Category Archives: Nature and outdoors

REI Moving from Rockville to White Flint in April

REI store in Rockville.

REI store in Rockville.

REI, the outdoor sports store at the southern edge of Rockville at 1701 Rockville Pike, has announced it’s moving south about 1500 feet to become part of the new Pike & Rose mega-shopping center/experience in White Flint. With the loss of Sports Authority and Hudson Trail Outfitters in recent years, this neighborhood’s remaining sports stores are smaller specialists: Revolution Cycles, Performance Bicycle, and Road Runner Sports.  REI has announced the following schedule:

  • March 18, 2017: Garage Sale
  • April 15: Last day accepting shop work
  • April 23: Last day in Rockville
  • April 25: Opening at Pike & Rose in White Flint
  • April 28-30: Grand opening events

Competition for tenants along the Rockville Pike continues to intensify as the internet becomes a more popular place to shop and customers seek more interesting and engaging experiences.  The simple stripmalls that line Rockville Pike will be with us for a while but the richer social environments of Pike & Rose and Rockville Town Square will be more attractive gathering places.  JBG‘s efforts around the Twinbrook Metro Station is expected to follow this new model, however, it seems that development has stalled for the last year and doesn’t have sufficient gravity to attract a sustainable customer base (Terano and Galvan, the last major projects, opened in 2015).

Brookside Gardens Tops for Spring

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One of the best things in Rockville are the parks.  One of the best things near Rockville are the parks–and one of the best is Brookside, a county-owned horticultural garden just a few miles south of town near Glenmont. It features a variety of garden types, including Japanese, walled, rose, and naturalistic and while it’s fun to visit throughout the year, spring brings out a long display of flowers.  Right now, the daffodils and cherry trees are at peak but will soon be followed by tulips and azaleas.  If you visit on the weekends, I recommend arriving before 11 am (gates open at sunrise).  Don’t forget that enjoying nature isn’t a luxury, it’s essential for mental fitness.

Is Rockville Walkable? Depends Where You Are.

Walk Score map of Rockville

“Walkability” is an increasingly popular measure of a community’s quality of life.  By enhancing the convenience and ease of walking, it reduces traffic, improves health, increases community involvement, and puts more eyes on the street for safety.  So how does Rockville rate?  Walk Score calculates walkability on a block-by-block basis, generating color-coded maps.  In the map of Rockville, green indicates the areas that are most walkable (such as downtown) and red the least walkable (such as Horizon Hill west of 270).  Around town, they’ve calculated how the following locations fared on a scale of 1-100:

  • 85 Very walkable:  Maryland Avenue and South Adams (West End)
  • 75 Very walkable:  Baltimore Road and Grandin (East Rockville)
  • 66 Somewhat walkable:  Twinbrook Parkway and Viers Mill (Twinbrook)
  • 65 Somewhat walkable:  Fallsgrove Boulevard and Fallsgrove Road (Fallsgrove)
  • 65 Somewhat walkable:  Redland Boulevard and Pleasant (King Farm)
  • 63 Somewhat walkable:  West Montgomery and Laird (West End)
  • 48 Car dependent:  College Parkway and Princeton (College Gardens)
  • 35 Car dependent:  Falls Road and Kersey (Horizon Hill)

I’m sure this will generate controversy and prompt comparisons between neighborhoods (what!? Twinbrook rated the same as Fallsgrove and King Farm? Not possible!) but I’d really like to encourage a discussion about making our community more bike and pedestrian (and sometimes car) friendlier.

What makes a neighborhood walkable?  According to Walk Score, the more of the following characteristics it has, the better:

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

The City of Rockville recently received federal funds to develop “complete streets” near the Twinbrook and Rockville Metro stations, so scores for those locations (and pedestrians using those locations) should improve as a result.  Any suggestions to make your  neighborhood more walkable?  Should walkability be a goal for Rockville?

Enjoy Spring at Brookside Gardens

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If you enjoy gardens, there’s no better place around here than Brookside Gardens, a fifty-acre horticultural showplace maintained by Montgomery Parks (aka Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission).  It’s a wonderful place to enjoy all year but especially in the spring when blooming azaleas pack the woods are packed and tulips fill the beds (although with today’s brisk winds, who knows what will survive).

