Thirty years ago, the notion of creating marsh where there was none would have been dismissed in the scientific world. This year, a marsh-creation project earned Anne Arundel Community College's Environmental Center a national award.
A council of 28 environmental organizations included the project in an annual index of environmental projects compiled by Renew America, a Washington-based clearinghouse of information on the environment.
In a news release, Renew America's executive director Tina Hobson said the project -- which has salvaged more than a half-mile of eroding beach along the Severn River -- "sets a positive example that can help other communities meet similar environmental challenges."
The college's Environmental Center is one of 62 programs from 33 states recognized this year for special merit awards by Renew America, which has been giving the awards for three years.
Renew America -- an organization that started in the 1970s and has existed under several different names -- plans to list the project in its "Environmental Success Index," a directory of about 1,600 environmental successful programs.
Stephen Ailstock, biology professor and director of the Environmental Center, said the project was recognized both for its environmental improvements and the way they were achieved. The project was a joint effort of the college, industry, the U.S. Navy and the Providence Center, where disabled people work and learn job skills.
It started in 1985, when the Nevamar Corp. asked the college's ecology club to perform a study of a stream near its plant in Odenton. Mr. Ailstock happened to sit in on that meeting and learned that the lamination plant was discharging heated water into a pond, where it was cooled before flowing into a small stream. He figured the pond could provide a suitable marsh plant nursery.
As it turned out, Nevamar was applying about the same time for a federal permit to discharge heated water into a stream. The work required to get the permit was similar to the work needed to create a plant nursery. The corporation met the permit requirements and created the nursery.
The young plants started in the nursery were harvested and cultivated in a greenhouse at the Providence Center in Arnold. Mature plants were then taken from the Providence Center to several sites in the county to curb beach erosion and to create wildlife habitat.
On Seabee beach, a Navy property just south of the old Severn River Bridge in Annapolis, the plants helped to stem erosion along 1,800 feet of shoreline. "The Navy was losing real estate fast" before the projected was completed last year, said Mr. Ailstock.
The work cost the Navy $43,000, with labor provided by students, volunteers and workers at the Providence Center. A contractor had estimated it would cost $320,000 to install an erosion-curbing bulkhead.
Marsh plants created by the nursery and the Providence Center were also used to control erosion along 1,000 feet of shoreline of the Severn on property owned by a community college instructor.
Mr. Ailstock, who is completing a doctoral dissertation on underwater plants, said that in the last 20 years the notion of building wetlands to benefit the environment has been advocated more actively by scientists. Not so long ago, scientists were more interested in promulgating ways of controlling marsh plants to make way for boating, swimming and development.