Woods Are Speaking And, Fortunately, Some Are Listening

THE OBSERVER

December 01, 1991|By Mark Guidera

In 1938, John Muir, the father of the conservation movement, wrote this: "The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."

If you doubt the truth in that or think it overstatement, then take a drive along Forge Hill Road where it weaves through Palmer State Park and crosses the Deer Creek.

Select a day when the light is good or maybe snow falls lightly. As you drive into the arboreal world, keep a window down. When you hear the rush of water, stop and step out. The woods will begin to speak. You will hear the crash and bend of the creek in its ancient unyielding movement to a meeting with the Susquehanna and witness sunlightdancing in gold blooms on tree bark. Hawks, wings spread like capes,swoop the tree lines and big bucks crash out of the woods to the water's edge.

You will hear many sounds, but no clamor of people nor machine.

As you cast a last look to leave, you will certainly feelrenewed, maybe changed in a way perhaps only still woods and moving water can know.

We are, of course, lucky to have protected areas of such unaffected wildness as Palmer, but there are many pristine areas of the county still largely unaffected by man's intrusion.

Someof these areas are at risk of vanishing when the next development wave rolls into the county. It's anybody's guess when that will occur, but surely it will come.

But there is a new wave rolling through the county: a conservation movement.

Long overdue, it's starting out slow and small, but the time is ripe with the recession slowing development. Hopefully, the interest will be sincere among old and new residents to widen the movement so the wild forests and watersheds andopen agricultural lands in Harford don't all have to fall to the ax and the bulldozer.

The interesting element of the movement is thatit is quintessentially populist -- grass roots, if you will. Thereinlies its promise, for it means everyday people taking the long-term future of woods and wildlife and wilderness near their own homes intotheir own hands.

An example of this preservation movement is the recent successful effort of a group of citizens who took up the gauntlet to get state officials interested in buying and protecting a wildsweep of rocky woodlands northwest of Pylesville, known as Falling Branch.

Another heartening sign of this new conservation movement is the Harford Land Trust, a private land conservation organization just started by a small band of Harford residents, many with deep family ties to the county and agriculture.

The goal of the organizationis twofold: first to find and protect from development properties inthe county that provide diverse wildlife with unique and important habitats. So far, the trust has two sites in mind, one along the Deer Creek, the other a forest in Perryman.

Its second goal is to persuade everyday residents to join the trust's effort. The effect would be that members would take an active involvement in learning about land development trends in the county and help target areas trust shouldpurchase and hold for protection.

The most compelling lesson learned in this experience could be that we must take a long-term view --50 or 100 years -- when thinking about what future development wouldmean to wildlife and wilderness. For it is vanishing: Harford could lose 16,556 acres of forested land and 16,388 acres of farmland to development by 2020, according to estimates from the state Office of Planning. Of Harford's 280,816 acres, 105,673 acres were forested landsin 1985. By 1990 that number had dropped to about 101,290. That's nearly 900 acres of forest cleared each year during the past five years.

The Harford Land Trust and other grass-roots movements will provide an opening for local citizens to become caretakers of the environment.

And, if you are ambivalent about whether you are needed as acaretaker, take that drive up to Palmer State Park and, as you look into the silent trees, think about the words of John Muir.

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