Currently viewing the tag: "Cunningham Falls"

by James Rada, Jr.

It’s hard to believe that Edmund, a common snapping turtle at the Cunningham Falls Aviary, was the size of a quarter when he first came to Cunningham Falls.

“He was found in a sand trap on a golf course in Frederick County,” said Park Superintendent Mark Spurrier.

He believes that the little turtle’s mother must have come from a nearby water hazard and laid her eggs in the trap. Snapping turtles typically lay 20-30 eggs, but Edmond was the only one left in the sand trap. He was brought to the park and left there about 20 years ago.

Rangers and naturalists named him after Maryland’s first park ranger, Edmund Prince. They cared for him, and he grew… and grew… and grew… and grew some more. Today, he weighs in at 85 pounds and has a shell that is nearly two feet long. He is one of the largest common snapping turtles known. He is still growing, too. He hasn’t even reached middle age.

Edmund now has an outdoor warm-weather enclosure that’s the size of a baby swimming pool. He swims under the water, poking his head up to watch the attention he draws from visitors to the Manor Area Visitor’s Center. When he wants to warm up, he has a platform he can lumber onto and sun himself.

“A lot of people like him, and a lot of people watch him, especially at feeding time,” Spurrier said.

When the outdoor enclosure is cleaned, Edmund is carried out to the grass. This can be quite the workout for the ranger who has to lift the snapping turtle by his shell, while keeping their hands out of reach of Edmund’s mouth to carry the gargantuan turtle to the grass. Edmund is used to it. He waits patiently until he is set down, and then he lumbers across the grass.

When the weather turns cold, Edmund is moved into the aviary, where he can spend the winter in warmth.

Common snapping turtles are known to be combative when out of the water. They will snap with their powerful jaws if something comes too close, and they have long necks that reach further than you would probably expect. However, Edmund is laid back and used to being around people. This is not to say he won’t snap, but he is not as aggressive as he probably would be in the wild.

However, Edmund can no longer survive in the wild. His size keeps him from moving as quickly as a wild snapping turtle does, so he would have trouble catching food. He also has no fear of humans and has no territory. For now, he is healthy and well fed and, hopefully, happy.

If you want to see Edmund, you can visit the aviary, daily, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. When Edmund is in his outdoor enclosure, which is usually from around Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can visit him when Cunningham Falls State Park is open, from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.

At 85 pounds, Edmund is one of the largest known common snapping turtles in the United States. His shell is about 22 inches long.

Cunningham Falls State Park Superintendent Mark Spurrier carries Edmund, the snapping turtle, out of the aviary for a little exercise in the grass.

Pictured from left are: (front row) Mel Poole, Mary Miller, Amy Whitney, Sally Fulmer; (back row) Stuart Frazier, James Baker, Rick Canter, and Chris Trone. Not shown: Roberto Juarez, Dave Vogel, Matthew Lindbergdashwork, Michele Maze.

The Friends of Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks held a “Reconnect With Friends” event at the Gambrill Park Tea Room on Sunday, October 3, 2021. The event was open to members, partners, and sponsors of the Friends.  

The mission of the Friends is to support and enhance the programs and recreational offerings of Maryland’s Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks through charitable contributions and in-kind donations. To become a member or sponsor, visit

This photo was taken of the Friends Board on the balcony of the Tea Room. The Tea Room, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, is a stone structure with a capacity of 55 people and a 60-mile vista.  It is often used for weddings. The Tea Room can be reserved in season at

James Rada, Jr.

With just about every summer event in the area canceled because of COVID-19 and worries about traveling out of state because of quarantining, people are looking for something to do nearby. And let’s face it, they need to do something enjoyable to release some of the stress caused by the virus. So, here are 10 things you can do locally to have some fun this summer.

Dine Outdoors at a Local Restaurant or Get Take-Out and Have a Picnic

Although the local restaurants are open for limited seating indoors, why not try their outdoor dining options? Many restaurants don’t offer outdoor dining typically. So, take advantage of the opportunity now. Who knows how long it will last?

