A Blend of Outdoor Fun, History, and Education
By Jaime Ridgley | Photography by Casey Martin
Just beyond the quiet charm of downtown Walkersville, Md., and bustling U.S. Route 15 in Frederick County, Md., is Fountain Rock Park and Nature Center. Situated on nearly 23 acres about 35 minutes from Gettysburg, the park is a blend of outdoor fun, education, and history for all ages.
Fountain Rock Park has the features one would expect at a traditional park: a playground for kids, a pavilion with picnic tables. But it’s the property’s other features—a quarry turned pond, the remnants of a lime kiln operation, and trout fishing—that make Frederick County’s first environmental park like no other.
“We’re being a bit more conscious about making sure we have native plants, that we have habitat for animals, so when people come here, they have something to see,” says park naturalist Kelly Ketzenberger of the park’s environmental designation.
From its origins in the late 1800s as a limestone quarry to its mid-20th-century stint as a trout hatchery and resort to its final iteration as a growing county park for the last three decades, Fountain Rock has a varied history.
Inside the nature center, open to the public on weekends, visitors can view about 15 different animals and experience hands-on activities and objects, including skulls and furs, games, and play areas for children.
On a recent Sunday, a taxidermied black bear that met an unfortunate demise on U.S. Route 15 was draped out over a plastic tub for visitors to view and touch, while other taxidermied animals, including a fox and raccoon, were on permanent display. Tanks lined throughout the center housed a variety of creatures, including turtles, snakes, frogs, and Vietnamese walking sticks. For history buffs, old bottles and Native American artifacts on display near the entrance hinted at the property’s past.
When visiting, be sure to bring coins for the dispensers immediately outside the center to purchase food to feed the fish and turtles in the Quarry Pond. Approximately 25-feet deep, the 1.5-acre quarry was a part of the limestone operation that took place on the property for about 80 years, according to the park’s website. The Quarry Deck, open every day, circles a portion of the quarry, allowing visitors to observe wildlife while enjoying their surroundings.
Short, segmented trails totaling about a mile can be found throughout the park, Ketzenberger says, including a loop trail that connects to the town of Walkersville all the way to its elementary school. “We’re still secluded enough that there’s a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere,” she says, “and most of the people that come here just really appreciate nature and really like having that community.”
Fishing is also permitted at Fountain Rock. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks a trout pond—separate from the Quarry Pond—with foot-long trout a few times each spring, says Ketzenberger, and visitors can keep two trout a day for free.
Those who enjoy history will find the self-guided tours of the lime kilns of special interest. A significant portion of the park is devoted to these kilns, which were in operation from approximately 1872 to 1955, according to the park’s website. Visitors can tour six of the original kilns, read about the process of turning limestone into powdered lime for fertilizer and road surfacing material, and gain a deeper understanding of how limestone quarrying was an important industry in the county.
After the limestone operation came attempts at a trout farm and, later, a resort where people could fish in the quarry and buy trout. In the early ’80s, Frederick County bought the land, and the park development began in 1991, according to the park’s website.
Today, bird walks, family campfires, overnight outdoor skills classes, and summer camps are just some of the park’s family-friendly offerings. The park also is developing more adult programming, Ketzenberger says, with upcoming classes such as nature journaling, photography, fairy house building, and papermaking.
Simply put, there’s no place quite like Fountain Rock Park. Even as it continues to evolve, it will remain an oasis of peace and beauty for all who enjoy it. “It’s an amazing little pocket of space,” says Ketzenberger. “It really is.”
Fountain Rock Facts
The water in the trout pond comes from a spring on the property that releases up to 3.25 million gallons of water a day, according to the park’s website. The water is a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
During World War II, German prisoners of war were brought in to work at the quarry, says Ketzenberger.
The Quarry Pond is home to six different species of turtles, about 50 total, and several different species of fish, according to Ketzenberger.
Watercress has naturally grown in the spring water at Fountain Rock Park for the past 80 years, according to the park’s website. The property’s most famous watercress farmer was Wilson Carmack, who would harvest the watercress with a sharp knife, pack it with ice, and sell it in Baltimore.
If you go:
Fountain Rock Park and Nature Center
8511 Nature Center Place
Walkersville, MD 21793
Park is open 8 a.m. to sunset
The nature center is open and free to the public 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays
Learn more and view upcoming programs by searching the Activity Guide at www.recreater.com.
Fountain Rock Park Blog: fountainrock.wordpress.com