Teens work to make pond better home for wildlife

October 27, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Shawn Kincheloe, a self-described reformed litterer, remembers when the pond in Patterson Park was an oversized trash can.

"It used to look real ugly," the 15-year-old Butchers Hill resident said. "It used to be dried up, and people used to come here and throw trash in here."

Yesterday was the day Shawn and nine other environmentally conscious teen-agers, mostly from Baltimore schools, set aside to do their part in the preservation effort. Under the watchful eye of leaders from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Audubon Society and the city's Recreation and Parks Department, the students paddled and waded into the murky water of Patterson Park's "boat lake," dragging tree limbs and weighted branches into the pond where they will serve as perches for the area's ducks, birds and turtles.

"We wanted to make it a nice place for them to sit so people can take pictures and relax and look at them," said Taylor McCollum, 15, of District Heights in Prince George's County. "I feel like we're doing something to help the environment. It's really fun."

Selected through a competitive process that included a seven-page application, essays and community and teacher recommendations, the students have spent months learning about the bay and the ease with which damage to far-flung and seemingly unrelated ponds and streams across Maryland can harm the bay and wildlife.

In August, they spent three days exploring oyster beds and canoeing and crabbing in Tangier Sound near Crisfield as part of a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's education facility on Tangier Island.

Last month, they began planning yesterday's Patterson Park project, scoping out the pond and assessing what habitat features the ducks and turtles needed. (The answer: tall wooden boxes that will serve as winter homes for the area's colorful wood ducks and partially submerged or anchored tree limb perches on which the pond's turtles - painted, red-ear sliders and red bellies - can crawl out and sun themselves.)

And with yesterday's restoration project under their belt, the students are expected to initiate an environmental project in their neighborhoods.

Eric Olah, 16, is contemplating a tree-planting project to help alleviate the runoff problem that is eroding the shoreline in his Dundalk neighborhood.

Taylor is more interested in wildlife enhancement and is considering planting flowers that would attract hummingbirds to an open field in her neighborhood.

And Shawn, despite his appreciation for Patterson Park, might turn his attention to a tiny, neglected commons even closer to his East Baltimore Street home than the wide, rolling lawn of the 28-acre park that he visits a couple times a week.

Surveying the group's handiwork, Shawn said he hoped their presence at the pond attracted the attention of others who might be motivated to help improve the park.

"It's a lot safer for ducks and birds today because they won't be running into bottles," he said. "It's going to take a while. But I think we'll get there."

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