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Places We Protect

Oxbow Nature Preserve

Maryland

A beaver swims in a lake created by beaver activity. Its head, back and flat tail are visible at the surface of the rippling water. Thick leaves from aquatic plants float behind it.
Oxbow Beaver The Little Patuxent Oxbow, an impoundment of the Little Patuxent River, was created over hundreds of years by beaver activity. © Matt Kane / TNC

This important area contains approximately 70 acres of wetland in the floodplain of the Little Patuxent River.

Overview

Description

The Maryland/DC Chapter helped the State of Maryland acquire this important area which contains approximately 70 acres of wetland in the floodplain of the Little Patuxent River. At 250 acres total, Oxbow is half in county or state land ownership, while other portions are owned by the local community association.

The key feature of this preserve is the Little Patuxent Oxbow, an impoundment of the Little Patuxent River that was created over hundreds of years by beaver activity. Another important element is Laurel Oxbow Lake, which is the largest naturally occurring body of freshwater in Maryland; other lakes are the result of damming creeks.

For more information contact the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation at (410) 222-7300.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Preserve managed by the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hours

Open daily from dawn to dusk.

Size

250 acres

Explore our work in Maryland

Scenes from Oxbow

In addition to beavers, Oxbow is a birders delight, with more than 150 species identified here.

View looking down on a beaver as it swims through the water. Its head and back are visible just above the surface of the water. The water gently ripples from its body as it swims.
A narrow ribbon of water curves through tall grasses at the edge of a slowly draining impoundment lake. Trees thickly line the foremer shoreline in the background.
A large bird perches on the branches of a fallen tree that stick up out of the water of a large lake. The bird has a narrow head and bill and dark green feathers with a rust colored breast.
Tall trees obscure the view of a large impoundment lake in the background. Many of the trees are dead or dying due to beaver activity.
A small brown and white shorebird forages at the edge of a lake. The bird has brown wings dotted with white feathers. The water laps against the muddy shore.
Five small yellow goslings float in a line behind an adult Canada goose. The adult bird has a thin curving black neck and white throat. Green vegetation grows in the mud flats in the background.
Two small brown and white shorebirds forage at the edge of a lake. The bird in the background is just taking off from the ground with its wings fully open and extended.
The foreground is dominated by the tangle of sticks, branches and logs creating a beaver lodge. A beaver floats at the surface of the lake next to the lodge.
Delicate white blossoms with long pink centers bloom at the end of thin branches of a rhododendron bush.
View of the receding water in what was formerly an impoundment lake created by a beaver dam. Small patches of water are visible between large swathes of aquatic vegetation left sitting in the mud.
View through the trees of the remnants of a large lake.
Little Oxbow Lake The beaver dam that created the lake has been destroyed over the past year by flooding; Without the dam to hold the water in the lake, there will be no lake to speak of. © Matt Kane / TNC

Where's the Water?

In April 2021, visitors began noticing that the water level was significantly reduced in the lake. Why is there so little water in Oxbow Lake?

The answer is that the beaver dam that created the lake has been destroyed over the past year by water from the Little Patuxent River flooding through the channel into the lake. When the river water reaches 6.5 feet at the gage at Savage, MD, the water starts flowing through and over the beaver dam. As the water gets higher in the channel, it s...

In April 2021, visitors began noticing that the water level was significantly reduced in the lake. Why is there so little water in Oxbow Lake?

The answer is that the beaver dam that created the lake has been destroyed over the past year by water from the Little Patuxent River flooding through the channel into the lake. When the river water reaches 6.5 feet at the gage at Savage, MD, the water starts flowing through and over the beaver dam. As the water gets higher in the channel, it starts flowing over the ground. Following rain events, as the water recedes, it rushes back over the dam carrying away sticks and branches.

Because there are no trees growing on the peninsula (the land which the water channel runs through to and from the lake), the beavers have no nearby source of materials to rebuild the dam. They have to find those materials along the shoreline of the lake or channel and transport them to the dam. Currently, the peninsula is surrounded by mudflats with only a small stream with little water in it reaching the dam. This makes it difficult for the beavers to move materials to the dam to rebuild it. Without the beaver dam to hold the water in the lake, there will be no lake, so to speak. Just scattered areas fed by underground streams and precipitation with a few inches of water. 

