Megan Michiels admits she was skeptical about Elk Neck State Park. After all, the many other Maryland State Parks that offer overnight camping at which Michiels and her husband, Mark Markowski, had previously stayed would have long since been booked solid.
Megan Michiels sits for a picture beneath Turkey Point Lighthouse
at Elle Neck State Park. [Photo courtesy of Megan Michiels]
But not Elk Neck. Unlike parks such as Cunningham Falls (Frederick County) or Point Lookout (St. Mary’s County), here it was the day before the couple’s trip, and Elk Neck (Cecil County) still had open sites. Nevertheless, the intrepid couple – who have enjoyed outdoor adventures from the Costa Rican rainforests to Italy’s Cinque Terre coastline – decided to give it a shot.
“Begrudgingly, I went,” laughs Michiels, an in-house transactional lawyer for TowPath Partners/The Quota Group, a specialty finance company based in Washington, D.C.
Luckily, Michiels and Markowski reserved a campsite when they did, for the remaining few were subsequently booked for the weekend. And for good reason, the couple soon discovered, as Elk Neck, like many of Maryland’s State Parks, revealed its own unique charms – most notably, Turkey Point Lighthouse, whose vantage point high atop the wooded bluffs that overlook the confluence of the Elk River and Chesapeake Bay affords an impressive view for those willing to make the short hike out to it.
“Now, I really look forward to going back,” admits Michiels, who along with her husband spends up to three weekends a year camping in Maryland State Parks.
It's probably a sign that, when planning a trip, we dont even look at virginia; we think about Maryland
“We also frequent parks [designed] for day use, such as Great Falls (Montgomery County) and Sandy Point (Anne Arundel County),” notes Michiels, who describes the Maryland State Park system as “rich in history” and “full of opportunities.”
“We’re fortunate to have so many parks to choose from throughout the state, and each seems to offer a little something different,” she explains. “The Maryland State Park system is very well organized and user-friendly. It’s probably a sign that, when planning a trip, we don’t even look at Virginia; we think about Maryland.”
By Michiels’s estimation, most Maryland and DC-area residents live “within 60 miles” of state parks that cater to campers and day-trippers alike, offering activities ranging from swimming to hiking to kayaking. And through its website (www.dnr.state.md.us), she explains, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) makes finding exactly which ones offer what easy.
“It’s great,” Michiels says, “because it basically asks ‘What do you want to do?’ It contains information that caters to your interests. If you like hiking, it will tell you what parks offer hiking.”
But Maryland’s parks also offer plenty to stimulate people’s curiosity and intellect, according to Michiels; Point Lookout, for example, once housed a Civil War-era prison for Confederate soldiers. And the Lakeside Loop at Rocky Gap State Park – Michiels’s favorite overnight destination – features an aviary that is open to the public. [Moreover, she adds, attractions like “historic Cumberland, Maryland, and the starting point for the C&O Canal and Towpath are a short drive away” from Rocky Gap.]
Megan Michiels and her husband, Mark Markowski, joins the
MSBA Young Lawyers' Section in the Maryland Polar Bear
Plunge at Sandy Point State Park.
[Photo courtesy of Megan Michiels]
While Michiels has camped at hike-in sites (primarily at out-of-state places like Shenandoah National Park), the experience is less conducive for the time constraints imposed by a typical weekend. Besides, she adds, “you have to pack a lot more sparsely.” To this end, the drive-in sites offered by the state park system are much more practical and convenient.
“The campsites cost [about] $25 per night, and each is outfitted with a parking space, fire pit and picnic table,” Michiels explains. Online reservations can be made through the website.
Benefiting from both proximity and affordability (especially in this era of rising fuel costs), it is perhaps not surprising that Michiels has witnessed a spike in attendance.
“It’s been extremely noticeable,” she says. “When we were at Point Lookout [earlier this summer], there was not one spot open.”
Michiels suggests taking the heightened demand into consideration when planning a camping trip. “We recommend [booking a site] two to three weeks in advance,” she advises, “or more, if you can.”
Despite the influx, however, Michiels says the DNR runs an orderly ship, and that most campers are generally on their best behavior.
“You might think it would be too noisy, too rambunctious,” says Michiels, “but it’s not.”
“It makes for a nice weekend getaway, to be out under the stars,” she adds. “And it’s so affordable! I mean, $25 a night? Just throw some blankets in the car and you’re off. It’s so easy.”