Harford students scurry to save state's second-highest waterfall

December 20, 1992|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Beth Post paws around the muddy water of a tiny spring nTC searching for dusky and red-backed salamanders. She rattles off bits of biology with the confidence of a seasoned scientist.

The 15-year-old turns and focuses on the roaring plunge of water at Maryland's second-highest waterfall, the Falls at Falling Branch near Pylesville.

"It's gorgeous," she says. "See how the mist is settling in over the falls."

Beth and about 50 other Harford County high school students want this place to be known and cherished by everyone.

First, they have to raise $17,500 in 90 days to help the state purchase a 23-acre tract that includes the falls.

The 17-foot-high falls in northern Harford County and hilly environs form Beth's ecology classroom. It's also a place where the poetry of nature seems to blare from a big brass band.

"We've got some kids who are truly dedicated to this," Beth says.

The students, all members of the North Harford Recreation Council's ecology club, have a lot of help.

The Harford Land Trust, a fledgling conservation group, is helping them organize a bulk mailing seeking donations and has been negotiating with the current owners of the property.

The group signed a contract with the owners Dec. 10.

Frank Marsden, the volunteer director of Eden Mill Nature Center just up the road from the falls, has agreed to accept pledges for a canoe trip along the entire 440-mile length of the Susquehanna River -- from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Havre de Grace.

The money would go toward the purchase of the property, much as money raised from walk-a-thons goes to charities.

Mr. Marsden says the canoe trip is designed to draw attention to the scale of the Susquehanna watershed and its protection.

He says he intended to raise money for the nature center, but saving the falls is a more immediate need.

Already, the students have raised about $1,500.

"We took cans around to all our classes," says Andy Read, a 16-year-old senior at North Harford High School.

"Everybody was just digging in their pockets."

The students plan to solicit donations from businesses and residents throughout Harford.

They plan to sell T-shirts and bumper stickers and will seek donations at an environmental expo at Harford Mall in January.

"This is something everybody should share," says Doug Hunt, 17, another senior at North Harford.

Officials in the state Department of Natural Resources' Program Open Space welcome the students as partners in the effort to preserve valuable natural areas around Maryland.

On Oct. 28, after three years of negotiation between DNR and the landowners, the state Board of Public Works agreed to put up $115,000 for the property.

If the students reach their goal, the state will have the $132,500 sought by the owners, brothers Walter E. and George F. Grimmel.

After the sale goes through, the property will come under the management of nearby Rocks State Park.

Officials there say they want to improve parking and trails -- but not build other facilities around the falls.

"This has become a real rallying point for all these groups," says ++ Peggy Eppig, a ranger at the park, of the campaign to save the falls tract.

The fund-raising campaign is part of a broader effort to preserve properties along the undisturbed Deer Creek watershed.

Ms. Eppig plans to accompany Mr. Marsden on the monthlong canoe trip down the Susquehanna, which is set for April.

The students and their extraordinary energy are driving the campaign, Ms. Eppig and others say.

Says David P. Miller, head of the Harford Land Trust: "When the students have finished their work, they will have so much invested in this campaign that this wonderful property will be a part of each of them and, wherever they go in life, they will still own it. Actually, it will own them."

Those working on the campaign view the falls as the centerpiece of the property.

The only taller vertical drop of water in Maryland is the 60-foot-high Muddy Creek Falls in Garrett County, says James Reeger, a geologist at the Maryland Geological Survey in Baltimore.

But, Ms. Eppig and others add, the falls in Harford is not the only thing worth saving.

Falling Branch, the waterway that forms the falls, is clean enough to support trout.

"It's the most pristine stream we have in the county," says Roy Pool, an environmental science teacher at North Harford High.

The flood plain around the falls harbors expansive wetlands and provides habitats for warblers, hawks, beavers and other wildlife.

"It's really like an oasis -- not just the falls but the whole valley," says Ms. Eppig.

The trail leading to the falls used to be a part of a network of old carriage roads running between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

The stone remains of an old inn , believed to have been built about 200 years ago, can be seen along the trail. And the Mingo Indians are thought to have lived nearby.

Mr. Pool also acts as adviser to the ecology club spearheading the fund-raising. As he speaks, Beth and five other students scamper around the base of the falls, picking up beer cans, bottles and other litter.

"Our role as environmental science teachers is to give these kids a message of hope," Mr. Pool says.

"I tell these kids on the first day of school that I expect them to save the world. I expect they will."

DONATIONS

Those interested in making donations toward the purchase of the falls can do so care of the Harford Land Trust Inc., P.O. Box 385, Churchville, Md. 21028.

Anyone interested in making a pledge for the canoe trip planned to raise money for the falls can call Frank Marsden of the Eden Mill Nature Center, at (410) 836-3050 or (410) 836-1264.

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