County Conservancy seeks volunteers to help at farm

February 06, 2003

The Howard County Conservancy is seeking aspiring naturalists to lead nature walks, environmental games and other activities for schoolchildren visiting Mount Pleasant, the 232-acre Woodstock farm that is the conservancy's home.

Training for volunteer naturalists will be held from 9:30 a.m. to noon March 13, 20 and 27, with additional training in environmental games, activities and crafts from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. March 27.

"We're shooting for about 15 volunteer naturalists, but probably even more if we can get them because we are booked up for educational programs," said Elizabeth J. Stoffel, director of the conservancy.

As many as 110 children visit the farm at one time. Half are divided into small groups to hike, while the others participate in environmental games. After an hour or so, the children switch activities, Stoffel said.

The conservancy has games to teach about pollution, habitat, seeds and how they travel and grow, Stoffel said.

The pollution game requires a pickle jar filled with clean water. Representing a homeowner, picnicker, motorboat driver or commuter, each child receives a canister filled with "something like baking soda that represents fertilizer" or another "pollutant," Stoffel said.

"Then we tell a story of when Capt. John Cook was sailing up the river [and it was clean]. ... And you say, `Well, nowadays, there's a family picnicking by the river, and there are people riding their motorboat up and down, and a little bit of oil spills out," she said.

As each pollutant is mentioned, the child holding it empties his or her canister into the pickle jar.

"By the time you get 30 kids dumping out their little jars, the water is just awful," Stoffel said. "And through the whole story, you're asking them, `Would you drink this water? Would you swim in this water? Do you think it's safe for animals to drink?' And they're [saying] `No! I wouldn't go near it.' `Well, who polluted this water?' we ask, and they say, `We did.' "

Hearing the story and role-playing, the children "learn what little bits all of us do and how that messes up both the Patapsco River and then the [Chesapeake] bay as a consequence," the director said.

For kindergarten, first and second grades, the conservancy offers a half-day program; third-graders and fourth-graders can participate full-day.

"Send Your Love to the Earth," a Little Explorers program for ages 3 and 4 with an adult, is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feb. 13. Activities will include a nature walk, making a Valentine's Day card for the Earth, a story and a snack. A $5 donation is suggested.

"We had Groundhog Day and we had Dr. Seuss Day, and those were the only programs that we provided for preschoolers, so I wanted to expand that," said Martha Moore, Volunteer Maryland! coordinator for the conservancy.

Formed as a land trust and an environmental education center in 1990, the conservancy owns the farmhouse and 82 acres of Mount Pleasant, and manages the rest. A 260-year-old yellow poplar that shades the house is to be cut down in a few weeks.

"People have been driving by almost every day to see it and say goodbye," Stoffel said. "It's well-loved."

Information: 410-465-8877.

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