Annapolis is a beautiful city. As the state's capital, the waterfront town of about 40,000 people attracts almost 4 million visitors a year.
They come in October to see catamarans, multihulls and yachts fill Annapolis Harbor during the annual sailboat and powerboat shows. In August, the town is flooded with people interested in learning about African culture during the Kunta Kinte Festival. Summer visitors stroll along the city's narrow alleys and brick sidewalks and tour historic homes.
(Craig Herndon For The Washington Post)
It's too bad that most of those visitors won't see the outlying sections of Anne Arundel County -- some of the not-so-well known places that I, as a lifelong west county resident, have grown to love.
Tourists could get a well-rounded perspective of the county's diversity by traveling the 15-mile Baltimore-Annapolis Trail, which starts in Annapolis, at the Naval Academy Bridge. About a mile from Annapolis, they would find the town of Arnold, a middle-class community with shopping centers, coffee shops and a few horse pastures, just walking distance from the trail. Tourists would also pass the Hatton-Regester Green, a formal garden and bandstand -- the home of a county summer concert series.
If they peeked through the trees while passing through the working-class neighborhood of Glen Burnie, they would see plenty of 1950s-era homes. The trail would then take them over the Marley Station Mall and by the newly revamped Harundale Shopping Center. A few miles later, the trail connects to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport's new walking trail: a 12.5-mile hike around the airport's perimeter.
Beyond the narrow confines of the trail is a west county that looks nothing like it did when I moved to the county in 1978, when my parents' Severn neighborhood was one of the newest in the area and our house was the last on my block. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to leave Anne Arundel County to travel around the world, which I did in 1994, not returning until 2000.
With the advent of places such as Piney Orchard, a multimillion-dollar planned community nestled between Crofton to the south and Route 170 to the east, much of what is now considered the heart of west county was built within the past few years.
The Piney Orchard community has brought an upper-middle-class feel to the town of Odenton, a working-class neighborhood east of Fort Meade once dominated by small homes. The neighborhood still caters to a large military population, but now it consists of $500,000 houses, upscale condominiums, an ice rink, a new elementary school, two shopping centers, pricey apartment complexes and nature trails.
Crofton and Gambrills also are fueling the county's growth.
In Crofton, housing developments have cropped up near Walden Golf Club on Riedel Road. Gambrills' Village at Waugh Chapel shopping center, built about two years ago, has revived the working-class community. It houses Robert Andrew -- The Salon and Spa, which, at 22,000 square feet, is touted as one of the largest on the East Coast. The shopping center also has restaurants, a coffee shop and a senior high-rise community.
Hanover, between Route 176 to the south and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the north, also is developing fast. Arundel Mills, the large shopping mall built in 2000, has brought with it several new housing developments, including townhouses on Arundel Mills Boulevard and single-family homes in the upper-middle-class development of Hawks Ridge on Ridge Road. The mall has about 1.3 million square feet of shopping and entertainment space, including a movie theater, restaurants, stores and a Medieval Times restaurant and reenactment theater.
The county's public parks have long served as educational resources for elementary school children. Millersville's Arlington Echo, Severna Park's Kinder Farm Park and Jug Bay Wetlands in Lothian host programs that teach children and adults about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay. Kinder Farm Park also hosts summer drive-in movies.
Towns such as Edgewater, Churchton, Shady Side, Davidsonville, Laurel and Brooklyn Park, on the southern and northern ends of the county, continue to develop historic, economic and cultural treasures.
Edgewater's Historic London Town and Gardens, in South County, is open to school groups and the public for tours. The historic property centers on the William Brown House, an 18th-century Georgian-style home. The house overlooks the South River and has been restored to its original decor.