Cypress Branch State Park is a public recreation area located on Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County, Maryland. The state park has scenic views of the Potomac River and offers trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. It is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The park was developed during World War II as part of an effort to create jobs for veterans through the federal government’s New Deal agencies. Workers with the WPA and CCC created park facilities that were used until their disbandment in 1943.
In 1970, the National Park Service designated the site as a national historic landmark because of its significance. The state took charge of the property in 1976 when it purchased the land from Mrs. William H. Putch, who had inherited the estate after her husband died in 1969. The park officially opened under the name Fort Frederick State Park in 1981; however, locals continued to refer to it by its original name, Cypress Branch State Park, so it was renamed in 2020.
The park’s main feature is its forested valley which provides a setting for the Longwood Range of the University of Virginia. The park also features several waterfalls, including Lower Falls (the highest at 65 feet), Mill Falls, Upper Falls, Cascade Falls, and Devil’s Waterfall. Trails are provided for hikers, cyclists, horses, and skiers. There is a picnic area overlooking the river and three covered shelters. A boat launch allows access to the Potomac River.
The park is open year-round but unstaffed. Camping is allowed in specified areas and there is a cabin available to rent. Facilities include pit toilets and no drinking water. No swimming or fishing is permitted off the dock. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by WestRock, Inc., and rated “accessible” by the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. No special accommodations are made for visitors with physical challenges. The park receives about 230,000 visitors annually.
In May 1942, more than 1,000 buildings were planned for construction in the Catoctin Mountain region, primarily residences for war workers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the project through his executive order # 8888 dated June 23, 1941. The Army Corps of Engineers set up the Designated Area Commission (DAC) headed by Major General George Moulton to plan the complex. The commission included architects, landscape architects, engineers, historians, archaeologists, and builders. Construction began in September 1944 with crews working around the clock.
Over 300 buildings were constructed in the next 18 months, many housing multiple families. At least one building was not completed until 1950. Most of these buildings have been demolished, although some remain standing as ruins. One of the few structures still standing is Building 1052, two stories tall with basement, built in 1947. This building became home to the park manager’s office until 1980, when it was abandoned except for occasional maintenance. Purchasing the property in 2000, the state decided to preserve this building as a historic structure and convert it into a museum and visitor center.