What started several months ago as a Columbia child's interest in preserving equatorial rain forests ended Saturday in the planting of about 350 seedlings along a stream bed behind an Ellicott City neighborhood.
Sixteen carloads of children from Stevens Forest Elementary School in Columbia braved raw temperatures and about a half-mile of wet, prickly terrain to get to the banks of the Little Patuxent River near Pebble Beach Drive and David W. Force Park.
In the distance, bulldozers were clearing land for a new development. "That's why we're here," Park Department naturalist Philip Norman told the second- through fifth-grade children as he pointed to the "mountain-moving equipment" in the distance.
Sara Berlin, 8, was one of three Columbia children responsible for the day. Sara, 9-year-old Emily Altschulter, and 8-year-old Cathy James had come up with theidea while working on a project in Darlene Fila's Gifted and Talented resources class for second- and third-graders.
It was part of their research into the value of trees and the effects
of reforestation and deforestation here and in the equatorial rain forests.
After conceiving the idea of a regional project, the three girls put on an assembly for the school and invited Norman to be the speaker.
The school was invited to help save the environment by planting trees on the Saturday between Arbor Day and Earth Day.
The area they were to plant would eventually become a demonstration area to show the county what a stream buffer is, Norman said. He said it would act as atrap for erosion, provide homes for wildlife and produce better water for Chesapeake Bay crabs.
As he talked, some of the younger children were already digging in the dirt in anticipation of what was still to come. To get to the stream bed, the children had to trek along a recently cleared path through thorny multiflora roses.
Although good for sparrows and cardinals, the roses are a management headache,Norman told the children, because they take over the terrain. The plan was to thin out the bramble-like bushes and in their place plant various kinds of dogwoods -- flowering, silky and red osier.
"You can always tell a dogwood
by its bark," Norman said, holding up a seedling. The children groaned and laughed.
The mention of Europeanalders brought an "oooh" from one of the adults. "Must be a hunter,"Norman said. The alders would provide cover for woodcocks and rough grouse, he said.
Other species included among the 350 seedlings were white pines ("good cover and plant food"), red oaks ("the fastest growing oaks") and "bankers dwarf willows," a species developed to stabilize streams.
The children chose the type of seedling they wanted to plant and split into teams of two or three, often digging with an adult. Soon, children were warning other children to be alert. "Careful, there's a tree planted there," became a common expression.
At about 2:30 p.m. -- the group had started planting three hours earlier -- Sara pronounced everything "just fine," saying the tree planting had been "a great activity."
About half of the children who took part were from other classes, Fila said.
Norman said that, considering the weather, the turnout was "beautiful." Fila pronounced it a"great exercise."