In the first blush of spring, the urge to be outdoors can be as strong as the hardy daffodils coloring the landscape.
But suppose you're not ready to tackle your own lawn work or don't have a yard? Consider a volunteer opportunity that takes you outside -- and also lets you help some of our parks.
Whether you go alone or take the family, the spirit of giving can open up a new world. Learn about kick-seining (monitoring stream health), banding birds, signing trails and how to become a park guide.
After a day in the fresh air, you'll go home knowing you've left an imprint . . . and gotten rid of those indoor blahs.
Here are several places that need your help:
* Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, 5100 Deer Park Road, Baltimore County, is where you and your garbage bag can do some heavy trash patrolling every day of the week. Five trails on this 2,000-acre state park range from 1 to 3 miles in length. Ranger Fraser Bishop, the park manager, said they always need picking up. He also needs help signing the trails.
"A visitor will discover the areas where there were chrome mines and will see the barren serpentine rock formations and the one-of-a-kind plants. The last count here was 34 rare or endangered plant species," Mr. Bishop said.
In the new visitors center, volunteers are needed to work with the exhibits, do landscaping, planting, write brochures and more.
Hours at the center are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call Sue Ellen May, volunteer coordinator, at (410) 795-6521, or Mr. Bishop at (410) 922-3044 or 922-9651.
* Tomorrow you can give a hand at Camp Hidden Valley in the Jarrettsville area of Harford County. This camp of the Campfire Boys and Girls Chesapeake Council is just one spot where the members, boys and girls ages 3 to 18, are taught a myriad of courses that help them develop self-worth as well as learn social and other skills.
Camp maintenance supervisors Eileen and Fred Ryan said they would welcome help. "We need volunteers all of the time to rake leaves, organize and sign trails. And those with special skills can teach the children," said Mrs. Ryan. Call them at (410) 557-9576.
For other volunteer opportunities and information about the Campfire Chesapeake Council, call director Sabree K. Akinyele at (410) 462-4100.
* Save Our Streams is looking for volunteers to test the water quality of local streams from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today. If you can't do it today, make a date to help on another S.O.S. project.
Called kick-seining, a volunteer kicks and stirs up the water from the bottom of the stream while another seines with a net. The number of insect larvae netted is a good way, among other methods, to test stream health, said Carl Weber, an S.O.S volunteer.
"For fish, there must be larvae to feed on, and a healthy stream needs a balance of both," said Mr. Weber, who teaches biology and biochemistry at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The training sessions, which begin at 9:30 a.m. at different locations, end around 11:30. After training, volunteers will monitor streams.
So put on your boots and old clothes and choose one of the following spots:
Irvine Natural Science Center at St. Timothy's School off Greenspring Avenue to monitor the Jones Falls Western Run; the Oldfields School, Glencoe Road, to monitor the Upper Gunpowder Deer Creek; McDonogh School, McDonogh Road, for the Gwynns Falls, Patapsco; and Parkville Recreation Center, 8601 Harford Road, for the lower Gunpowder Back River/Bird River.
"Someone will remain at each training site today to tell latecomers where to go," said Abby Markowitz, the S.O.S. project director for Baltimore County. If it rains, the program will be held April 4 at Park School on Old Court Road.
Tree plantings are planned for April, said Ms. Markowitz. "We will plant at several sites during the month to honor Earth Day, April 22," she said. Call her at (410) 969-0084 or (800) 448-5826 for Save Our Stream projects and information.
* Just the name is intriguing: Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. On 500 acres of forest, marsh and swamp in southern Anne Arundel County, the sanctuary is a quiet place where visitors are welcome by appointment. Volunteer opportunities abound for ongoing research projects including water monitoring twice each month, bird surveys such as counting and banding, and studies of fish, sediment and plants.
Also, anyone interested may schedule a marsh ecology canoe trip and more. Call Kathryn Stafford at (410) 741-9330 to volunteer or to visit the sanctuary at 1361 Wrighton Road in Lothian.
* At the Irvine Natural Science Center, "we always welcome help," said director Dixon Gibbs. "Our naturalists -- Rob Martenay, Peter Martin and Keith Harrison -- offer many programs, and they will give you a job."
In addition to the Save Our Stream training sessions being held there today, a composting demonstration will take place at 10 a.m.