Trail Guide Map 2
This portion of the trail is about 0.9 miles (not allowing for tempting side jaunts). Just after exiting the University Boulevard crosswalk, there is a large sign that shows the hiker-biker trail from Wheaton Regional Park to Northwest Branch in Prince George’s County. The main trail briefly follows the highway sidewalk west across the parkway and creek, then continues downstream.
However, one may also take a paved side trail leading directly from the hiker-biker sign on the left side of the parkway past a kiosk and an exercise station then to Breewood tributary. Following the tributary uphill away from the parkway, one can see a recently completed stream restoration that extends for several hundred yards into Breewood Park. Just a few years ago the stream was a badly eroded slash in the hillside. Now after considerable effort from the County government and volunteers, the stream bed has been restored, invasive plants removed, and many young trees planted. To gauge the success of the project and other storm water improvements in the adjacent neighborhood, a water quality measuring device operates near the confluence of the tributary with Sligo Creek. The white structure looks a bit like a small refrigerator with tubes leading to a pool in the stream. There is more about the whole Breewood Tributary Restoration Project on the FOSC website.
An unpaved trail known as the "Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail" leads away from Sligo through the Breewood park. The trail crosses University Blvd, then continues past Northwood High School, and eventually connects with Northwest Branch. To follow it look for red blazes. A map and more information on the trail can be searched on the FOSC website.
Back on the main trail, just a hundred or so feet from where it leaves University Boulevard, one can look back into the substantial double tunnel that carries Sligo Creek under the six-lane road. Also at that point on the other side of the creek there are several "knees" at the edge of the creek bed. They are associated with a Bald Cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) a few feet further up the bank. There are a few dozen specimens of this tree in the park, some fairly large. There are also some White Pine (Pinus Strobus), a few Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and some Norway Spruce (Picea Abies). What these trees all have in common is that they are not native to the Sligo watershed. They likely resulted from efforts of fans of these plants, some in government, some private citizens. This all-too-human trait to "improve" the park is apparent at many levels. More examples later.
A bit farther down the trail there is a bench bearing a plague reading "James and Mary Lee Lived here on Chestnut Ridge 1741-1764". The bench was provided through efforts of their descendants a few years ago. On the website under "History/ Memorials in Sligo Park", one can find the story behind this tribute, as well as numerous similar efforts near the trail.
By this point, the creek is more substantial than the little waterway seen near the headwaters. The bed alternates between stretches of “riffles” and slack water pools. A check of tiny critters at these locations shows some differences among what species are adapted to the differing conditions offered. For example, riffles contain more oxygen and less mud than pools. Also in this area ancient bedrock is visible in the creek bed.
There are also differences in the tree species found near the creek versus those further upslope. The dominant trees by the creek include Tulip Trees, Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and Red Maples since they tolerate wet feet. In drier conditions, oaks prevail. Even among oaks there are distinctions, with Chestnut Oaks (Quercus Prinus) and White Oaks (Quercus alba) generally found higher on a ridge than Red Oaks (Quercus rubra).
Identifying trees, while perhaps less exciting than watching for warblers, has its own rewards. Plus they are large and immobile, a major plus. On the website, under “Plants and Animals/ Trees of Sligo Park”, there is a checklist of 60 or so native trees that have been found by experts. The list also notes abundance and general location. However it is not a key. For that, you need to bring a guide. On a hike, leaves are reliable for identifying to species, however looking at flowers, bark and buds, plus other characteristics can be very helpful. Even in winter most trees give themselves away. An interesting small tree found near the creek here and there is sometimes called the "muscle-tree" for the twist and feel of the trunk (also known as American Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana).
Some trees along the trail are left-overs from an earlier time when this part of the woods was more open. Virginia Pine, Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Black Locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia) require lots of light to germinate and grow. They are often called "pioneer" species because in this part of the country they are among the first trees to colonize an abandoned field. The succession of trees that follow favor ones that tolerate more shade.
After walking a bit over a half-mile from University Blvd, just as the woods give way to a ball field on the right, there is a wet area near the creek where in early March, one can find skunk cabbage in bloom.
Just ahead, the Dennis Recreation Center comes into view across the creek. The flats and sandbars by the stream here are good for finding tracks of mammals including deer, raccoon, and opossum; maybe even beaver, muskrat, and fox; possibly even mink. Between the trail and the creek there is a wetlands where Skunk Cabbage blooms in late winter.
This area is also a good place to begin looking for fish in earnest. You will be sorely disappointed if you bring a pole since we are talking mainly about minnow-sized creatures. However these small fish are generally visible to the patient observer. The last century has not been good to the fish population due mainly to problems with water quality and excessive storm water. Historically there were likely more than 20 species of fish in the stream but by 1984 only three species were found. However beginning in the 1990s regular efforts were made by government biologists to transfer fish from the cleaner reaches of Northwest Branch. Now there are thought to be about a dozen established species in Sligo Creek. At the little beach just upstream from the Rec Center, in 2004 and 2007, FOSC volunteers assisted Montgomery County biologists to corral in Northwest Branch more than 300 fish representing seven species of very small but lively fish. They were carefully released by small children into the relatively deep pool of Sligo by the beach. Many photos were taken and refreshments served. See "Plants and Animals / Fish" on the website for details. More about bigger fish later.
Near the footbridge there is a big landscaped depression engineered to capture and filter storm water that washes down from the neighborhood streets. An interpretive sign shows how it works. There is another smaller rain garden nearer to the parkway.
After a half-mile side trip west on Dennis Avenue, to the left there are three ponds to ponder. They were built in 1990 to intercept floods from large storms. Wheaton Branch has around 800 acres of land to drain; fifty percent of it "impervious". This includes the heavily developed business area of Wheaton. Water from Wheaton Branch travels under Dennis, then hits the first pond, then the second, then the third. The storm-water is thus slowed and dissuaded from slamming into Sligo Creek. At the third pond only water from the top cleaner portion of the pond is allowed to continue its travel down the Branch. More information is available on how the system works by activating the button found on the electronic version of Map 2.
The ponds are a good place to see waterfowl, herons, Kingfishers, and occasional shorebirds such as Killdeer. Evidence of coyote scat was noted in the open area by the ponds in 2007. If the berms have not been recently mowed, butterflies can usually be found in summer.
About 0.2 miles up the Branch from the ponds, there is a charming neighborhood park that, among other things, demonstrates some ways to restore a stream. Unfortunately, above the park Wheaton Branch becomes boring as it is heavily confined by concrete.
Back at the playground near the Dennis Recreation Center, there is a statue of kids, called "Whispers". It was done by Steven Weitzman in 1972. The gardens around it were added later as a Girl Scout project to commemorate victims of drunk driving.