Brookside is free and open from sunrise to sunset, but on beautiful days you’ll want to arrive well before noon to find a parking spot.  It’s only 10-15 minutes away from Rockville but it can be a bit hard to find the first time since it’s tucked inside a residential neighborhood .  To get there, go straight down Viers Mill Road towards DC, turn left on Randolph Road (at the Korean Korner) and after you cross Georgia Avenue (where the Kensington Volunteer Fire Station is located), look for Glenallan Avenue and turn right  into the neighborhood and follow it around to the entrance to the Gardens.  A great place to get away, take kids, or enjoy with guests, and if you’re really into gardens, they offer classes and a library in the visitor center.

Fabulous Fall

Fall is one of my favorite times of year and each year I nearly run off the road when I’m stunned by a brilliant tree.  So for everyone’s safety, I head to Lake Frank, a reservoir off Avery Road just east of Rockville, to walk the paths and take it all in as slowly as I can.  Here are some shots from today’s afternoon stroll.

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Finding Fungus Can be Fun in Fall

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Okay, this is going to sound a bit strange, but this fall, explore the forests around Rockville hunting for fungus.  August and September’s warmth and humidity encourage lots of mushrooms to burst out of the forest floor and dead trees, and because they’re so short-lived, it’s a great time to see this and wonderful world at our feet.  If you don’t remember this from biology class in high school, fungi are one of the six Kingdoms (others include Plantae and Animalia), so if you haven’t taken a close look at them, you’re missing a major part of the life.

In Rockville, you’ll find fungus in your yard and nearby parks, but the best location I’ve found with the largest diversity is the John G. Hayes Forest Preserve which is part of the Civic Center Park.  The entrance is next to the Croydon Creek Nature Center.  You’ll want to explore the forest above as well as the slopes below near the creek, so wear sturdy shoes.  The big white mushrooms are easy to spot standing up from the ground or clinging to the bark of a tree, but usually you have to look more carefully and gently brush away leaves to find ones that are brown, small, or hidden underneath. In a couple hours, you should be able to find at least a dozen different types of mushrooms, many of which you’ll never have seen before.  I’ve shared just a few in the slide show.

And now that I’ve shared my secret with you, I have a couple requests:

  • please don’t pick up or remove the mushrooms you find.  Kids love to kick them for some reason, but remind them to leave them for others to find and enjoy.
  • don’t eat the mushrooms you find, unless you’re a mycologist.  If you don’t know what that means, don’t even touch them.  Many mushrooms are toxic and there’s no easy way to distinguish between edible and poisonous ones.  You may not die but you could experience headaches, drowsiness, nausea, lowered blood pressure, diarrhea, urgent urination, profuse vomiting, extreme pain, blurred vision, asthma, muscle spasms, liver damage, and hallucinations.  I didn’t list all the possible symptoms, just the ones that caught my attention.

If you’d like to learn more, pick up the Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States by Peter Alden and Brian Cassie (National Audubon Society) or the in-depth North American Mushrooms by Orson Miller and Hope Miller (Falcon Guide).  I bought my copies at REI.

Pitcher Plants in Bloom in Rock Creek

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On our walk Sunday morning in Rock Creek, my wife and I spotted an unusual plant at the side of the path–a pitcher plant.  As we came closer, we discovered them appearing everywhere in groups of 1-3 flowers (along with poison ivy!).  I assume these are native to Maryland, but we haven’t noticed them before.  Perhaps the combination of a heavy winter and very warm spring weather brought them out.  I did a little research online on pitcher plants (Sarracenia) but haven’t been able to identify these.   Thought you’d enjoy seeing them if you haven’t spotted them already (and if anyone can identify them, I’d appreciate it!).

Come out to Comus in the fall

Comus Market

Every year, Mary and I make a pilgrimage to Comus Market, a small farmstand at a crossroads of Comus Road and Old Hundred Road in northern Montgomery County that specializes in unusual pumpkins and squash.  It’s a beautiful drive in the countryside through rolling hills with stunning views.   David Heisler has operated this store for years and provides an amazing selection of pumpkins and squash which are both decorative and edible (if you spot a middle-aged man hauling pumpkins as well as working the sales counter, that’s David).  You’ll find a few that are common to grocery stores, such as sugar pumpkins and butternut squash, but he also has princess pumpkins, blue hubbards, carnival acorns, and delicata squash that you’ll rarely find even in a Whole Foods Market.  But he has so many of them stacked in bins that you can’t help but admire their bold colors and shapes.   I always bring my camera and take lots of pictures–everyone can find something interesting to capture. His market is only open in the fall and business is at it’s peak in mid-October, so you’ll want to visit soon.

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