Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The preserve trail network travels through a variety of forests, across a powerline corridor and around the edge of a field. Some of the woodland trails travel over hills, exposed tree roots and rocks. The longest trail on the property, the Perimeter Trail, takes about 30-40 minutes to walk and is marked with little green signs displaying the number “1.”
How to get there: Merryspring Nature Center is located at the end of Conway Road, a residential street off Route 1 (Elm Street) in Camden. From the center of downtown Camden (the intersection of Main Street, Bay View Street, Elm Street and Mechanic Street). Drive south on Route 1 (Elm Street) 0.8 miles and turn right onto Conway Street. Drive about 0.3 miles and you’ll reach the sign and entrance to Merryspring Nature Center.
Information: Located just outside the cluster of shops and art galleries of downtown Camden, Merryspring Nature Center is a 66-acre park that features gardens, fields, easy woodland trails and a visitor center where public programs on gardening and nature are held on a regular basis.
Named after several naturally occurring springs that dot the property, Merryspring was founded in 1974 by Mary Ellen Ross, a local horticulturist who had attained national recognition through her mail order plant business, Merry Gardens. Ross wanted to create a place where nature and horticulture — a branch of agriculture that involves both the science and aesthetics of growing plants and managing gardens — could be studied firsthand. To develop and maintain the park, she established Merryspring, Inc., a nonprofit member-supported corporation that is about 500 members strong today.
While the mission of the park hasn’t changed since then, the appearance of it has. In the 1970s, hiking trails were established through the property’s woods and along its North Field; in 1980, the Kitty Todd Arboretum was added; and throughout the 1980s, gardens were added to the property, including an herb garden, rose garden and perennial border.
In 1996, the park’s visitor center, known as the Ross Center, was completed. It houses the Merryspring administrative office, meeting room, Nature Library and a workspace for volunteers and staff members. More gardens followed, including a hosta garden, winter garden, Children’s garden and daylily garden. The Aileene Lubin Greenhouse and the American Chestnut Breeding Orchard were both added in 1999, and an Interpretive Trail was created in 2013.
Today, Merryspring has about 500 members and thousands of people visit each year. The property is open to the public for free from dawn until dusk year round.
Dogs are not permitted on the property, and the trails are for foot traffic only (no bikes or vehicles). In the winter, the trails are great for snowshoeing, and the fields are used by cross-country skiers.
There are eight intersecting trails on the property that are numbered and color-coded on a trail map displayed on a kiosk in the parking area. This map is also available online and in brochures that are often available at the kiosk and the main building. The trail marked with the number “1” is the Perimeter Trail and travels close to the outer edge of the 66-acre property, intersecting with the other trails along the way.
Traced in yellow on the Merryspring trail map, the park’s interpretive trail includes six displays that highlight features of the land where people and nature came together in some way to shape the landscape.
For more information, call 236-2239 or visit merryspring.org.
Personal note: The weather report called for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s on Thursday, May 26, when I visited Merryspring Nature Center, a place I had been curious about for quite some time because of the many workshops and presentations they host for the public. Since dogs aren’t permitted on the property, I had to leave Oreo at home, but I didn’t mind. Without Oreo constantly pulling on his leash, I knew I’d have more opportunities to photograph the finer details of the park — the many beautiful flowers, insects and birds.
I started in the gardens, where I soon greeted by the head gardener, who was transferring a variety of plants from the greenhouse to various flower beds. Her wide-brimmed hat shaded her face as she gave me a tour, pointing out the themes of the different gardens and even giving me some advice on what plants I could grow in the dry, rocky soil at my home in Hancock County.
Merryspring is a popular place for wedding ceremonies, she told me, and they offer public programs for all ages, including owl walks and beekeeping demonstrations.
I followed her into the greenhouse, which was rapidly heating in the afternoon sun, and she scrounged up a Merryspring brochure, which included a detail map, the same one displayed on the kiosk in the parking area. She then guided me out the back of the greenhouse to the nearby Perimeter Trail and I shook her garden-gloved hand goodbye.
Early in my exploration of the trails, I felt a cold, wet object hit my ankle. It felt like a splatter of mud, but the trail wasn’t muddy, so I looked down, and to my surprise, a tiny wood frog was clinging to my leg for a ride. When I stopped, he lept from my leg onto the forest floor, where I managed to take several photos of him by using my macro camera lens and approaching him very slowly on hands and knees. His bubbly skin was a muted orange, his round eye, golden.
Farther along the trail, I photographed a chipmunk sitting in the sun, a bright yellow spider poised on a buttercup, and a bumblebee gathering pollen from white blossoms. Of course, all this my stooping and crawling to take photos of plants and insects wound me up with two ticks — one crawling up my leg, the other on my shoulder. I found both before they had a chance to burrow into my skin.
At the end of my hike, I conducted the best tick check I could in the parking area, but it wasn’t until I had driven home and taken a shower that I was truly convinced that my body was free of ticks — for the time being, anyway.
More photos from the trip: