Lifestyle

Nature Calls: A Walk on Greenbury Point

Perhaps you’ve seen the three “Eiffel” towers on the horizon across the Severn River from downtown Annapolis. Ever wondered why those towers are there or what’s under them? That’s Greenbury Point, the Navy-owned peninsula that separates the Annapolis Harbor and Severn River from the Chesapeake Bay. Nineteen radio towers stood on Greenbury Point until 1999—that’s when dynamite brought down sixteen of them, leaving three behind. Also left behind is a hidden treasure trove of nature trails and scenery.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Greenbury Point’s trails wind through an odd blend of nature, water views, and Cold War Era relics. Just be sure to do your homework before you go. The 231-acre peninsula is U.S. Navy property, managed by Naval Support Activity Annapolis (NSAA), and used for training Naval Academy Midshipmen.

The Greenbury Point nature trails are open to the public from sunrise to sunset—but only when there are no Navy firearms or other training events underway. Be sure to check before you go, because the trails cut through the surface danger zone for the small arms and rifle range at NSAA.

The best way to know the peninsula’s status is to follow @NSAAnnapolis on Twitter, where regular updates tell you when the trails are closed and open again. These posts are usually made the evening before a closing. Signs at each entrance gate caution the public about the limited access.

Once you’re on the trail on a safe day, your reward is an invigorating walk or run on flat, sandy roads, surrounded by flora, fauna, and stunning water views on three sides of the peninsula. Plan on an easy hike of several miles, depending on the trails you choose. No doubt you’ll cross paths with many others out hiking, running, and walking their canine friends (always on leashes, of course). There’s also a nice little Nature Center to check out whenever it’s open.

An Environmental Treasure

Under the Navy’s environmental stewardship, the peninsula is naturalized with wooded coves, wetland ponds, forest, scrub brush, and grassy meadows. The resulting animal and bird habitats are teeming with wildlife. Eagles, osprey, hawks, ducks, and geese are among the birds you might see here. And don’t be alarmed if a fox or deer leaps across the trail in front of you.

The undergrowth opens occasionally to reveal dazzling views across the Severn River to Annapolis, southward to Thomas Point Light, and eastward across Whitehall Bay to the Bay Bridge and Kent Island. Park benches along the way are good perches for relaxing and enjoying the view.

A Peninsula with a Long History

Greenbury Point was first occupied as Susquehannock hunting grounds and later as Maryland’s first Puritan settlement. The Puritans sailed here in 1649 from Virginia’s James River, invited by Maryland’s Catholic Lord Baltimore. They named their settlement Providence and built a fort at the end of the peninsula, which at the time was quite a bit longer than it is today. Increasing trade and tobacco agriculture led to the establishment of a seaport at what is now the Annapolis Harbor.

Greenbury Point was used by the Navy beginning in 1910 as the Naval Academy Dairy Farm and then as the Navy’s first air station. The Navy built the first of nineteen radio towers in 1918 to communicate with American forces during World War I, and the towers later provided all communications with the Atlantic Fleet during World War II. Greenbury Point was key to communications with the Navy submarine fleet during the Cold War. Vestiges of the old infrastructure are still scattered here and there amidst the grasses and scrub.

The Towers Fell

By the century’s end, satellite communications made the antennas obsolete. On a chilly, foggy winter morning in 1999, I witnessed from our boat the dramatic demolition of sixteen of the nineteen towers. I will never forget the eerie image of those gigantic towers tumbling over in the mist as the thunder of explosives echoed off the shoreline.

Nowadays, the three remaining radio towers on Greenbury Point are a familiar sight by land and sea. The Anne Arundel County government owns the towers, although the Navy owns the underlying ground. There is no public water access here, but boaters use the towers’ flashing red lights as informal aids to navigation, visible from many miles down the Bay. The now-submerged end of the point was once marked by a screwpile lighthouse similar to the nearby iconic Thomas Point Light—and later by another former structure known to locals as “Spider Buoy.”

A walk at Greenbury Point is a must for any devotee of nature, history, fitness, or exploration. Greenbury Point isn’t exactly a park, but it certainly feels like one. Put on your walking shoes and check it out—but be sure to do your homework first!

Photos Courtesy of Ann Powell

Ann Powell, Blogger
Ann Powell

Ann Powell loves living and boating on the Chesapeake Bay. A former attorney and graduate of the University Of Maryland School Of Law, she enjoys sharing with readers her travel, boating, and gardening experiences. Ann’s writing and photography have appeared in a variety of print magazines and online resources. Her photography can be viewed on Istockphoto.com in her Coastalpics portfolio.