Training recruits for ecological war

Activism: Camp teaches youngsters the wonders of the bay and perhaps sparks a lifelong interest in protecting it.

July 30, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Shannon Crowner, 9, was scared of the milky jellyfish in the shallow waters near the shores of the West River. But that didn't stop her from pulling on a pair of rubber waders three times her size and walking in to catch some crabs, shrimp or small fish.

"Look, look, we did get some minnows," she said, proudly pointing to her net. "Lots of these live in the bay, right?"

Shannon is the latest recruit by local environmentalists scouting for the next generation of warriors to replace them in the battle against big development in southern Anne Arundel County. She is one three elementary school students South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) sponsored to attend the United Methodist West River Camp's Junior Ecologist Program.

"We want children who wouldn't normally experience the [Chesapeake] Bay to come to love it as we do," said Marie Nolan, a SACReD member and co-director of the program. "We want them to learn about ecology. And 30 years down the line, they will remember all of this."

SACReD, the vocal group that blocked development of a 152-home subdivision on Franklin Point last year, began the Junior Ecologist Program this year to teach children about the wonders of the bay and how to protect it.

Lessons at the camp stretch beyond the typical campfires and arts and crafts. Shannon and her classmates learned to crab, fish, sail and canoe. They hiked through wetlands and learned how pollutants from overdevelopment can seep into the bay, destroying marine life and ending the livelihoods of watermen and sailmakers.

The camp, on the banks of the West River off Chalk Point Road, is the perfect setting for appreciating the balance between man and nature. The campers roam 45 acres of woods and trails and launch canoes, sailboats and water tubes from wooden piers. For those like Shannon, who don't know how to swim, there are lessons in a pool as well as classes on local wildlife and marine habitat in buildings decorated with aquariums, lifelike groundhogs, foxes and a beehive.

The curriculum at the camp, which is owned by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, centers on protecting

God's community, said camp director Andy Thornton.

"We talk about stewardship of God's world, how we treat wetlands, and what becomes our responsibility toward our environment," he said.

During hikes, campers learn how important wetlands are to the Chesapeake Bay and what happens when oil and other pollutants that spill onto Chalk Point Road seep into that land.

"We also talk about what happens to the animals that make their homes there when it is not protected," Thornton said.

He said the goal is for campers like Shannon to get a taste of life in a Christian community, and an understanding of their place in their environment.

"I have learned all about the water," said Shannon, a fourth-grader at Shady Side Elementary School, on one of her last days at camp. "I went water tubing, but it was scary. There are jellyfish in the water. I went canoeing and tomorrow I might go crabbing."

Shannon, who has never caught a fish, received her first lesson yesterday in seining -- catching fish or crabs with a large net.

At the edge of the water, she and her best friend, Robin Lady, 9, pulled on their waders and walked a few feet. They stretched the net tight between them, turned in a sort of circle and dragged it back to shore. Their classmates gathered around the black net and counted the silver-colored minnows that were jumping through the net.

SACReD members say they hope to expand the Junior Ecologist Program to more schoolchildren with field trips, a boating tour of local waterways and nature hikes. This fall, they want to recruit young people to help with a wetland restoration project at Franklin Point.

"We hope to have activities through community groups, churches and schools later this year and a bigger camp fund next year," Nolan said.

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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