800 volunteers paint, plant, clean, rejoice

October 25, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Bob Chance stood before a couple dozen high school students at the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Edgewood yesterday and prepared them for the next few hours with a pep talk. They were the core of volunteers who would be cleaning up several acres of the marshland around Otter Point Creek as part of Community Service Day in Harford County.

"You kids are here because you're involved, and that's good," Mr. Chance told them, insisting that concern for the environment even at a young age can make a difference. "Twenty years ago, a bunch of ninth-graders started a recycling center at Edgewood High School. Today it is the largest one in the country."

He was referring to Susquehannock Environmental Center, an environmental education center near Bel Air that started as a recycling center in 1972. Mr. Chance is its founder and president. He is also site manager of the research reserve and a teacher at Harford Glen, an environmental education center in Abingdon.

After extolling the virtues of nature and explaining the delicate ecological balance in the wetlands, Mr. Chance led his group of budding conservationists into the woods to discover just what surprises might be left behind by the combination of man, nature and the elements.

Organizers of Harford's fourth annual Community Service Day say 800 people throughout the county signed up for dozens of projects yesterday, ranging from neighborhood cleanups to a countywide blood drive. Most participants took part in one of four major events in the Edgewood area, chosen as the focus for this year's efforts. Of those projects, the Otter Point Creek cleanup proved the most popular, drawing more than 100 volunteers.

Mr. Chance's group trekked a quarter mile into an area known as the Melvin G. Bosely Wildlife Conservancy before fanning out in search of debris. They found plenty: aluminum cans, plastic bottles, food wrappers, flower pots, the remains of a barbecue grill, a rusty oil drum, rotten wood, even an old refrigerator half-buried in the mud.

And tires -- dozens of them that collected in low-lying areas during heavy storms.

"Let's get the tires out," Mr. Chance yelled to the group. "They're our main enemy."

Aaron Seltzer and Anne Leonard, juniors at Fallston High School, began rolling a tire out to a path. Other members of their Student Activities Club found a pile of about 10 and began tossing them across the stream to one another in assembly-line fashion.

Besides Fallston High, the volunteers represented Edgewood, Joppatowne, Bel Air and North Harford high schools. Many of the participants had learned to appreciate the beauty of the wildlife preserve in science education classes. Sloshing through mud to clear the same area of debris gave them a different perspective.

"This will be good preparation for field trips," said Thomas Markowski, who filmed the cleanup for an environmental unit in his classroom. The seventh-grade life science teacher at Edgewood Middle School said canoeing and hiking trips in the Otter Point area have become a regular part of the curriculum for students studying the ecological interactions in the wetlands area.

"In fact, a few of my former students are here today," Mr. Markowski said.

Eric Nitsch was one of them. The senior at Edgewood High, who says he hopes to study environmental science in college, came prepared for hard work with his friend, sophomore Chris Reiber. Both regularly fish in Otter Point Creek along the very shores they were cleaning up.

"I use this place all the time," said Eric. "I figure that coming out here today is a way to pay back nature." Besides fishing, he says, he has taken canoe trips on Otter Point and has conducted experiments in the water on school outings.

Chris said he, too, wanted to do his share to keep the streams flowing. As a fisherman, he says, he has noticed a reduction in the fish population and more silt in the streams from the increasing development in Harford County.

"The streams are getting really stagnant; ponds that were once deep are now down to a foot. We should be doing this [cleaning up] more often," he said.

Not all Harford's community activists were working on preserving the wetlands. Others hung out at the Edgewood Library and the Edgewood Multipurpose Youth Center, where area residents, along with county government volunteers, spent the day painting and landscaping.

Eric Briggs, an Edgewood High School freshman, was in charge of replacing ceiling tiles at the youth center while a trio of sophomores painted the girls' restroom.

"I'm here so much of the time; I just want to make it look better," said Eric, who spends an average of two or three hours each weekday at the center playing basketball and pool and watching television.

"This is the first time I've painted anything," said Becky Mueller. "We're probably making a mess, but we're having fun."

Outside, volunteers from the county government mulched ailing flower beds and planted new rhododendrons and mums along the entrance to the aging brick building.

Other volunteers planted five young trees along the banks of Lake Serene in Edgewater Village. But first they had to clean debris from the lake, including tires, several bikes and a familiar item to at least one little boy.

"Hey," he remarked, "that's my GI Joe."

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