'Hand & Owl Tree Carving' – College Park, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

'Hand & Owl Tree Carving'

Riverdale Park

An unusual sculpture, an interesting history, in a strange place, for a good cause.  

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The city of College Park in Maryland is filled with intertwining running and biking trails—former railroad tracks, the Paint Branch trails, the Anacostia Tributary trails. The Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation works hard to maintain them all, and even decorates them with natural artworks through a program called “Art on the Trails.” This initiative takes found objects in nature and recycles or repurposes them for our aesthetic pleasure. 

One such artwork can be found just off the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia Tributary Trail. It’s the unusual, surrealist Hand & Owl Tree Carving, by Joe Stebbing, a locally based artist who carves large pieces of wood into intricate sculptures with a chainsaw. While artwork’s formal name and meaning aren’t clear, it was made from an old ash tree, felled by emerald ash borer disease, around 2018. 

The hand was originally meant to have five fingers, but after beginning the project, it was discovered one of the “fingers” (trunks) was rotting. So, the piece now has three fingers, an owl, and some sort of evergreen tree. It all adds to the surreal charm. 

Know Before You Go

To find Joe Stebbing's Hand & Owl Tree Carving, go to College Park's Herbert Wells Ice Rink or the Ellen Linson Swimming Pool, and cross the parking lot heading southeast with Campus Drive. At the far end of the parking lot, where the Anacostia Tributary Trail head is, you'll find it in a clearing by the Denis Wolf Rest Stop.  

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