County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has asked the Parks and Recreation Department to look into a proposal to limit grass mowing along streams and brooks on public land.
Rehrmann's request came last week after two conservationists called on the county to change its policy for mowing grass on public parkland as a way to protect water quality in streams that feed Chesapeake Bay.
The conservationists, Helen Richick and Carol Kehring, got a little help in their efforts to protect streams from about 40 Magnolia Elementary School students who tended trees and other plants along a stream as part of a project to improve water quality.
To 8-year-old Erin Boegner, the proposal to stop mowing grass on the banks of streams makes sense.
"People shouldn't mow because they might run over the trees," the third-grader said. "If they mow down the trees, we won't have enough oxygen to breathe."
Erin and her classmates went to Robert Copenhaver Park in Joppatowne Monday to check on nearly 500 seedlings and 12 young shade trees that they helped plant along the Foster Branch stream in April.
The youths were among 485 county students who participated in one of Harford's largest tree-planting projects.
While at the park, Erin and her schoolmates learned that not mowing may make sense environmentally.
A policy to limit grass mowing in the park, called The Natural Bufferstrip Stream Protection Project, is in force in Copenhaver Park, said Sue Collins, a spokeswoman for the county executive. It is that policy that Rehrmann wants Parks and Recreation to look into expanding countywide, she said.
Wayne Merkel, a forest ranger for the state Department of Natural Resources, explained that tall grass and wildflowers along the banks improve water quality by preventing pollutants from reaching streams.
In addition, the vegetation prevents sediment from running off into streams and other water bodies during storms, Merkel said. Sediment can choke a stream and kill aquatic life.
Richick and Kehring, members of the Harford Forest Conservancy Board and organizers of the tree-planting project, lobbied Rehrmann to change the county's policy on mowing.
In most cases, grass is mowed up to the edge of streams that run through county parks, said William Nicodemus, the county's chief of parks and facilities. County employees and contractors regularly mow about 400 acres of parkland.
"We try to keep a neat appearance," Nicodemus said.
Overgrown grasses along stream banks may appear to be a "weed area" to people who prefer neatly trimmed lawns at county parks, Richick and Kehring say.
But they suggested that the county could educate residents about the new policy, by placing signs along streams explaining that the tall grass is part of a natural buffer to protect water quality.
The trees were planted at Copenhaver Park to stabilize the stream banks as part of the Foster Branch Watershed Improvement Project, a year-round citizen effort to protect an 800-acre area between Abingdon and Joppatowne.
The seedlings were about the size of a twig when they were planted along the banks of the Foster Branch, which flows into the Gunpowder River and then the bay. Many of the young trees now stand about 4 feet high, nearly the same height as some of the students who helped plant the seedlings.
On Monday, the students provided trees throughout the 24-acre park with cups of water.
For some, it was the first time they had visited the site since the trees were planted.
Other students said they have come to the park since the tree-planting, bringing along parents and taking pictures of their accomplishments.
"I bet these trees will just grow and grow," said Shelley Reed, a Magnolia Elementary fifth-grader.