at Sugarloaf Mountain
Stronghold Inc. is an excellent and highly visible local example of modern forestry management and good environmental practice. Located at Sugarloaf Mountain in southern Frederick County at Comus, this vast timberland and environmental showcase is open to the public all year long. The property has been acquired over many years by the late Gordon and Louise Strong who incorporated the properties as Stronghold Inc. in 1946 for the long-term purpose of making the property available for the public enjoyment and education of the natural beauty. It is a non-profit that is administered by a Trust and has a small, but very dedicated, staff that maintain the property. Management activities include rental of the original Strong Mansion for private events, such as weddings.
There are scenic overlooks, hiking trails, horseback trails, and picnic grounds. Plant and wildlife diversity abound. The scenic beauty is spectacular all year long, but especially in the spring and fall. Visitors marvel at the azalea and rhododendron lined roads in the spring when these plants are in bloom. The fall sees a rainbow of colors during leaf change. Thousands of visitors yearly come to enjoy and photograph the natural beauty.
Sugarloaf Mountain rises 800 feet above the surrounding terrain to a height of 1282 feet above sea level. It stands alone after the surrounding area eroded away. Rugged cliffs and outcroppings consist mostly of quartzite. These rocky areas are the habitat of venomous timber rattlesnakes and copperheads. Walking in these areas should be done with caution.
Explorers since the 1700 have visited and mapped the mountain and area which has seen its share of military visitors during the French and Indian and Civil War times. British troops marched past the mountain in 1755. During the civil war, the summit of the mountain was utilized by both sides as lookout posts. A log cabin at the base of the mountain was used as a hospital for civil war wounded. This log cabin is still in existence.
The Stronghold Property has a comprehensive Forest Stewardship Plan that identifies a number of management areas, including aesthetic buffer zones, protection of streams and wetlands, rare and endangered species protection areas, recreational zones, and timber management zones. Forest management techniques include periodic harvests to harvest timber in a sustainable manner and to regenerate desirable tree species. Funds generated from the sale of timber help pay for the operation and maintenance of the properties. The Stronghold Property has a demonstration forest, which illustrates the various management techniques utilized throughout the property. Timber products are extremely valuable assets, and are a major economic benefit in Maryland.
Oak trees of both red and white groups are the predominant species there. The most common oaks include chestnut oak, red oak, white oak, black oak, and scarlet oak. Judicious use of spraying has helped to control the gypsy moths, which can quickly defoliate the oak trees.
Growing in the forest are beautiful spring flowering redbuds, serviceberry, dogwoods, and mountain laurel in abundance. Other commonly found species include hickory, white pine, black cherry, American beech, black gum, tulip poplar, black birch, eastern hemlock and white ash. Unfortunately, white ash is currently being decimated by yet another invasive insect from the far east, Emerald Ash Borer. Sycamore and swamp white oak are found in lower wetter areas.
Over 500 species of plants here include a variety of wildflowers, the blooms of which can be seen during the summer months.
White tailed deer are on and around the mountain. Other mammals include rabbit, grey, fox, and flying squirrel, red fox, eastern cottontail rabbit, coyote, and raccoon. Forest birds include raptors, such as the great horned owl and red shouldered hawk. Other species include the large pileated woodpecker, the wild turkey, and many migratory species of songbirds.
Stronghold also has an abundance of ecological communities and forest cover types such as young and old fields, young forest communities, old growth forest, rocky ridge tops, swampy areas, and open parkland areas where casual visitors tend to congregate. All of these communities have their characteristic plants and animal visitors creating diverse ecosystems.
Historic properties, such as a recently relocated one room schoolhouse, can be easily seen at the base of the mountain. The Comus Inn is a nearby dining attraction. The surrounding communities of Dickerson, Urbana, and Adamstown offer additional dining and sightseeing opportunities. A visit to Stronghold is well worth the time and effort.
Nature Note for 9/17/2017