Planting a park back to nature

A dedicated organizer and volunteers are making unused areas a bit wilder

October 07, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

An avid bird watcher, Marilyn Taylor was tired of seeing county mowers trim grass around ball fields and tennis courts in Generals Highway Corridor Park in Crownsville.

The partially wooded 71-acre park sprawls with unused areas that would make a perfectly good natural habitat for wild bird species, Taylor thought.

But after the 68-year-old Crownsville resident called environmental groups and found that they did not have the manpower or money to reforest the area, she has made it happen.

Aided by a small cadre of volunteers - mostly neighbors and fellow birders - she first enlisted Anne Arundel County officials to help put in 600 native plant species and put up 10 bluebird boxes.

And Friday, her troupe and a group of middle school students planted another 175 trees and shrubs there. Buoyed by those efforts, she hopes that by next spring, the volunteer group can put in owl and bat boxes and start working on a nature trail with education kiosks.

Taylor wants the park to serve as a prototype for other volunteer groups. She said a lot of county parkland could be returned to its wilder state.

"This same thing can be replicated and thousands of acres could be reforested," Taylor said.

Volunteer Lawrence Zoller, who last year retired as science department chairman at Chesapeake Bay Middle School, contacted the school to recruit students, knowing they would need an environmental project to obtain status as a "Green School." The state designation recognizes schools for integrating environmental education.

"It's meshing in with what the public schools are doing," said Zoller. "If you just talk about environmental problems and don't do anything, all you're doing is depressing [students] and scaring them."

Zoller helped run an education station for students Friday to teach them the benefits of planting native, rather than exotic species. One of the advantages is that they can withstand droughts such as the one that has dried up fields in Maryland.

The drought almost derailed Friday's student planting, Taylor said. The ground was concrete-hard after a month of scant rain. County work crews came to the rescue with machines to dig up the dirt to prepare it for planting.

The students planted black and chestnut oak trees, witch hazel and pepper, blueberry and huckleberry bushes. The plants will help re-establish habitat for animals and prevent runoff into Bacon Ridge Branch, which feeds into the South River, Taylor said.

In addition to the planting, students competed in groups to see who could collect the most trash. One of the groups encountered a discarded shopping cart.

"It kind of feels good that you're helping the environment," said Lauren Halteman, one of the eighth-graders on the planting trip.

The county used public funds set aside for reforestation to contribute plants to the project, said Lou Rudinski, chief of park maintenance for the county. He was not sure how much money was spent, and the head of the reforestation program was not available for comment Friday.

Rudinski said the committee's project should save time and money for the county: The area that was planted will no longer need to be mowed.

"I thought for years we were overmowing our parks," he said. "We want to let areas go back more or less to nature."

Rudinski said county officials would be willing to help reforest another park as long as they can find an energetic group to lead the project. "We have to find the right park and the right situation," he said.

To contact Taylor to start a volunteer reforesting group, e-mail operacrazed@comcast.net.

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