Grassland returns to park Prairies: A tree-clearing program begun in 1995 at Soldiers Delight near Owings Mills already is helping to revive the prairie grasses native to the area.

April 03, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Prairie grasses are growing again, for the first time in decades, in sections of the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area near Owings Mills, where invasive scrub Virginia pines have been removed, according to park Manager Walter F. Brown.

The tree removal is allowing return to the original grasslands that existed before the Virginia pines migrated north, when American Indians hunted across the prairies that covered much of Northern Maryland and Pennsylvania.

As a result, Soldiers Delight is now the largest serpentine grassland on the East Coast and is home to more than 30 endangered species of flowers.

By 2005, the Department of Natural Resources' State Forest and Park Service expects to clear the trees from the 1,000 acres of serpentine rock, which is magnesium silicate that creates soil as it weathers and is Soldiers Delight's major geologic feature.

About 100 acres of serpentine grasslands have been cleared of trees, and grasses have returned.

When the tree-clearing project was unveiled in 1995, concerns were raised about removing trees when a state tree-planting program was in full swing. But natural resources officials said the choice was between the non-native Virginia pines and the rare plants that inhabit Soldiers Delight, which embraces 2,000 acres.

Brown compared the pines to crab grass, which destroys healthy grass. Shade from the trees prevents the grasses and plants from reseeding, he said.

Jack Wennerstrom, president of the board of directors of Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc., a citizen support group, said, "We hope they'll remove as many of the trees as possible" so the serpentine grasslands will flourish again.

Park service officials will explain the restoration program and other plans for the environmental area at a community meeting at 7 p.m. April 15 at the visitor center, 5100 Deer Park Road.

The meeting is the first of what is expected to be an annual event, Brown said. "We are trying to involve the public more and more in park management."

Brown said discussion will probably include requests to partially lift the ban on horses in Soldiers Delight to allow equestrian neighbors access to the bridle paths in the Liberty Reservoir watershed. Riders from outside the immediate area have access at the watershed, he said. Bicycles will continue to be banned.

"Soldiers Delight is not a park," Brown emphasized. It has no recreational amenities, only seven miles of hiking trails. "We encourage hikers to learn about the ecological sensitivity of the area," he said. "We want people to use the area but to understand what they are seeing."

To that end, Brown continued, the exhibits at the visitor center will be expanded to include an audiovisual presentation to be completed by summer's end to show the historical, ecological and geological importance of Soldiers Delight, a major source of chromite ore from the serpentine rock in the 19th century.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.