The Farmers Almanac says this year’s winter will be a cold one, whether that means snow or not in Annapolis is unknown but, for sure there will be the white stuff in the western part of our State.

Garrett County, three hours from Baltimore and 2,000 to 3,000 feet higher than us here on the Atlantic coastal plain, averages 120 inches of snow annually.

A decade ago, in 2009-10, 262.5 inches of snow fell in Oakland, the county seat, which Dan Rodricks described in the Baltimore Sun as being “higher than the flag court in right field at Camden Yards.” Twenty-two feet … wow.

In 1872, Garrett County, named for John W. Garrett, the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad who opened up the area to tourists and national dignitaries, was the last county formed in Maryland. Through it runs the Eastern Continental Divide along the Alleghenies’ Backbone Mountain at 3,662 feet which sends water to the Mississippi watershed on its west side and to the Chesapeake watershed on its east side.

Garrett, as the state’s third-least populated county, ends Maryland’s panhandle a rocky, mountainous, forested area with wildlife and tumbling streams. In some places, it is primitive and unchanged since its founding. An area of our state pinched for several miles distance to only 2 miles wide at Hancock, Western Maryland begins with the Catoctin Mountains in Frederick County and includes four state forests, 13 state parks and plenty of scenic vistas as one moves 100 miles toward West Virginia.

Garrett County hosts the Wisp Resort, on one of the five snowiest mountains in the mid-Atlantic. (The others are at a higher elevation in West Virginia.) Wisp offers downhill and cross-country skiing and a cozy hotel. If cold enough, and in its distant past the temperature did sink to -36 degrees, ice fishing could occur on Deep Creek Lake. Numerous vacation cabins with big stone fireplaces are perfect for a Christmas get away.

In fact, Garrett starts celebrating the Christmas season on Nov. 26-27 with a Festival of Trees at the Fairgrounds in McHenry.
Now in its 7th year, the festival showcases designer-decorated trees and wreaths and plenty of vendors with handcrafted gifts. There could be snow on the ground. Sometimes snow hits Garrett in October, but The Festival of Trees kicks off the Holiday season.

Decorated Christmas trees are an ancient Christian tradition dating back to 16th Century Germany when people brought decorated trees into their homes. Some credit the importance of the evergreen tree as early as the 4th century when green boughs were used during the winter season to exalt the value of life. The Evergreen tree for Christians was a sign of the everlasting life of God and a symbol of Christ.

There are 20 sites on the National Register of Historic Places in Garrett. One of them is the Casselman Bridge near Penn Alps at Grantsville, home of a historic inn managed by the Amish.

Penn Alps hosts an Artisan Village in homes of early settlers moved to and restored on the site. Before a storm in 2020 wreaked havoc, Christmas in the Village was a magical event. It will return but check with Penn Alps to see if Christmas in the Village is open this year.

If not there is still plenty to do at Penn Alps. The National Park Service strings luminaries across the Casselman Bridge. Other craft shops and cafes put on their holiday finest with music by the Casselman Valley Travelers and good food. There are holiday lights everywhere.

Back at Deep Creek Lake near Oakland, revelers celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas with tree lighting and carolers. Bundled up, they enjoy s’mores at Wisp’s fire pit and marvel as a torchlight parade slides down the ski slopes of Wisp on New Year’s Eve, closing the Christmas holidays.

For a jolly snowman, snowball battles and snow sports Christmas season, go west. A county equipped with heavy snow blowers, the roads are open even with 4 feet of snow on the ground. Garrett may get its news and winter weather pattern from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the north, but this is Maryland, America in miniature, from the ocean to the mountain tops.

Ellen Moyer is a former mayor of Annapolis. She welcomes comments and idea sharing and can be contacted at [email protected].

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.