Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Students are last link in Baltimore-to-Shore tree chain

SNOW HILL -- Worcester County students had the chance to get their hands dirty as close to 200 students helped restore a portion of the Nassawango Creek Nature Preserve by planting trees.

Students from Berlin Intermediate School and Pocomoke and Snow Hill middle schools spent Thursday and Friday planting nearly 1,000 trees that they had raised in their classrooms during the past year in the Nassawango Creek Preserve.

"They were so enthusiastic," said Deborah Landau, a Nature Conservancy conservation ecologist. "With them being the ones to have started the seedlings, it's like they have a relationship with the trees."

With the help of Nature Conservancy and National Aquarium in Baltimore staff, the middle-schoolers went through the entire process of planting the Atlantic white cedars they had grown. Students located low, wet areas for the trees, which have been threatened in recent years with the draining of land that occurs for farming and development, and planted them. They then added a pellet, designed to give the tree a bitter flavor, to protect it from grazing deer, and flagged it.

The students planted Atlantic white cedars, Landau said, because those used to grow along the East Coast from Maine to Florida, but have been greatly diminished since settlers cut them down to use for building and later as once-marshy land was drained for farming. To help reestablish the cedars in the Nassawango area, Landau and other Nature Conservancy staff burned an area of unhealthy loblolly pines, returning nutrients to the soil, and had the students plant the trees there.

Landau said the entire project gave the students a better understanding of their environment.

"They were asking thoughtful questions," she said, "and we talked about preserving as well as actively restoring land."

Susan Land, a seventh-grade teacher at Pocomoke Middle School, said her students really enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Nassawango Preserve.

"Not a lot of them get to come out like this in the fresh air," she said.

The students were not the only ones who benefited. Three organizations -- the Nature Conservancy, Maryland Conservation Corps and National Aquarium -- were pleased with the serendipitous way the project turned out.

It was the Baltimore Aquarium that obtained a grant to purchase the seedlings, but then its planned planting location fell through. At the same time, the Nature Conservancy had been preparing the Nassawango land for Atlantic white cedars, but was not able to get the trees it had planned on. And so, with the help of Maryland Conservation Corps staff who provided local students with guidance during the growing process, the Nature Conservancy and the National Aquarium combined their projects, planting the aquarium's trees at the Nature Conservancy's site.

"It worked out perfectly," Landau said. "It's a nice partnership and everybody benefits."

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