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Bethel Managed Hunting Area
Description Bethel is a 400-acre managed hunting area just east of south Chesapeake City, adjoining the C&D Canal levees and the grounds of the Canal Museum.  The main birding feature is a freshwater impoundment.  There is also an extensive phragmites marsh and a barren, sandy dredge spoils area, as well as upland areas of second-growth deciduous forest.  A wide variety of birds have been seen here, including such specialties as Black Rail, Virginia Rail, Common Moorhen, American Bittern, Barnacle Goose, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier,  Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow.  There are breeding populations of  Common Moorhen, Pie-billed Grebe, Mallard, and Wood Duck, as well as Black-and-White Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Field Sparrow.
How to get there From south Chesapeake City, follow Rt. 286 east. Bear right at the entrance to the Canal Museum.  Continue on Rt. 286 east to the junction of Telegraph Rd./Bethel Cemetery Rd. As you travel east on 286, the dike of Bethel WMA will be on the north (left) side of the road. Turn left onto Bethel Cemetery Rd. and make an immediate left into the small gravel parking area at the corner.
Map references
What to do after arrival To view the impoundment, climb the small rise visible at the parking area and walk to the left along the top of the dike. The water extends in an east-west direction for almost a mile. Beyond that, the dike road continues through the phragmites marsh and eventually joins with the extensive network of dirt roads in the canal levees. Don’t ignore the lower portions of the dike, to your left as you walk west. The trees, shrubs and puddles here attract a number of songbirds, particularly during migration. 

To hike the woods, bear right at the top of the small rise at the parking lot onto a foot trail through the woods. This trail parallels Bethel Cemetery Rd. and is blazed with silver paint and white triangles. Continue straight until the trail ends in a sandy open area that, in the rainy season, may contain fresh-water pools that attract shorebirds and ducks. There are also fresh-water pools in the surrounding woods, making good habitat for Prothonotary Warbler. Explore the woods that border this sandy area, or continue north on the network of canal levee roads.

Alternatively, as the woods trail passes the dredge spoils area north of the impoundment (easily seen through the trees), bear left (west) to enter the spoils. Cross the spoils to enter a woods north of the impoundment, where an obvious trail borders the impoundment and then loops north along the edge of the phragmites marsh. Eventually, this trail will bring you to the sandy area described above, from which you can return to the parking area by following the woods trail parallel to Bethel Cemetery Rd.

Another possibility is to drive north on Bethel Cemetery Rd. to its terminus at the canal levees.  There is vehicle access here to the system of levee roads. A right turn at the canal will take you east to Delaware. A left turn will take you west along the canal to the Canal Museum, but the exit from the canal through the museum grounds is gated and is often closed. In either direction, the canal roads offer access to good habitat for sparrows and, in the canal itself, for waterfowl, terns, gulls, and other birds associated with open water.

Birds to look for Fall:  ducks, geese, herons in the impoundment;  sparrows, finches, bluebirds, plovers, sandpipers in the phragmites marsh and spoils; warblers, vireos, tanagers, woodpeckers, thrushes, flycatchers, kinglets, other migrating songbirds in the woods.
Winter:  ducks, geese, loons, grebes, cormorants in the impoundment; raptors, sparrows, finches, bluebirds in the phragmites marsh and spoils; woodpeckers, Hermit Thrush, kinglets, nuthatches in the woods.
Spring:  ducks, geese, loons, grebes, cormorants, terns, swallows in the impoundment; rails, bitterns, raptors, sparrows, wrens, finches, bluebirds, plovers, sandpipers in the phragmites marsh and spoils; woodpeckers, thrushes, tanagers, warblers, vireos, flycatchers in the woods.
Summer:  ducks, herons, egrets, swallows, terns in the impoundment;  rails, bitterns, swallows, raptors, sparrows, wrens, finches, bluebirds in the phragmites marsh and spoils;  woodpeckers, warblers, vireos in the woods.

Be aware that bird populations at Bethel are unpredictable. Some days there are so many birds that it is difficult to know where to look first; on other days you will be lucky to see a Mallard.
Hours/Fees/Amenities Access to Bethel MHA is restricted to hunting permit holders for the hunting season from September 1 through February 15.  Check State hunting seasons. Outside the hunting season, Bethel is open for hiking, fishing, bird watching, nature photography, etc. with non-hunting permit. No fee to enter; however, the free annual non-hunting use permit is strictly required and must be displayed on your parked car. To request a permit, contact the Gwynnbrook Wildlife and Heritage Service Office at 410-356-9272 allow 3 weeks for delivery of your permit by mail. 

No amenities at the site. Nearest restrooms are at the Canal Museum (Monday - Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.;  closed Sunday) and the library in Chesapeake City (limited hours). There is a picnic area just outside the Canal Museum along Rt. 286.
What to bring A spotting scope is necessary for good views of the impoundment, but is not needed for the woods walk. The top of the dike and the trails may be muddy. Waterproof shoes are recommended for extensive exploring.
Difficulty of walking Easy.  Once the small rise at the parking lot is climbed, all the walking is on level roads or trails.
Personal safety Do not visit during hunting season. This area is isolated and most people would probably feel more comfortable accompanied by a friend. There is illegal off-road vehicle use on the dikes and spoils area; please report this to DNR Police if you observe it. 
Nearby sites C&D Canal Levees, Courthouse Point MHA, Elk Forest WMA/Welch Point WMA.
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 Contact Us last updated 11/1/07