I take a lonely walk through Symphony Woods in order to get a feel for what it is and might be.
Last Saturday morning I took a walk through Symphony Woods. Besides having a nice walk I gained a new appreciation for the Inner Arbor plan, as well as a better understanding of both the apparent goals and the shortcomings of other plans that have been proposed for the woods.
Leaving aside stops to take pictures and some doubling back, the walk took me about 20 to 30 minutes, starting at the east side of Symphony Woods near the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System, going across the northeast portion of the woods near the intersection of South Entrance Road with Little Patuxent Parkway, through the northern portion of the woods bordering Little Patuxent Parkway, over to Merriweather Post Pavilion and back, and then returning. This was the first time I had walked through the woods when I wasn’t attending some event, and I had a chance to reflect on the nature of the area.
My first thought was that Symphony Woods is really two woods in one. As noted above, I entered the woods near the library. It’s not a particularly convenient way to enter the woods (among other things it requires jumping across a small stream) but it has the advantage of being quite scenic—more like a forest than the parts of the woods most visitors see. The topography is relatively rough, with a small stream valley, and the ground more like what you expect in a forest, including leaves and downed limbs and even (in one case) an entire fallen tree. However at the same time it’s obvious that Symphony Woods is not an isolated woodland: You can easily look up and see office buildings across Little Patuxent Parkway, and there’s a low but consistent hum of traffic.
As I moved across the park the landscape became less forest-like and more lawn-like. In the northern portion of the woods, between Little Patuxent Parkway and Merriweather Post Pavilion, the woods loses its forest character entirely and resembles nothing so much as a big suburban lawn with a number of trees on it. The area is relatively flat and devoid of pretty much anything other than tree trunks and grass; it looks a bit beaten down, which I guess is to be expected given the number of people who walk across it.
I stopped at the northwest corner of Symphony Woods, at the entrance drive to Merriweather Post Pavilion. Although there is more wooded land to the west bordering Little Patuxent Parkway and extending to the corner of Broken Land Parkway, it is not part of Symphony Woods itself, i.e., the Columbia Association property. Instead it is Howard Hughes property that is proposed to be developed as general office space as part of the Crescent project. Crescent Area 4 begins just west of the Merriweather entrance drive; Area 1 is beyond that, bordering Broken Land Parkway.
I then doubled back toward Merriweather Post Pavilion, walking all the way up to the fence that marks the boundary line between Symphony Woods proper and the Merriweather Post Pavilion property (currently owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation). What I found interesting about this portion of the walk is that the portion of Symphony Woods immediately bordering the fence doesn’t actually feel like Symphony Woods itself, but rather like an extension of the Merriweather Post Pavilion property. The fence is quite off-putting, and I felt somewhat nervous as I approached it, as if armed guards were about to come out and shoo me away. (A posted sign stating “This area under video surveillance” didn’t help my mood.)
However no one made an appearance, and not just at the Merriweather fence. The park was utterly empty throughout my entire walk, with not a soul to be seen. Symphony Woods in a sense has a split personality: occasionally overrun with people attending events, and completely devoid of visitors during the rest of the year. This seems a great shame given the natural beauty of the woods, especially in the forested area of the park. How could Symphony Woods be an area that everyone can (and does) enjoy on an ongoing basis? I’ll write more about that in future posts.