VOLUNTEER Florence A. Rogers has worked for and cared about the conservation of Soldiers Delight for more than 35 years, and she was greatly responsible for the state's acquisition of the land and its existence now as a state park.
Soldiers Delight is an unspoiled wilderness of more than 2,000 acres in Baltimore County off Deer Park Road between the Liberty Reservoir on the west, Liberty Road to the south and Reisterstown Road on the northeast.
''In the 1950s when I was a member of the state's Citizens Planning and Housing Committee, I was put on the committee to save Soldiers Delight. It became of major importance to me,'' says Rogers, who is now president of Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc.
Rogers was also involved in initiating the state's building a multi-purpose educational center to be completed this spring or early summer at this natural environment area. It will have an auditorium, two classrooms, offices for park personnel and eventually an exhibit room for the many unusual specimens of plants and rocks from the park.
Soldiers Delight is a unique area, called a serpentine barren, of rock formations. Plants, grass and trees grow right out of the rocks, and chrome, gold, silver and other minerals have been found there. A chrome ore mine was operated there in the early 1800s. Mule teams would haul the ore to Elkridge Landing on the Patapsco River, where it was shipped to foreign countries. The mine closed when chrome was discovered in Europe, but it was reopened for a time during World War I when it was needed to make steel.
Listed in colonial records of Maryland, the area was a hunting ground for American Indians who would build a circle of fire on the land, leaving only one exit. When the animals rushed to that exit, they were killed.
It became known as Soldiers Delight during the Civil War, when skirmishes were fought there.
After the Civil War, the estates, on land grants that had been given to several families by King George III, no longer existed. A few houses remain in the park.
Today, some 32 rare and endangered plants grow at Soldiers Delight, including one that grows in only eight places in the world.
Fraser Bishop, the park ranger, won't give the plant's name. ''It is to prevent visitors to the park from picking it and possibly eliminating it,'' he says.
The park can be reached and walked through from many directions. The walking trails begin at the main gate and overlook, 5400 block of Deer Park Road. Wards Chapel, Dolfield and Deer Park roads all run through Soldiers Delight, and visitors may stop at any of several locations along these roads to look or to begin a walk.
''Anyone may come and walk on the trails and discover the area,'' says Bishop.
Research is being done by people from universities, colleges and groups interested in the park's offerings. Bishop says he would like groups to check in with him at the ranger station, which is close to the overlook. ''No special reason except to possibly help guide them and to know just what their interest is,'' he says.
Bishop warns, ''This place is not for everyone. There is no entertainment here, and there are those who will look at a pine tree growing right out of the rocks and not think much of it. But, the more a person knows about the plants, minerals and rock formations here, the more they will discover something new each day,'' he says.
Bishop, 40, says he is a ''staff of one. The park ranger, manager and a commissioned police officer with the Department of Natural Resources with the authority of a state trooper. And I do all of the park maintenance including buildings and trails as well as some administrative work, public relations and training volunteers.
''Volunteers are needed. I would particularly welcome a volunteer coordinator plus someone who knows public relations
could do research and trace the history of this place. When the new center is finished there will be an even greater need for volunteers,'' says Bishop, who can be reached at 922-3044 or at Patapsco State Park, 461-5005, where he also works.
Rogers and Bishop maintain a constant sense of excitement about the park. The plants are exceptional. The rocks and minerals make the area toxic to many strong plants that grow in abundance elsewhere in the area. The rarer plants that might otherwise be crowded out by stronger plants are survivors on the serpentine barren.
Only three species of trees, blackjack oak, post oak and Virginia pine, grow there, and animal and bird life includes deer, deer mice, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, rabbits and some sweet-sounding whip-poor-wills.
Rogers is a retired teacher, graduate of Wilson Teachers College in Washington, D.C., and a resident of Baltimore County for 60 years. She has been a volunteer since she can remember. ''For 48 years I have been on the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and was a leader in the conservative movement of Judaism for the seminary. I was the first woman president of the American Jewish Congress Baltimore Council and am a life member of Hadassah plus the women's division chairman of Israel Bond in Maryland,'' she says.
The Soldiers Delight committee offers free walks for the public twice a year. The committee consists of Rogers, president; Dr. Mary Ellen Saterlie and Mary A. Vincett, vice presidents; Frederick M. Goethe, treasurer, and Jean G. Worthley, secretary.
For any information and to volunteer to Soldiers Delight, call Fraser Bishop at 922-3044 or 461-5005 or contact Florence A. Rogers, 486-3417.