Narrative Direction: West from Clarksburg Road Trailhead
The gravel bed Western Piedmont Trail was formerly known as Hyattstown Mill Road. Before Montgomery County began acquiring land for Little Bennett Park, Hyattsown Mill Road and Kingsley Trail were parts of one continuous road connecting Hyattstown and Kings Valley. Today this generally flat, straight trail shown in the picture below helps bisect the Park into northern and southern halves. Several historic sites are located along Hyattstown Mill Road as it follows Little Bennett Creek through the Park.
Moving from the eastern trailhead on Clarksburg Road, the trail follows the edge of the Little Bennett wetland. You will notice that the sides of the trail have been sprayed. But mile-a-minute, tree of heaven, stiltgrass and other NNIs are still present, especially on the more open wetland side of the trail on the left.
You may notice a small enclosed wire fence in the wetland to your left. It is protecting some White Turtlehead plants from deer predation. These plants are the principal food source for the rare Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly which is not known to be found in Little Bennett. About 200 of the Turtleheads have been planted in a Parks Dept experiment. Hopefully, this will help bring these beautiful but rare butterflies back to Little Bennett.
After a couple hundred yards, Beaver Valley Trail breaks off to the left. Beaver Valley begins the hiker-only area of the Park.
You are entering the first of many red cedar groves along this trail, one of which is depicted below. The red cedars are indicative of advanced meadow reforestation. Eventually taller hardwoods may surpass the cedars which will then die out. Preservation of the current ratio of evergreen trees to hardwoods (which have a natural tendency to take over the forest) is a concern of the Parks natural resource managers.
Soon Tobacco Barn Trail will break off and climb the ridge on your right. At about this point you will notice the huge white oak towering over the trail shown in the next photo.
You will pass another red cedar grove and then the meadow in the photo below begins to appear on your left. You are entering an area that contained a house as recently as 15 years ago. The tall fescue grass you see here is the former lawn evolved to its natural state. Unfortunately, the tall fescue grass now forms a thick carpet that prevents native grasses and plants from getting started. A wider array of plant life in turn would help support a wider array of insect and bird life.
The trail now begins to climb gradually as you pass through one of the thickest red cedar groves in the Park, as suggested by the next two pictures.
At the top of the hill, Browning Run Trail crosses Western Piedmont. On your left, you will see a sign for Wims meadow alongside a little gravel bed path down to historic Wims Ballfield.
At this point the trail begins a short but steep decline over a distance of perhaps 100 yards. Because of the steep slope of the trail here, it retains an asphalt surface to prevent erosion and support occasional Park utility vehicle traffic.
But the steep slope and hard surface of the trail here can be hazardous to equestrians. So the Park recently created an alternative natural surface trail which you can access by heading down toward the ballfield and then turning right. It is a scenic alternative to the hard surface trail and provides nice views of Wims ballfield as well as the creek named after it - Ballfield Tributary.
The short natural surface trail detour rejoins the main trail just prior to the bridge over the creek. A few yards across the bridge you may see minor road flooding, evidence of periodic beaver activity on Ballfield Tributary. But this new one is not bridged so there is now a small wet stream crossing here. Stick to the grass on your right to get by it without getting your feet wet.
The trail next curves to the left and provides the nice view of Wims Ballfield you see in the next photo.
You will soon see some young moundbuilder anthills beginning to poke through the grass on your right. And then you will come to Earls Picnic area, a nice shaded spot with a choice of three tables to dine on.
After the picnic area, Pine Grove trail heads off to your right. Western Piedmont Trail next enters into hardwood canopy that shades the trail most of the rest of its way through the Park to MD 355 where it ends.
Soon the trail will make a hard left turn in the direction of the creek as it begins to head west through a gap in Owl and Dark Branch ridges. There will be a bench on your left and then just a few yards beyond that the trail crosses Little Bennett Creek at a ford.
Western Piedmont Trail ford is one of only five creek fords remaining on Montgomery County roads. Coincidentally, Prescott Road's ford of Little Bennett Creek, one of the four other fords in the county, is just slightly downstream from this ford.
The creek can be 50 feet or more wide here, and as a ford, there is no bridge. During dry spells, there may be a temporary bridge-like structure of rocks and limbs that can help you cross without getting your feet wet when the creek is low. See the photo below.
The first few yards of Western Piedmont Trail west of Little Bennett Creek continue to pass through the flat but lush creek valley. To your left, Owl Ridge emerges sharply to a height of perhaps 80 feet. Owl Ridge is actually the beginning of Bennett Ridge which extends all the way to Kings Valley and forms the southern flank of Little Bennett Creek valley.
At the base of this steep hill, you will soon start to see a berm come into view. It will climb to as high as 5 or 6 feet as it parallels the trail for the next 100 yards. The berm served as a wall that helped form the mill race for Zeiglers Mill. Many ferns now line the sides of the berm in this moist but shady environment near the creek.
To your right a clearing will emerge; unfortunately sunlight has promoted the growth of much mile-a-minute, garlic mustard and other NNIs.
On the other side of the clearing, is Prescott Road which will intersect with Western Piedmont Trail in just a few yards.
The point of intersection between these two former roads is also near the site of the former historic Zeigler bone and grist mill which will be on your left here. Note the small dark pond to your left just after the Prescott Road intersection. This is believed to be where the mill wheel was housed.
Right after this, Bennett Ridge trail breaks off to the left and heads back along the ridgeline to the campground.
About 75 yards ahead the small wooden foot bridge shown in the photo below crosses Sopers Branch, one of the cleanest and most pristine creeks in the county. Sopers Branch dumps into Little Bennett Creek nearby.
Across the bridge, the gravel road you are on will divide again, with Prescott Road heading off to the left and Western Piedmont Trail continuing on to the right. In front of you will be Zeiglers Sumac Mill site. And up the hill behind the sumac mill site is the historic Zeigler Log House.
Western Piedmont Trail swerves up and to the right a little here. It is nicely scenic here, as suggested by the next photo, and tall hardwood trees shade the road the next ¼ mile as Little Bennett Creek begins to come into view down below on your right.
After a sharp right turn, you will come to a 50 foot wide concrete bridge over Little Bennett Creek. This is a nice place to rest and enjoy the creek.
To your left, you will see a little dam, its spillway and an intake valve. This system is used to supply water for the golf course so that water to meet its grounds-keeping needs is not diverted from the wells of nearby homes.
Beyond the berm to your left is a large seasonal pond, one of several in the Park. Seasonal ponds host the egg masses of frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians that are critical links in the Park's overall ecosystem and indicator species of the overall health of the Little Bennett ecosystem.
Across the bridge and about 50 yards ahead, Dark Branch trail veers off to your right.
For the next ¼ mile the trail rises gradually as shown in the next photo. To your left are the Little Bennett Creek wetland and some large seasonal ponds. To your right, the hillside rises sharply upwards towards the Little Bennett Golf Course.
Eventually you will come to a piece of artwork that somewhat resembles a series of four blue, interlocking ladders. You have reached the grounds of the Hyattstown millers house and are re-approaching civilization.
A little way ahead, a metal gate guards a service road that heads uphill through a series of meadows before coming to the 18th fairway of the golf course.
About 50 yards after that, you will come to the Hyattstown Mill and the millers house. And a couple of hundred yards ahead, across the bridge in the photo below, is the Hyattstown playground parking lot where the trail ends at MD 355.