Each day this week, about 30 Broadneck High School students will rise from their tents on Wye Island in Queen Anne's County and begin lengthy bicycle treks along roads of alternately gravel, dirt or grass.
But the students are not training for any cross country cycling events. They are cycling for the environment, participating in a week-long summer environmental project to fight erosion along Wye Island.
"This is really a student-run project," Broadneck Environmental Science teacher Patricia Niedhardt said. "The students helped to write the grant for this project. They planned the activities for the week. They decided what materials were needed. They really pulled this together."
Niedhardt and her students received one of 22 grants awarded by the National Science Teachers Association and Toyota from 600 applicants. The $10,000 grant will allow students to spend a week on the island.
The students must spend a total of 66 1/2 hours working on their project. A minimum of 50 hours will be spent working and studying on the island this week.
"A lot of people here are interested in preserving the bay," 16-year-old Molly Hall said. "A lot of us just want to do something that we could look back on and say, 'We helped to save that.' "
The students, including seven recent Broadneck graduates, begin each day planting marsh grasses along the shores of the Wye River.
"Each high tide undercuts the soil, causing erosion," Niedhardt explains. "The marsh grass will help to stop some of the erosion as well as filter out toxic materials that come off the land."
The students will plant marsh grasses on 1,800 feet of shoreline. In two days, they already had planted marsh grasses over 600 feet of shore.
From about 8 a.m. until around 10:30 a.m., the students spend much of their time digging holes along the shore for the grasses. Then they hop on their bikes and ride about a mile to another site, where they spend time building boxes for ducks and bats, which are losing their natural habitats becauses of environmental changes.
The duck boxes will be placed at the Massey-Millington Wildlife Refuge in Kent County on Friday. The bat boxes may be placed on display at Broadneck High School when school begins in the fall.
When lunchtime nears, the students bike back to their camp site. They have divided themselves into groups who rotate making and serving meals of sandwiches, chips and fruit to their fellow classmates.
During the afternoon and evening, the young men and women sample everything from canoeing to swimming, hayrides and learning about Native American artifacts found on the Eastern Shore. Monday, students were entertained by songwriter/folklorist Tom Wisner.
While the daily bike rides tire many of the students, all agree the work they are doing is more than worth any exhaustion they feel later in the day.
"We're already trying to get another grant for next year," Molly said. "This [grant] would be worth $25,000, and we could give money to other schools to start up their own projects."
The students agree that the more people they get involved in working to preserve the environment, the better.
"I think we take a lot from the environment," said 17-year-old Adam Halberstadt. "I think we take a lot from the Earth without even thinking about it. Working out here is the least I could do."
Added Andy Bauer, also 17, "I think if everyone did this, we'd be a lot better off."