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The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Locust Grove Nature Center – History


Prior to European colonization in the 1600s, indigenous people lived in and traveled throughout Maryland for thousands of years. Some of the tribal nations in the region included the Piscataway-Conoy and Nacotchtank, but many more have been recorded in the Maryland State Archives.

18th and 19th Century

Much of Cabin John Regional Park was owned by Samuel Wade Magruder and used as farmland in the 1700s and 1800s. Enslaved people worked on these lands.

The Josiah Henson Museum and Park can educate you further about the history of slavery in Maryland as well as the archeological work being done on the property. The museum is located just 10 minutes from Locust Grove Nature Center in North Bethesda. Plan your visit Josiah Henson Museum.

20th Century

Locust Grove Nature Center used to be a toboggan run warming room!

800 feet of fun! That’s what an article from the Montgomery County Sentinel wrote about the newly opened toboggan run in November, 1972.

Construction on the run began in March 1972. In November two chutes, a warming room, and a storage room for 70 sleds opened to eager riders. On the sidelines apprehensive young children looked at the snake-like dips and squinted their eyes. The run was 800 feet from to bottom, and when the green light went on and you were on one of the sleds, you might as well have been sticking your head out of a car window at 60 miles per hour.

Wooden fence posts and wet leaves lined two chutes built over refrigeration pipes and concrete bases on one acre of land. The $200,000 project, operated for the Park and Planning Commission by Winter Funland, Inc.,and was one of the first artificial runs in the country.

Two toboggans stuck font-end first into the air at the top of the hill. They would wait side by side as someone sprayed a fine mist of water over the already slippery runs below.

As soon as the green light flashed on – way down there at the finish line – the ticket taker above would  know the runs are clear, and he would hit the automatic scoop that dumped the toboggans into the chutes.

The  sleds would tip out with a “bang” as the scoop did its work, and shouts were the next sounds as young and old passengers raced down the track – many seated so they faced backwards.

There was an initial drop, then a leveling off for 50 yards or so, then, to pick up more speed just as riders thought things were slowing down, there was another dip, all leading into a bumpy finish with a slight turn in the run.

The sessions at Winter Funland were $1.50 for those under 16 and $3 for adults during the week for as many rides as you like. On weekends the prices were $2 for children and $4 for adults. There were also single rides at 40 and 75 cents, depending on age, and no children under five-years-old were permitted to ride.

The prices included a padded toboggan, seating two to four people, for one session of riding – no matter how many rides and long walks back up the 800 feet of steps visitors cared to make. Monday through Friday there was one session lasting from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Saturday there were two sessions: One from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The Toboggan Run closed down December 8, 1977 after just a few years of operation. Were you one of the lucky ones to have taken a ride here?