As a variation, you could pick up a take-out order at your favorite restaurant and take it for a picnic in the park or another favorite location. Why not try a late meal under the stars?

Pick Up a Book at the Library with Curbside Pickup

The Frederick County Public Libraries were closed for months. They still remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future. However, you can still pick up a new book or movie for an escape from reality.

Both the Thurmont Regional Library and Emmitsburg Branch are offering curbside pickup of library materials.

To take advantage of this offering, use the library’s website ( or call your local branch to place the items you want on hold. The library will contact you when your items are available. You can then make an appointment to pick up the items (quickest way) or just drop by. Look for the curbside pickup sign in the library parking lot and call the number on the sign. Provide the staff with the information they ask for and follow their directions to ensure a contactless delivery that supports social distancing.

It’s as simple as that.

Swim at Cunningham Falls or the Emmitsburg Pool

Want to cool off when the temperature climbs past 90 degrees? You can swim in the Hunting Creek Lake at Cunningham State Park in Thurmont. COVID-19 has caused staffing shortages at the park, so lifeguards aren’t always on duty. You can swim when no lifeguard is present, but it is at your own risk.               

Another swimming option is the Emmitsburg Community Pool, which is open from noon to 7:00 p.m. daily. However, COVID restrictions now limit the pool occupancy to 111 people. Because of this, the town has been limiting admission to residents of the 21727 zip code. If you live outside of this zip code, call 301-447-9820 before heading to the pool to check if the residency restriction is still in place.

If you do use the Emmitsburg pool, you will need to wear a face mask inside the bathhouse or when speaking with staff members. You are also expected to maintain social distancing, even when you are in the pool.

Pick Your Own Berries at a Local Farm

Enjoy the sweet taste of fresh-picked fruit at a pick-your-own farm. Make an afternoon outing and pick some of your favorite fruits—discover how much tastier fresh fruit is.

Catoctin Mountain Orchard at 15036 North Franklinville Road in Thurmont offers blackberries, black raspberries, blueberries, sweet and sour cherries, and strawberries. Call 301-271-2737 or visit

Gardenhour Orchards at 22511 Gardenhour Road in Smithsburg offers apples, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and peaches. Call 301-824-7466 or visit

Glade Link Farms at 12270 Woodsboro Pike in New Midway offers strawberries, blueberries, red raspberries, vegetables, and flowers. Call 301-898-7131 or visit

Pryor’s Orchard at 13841-B Pryor Road in Thurmont offers blueberries and sweet and sour cherries. Call 301-271-2693 or visit

Round House Farm at 23435 Ringgold Pike in Smithsburg offers blueberries. Call 240-818-2590.

Play Disk Golf at the Emmitsburg Community Park

Have a Frisbee? Try your hand at disc golf. Emmitsburg has a new 18-basket disc golf course in the E. Eugene Myer Community Park. The game is played like golf except you throw Frisbees instead of hitting a ball, and you try to get the Frisbee in a basket rather than a hole. True enthusiasts even have a set of Frisbees of different weights that are designed to fly at different ranges instead of golf clubs.

Enjoy Fresh Produce and Other Products at the Farmer’s Market

Both Thurmont and Emmitsburg are running farmer’s markets to bring you the best in local produce, meats, eggs, and other items.

The Emmitsburg Farmer’s Market is on Fridays from 3:00-6:30 p.m. at 302 South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg.

The Thurmont Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday from 9:00 a.m.-noon in the Thurmont Municipal Parking Lot in front of the Thurmont American Legion.

You are asked to wear a face mask and practice social distancing at both markets.

Hike or Bike the Local Trails

Both Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park have dozens of miles of trails that you can enjoy. The trails vary in length and difficulty level, so you can be sure to find something that matches your ability. Just make sure to wear sturdy footwear and take along water to keep yourself hydrated.

Emmitsburg also has its 13-mile multi-user trail near Rainbow Lake. The trail has three loops that are suitable for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking.

