Annapolis man honored for work, walks


September 24, 2001|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

VOLUNTEERING to walk through the woods may sound relaxing. But for some, it's also serious business.

For 85-year-old Ned Hall of Annapolis, the weekly nature walks he led for 10 years for the Severn River Association were a mission to educate people about the land and their role in protecting it.

They usually focused on an area of critical environmental concern - land that had been proposed for subdivision, for instance, or in which unusual farming methods or tree harvesting had occurred. Many county and state environmentalists were inspired by Hall's nature walks and by visits to his cabin in Gambrills.

He stopped leading walks about two years ago, but his contribution continues.

For the past seven years, Hall has volunteered at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, where he has spent many hours in the SERC forest, plotting land and measuring trees.

He has served on the board of the Severn River Land Trust, and has sat for about a decade on the Anne Arundel County Forestry Board, which reviews permits for cutting forests in wetlands.

Yesterday, at a ceremony at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, Hall was to be given the 2001 Jan Hollmann Award for Environmental Education in honor of his lifelong work.

The retired surveyor said his appreciation for the environment was bred into him.

"When I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, my father took me on a walk to Johns Hopkins Road," he said. "There was snow covering the drain, and the road was flooding." Hall remembers his father shoveling the drain and explaining what a watershed was and the need to protect it. He's lived his life with that lesson in mind.

Hall is one of 19 volunteers who assist scientist Jes Parker in the SERC canopy lab. Parker, who lives in Harwood, studies interactions within the forest ecosystem and monitors the development of the forest.

With autumn approaching, the workload is about to pick up for canopy lab volunteers. Although Hall doesn't walk as much as he used to, other veteran volunteers, such as Donn Burkness, 50, of Edgewater, will be spending many crisp fall days collecting buckets of fallen leaves.

The forest at SERC, located off Muddy Creek Road south of Route 214, is home to many tree species, including tulip poplar, sweet gum, beech, red oak and maple. Some of the trees are nearly 300 years old. All year long, about 500 large plastic buckets catch leaf litter as it falls from the trees. Volunteers usually collect the litter once a month. But when autumn arrives, it becomes a weekly ritual. They then dry, weigh and sort the leaves by species. Categorizing leaf litter reveals how the mix of tree species in the forest changes as some trees die and others take over.

Much of the research at SERC is long-term, meaning scientists study the environment and its changes over many years. Volunteers like Hall and Burkness perform jobs that the scientists do not have time to do by themselves.

For example, as official "tree huggers," Hall and Burkness helped code each tree and measure its diameter to create a map of the forest that scientists can use to monitor growth and development. The map encompasses more than 50 percent of the forest.

"It took us a year to do it," Burkness said, adding that his days in the woods have given him a better appreciation for working outside.

The chance to work outside is what drew volunteer Marty Dobbs of Hillsmere Shores to SERC. Dobbs, a retired surveyor, answered a newspaper ad calling for volunteers 2 1/2 years ago. He surveys the land and stakes out research plots. Dobbs said it's a great opportunity to get back to the basics he enjoyed when he began his career. By coincidence, he worked briefly for Hall's surveying company shortly after he graduated from college.

There are about 50 research plots in the SERC forest. The ones Dobbs stakes out can be as big as a couple of acres, but they average about a quarter-acre.

"There are a lot of big, beautiful trees, and it's a beautiful area to work in," Dobbs said.

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