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Visit

  • What to See

    Plants: Naturalists have found more than 100 native vascular plant species at Oxbow Nature Preserve, including rare species such as the Water-shield (Brasenia schreberi) and dodder (Cuscuta polygonorum). The preserve is also home to the popular wildflowers blue-flag iris and cardinal flower.

    Amphibians: Visitors to Oxbow might hear the high piping whistle of the northern spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). This type of frog can be found in brushy second growth near ponds or wetlands. More than half of this site is covered with shallow water even during the dry summer months, resulting in a specific type of aquatic ecosystem.

    Birds: Oxbow is a birders delight, with more than 150 species identified here, including the bald eagle, little blue heron, egrets, ducks and greese along with coopers and red-shouldered hawks.

  • Peak Times

    The evergreen mountain laurel blooms the last two weeks in May, while blueberry bushes yield their ripe fruits in the summer. 

    Pitch pines and Virginia pines can also be found at Oxbow. One noticable feature of this preserve is the prevalence of snags, or dead trees, that provide habitat for a variety of species. Most of these trees have been girdled by beavers, struck by lightning, or killed by disease.

  • Download an Audio Tour

    Planning a visit to Oxbow Preserve? Before your trip, download our self-guided audio tour to your handheld device. It's like having a naturalist in your pocket!

    • Step 1: Download the Oxbow Preserve audio tour map. This map will help identify which audio tracks to play based on your location on the trail, so make sure to take a copy with you on your trip.


    • Step 2: Download and save the mp3 audio files to your handheld device. Play the corresponding track when you reach a waypoint along the trail. Listen to them all or pick & choose based on your interests!

    Tour Stops / Audio Files (mp3)

    1. Main Entrance
    2. Parking Advice
    3. Starting Trail
    4. TNC Sign
    5. American Chestnut
    6. Lake View
    7. Southeast Corner of the Lake
    8. Flooding and Hydrology
    9. Trail Advice
    10. Wildlife
    11. Notch Log and Plants
    12. Beaver Activities
    13. Southeast Observation Point
    14. Snags and Birds
    15. Beaver Lodges
    16. Western Side View of Lake
    17. Sliding Area
    18. Fishing Hole
    19. South Corner of the Lake
    20. Choices of the Trails
    21. Woodland Species
    22. New Entrance
    23. Intersection of the Trail
    24. The Platform
    25. Northeast Corner of the Lake
  • Preserve Guidelines

    Every visitor has an impact. Please follow these guidelines to protect yourself and nature.

    • Preserves are open to the public during daylight hours.
    • Passive recreation such as walking, bird watching and photography is welcomed.
    THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITIES ARE NOT ALLOWED:
    • Camping, fires or cookouts
    • Driving motorized vehicles, including ATV’s, except on designated access roads
    • Biking
    • Fishing, trapping or hunting, except as otherwise posted
    • Horseback riding
    • Feeding wildlife
    • Releasing animals or introducing plants
    • Disposing of trash or other waste, including biodegradable materials
    TO MINIMIZE YOUR IMPACT, WE ASK THAT YOU PLEASE ALSO OBSERVE THE FOLLOWING:
    • Use trails.
    • Avoid walking in wet, boggy areas.
    • Inspect pant legs and shoes to remove seeds before entering and when leaving the preserve. Failure to do so could introduce unwanted weeds to new locations.
    • If you flush a ground-nesting bird, stop and avoid walking near the nest area.
    • Observe all posted signs.
    • Please do not remove stakes, signs, flagging, tape or other objects; they might be part of a research project.
    • Please do not trespass on private property adjacent to the preserve.

    For your own comfort and enjoyment, come prepared. Wear comfortable shoes for hiking, pack some rain gear and wear long pants with socks over them to protect yourself from ticks and poison ivy.

    Bring along insect repellent and sunscreen for protection. Always remember to carry a water bottle for thirst quenching. And, of course, bring your binoculars, camera, field guide and a compass.

  • Additional Resources

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