For something more casual, try the Thurmont Trolley Trail or the walking trails around both the Thurmont and Emmitsburg community parks. These trails are level and less than a mile long.

Enjoy the Rocky Ridge Slide

If you have a need for speed, slide down the giant wooden slide in the Rocky Ridge park at 13544 Motters Station Road in Rocky Ridge. The wood is polished smooth from the thousands of people who have used it, and it doesn’t get hot on summer days like a metal slide. Best of all, unlike many sliding boards nowadays, you actually slide. And if you really want to go fast, try the slide sitting on one of the burlap bags you’ll find there.

Visit the Catoctin Zoo

Take a walk through the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, and enjoy seeing and learning more about a variety of exotic animals. Because of the virus restrictions, the camel rides, parakeet feedings, and educational shows are not available. However, you can still walk through the 50-acre park and enjoy both the animals and scenery.

Face masks are required in the building, but not outside unless you are on the safari ride. You should also socially distance yourself from others not in your party. The number of people allowed in the main building is limited, so on busy days, you might have to wait to enter.

Kayak on the Monocacy River

The Monocacy River offers nearly 42 miles of river, along which you can kayak and canoe, although the water might be low in late summer. You can paddle or float with the current, which runs about 2 mph. You might even come across a few mild rapids. It will make for a fun afternoon outing.

There are two local access points at the bridge in Rocky Ridge and the Creagerstown Park. In all, there are nine access points where you can enter or exit the river.

You can download a free map of the river and the access points at

James Rada, Jr.

This year marks 50 years of celebrating the area’s maple-syrup-making heritage at the Cunningham Falls Maple Syrup Festival.

“A lot of families produced maple syrup on their farms and homesteads, and we wanted to preserve that heritage and teach people about something not well known about this area,” said Ranger Travis Watts at Cunningham Falls State Park.

This year’s festival will be held on March 14, 15, 21, and 22 at the Houck Lake Area of the Park. Open from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., you can purchase breakfast and maple syrup products. Also offered for the first time this year, you can buy Maple Festival souvenirs. Children can enjoy games, and a maple-syrup-making demonstration will be held every hour. Local bands will provide live music.

“We will also have some new things this year, such as an antique tractor display, and we will be demonstrating new tapping equipment,” Watts said.

About 3,000 to 5,000 people are expected to attend over the four days.

Admission is a $3 donation in lieu of the park entry fee. All of the money collected goes to the Friends of Cunningham Falls State Park and Gambrill State Park, a non-profit group that supports the park.

Maryland Park Service rangers and volunteers demonstrate the traditional way to make maple syrup.

1.   It takes a tree about 40 years before it is large enough to tap.

2.   Quebec produces two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup.

3.   Many producers uses sap pumps rather than taps and buckets to gather sap.

4.   Thieves stole $18 million worth of maple syrup from Quebec in 2012.

5.   Quebec maintains a huge syrup reserve that can be distributed to members during lean years.

6.   You can’t tell the difference between maple sap and water by looking at it.

7.   A tablespoon of maple syrup has 52 calories.

8.   IHOP has only one restaurant among its 1,400 that serves real maple syrup.

9.   It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.

10. Maple trees yield 5 to 15 gallons of sap per season so it takes around three trees to produce a gallon of syrup.

The namesake of our local ‘Cunningham’ Falls has been a mystery for years. Before the reference to the falls as ‘Cunningham’ Falls, around the 1920s, the falls were known as McAfee Falls, Harman Falls, the Cascades, and Hunting Creek Falls.

Recently, a potential answer to the ‘Cunningham’ mystery has been uncovered via the release of a transcript of interviews conducted in 1969 by representatives from the National Park Service with some of the McAfee descendants who were alive during the name transition. These transcripts have been made available by Robert McAfee of Foxville, a descendant of the interviewees.

The interviewees named Mr. and Mrs. Charles McAfee explained that there were several McAfee ‘home places’ around the falls. They acknowledge having births ‘at the falls’ and getting married there. Charles said, “I lived there four years. In 1907, 8 and 9 and10. Then I went up to Foxville.”

