In 1996, the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) was dedicated as a “forever protected” natural environmental area. At 1,021 acres, it is the largest parkland in Howard County’s system of parks, open space and natural resource areas. The property was purchased from Howard Research and Development Corporation (HRD) with assistance from Maryland‟s Program Open Space. HRD then placed $1.76 million in trust and formed the Middle Patuxent Environmental Foundation (MPEF) to serve as trustee of those funds.
Howard County’s Department of Recreation and Parks manages the area in a cooperative partnership with the MPEF. The area is managed using ecosystem management concepts to restore and protect the diversity of communities found in this region. The MPEF provides funding support and program and management advice to the county in its mission of maintaining the area.
The MPEA is home to a diversity of wildlife, including about 150 species of birds, over 40 species of mammals, and numerous amphibians, reptiles, fishes, butterflies, plants and other wildlife. This parkland is comprised largely of mature, second-growth upland forest and floodplain forest. The Middle Patuxent River runs north to south through the property, with 17 tributary streams found within the boundary.
Five and one-half miles of hiking trails in the MPEA provide public access to the area.
The MPEA is bordered by Maryland Route 108 to the north, and Maryland Route 32/Cedar Lane to the south. The two main access points (trailheads) for the area are located on the western boundary, off Trotter Road.
Records, dating back to the early 1800's, show that the northern section of the MPEA was owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll served on Maryland’s first senate in 1777, was a member of the Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and served as a U. S. Senator from 1789 until 1792.
Carroll reportedly grew tobacco until the soil was depleted, then shifted to corn and wheat. He was also reported to have an impressive livestock operation. There are also sketchy accounts of various orchards and vineyards on the property.
The rest of the MPEA’s property was enveloped by the town of Simpsonville. Simpsonville was developed around the milling industry and relied heavily on grain production. The Simpsonville Mill was destroyed by fire at the turn of the 20th century, but ruins of the old mill still stand at the southern tip of the MPEA, near the Robinson Nature Center.
By all accounts, agriculture was the primary land use practice employed in the area until about 1930, when the milling industry ended. Some small farms may have still been scattered throughout the MPEA as late as the 1960's. HRD bought the majority of the property in 1963, when it was no longer used for farming or milling.