Students dig in to restore long-lost wetlands Youngsters help rebuild marsh area that was filled in by Colonial farmers

April 30, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

J.D. Jordan, wearing knee-high rubber boots and gripping shovel, splashed through ankle-deep mud to plant shrubs and ** wildflowers in a bog that, until this week, hadn't existed for nearly two centuries.

"I didn't volunteer for this. I got picked, but I'm glad I did," said J.D., a Sykesville Middle School seventh-grader. "This is

important for animals and to help keep the water clean."

J.D. was among 150 Carroll schoolchildren who took part in a daylong project earlier this week to re-create wetlands at the Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center, a nature retreat several miles north of Westminster.

Spurred by evidence that wetlands existed near a lake at Hashawha before Colonial times, state and county agencies worked with South Carroll High School and other students to restore about an acre of marsh and swamp.

Much of the work was accomplished with a $40,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources.

South Carroll High School science research students directed the planting effort and used an advanced computer system to design the wetlands, said teacher Robert Foor-Hogue.

The students planted 3,000 to 5,000 aquatic plants and shrubs, native wetland species chosen by soil conservation officials. Students did more than plant, though. They learned about the value of wetlands, how to perform water-quality tests and how to identify aquatic systems.

"One of our big goals was to create interest in the environment in elementary kids," said Christy Russ, a South Carroll senior who helped coordinate the project. "If you get them interested and motivated when they're young, the more likely they'll become environmentally conscious later."

The area was excavated and sediment was removed before students began planting. The site was graded at various depths to create natural drainage patterns and to sustain plant and animal life.

Water is fed into the wetlands through springs, a stream and from drainage patterns from nearby farmland. Wetlands serve as environmental purifiers, collecting impurities and allowing water to filter out.

"Wetlands are a hidden jewel in our arsenal of weapons against )) pollution," said Loren Lustig, Hashawha's administrator.

A photographic record of the restoration process and a computer data base has been established for future reference, students said. Mr. Foor-Hogue said future science research students will document the evolution of the area.

"This is just the beginning," Christy said. "This will be a continued thing. The project will go on. Other classes will study what we've done. We've left areas open for research."

Said Lisa Peltier, a senior who is one of the project's directors, "Mr. Foor-Hogue has suggested we come back for graduate studies. We could look at how things have changed here from year to year."

Hashawha officials said the restored wetlands will become part of the education program at the environmental center, which has received a $3,500 grant from the Carroll chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America to develop a conservation education curriculum.

Boardwalks allow visitors to walk into the wetlands, which draw waterfowl, amphibians, turtles and microscopic animals.

"Wetlands are important ecosystems, but they're also fragile," Mr. Lustig said. "People become excited about wetlands, but they can also do damage to them. Boardwalks allow access to the wetlands without causing deterioration or destruction to the wetlands."

The boardwalk was built with a $4,500 grant from Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Environmental lessons weren't lost on Jessica Parrott and Nicole Vogel of Sykesville Middle School as they helped plant shrubs and wildflowers.

"It's fun," said Jessica. "I like to help out, and we're restoring wetlands. The water will be more clean and fresh and all that other stuff."

Nicole said, "It's good for wildlife."

Ed Null, manager of Carroll Soil Conservation District, said only a low percentage of the county is or was naturally wetlands.

Wetlands are more prevalent on the Eastern Shore.

Students said the Hashawha wetlands were covered over by 18th-century farmers, who were unaware of the benefits of the marshy area.

Mr. Null said the restored wetlands will be used as a prototype for other landowners, particularly farmers who may be working on land conservation projects.

"We're trying to restore what we can over the county," he said.

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