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Cheltenham Wetlands Park
About the Park
Cheltenham Wetlands Area is comprised of approximately 270 acres of wetlands and woodlands that support various wildlife communities. This natural area park features a boardwalk trail, which provides excellent opportunities to view wetland wildlife, and interpretive signs to give you information about what is commonly seen. A series of upland trails provides access to the park’s forests and meadows. Some of the trails are currently being refurbished, so they may not all be accessible.
The diverse habitats of Cheltenham Wetlands Area provide ideal conditions for a wide variety of animals and plant life. In addition, the park is actively managed for several wildlife species. Nesting boxes are provided for Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Ducks, American Kestrels, Screech Owls, and Tree Swallows.
The land comprising Cheltenham Wetlands Area was originally part of a Naval Communication Detachment that was adjacent to the park. In 1935 the Navy purchased a 559-acre tract of land in Cheltenham for communication operations. The network of telephone poles and wires you see around the wetlands is what is left of those operations. In 1980 a portion of this land was donated to Prince George’s County. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission now manages this area as a natural area park.
Birds: A wide variety of birds, such as Red-shouldered Hawks, Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, and Canada Geese, depend on the wetlands for their food supply. Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and various sparrows are common. Bald Eagles and Common Ravens have even been seen in the park.
Insects: Many species of dragonflies, butterflies, and aquatic insects inhabit the wetlands. This location is an important nursery area for these animals.
Amphibians and Reptiles: Green Frogs, American Toads, and Spotted Salamanders all start their lives in the park’s wetlands as tadpoles. Black Rat Snakes, Garter Snakes, and Eastern King Snakes can be seen as well.
Fish: Unique from the other species at Cheltenham, the Eastern Mud Minnow is specially adapted to live dormant in the mud under low water conditions, which happens most summers. It then comes out to swim when there’s more water in the wetlands.
Mammals: A variety of mammals populate the wetlands and areas nearby, including White-tailed Deer, Opossum, and Raccoons. The mammal whose evidence is seen the most is the North American Beaver. Many trees and branches have chew marks, and beaver dwellings, or lodges, are present in the wetlands as well.
Benefits of Wetlands
- Wetlands provide food, shelter, and a natural nursery for wildlife. Birds, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians all benefit.
- Wetlands absorb stormwater runoff and break down pollutants, keeping them out of our drinking water and the Chesapeake Bay.
- Wetlands control flooding and recharge groundwater supplies by slowly releasing water back to the water table.
- Wetlands are great areas to observe and photograph wildlife and wildflowers.
Wetland Communities of Cheltenham Wetlands Area
Fresh-Water Marsh Community:
Marshes are extraordinary wetland habitats that play a crucial role in the health of the bay. They improve water quality by absorbing sediments and filtering pollutants. Consisting of mostly herbaceous plants (grass, sedges, and wildflowers), the marsh provides both food and shelter for waterfowl, fish, and aquatic insects.
Scrub-Shrub Swamp Community:
Swamps are important transition zones between fragile marshlands and woodlands. They provide food and shelter for wildlife, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and control flooding. Shrubs such as Buttonbush, Swamp Rose, Winterberry, and Alder make up the scrub-shrub swamp portion of the wetlands.
Forested Wetlands community:
Bordering the scrub-shrub swamp are woodlands that provide a forest habitat for deer, squirrels, owls, and other creatures. This woodland habitat is part of a forest buffer that helps protect Piscataway Creek and the Chesapeake Bay. It plays an important role in slowing stormwater and reducing runoff, trapping sediments and pollutants, and stabilizing the soil. The trees here also provide food and building materials for the beavers of Cheltenham Wetlands Area. If it weren’t for the beavers’ tree-cutting activities, the wetland area would become completely forested.
There are normally three trails that lace their way around Cheltenham Wetlands Area. The main trail leads visitors through each of the Wetland Communities previously described, while the other two make their way through the neighboring forested uplands. Currently, the loop that normally is the wetland trail is broken into two up-and-back trails as the connecting boardwalk is replaced. At the back of the first wetland trail connects to the Woodlands Trail, then the Camp Trail, both of which are being redrawn and remarked at this time.
You can also walk the gravel road along the southern and eastern perimeter of the park.
Art on the Trails
At the entrance, you’ll find two pieces of artwork carved out of natural material, a Beaver on the left, and a Great Blue Heron on the right. Both figures are representative of what you’ll find at Cheltenham, and what makes this area so unique. The statues were carved by Jospeh Stebbing, Jr.
About 12 years ago, Joseph began carving tree spirits and now can carve anything he or his customers dream up. Joe’s carvings can be found in many of our other parks, as well as other locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and even as far away as Scotland!