Located on River Road in Montgomery County, Maryland, the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area is a 2,000-acre tract in a mixture of woodlands, fields, wooded bottomland and managed wetland impoundments (green-tree reservoirs). The property shares a common boundary with the National Park Service Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the south and borders Seneca Creek State Park on the east.
Purpose of the Sunflower Fields
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife and Heritage Service plants sunflowers each spring on the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. The primary purpose for planting sunflowers on wildlife management areas is to provide a food source for mourning doves, as well as other wildlife species.
In addition to mourning doves, sunflowers and sunflower seeds are a favorite food source for a host of other songbirds, mammals and pollinators. Sunflowers require pollination by insects, usually bees, to produce a seed crop. In turn, honey bees and many species of native bees, benefit from the abundant nectar and pollen that sunflowers produce.
The many benefits of sunflowers are lost when they are cut or trampled by people. These sunflowers are planted for the benefit of wildlife and regulations prohibit the cutting, destruction or removal of any plants from these areas. The public is welcome to visit, admire and photograph the sunflowers in bloom. However, visitors must be responsible and ensure that their actions don’t have negative consequences.
How and When the Sunflower Fields are Planted
The techniques used to plant the sunflowers, and the sunflower variety planted, may change from year to year, as well as the number of acres planted and their locations. Sunflowers are planted in late April or early May. Weather, seed variety, weed competition, soil condition and herbivore damage will all impact the time that it takes for the plants to bloom. With favorable conditions, the sunflowers will bloom in mid-July.
After the sunflowers are done blooming and seeds are mature, in early to mid-August, strips are mowed through the sunflowers to scatter the seeds on the ground where they are more accessible to mourning doves and other wildlife.
Area Regulations to Protect the Sunflower Fields
- Destruction or removal of any plants (including sunflowers) is strictly prohibited.
- Parking is only allowed in designated parking areas.
- Do not block gates. Violators may be towed and ticketed.
- Driving is only allowed on main roads (River Road, Hunting Quarter Road, and Sycamore Landing Road). Only authorized or emergency vehicles allowed behind gates.
- Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed.
- Wildlife Management Areas are trash-free. No trash cans are provided. Please take all trash with you.
Directions to the Sunflower Fields
The McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area may be accessed any time of day with no overnight camping allowed. There is no fee or permit required to access the property.
From the Capital Beltway, take Exit 39 (River Road) west toward Potomac. Proceed for approximately 11 miles to the intersection of River Road and MD 112, Seneca Road. Turn left and continue on River Road for about 2 1/2 miles. McKee-Beshers will be on your left as you head west on River Road.
GPS Coordinates of the Sunflower Fields
- Field 1 (River Road) – N39.080050, W-77.374460
- Field 2 (Hunting Quarter Road) – N39.079172, W-77.388253
- Field 3 (Sycamore Landing Road) – N39.084146, W-77.413121
Tips for a Successful Visit to the Sunflower Fields
- There are no bathroom facilities, no benches and no picnic tables. Please plan accordingly.
- The sunflower fields are home to ticks, mosquitoes and poison ivy. Long pants and shoes are recommended.
Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources site for more information and updates on the sunflowers’ progress. Also, while you’re in the area, make sure to visit the C&O Canal, hike Sugarloaf Mountain or kayak down the Potomac River with Calleva.