Charles explained that he worked in construction ‘under’ Goldsborough and Williams who were constructing youth camps. He said, “They’re the ones – Williams is the one – that named it Cunningham Falls…Williams named it that. Never nobody known like that around here.” When asked why Williams called it Cunningham Falls, Charles said, “I don’t know. No real reason for it. He just picked that and called it that.”

Charles went on to say, “…afterwards [Dr.] Bowman and a bunch of us got together to get rid of that Cunningham business…So, that’s when we tried to get it named McAfee Falls.” Conversation continued about names of the falls, referencing Hunting Creek, the Cascades, and, “when we went to school, it was called the Falls.” They estimated Charles’ reference to attending school to be around 1901.

According to Rose McAfee in a separate interview, it was, “…after they sold the timber long before the government purchased the land, the name was changed to Cunningham Falls. People from away called it Cunningham Falls all of a sudden and people around here called it McAfee Falls.”

To date, these interviews point to the most plausible explanation for the naming of ‘Cunningham’ since the timeline and printed references align.

A May 23, 2018, Frederick News-Post’s “Yesterday” post from “50 Years Ago” referenced that, “A mistake of more than 30 years standing (as of May 23, 1968) was righted recently when Maryland’s Commission on Forests and Parks renamed the falls in Cunningham Falls State Park. The official name is now McAfee Falls, honoring an old Frederick County family which settled in the area in 1790. As a logical follow-up the Forests and Parks Commission is now considering renaming the park Hunting Creek State Park.”

When looking back at the corrective actions taken to remedy this ‘mistake,’ not much was done. At one point, signage was posted “McAfee Falls” at the Falls hiking trail inside Cunningham Falls State Park. Otherwise, correcting the ‘mistake’ referenced in Frederick News Post’s “Yesterday” post has been forgotten.

With this newest discovery of information, we’ll call the ‘Cunningham’ mystery solved. It’s been an interesting path to the ‘facts,’ and we thank all who gave insight.

Regardless of its name, thousands of visitors enjoy the falls every year, which is the State of Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall, standing at 78 feet.

The reason for the name “Cunningham” being chosen as the name of the Catoctin Area’s local waterfalls, located west of Thurmont on Route 77, has become slightly clearer recently when following a reference from a May 2018 issue of The Frederick News-Post to an article from 1968.

Historically, the falls had been called Herman’s Falls (or Harmon’s Falls) and McAfee Falls after various land owners, and even Hunting Creek Falls after the stream that supplies water through the Falls.

Many locals still refer to the waterfalls as McAfee Falls, honoring the family who owned the falls at the time the federal government took ownership of the land in 1935 as part of Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which sought to use the land for recreational use and provide much-needed jobs in response to the Great Depression.

The McAfees were early settlers from Bute, Scotland, in the mid-1770s. The name had been changed to Cunningham Falls after the transition of ownership of the land from the federal government to the State of Maryland. There is no clarity as to how the name Cunningham stuck since there have been obvious efforts and intent on record to keep the name McAfee Falls.

A May 23, 2018, Frederick News-Post’s “Yesterday” post from “50 Years Ago” references that, “A mistake of more than 30 years standing (as of May 23, 1968) was righted recently when Maryland’s Commission on Forests and Parks renamed the falls in Cunningham Falls State Park. The official name is now McAfee Falls, honoring an old Frederick County family which settled in the area in 1790. As a logical follow-up the Forests and Parks Commission is now considering renaming the park Hunting Creek State Park.”

There are several theories about how the name Cunningham came to be the modern name of the Falls, but none are backed by a substantial amount of fact. Today, on the internet, it is stated that the falls “was apparently named after a photographer from Pen Mar Park who frequently photographed the falls.” Research shows that there is no evidence of a photographer of Pen Mar Park or Cunningham Falls by the name of Cunningham.

In a previous edition of The Catoctin Banner, a grandson of the Falls’ owner at the time of federal acquisition, Reuben McAfee, Rob McAfee of Foxville informed us that a local woman believed there was a Cunningham family who lived near the falls.

