The Prickly Pear Trail at the Fresh Pond State Park is one of Brandi’s favorite places to run. She loves the surface – a combination of packed dirt, grass, pine needles, and crushed gravel. She loves the distance – about 3.5 miles. But the biggest reason she loves it is the “Brandi-time” she gets about two miles into the trail.
Fresh Pond State Park is located less than a mile north of Bethany Beach. It is a mystery why is it called “Fresh Pond State Park.” The “ponds” are brackish. They connect to the Salt Pond to the south and Beach Cove (part of Indian River Bay) to the north. Also, the “ponds” look more like canals – long and unnaturally straight. If I had to guess I’d say they were dug either for fill for Route 1 or for an elaborate, ineffective, mosquito control system. Regardless, it is a little nature oasis tucked into a sea of development.
The Prickly Pear Trail (click here for a trail map) is a loop in two parts (think of a very unequal bow tie). In between the big and small loop you have to pass the parking lot. So I always start with the small loop (which is about .5 miles) so I won’t have to pass my car to do it after running the big loop (it’s waaaay too easy to stop at that point).
Walking out of the parking lot, the trail is an immediate right, following the fence line for the first 100 feet before it goes into the woods becoming shady and cool. Once you loop around and pass the parking area to start on the bigger part of the bow tie, the trail is crushed gravel, wide, and straight, but still shady. After about a mile the trail splits. To the right over the canal is the northernmost Rt. 1 access trail. The Prickly Pear trail continues to the left. Now it becomes single-track, sandy, and curvy – fun!
After about .5 miles further Brandi starts to pull hard. “Brandi-time” is coming up! The trail curves around and then opens to the bay. She runs straight into the water and sits down, her tail floating on the surface like a weird species of kelp. Once she’s caught her breath and cooled off sufficiently, she slowly walks out of the water, sniffs a clump of moss-covered mussels, shakes, and then we’re off again. From the bay, it is about 1.5 miles back to the parking lot on a curving, single-track trail. It is the perfect distance because she is almost dry (although very dirty!) by the time we get back to the car.
Fresh Pond State Park has several access points:
- From Rt. 1 there is a trailhead with parking off the gravel road just north of Fred Hudson Road (the gravel road is actually an access road to a power station).
- A trailhead off of Rt. 1 just south of the Ocean Ridge West development with no parking.
- A trailhead off of Fred Hudson Road with no parking.
- A parking area at the end of Hickman Road off of Cedar Neck Road (which is where I always start).
Fresh Pond has a parking fee of $5 for in-state vehicles and $10 for out-of-state.
The trail is pretty well marked once you get on it. Two cut-off trails give opportunities to shorten the route. There are also a handful of side trails leading to numbered deer stands. But these options are all signed.
In the fall know your hunting seasons. The park is closed to everyone but hunters during some types of firearms seasons. But hunting is not allowed on Sundays (yet).
Do a thorough tick check once you leave.
This is more of a plea than a helpful tidbit: If you run or walk with your dog, please, please, please use a leash. And don’t just carry the leash with you. Actually put it on your dog!! I know your dog is the most well-behaved dog in the world and will always come when you call. But both Brandi and I have been bitten by the “most well-behaved dogs in the world” and dogs that, “Oh my gosh, he’s never done that before, ever!” Not all dogs like other dogs. (Brandi is terrified of dogs – probably because she has been bitten.) I’m terrified of dogs off leash because I’ve been bitten. Please be considerate and keep your dog on a leash!!