Salt marsh to be 287-acre classroom on the bay

January 28, 1995|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

CRISFIELD -- It took a boat as collateral and a $5,000 anniversary gift intended for chicken king Frank P. Perdue's wife, but after nearly four years a small group of conservationists has raised enough money to buy a salt marsh it hopes to use for educating the public about Chesapeake Bay ecology.

The 287-acre "Jenkins Creek Marsh," named after the creek along its southern border, lies at the edge of this Somerset County town that once was the Eastern Shore's duck-hunting and seafood center.

The marsh's new use makes it a first, said Michael J. Apperti Jr., a wildlife biologist who broached the idea in 1991 and is now the new Jenkins Creek Environmental Research Center's operations director. No one, he said, has set aside a salt marsh in the Chesapeake Bay region for academic study, despite the region's numerous parks and wildlife preserves.

The group, which announced its plans yesterday, wants to begin modestly. It will put up a small office, as well as a boardwalk and an observation tower or two so students can penetrate the marsh without having to walk through puddles and mud holes.

Nature tours and bird-watching trips around the marsh will be encouraged. But access will be restricted to avoid disturbing the vegetation and animal life there, said Jake Bair, director of the seven-member board that bought the land from out-of-state owners for $33,000. Directors include educators from Salisbury State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, a retired waterman and an artist.

Mr. Bair, head of the Maryland Center for Environmental Training in Charles County, said he was attracted because sections of Jenkins Creek Marsh are not pristine. Years ago, refuse was dumped in a nearby landfill.

"It has a long history of environmental insult," said Mr. Bair. "That's something we can study." He said the marsh will be made available to public schools as well as to students working on undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Of the 1.2 million acres of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, about 240,000 acres -- including all of Jenkins Creek Marsh -- are classified as tidal wetlands, meaning they are routinely flooded by salt or brackish water.

Scientists said Jenkins Creek Marsh can serve a scientific and educational purpose, although nearby wetlands dwarf it.

Mr. Apperti said that finding financial backers to buy a mosquito-ridden marsh was difficult. Once he put up his 24-foot fiberglass fishing boat as collateral for a loan.

Then, Mitzi Perdue, wife of Eastern Shore broiler magnate Frank Perdue, asked her husband to give the group $5,000 instead of buying her a wedding anniversary present in 1993. With that first contribution, Mr. Apperti bought pawned office equipment and began soliciting loans and grants from conservation-minded organizations. Supporters came to include the Maryland Environmental Trust, Ducks Unlimited and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Marshes occupy so much of the Lower Eastern Shore that natives take them for granted, said one board member, Jay W. Tawes, a Crisfield businessman and grandson of the late Gov. J. Millard Tawes.

"A lot of people here don't appreciate the marsh," he said. "You can't develop it. You can't tie your boat up to it."

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