Most recently, the Frederick News-Post’s “50 Years Ago” reference led us to that May 23, 1968, article in the News-Post titled, “Cunningham Park Falls Renamed ‘McAfee Falls.’” In this article, written by Jim Gilford, the name Cunningham is referenced to, “honor a Department of Interior employee.”

Researchers still have yet to uncover the truth behind the mystery, but regardless, thousands of visitors enjoy the falls every year, which is the state of Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall, standing at 78 feet.

Deb Abraham Spalding

In the October issue of The Catoctin Banner, the cover article was called “The History and Mystery of McAfee Falls.” In it, we explored the McAfee family, who were the landowners of the falls, now called Cunningham Falls and part of Cunningham Falls State Park. We invited people to help solve the mystery about why the falls were named Cunningham Falls at some point in the early 1900s. Despite hundreds of hours of research, the reason Cunningham was selected as the name of the recreation area and falls remains a mystery. After printing the article, some tidbits came to light that may further help to eventually uncover the mystery about the naming of the falls to Cunningham Falls after being called McAfee Falls or Hunting Creek Falls in various news articles.

After our article published, one of the McAfee family’s patriarchs, Rob McAfee of Foxville, was told by a lady that she believes there was a family of Cunninghams that lived near the falls on the way to Foxville. Also, a family in Thurmont invited me to take a photo of an 1822 watercolor painting of the falls by Samuel Reinke (see photo). The artist painted himself and his wife, holding a parasol over him, in the lower center of the picture. From The History of Graceham, compiled by Rev. A.L. Oerter in 1913 from the Graceham Moravian Church diary, “Friday, October 25, 1822 Bros. and Sr. Samuel Reinke arrived from Lancaster to participate in the dedication of the new church on Sunday, October 27, 1822.” 1822 is the date of the painting.

The inscriptions or marks on the bottom of the painting say Herman’s Falls Near Graceham Maryland, signed lower right: S. Reinke pxt. 1822.

Note: This past July, the McAfees held a family reunion and staged some family photographs that were similar to those taken by their ancestors at the falls. In last month’s cover photo, Becky Hurley was misnamed as Pauline McAfee. Our apologies, Becky

by Deb Abraham Spalding

The McAfee family (pronounced Mack-a-Fee), originally from the Island of Bute, Scotland, planted roots in Frederick County, Maryland, around 1774 from Franklin County, Pennsylvania, staking a homestead on land that is now known as Cunningham Falls. Daniel McAfee was the original settler of this land, and transferred the ownership to his son, David McAfee, in 1799. According to Professor John Means in the 1995 printing of his book, Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Parks, “‘Cunningham Falls’ and 350 acres surrounding it were purchased on September 16, 1807, by Archibald McAfee, Sr. The McAfee family lived near the top of the falls, and the original foundation of the homestead still stands. The family owned the land until it was acquired by the Federal government in 1935.”

The purchase of the land by the Federal government was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” where workers with the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps transformed the area for recreational use. This area was, according to Thurmont’s late Official Historian, George W. Wireman III, “…one of 33 nation-wide federal demonstrations of submarginal land for public recreation.”

Wireman wrote in his book, Gateway to the Mountains, “On September 15, 1888, Archibald McAfee’s widow had sale and the property including the Falls was purchased by her grandson Reuben McAfee, who maintained ownership until the property was acquired by the Federal Government in 1935, as part of the Catoctin Recreation Demonstration Area. Later the State of Maryland acquired an additional 250 acres of land from the McAfees. This made a total of 750 acres which the McAfees surrendered for park use. At one time they owned over 1,000 acres of mountain land.”

On July 15, 2017, today’s McAfee descendants held a reunion that ended with a photo session on the Falls that loosely replicated photos of their ancestors circa 1890.

Some may wonder why McAfee Falls is now called Cunningham Falls. After extensive research by many historians and genealogists, including hundreds of hours of research by the late Dr. Bowman of Garfield, Maryland, the reason for the name Cunningham remains a mystery. If you have insight, please e-mail to share.

