Self-Guided Opportunities
Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Driving Tour
Location Patuxent River Park
16000 Croom Airport Road
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Prince George's County

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary and Visitor Center
11704 Fenno Road
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Prince George's County
Access The driving tour begins at the entrance to the Jug Bay Natural Area of the Patuxent River Park and extends into the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a one-way drive.
Distance 4.3 miles
Skill Level Easy. However there is one area that might cause concern for some. At one section of the tour it is necessary to drive on a wooden boardwalk over the swampy area. This boardwalk has low railings and might cause some drivers discomfort.
Suitable For Families? Yes, depending on interest level of children.
Hazards/Restrictions The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Driving Tour is available for driving only on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You may only leave your car at designated areas.
Potable Water Water and restrooms are available at the visitor's centers located at each end of the drive.
Natural Features This drive winds its way along the shore of the Patuxent River. It passes through natural woodlands and both tidal and non-tidal marshes. Birds and reptiles remain plentiful and large flocks of Canada geese may be seen during migration seasons.
Historic/Cultural Features At the beginning of this drive, you will pass a large open field. This was the site of the first black owned and operated airfield in the county. During World War II, it was briefly taken over by the Federal Government but was eventually returned to the original owner, Mr. John W. Green. After the war, the airfield became home to the first black Civil Air Patrol. Currently it is still in use but with a different type of flying. Many Sundays you might encounter local remote control model airplane builders flying their models.
Camping Camping is available at Cedarville State Forest.
Other Amenities There are visitor's centers at both Patuxent River Park and Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary. Many miles of walking trails are within both parks and bike/horse trails are available at Patuxent River Park. Canoes are available for rent at Patuxent River Park.
Other Points of Interest The Patuxent River, Observation Tower, Board Walk, Lookout Creek Trail. The Duval Tool collection is located in Patuxent River Park.
Fees or Permits The Critical Area Driving Tour is free.
Description This short drive is through land that was designated as critical to the health and protection of the Patuxent River and eventually the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The road takes you through woods, over non-tidal and tidal marshes and through open farm fields. Signage along the drive explains some of the effects man has had on the environment throughout the ages and also explains the reclamation of nature this is now evident due to the efforts in practice on this land.

The signs also help the visitor to better understand and appreciate the fragile balance man has with our natural environment. An observation tower is also open during the time the drive is open. This tower, while high (40 ft.), is worth the steep climb to the top. Since this tower is near the end of the drive, once you look out, you have a much better appreciation for the spectacular view overlooking the Patuxent River. During the winter months, you will be able to see large flocks of wintering Canada geese. At one time, the population of Canada geese wintering in the Chesapeake Bay region was in decline. Due to joint efforts, the populations of these geese are increasing.