Gambrills man wins award for bay work

Bay Trust honors founder of Spa Creek Conservancy

March 21, 2004|By Sarah Lesher | Sarah Lesher,SUN STAFF

Mel Wilkins, a Gambrills resident who founded the Spa Creek Conservancy to protect the creek's waters, recently was named winner of the Chesapeake Bay Trust's 2004 Ellen Fraites Wagner Award, for outstanding volunteer contributions to Chesapeake Bay restoration.

He was among eight nominees for the award statewide, four of them from Anne Arundel County.

"So many of these people have used their passion for the bay to get others involved," said Lara Lutz, communications manager for the Trust.

Wilkins has been fighting to save Annapolis' Spa Creek watershed since retiring from Lockheed Martin in 1999 because of a heart condition.

Earlier, he spearheaded a project at The Arc of Anne Arundel County, restoring what had been a junkyard eroding into the creek. He built a "Sensory Garden," designed for people with disabilities, that includes a pond and berry patch and uses only plants native to the region.

Working with the nearby Chesapeake Children's Museum, Wilkins also has used native plants to restore habitat in two gardens with bilingual nature trails.

On a recent weekend, he took about 50 midshipmen from the Naval Academy and 50 students from schools and church groups on a field trip. They hacked at the common, invasive reed phragmites, which has been slowly choking off the headwaters of the creek, crowding out native plants and destroying animals' habitat.

"We're trying to turn it back into a nursery," Wilkins said.

An effort a few weeks earlier removed several tons of debris - everything from a kitchen sink to tires - from the creek headwaters, he said.

Another Anne Arundel finalist for the award, Stephen Barry, coordinator of environmental and outdoor education at the county schools' Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, said he has tried to get "beyond feel and squeal" outdoor education by linking activities to action.

"We're trying to instill a lifelong attitude of stewardship [of nature]," he said.

The Arlington Echo center works to teach students how what they do affects the environment.

"I can't really say that what I'm doing makes kids better readers or better at computation, but it does make them better students," Barry said.

Working on long-term restoration projects is especially important for students who don't perform well on traditional tests, Barry said. Hands-on work with the environment also is valuable for special education students, who sometimes can outperform other students in the field, he said.

Also nominated for the award were Zora Lathan of the Chesapeake Ecology Center, who has worked to involve minority communities in ecosystem restoration; and Keith Underwood of Underwood & Associates, Annapolis, who has worked with children to create bogs and to plant thousands of bog plant seedlings, including Atlantic white cedar.

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