View of Symphony Woods looking west

View through Symphony Woods looking west to Merriweather Post Pavilion, showing the more forested portion of the area. Click for high-resolution version.

Last Saturday morning I took a walk through Symphony Woods. Besides having a nice walk I gained a new appreciation for the Inner Arbor plan, as well as a better understanding of both the apparent goals and the shortcomings of other plans that have been proposed for the woods.

Leaving aside stops to take pictures and some doubling back, the walk took me about 20 to 30 minutes, starting at the east side of Symphony Woods near the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System, going across the northeast portion of the woods near the intersection of South Entrance Road with Little Patuxent Parkway, through the northern portion of the woods bordering Little Patuxent Parkway, over to Merriweather Post Pavilion and back, and then returning. This was the first time I had walked through the woods when I wasn’t attending some event, and I had a chance to reflect on the nature of the area.

View of Symphony woods showing mixed landscape

View through Symphony Woods looking southwest to Merriweather Post Pavilion, showing mixed forest and lawn landscapes. Click for high-resolution version.

My first thought was that Symphony Woods is really two woods in one. As noted above, I entered the woods near the library. It’s not a particularly convenient way to enter the woods (among other things it requires jumping across a small stream) but it has the advantage of being quite scenic—more like a forest than the parts of the woods most visitors see. The topography is relatively rough, with a small stream valley, and the ground more like what you expect in a forest, including leaves and downed limbs and even (in one case) an entire fallen tree. However at the same time it’s obvious that Symphony Woods is not an isolated woodland: You can easily look up and see office buildings across Little Patuxent Parkway, and there’s a low but consistent hum of traffic.

View of Symphony Woods lawn area, looking south to Merriweather Post Pavilion

Symphony Woods looking south from near Little Patuxent Parkway to Merriweather Post Pavilion, showing the grassy lawn in this area. Click for high-resolution version.

As I moved across the park the landscape became less forest-like and more lawn-like. In the northern portion of the woods, between Little Patuxent Parkway and Merriweather Post Pavilion, the woods loses its forest character entirely and resembles nothing so much as a big suburban lawn with a number of trees on it. The area is relatively flat and devoid of pretty much anything other than tree trunks and grass; it looks a bit beaten down, which I guess is to be expected given the number of people who walk across it.

I stopped at the northwest corner of Symphony Woods, at the entrance drive to Merriweather Post Pavilion. Although there is more wooded land to the west bordering Little Patuxent Parkway and extending to the corner of Broken Land Parkway, it is not part of Symphony Woods itself, i.e., the Columbia Association property. Instead it is Howard Hughes property that is proposed to be developed as general office space as part of the Crescent project. Crescent Area 4 begins just west of the Merriweather entrance drive; Area 1 is beyond that, bordering Broken Land Parkway.

Crescent Area 4 as viewed from Symphony Woods

Crescent Area 4 as viewed from the northwest corner of Symphony Woods, looking across the Merriweather Post Pavilion entrance drive toward Little Patuxent Parkway. Click for high-resolution version.

I then doubled back toward Merriweather Post Pavilion, walking all the way up to the fence that marks the boundary line between Symphony Woods proper and the Merriweather Post Pavilion property (currently owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation). What I found interesting about this portion of the walk is that the portion of Symphony Woods immediately bordering the fence doesn’t actually feel like Symphony Woods itself, but rather like an extension of the Merriweather Post Pavilion property. The fence is quite off-putting, and I felt somewhat nervous as I approached it, as if armed guards were about to come out and shoo me away. (A posted sign stating “This area under video surveillance” didn’t help my mood.)

Merriweather Post Pavilion fence as viewed from Symphony Woods

The Merriweather Post Pavilion fence and outbuildings, as viewed from Symphony Woods looking south. Click for high-resolution version.

However no one made an appearance, and not just at the Merriweather fence. The park was utterly empty throughout my entire walk, with not a soul to be seen. Symphony Woods in a sense has a split personality: occasionally overrun with people attending events, and completely devoid of visitors during the rest of the year. This seems a great shame given the natural beauty of the woods, especially in the forested area of the park. How could Symphony Woods be an area that everyone can (and does) enjoy on an ongoing basis? I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Chris Tsien ( - 2014-04-16 13:26

Now you are the second person (after me) who has wandered through the mid-week Symphony Woods. I walk through a couple times a month (my office is in the Symphony Woods office building) and am completely alone unless my officemate is with me. Sorry, but SW is not a “forest”; not enough diversity for that moniker. It is, at best, some trees punctuated by scrub, i.e., a glorified suburban, McMansion lawn.

hecker - 2014-04-16 22:39

Chris, thanks for reading the blog and stopping by to comment! I agree with your point about lack of diversity in the woods; I’m actually curious now and will have to go look through the Inner Arbor DAP presentation again to check on proposed forest revitalization efforts.