Through the bramble at Sullivan Cove lies a precious environmental resource: a bog

Olde Severna discovery

August 29, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

Between the muck and the poison ivy, interest was scant in the Olde Severna Park community in exploring the soggy area along Sullivan Cove that was hidden by dense bramble.

But treks in recent weeks have revealed the site is a bog - an unusual type of wetland characterized by wobbling mats of peat floating on cold, clear water. The water level barely changes despite the season.

Maryland environmental officials are recommending adding the discovery to a regulated list of Wetlands of Special State Concern, giving it additional protections, said Kim Lamphier, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. MDE experts visited it this month.

Under state and Anne Arundel County protections, anything that could alter or threaten the bog, such as construction, would require a state permit, and the buffer area around it would increase from 25 feet to 100 feet. An additional 300 feet around a bog is regulated for disturbance.

The community and state have not approached the county to add it to the 15-site bog map, said Tracie Reynolds, a county spokeswoman.

Experts consider such wetlands ecologically priceless because they are natural water purifiers for the Chesapeake Bay. Their mini-habitats also can support odd insect-eating plants - none has been found here so far - and unusual bugs.

The find came when the Olde Severna Park Improvement Association sought professional advice on how to proceed toward further protecting its shoreline. Environmental consultant Keith Underwood - who proclaims his love for bogs on his license plate, which reads BOG MAN - walked and bounced on the site with members of the association.

"If one of you takes a couple of steps 30 feet away, the ground is quaking. But I didn't know that - I had always been down there by myself," said Alison Burbage, who has spearheaded the community's decade-long effort to get rid of invasive plants on its properties.

The floating mat, dark and decomposing vegetation supporting the plants, is what gives the spring to visitors' steps.

Underwood "started saying `hmm.' Then he started looking for sphagnum moss and sedges and other things, and saying, `Hmm,'" she recalled of his visit.

Underwood told them he believed they had a bog, which state specialists confirmed in mid-August.

The community had spent years getting rid of pest plants, including phragmites, the reeds that suffocate wetlands. The long-term goal is to restore the sites that were overgrown by invasive plants and plant a "living shoreline," on the waterfront.

Among the areas where it was trying to eliminate the tangle of invaders was one just under a quarter-acre, tucked between the sand dunes near the cove's edge and the base of the hill that climbs into the neighborhood. Rimming two sides are sweetbay magnolia trees, which live in bogs, and sour gum trees, which thrive in acidic, well-drained, wet sites.

Since much of the tall weeds were reduced and sunlight hit the peat, what have emerged are wetland plants, some of which are seen in other bogs in the county.

Among them are marsh St. John's wort, knee-high blunt manna grass, green spike rush, small clumps of sphagnum moss and water willow, now blooming with tiny lavender flowers. Absent are some of the exotic bog flowers, such as bug-eating pitcher plants and sundews.

Without seeing some of the plants in bloom, it is unclear if they are rare or common varieties of their species, though Underwood suspects some are rare.

"This is a premium site," he said on a recent visit there.

Bill Sipple, a former federal Environmental Protection Agency wetland ecologist who visited the site recently, said scientifically it may be more of a marsh than a traditional bog, though legally it may fall under the state and county definition of a bog.

Underwood speculated that the wetlands around Sullivan Cove, which include an Atlantic white cedar bog, may have formed a large bog, or sea-level fen, a peatland that is a cousin of a bog, cedar swamp or similar wetland.

"There is a wide band of wetlands surrounding Sullivan's Cove. There may have been a bog surrounding the entire cove ages ago. It would need more investigation to find out, Right now it is just an interesting hypothesis," said MDE spokeswoman Lamphier.

Anne Arundel County's bogs extend from Tanyard Cove in the northeastern area of the county, south and west to an area near the Magothy River, then to Sullivan Cove on the eastern side of the Severn River and end in locations on the western side of the river - all places where the ground filters water through layers of sand and clay.

Olde Severna Park residents are checking other association properties around the cove for potential bogs.

"These areas can get so overgrown," said Roy Higgs, who is on the association's property committee. "There's probably other little boggy gems we can find."

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