Exploring Columbia on Foot outdoor walks series highlights Columbia’s outdoor spaces

Man walking in the park

 

By Gina Gallucci-White

Many people are drawn to Columbia by the open space, but a surprising number don’t take full advantage of it. Instead, they may opt to walk, run or bike on a small loop near their homes, or they’ll head to high-use attractions such as the three lakes.

And while that’s a perfectly fine way to take in what Columbia has to offer, there’s so much more to see.

That’s why local environmentalist and acclaimed author Ned Tillman aims to get people to behold and appreciate the wide variety of nature all around as one of the guides for Columbia Association’s annual “Exploring Columbia on Foot” outdoor walks.

This year’s schedule includes 10 walks, beginning in April and continuing through October (see a full schedule at ColumbiaAssociation.org/outdoorwalks). Each walk covers about two miles, with four to five stops along the way, giving people an even greater appreciation for the nearly 3,600 acres of open space CA maintains.


“I want everybody to get out and fall in love with nature,” Tillman said. “My job is to create that sense of place — that understanding of the natural environment here — so people feel more rooted and can better decide how to get out and enjoy this area the most and learn how to take better care of it.”

This is the fourth year for the outdoor walks, which are organized by CA’s Open Space Management Division. Sean Harbaugh, the division’s assistant director, helps lead the walks alongside Tillman.

“I love sharing things found in Columbia that I enjoy and seeing people engage with the outdoors,” Harbaugh said. “I really like seeing people’s faces light up when we walk at Jackson Pond, for example.”

The hidden gem in the village of Long Reach, off Phelps Luck Road and Tamar Drive, features an old mature beech forest. The tour often pauses there for several minutes to let people observe — and absorb — their surroundings.

They’ll also discuss the ecological benefits of Columbia’s open space, plus some of CA’s restoration projects and efforts to help people enjoy nature even more, including widening primary pathways to 10 feet so more people can share them safely, putting up wayfinding signs, and working to improve the watershed.

“There are things changing in Columbia all the time and it’s fascinating how the local environment responds to these changes,” Tillman said. “Every time I go out I see new things, and I always try to point them out to people.”

During past walks by Lake Kittamaqundi, Tillman highlighted the persimmons found on area trees. While meandering through the Merriweather District, he discusses new construction and notes the balance between growth and trying to maintain our invaluable green infrastructure. In May, the group often sees Baltimore Orioles in the area — the birds, not the baseball team — and some people say they have never before seen them in the wild.

This year’s talks will focus as well on the connection between health and being outdoors. Tillman is a board member for the Horizon Foundation, a Howard County organization dedicated to the health and wellness of those who live and work in Howard County. He plans to note how some scientific research studies see health benefits to people taking time to walk in forests, including boosting the immune system and lowering stress levels.

“Walking out in nature 30 minutes a day makes us happier, healthier, more productive and more creative,” he said.

Outdoor Walk ScheduleWalks are Thursdays, unless noted. Walks begin at 10am.
May 3Wilde Lake Barn
May 17Long Fellow Pool
May 31River Hill Pool
June 14Clary’s Forest Pool
Saturday, September 8Downtown Columbia Lakefront
September 27Long Reach Village Center
October 11Oakland Mills Village Center
October 25Hopewell Pool
Saturday, November 3Downtown Columbia Lakefront
November 8Amherst House