues in Prince George’s and in Anne Arundel County, people like Janet Owens and James Lighthiser, reached across party lines and made sure the last parcels were protected.
Wooden boardwalks wind along the marsh in Jug Bay. Image courtesy of Brendan Felch.
The current County Executive Stuart Pittman continues that approach in a very strong way. That continuity of leadership has given us something now that is irreplaceable and will be enjoyed by young people for generations to come. I’m 78 years old, and I find it so relaxing to wander through Jug Bay, nice and slowly, and watch the very things that young children watch. I am absolutely, personally, thrilled by it all.
Annapolis Discovered: What do you see as the biggest threat to the health of such environmentally delicate places?
Glendening: The planet is in trouble, deep trouble. All you have to do is look at what’s happened most recently in parts of Louisiana and Texas. We’ve been lucky, but when you look at what’s going on, how do you apply it here, one little state, one little county, one little city, how do you deal with something that big? You do it with one little project, one little parcel at a time. To find out more about the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, please visit their website.