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  A Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society


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Elk Neck State Forest
Description Elk Neck State Forest lies just southeast of the town of North East;  do not confuse with Elk Neck State Park, which is about 11 miles away at the tip of  Elk Neck, or with Elk Forest WMA, which is on the north side of the C&D Canal near Chesapeake City.

This 3,500 acre forest was planted as a demonstration forest in the 1940's with the intention of logging, but was never cut because of poor timber quality.  There are several separate tracts:  the main tract is off Irishtown Road;  another large tract lies at Black Hill and is accessed from McKinneytown Road. 

The forest is available to the public for hunting and hiking, and has public rifle and archery ranges.  A network of dirt roads and a portion of the Mason-Dixon Trail as well as hunter access trails pass through the main tract on Irishtown Road, which may be birded from the car or on foot.  The Black Hill tract is open to foot traffic along a trail that leads to a fire observation tower (closed to the public).  Another trail at Black Hill is wheelchair accessible.

The habitat is second-growth mixed deciduous and evergreen trees, with an understory of mountain laurel, native azaleas, and other native shrubs.  The understory is dense in many places, providing excellent nesting habitat.  A portion of the main tract is adjacent to the county landfill and attracts species that prefer open or scrubby areas.  A pond formed by damming Plum Run lies in the central part of the main tract;  the dam has now been breached and may be crossed on foot (with difficulty) but not by car.

How to get there To reach the main tract from the town of North East, take Rt. 272 (Main Street) south.  On the south edge of town, watch for Irishtown Road and a sign indicating the state forest.  Turn left (east) onto Irishtown Road.  Follow Irishtown Road to the forest entrance at the second dirt road on the left, just past Timberlane Drive on the right.  (The first dirt road on the left leads into the forest maintainance area).

To reach the Black Hill tract, take Rt. 272 south from the town of North East and turn left (east) onto McKinneytown Road.  Watch for a trail head marked by a yellow gate on the right. Park at the gate but do not block it.

Map reference De Lorme MD State Atlas Book:  map page 77 - grid C6;  also map page 78 - grid C1.
ADC Cecil County Map Book:  map page 16; grid K1 (main tract entrance);  map page 16, grid F7 (Black Hill tract trail entrance).
Google map - click here for main tract on Irishtown Rd
or click here for Google map for Black Hill tract
What to do after arrival At the entrance to the main tract, consult the trail map posted on the board to the right of the road. Sometimes there are maps in the box to take with you 

Drive in to the main tract on the entrance road (signposted as Trail 1 - all the dirt roads are referred to as trails by the forest service).  At the top of the first steep hill, watch for a pull-out with parking at a green gate on the left.  Park and walk down the obvious trail 0.2 miles to a wooden observation tower, looking out over the wooded hillside down to the North East River and Chesapeake Bay.  In spring, watch and listen for Pine Warblers, kinglets, and others.  Worm-eating Warblers and Hooded Warblers nest on the hillside just below the tower.  Return to the car and continue down Trail 1 past the shooting and archery ranges.  Stop, look and listen along the way.

Many hunter access foot trails branch off the dirt roads, and the Mason-Dixon Trail (blue-blazed) crosses the car roads at several points, so those who wish to hike can explore these foot trails.  Park anywhere along the shoulder but do not block any gates or campsites.

Just past the shooting and archery ranges, follow Trail 1 around a sharp right turn.  The next section, with short scrubby vegetation on the left, lies adjacent to the landfill and can be good for Whip-poor-wills and owls after dark in spring and summer.  Continue to the intersection with Trail 2 on the right, and turn right to reach Plum Creek Pond.  Trail 2 used to continue over the dam, but is now closed to cars at the pond.  Park and walk the nature trail that runs counter-clockwise around the pond.  You will have to scramble over the rocks of the dam to return to your car.

Retrace your route up Trail 2 and turn right onto Trail 1 to explore the rest of the forest along Trails 3 and 4, which intersect with Trail 1 further on.  All the trails are dead ends and you will have to turn around to return to the forest entrance.  In winter, the roads are usually gated closed at the shooting/archery range, but may still be walked.  The forest is open for deer and other hunting, so be aware of hunting seasons and do not walk in when shooting may be in progress.

To bird the Black Hill tract, park at the yellow gate on McKinneytown Road (do not block the gate) and walk in on the well-maintained trail to the observation tower.  This is a one-way trail and you will have to retrace your steps to return to your car.

Birds to look for
  • Winter:  Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, woodpeckers including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
  • Fall and spring migration:  lots of migrant warblers, vireos, thrushes.
  • Spring and summer:  Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Pine Warbler, Ovenbird, Black & White Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos, Scarlet Tanager.
Hours/Fees/Amenities Open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year;  although roads may be closed in bad weather.  No fee for day use.  Pit toilets are available at the shooting range. 
What to bring Hiking or walking shoes, binoculars.  Scope not necessary.
Difficulty of walking Easy to moderate.  There are a few steep hills and gravelly footing.
Personal safety During hunting season it is best to visit on Sundays, when hunting is prohibited.  This area is isolated but you can bird from the car.
Nearby sites Elk Neck State Park/Turkey Point, North East Town Park, Turkey Point.
For more information Telephone the Elk Neck State Forest Office at (410) 287-5675.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2007 Cecil Bird Club;  All rights reserved.  May be printed for personal use but may not be reproduced in any form for mass or commercial distribution without permission of the Executive Committee of the Cecil Bird Club.

 Contact Us last updated 8/25/08