August 2008: Fair Hill Recreation Area


Rock Bluff, Florida

Located just across the Delaware state line, this is a true Godzilla of canine hiking. Traversing its 5,613 acres are over 75 miles of multi-use trails. Fair Hill was formerly owned by sportsman William du Pont, Jr. and was one of the largest private land holdings on the East Coast. Fair Hill was developed as a horse farm and still operates in that capacity today while open to the public and operated by the state of Maryland. In recent times Fair Hill gained notice around the world as the home of ill-fated Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro. 

Trails through the fields are typically double-track (old dirt vehicle roads). Singletrack trails dominate in the forested areas. Many roll through golden hayfields as befits Fair Hill's stature as a leading equine training center. The stiffest climbs are in the vicinity of the Big Elk Creek but most of the trails are like walking a steeplechase course. The Big Elk Creek surges through the property and is spanned by many trail bridges, including one of Maryland's six remaining covered bridges. The Big Elk Creek Covered Bridge was built in 1860 at a cost of $1,165. When it was reconstructed in 1992 after sustaining extensive damage from heavy trucks, the tab was $152,000. Fair Hill is also a good place to walk past house ruins. The Big Elk Creek runs swift and shallow through the park - deep enough for trout to swim but not for dogs.

Flying concentric circles outward from Philadelphia, Hollywood location scouts for Oprah Winfrey's movie project, Beloved, spotted the Fair Hill terrain and selected it as the backdrop for the film's rural scenes. A ramshackle 19th-century tenant farm was constructed and much of the movie shot here. The producers decided to leave the movie set intact, to deteriorate naturally. You can wander among the fake buildings and even knock on the styrofoam stones. 

Fair Hill is just west of Newark, Delaware. Take Route 273 across the Maryland-Delaware State line until the first four-way intesection, Appleton Road, about 1.2 miles. There is parking down either side of Appleton Road. The Park Office is on Route 273, behind the grandstands for the Fair Hill Race Track.