Robert McAfee of Foxville recently mentioned, “My grandmother, Rose Ann, always called the Falls Hunting Creek Falls.” In his book, Professor Means printed, “The Falls were never owned by anyone named Cunningham and were known as McAfee Falls until the 1940s or the early 1950s.”

In our research, the earliest reference to the Falls as “Cunningham Falls” appears in a May 20, 1920, Catoctin Clarion article, where there is a reference to a group having lunch at “Cunningham Falls, several miles west of town.” Just one year prior, on May 8, 1919, the Falls were referred to as “McAfee Falls” in the same publication. This is contradictory to Professor John Means’ research.

Of course, there is plenty of speculation about the justification in re-naming the Falls. The most sited is that “Cunningham” was a local photographer; though, this is not confirmed nor dated. Other theories include the possibility that Cunningham was a little-known politician at the time the government took ownership. If the Catoctin Clarion was correct in 1920, this theory is not plausible.

In his book Gateway to the Mountains, Thurmont’s official historian, the late George W. Wireman, wrote, “Many people have been under the impression that Cunningham Falls was named after an early owner, but this is not true. Dr. Harry D. Bowman, a friend of the author, has spent many hours of research on this subject, and it is now an established fact that at no time was the falls owned by Cunningham. Records to support this claim may be found in the land records of Frederick County. The first purchase of the land, which included the falls, consisted of 350 acres and was deeded to Archibald McAfee, Sr. on September 16, 1807. A map in the Frederick Library, dated 1858, clearly shows that the McAfees lived at the top of the falls and the property was owned by John McAfee at this time. The McAfees referred to the falls as Hunting Creek Falls but all others called it McAfee Falls, after the owners.”

Regardless of the name, the seventy-eight-foot waterfall, located four miles west of Thurmont on Route #77, is a destination for thousands of visitors that want to see the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland.

Reuben McAfee, grandson of Archibald McAfee, stands at the top of “McAfee Falls”. The original foundation of the McAfee homestead still stands, not far from this site.

Robert McAfee (front), grandson of Reuben McAfee, stands at the top of “McAfee Falls” on July 15, 2017. Pictured left to right are Jeff, Ashley, Justin, Bob and Robin Portner, Becky Hurley, and Barbara and Jerry Grove

McAfee family patriarchs James and Robert are shown as youngsters in this photo. Their Dad Robert Hunter McAfee is in the white hat.
Young Robert is sitting on his grandfather Reuben’s lap.
James is in the background in white.  Their Aunt Sadie Delauter is also shown.

James’ and Robert’s father, Robert Hunter McAfee (born 3-11-1911; died 3-10-1968), is pictured.

The McAfee families are still well known present day. You will notice many of them involved in agricultural pursuits while farming and showing farm animals.  The McAfee families were well known in American pioneer history.

The McAfee Reunion Photo from July 15, 2017

Picture from left:(back row) Bob Portner, Hailey Stinefelt (being held by Michael Stinefelt), Michael Hurley, Jeff McAfee, Justin McAfee, Elias Robert Grove (on Justin’s lap), Jeremy Grove, Matt Bowman, Elijah Bowman (in front of Matt), Joshua Grove, Jerry Grove; (third row) Robin Portner, Megan Stinefelt, Sadie Hurley, Karen McAfee, Trista Grove (holding Wyatt Grove), Tim Bowman, Heather Dula, Dan McAfee (holding Emilia McAfee); (second row) Aaron Shilling, Amy Shilling, Brenda Shilling, Grace McAfee, Ruby McAfee, Ashley McAfee, Barbara Grove, Robin McAfee, Tim McAfee, Paula Bowman, J.D. Bowman, Dana Bowman, Colleen McAfee, Becky Hurley (holding Zoe McAfee, pink dress); (seated) Dot McAfee (holding Evelyn Stinefelt and Hannah Hurley), Robert McAfee (holding Kayla Hurley), James McAfee, and Pauline McAfee (holding Elizabeth McAfee)