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Weeds, Waste, and Watersheds
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by Marta Vogel | 2011

“The Aliens Among Us” piqued Carolyn Puckett’s interest. An enthusiastic gardener for 20 years, a self-professed nature lover, and a member of the Maryland Native Plant Society, she attended the workshop and raised her hand to volunteer to train others to eradicate aliens. And no, we’re not talking about anti-environmentalists; we’re talking weeds—mile-a-minute, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and the ill-named tree of heaven, a.k.a China-sumac or varnish tree—all of which, like sprawl development, spread quickly, consume nutrients and space, and leave native plants (and animals) starving.

Weeds, Waste, and Watersheds

Why we volunteer, and what we get out of it

 

By Marta Vogel—“The Aliens Among Us” piqued Carolyn Puckett’s interest. An enthusiastic gardener for 20 years, a self-professed nature lover, and a member of the Maryland Native Plant Society, she attended the workshop and raised her hand to volunteer to train others to eradicate aliens. And no, we’re not talking about anti-environmentalists; we’re talking weeds—mile-a-minute, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and the ill-named tree of heaven, a.k.a China-sumac or varnish tree—all of which, like sprawl development, spread quickly, consume nutrients and space, and leave native plants (and animals) starving.

 

In 2009, Puckett planned on retiring as a senior research analyst at the Social Security Administration at Woodlawn. Her husband died in 2008 and she reached out to several organizations, including the Carroll County Master Gardeners, the Audubon Society of Central Maryland, the Sierra Club and the Carroll County Forest Conservancy District Board.

 

On a mission to start an army of Weed Warriors in Carroll County parks, she ran into barriers.

“The biggest challenge was getting the county to agree,” says Puckett. “They were down to one naturalist because of cutbacks.”

Undaunted, Puckett’s plea became: “All you have to do is open the tool shed; it’s not going to impact your staff time.”

 

Six months after the Lead Warrior began knocking at the government door, Carroll County agreed to a pilot program at Bear Branch Nature Center, where 25 volunteers uprooted mile-a-minute in the birds-of-prey area at Hashawha Environmental Center.

Puckett eventually retired from the Social Security Administration, and with more time, expanded the program to Piney Run Park. Again, it took months for the county to agree, but seventy-one volunteers were finally trained, at no cost to the county.

 

She also expanded the age range to get middle-school kids involved, teaching them about invasives. When she has a training, she announces it to a cooperating middle school, where she recruits students and parents.

 

“I can only spread myself so far. I have a mailing list of 135 people we’ve trained,” she says.

 

None of the organizations provide monetary support. Puckett funds the weed bags out of her own pocket.

With so many hardy and tenacious weeds, how does Puckett stay motivated to conquer?

“Marc Imlay has had a Weed Warrior program in Chapman Forest for five years and it’s almost invasive-free. That was very encouraging,” she notes.

 

  Like many Sierra Club volunteers, she’s a certified joiner, involved in many other organizations. She once made a list of the volunteer organizations she belongs to and came up with 15, including the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Master Gardeners and yoga and martial arts organizations.

 

And invasive plants seem to have invaded her other volunteer efforts. She volunteers for Caring Carroll, which provides help for the elderly and disabled, mainly transportation to the doctor or a friendly visit. “It turned out that people needed their gardens weeded. So I ended up doing 18 hours of weeding.”

 

Small wind turbines on residential roofs might seem like a far-fetched idea a few years ago. Especially in Carroll County. But Dan Andrews, Sierra Club Catoctin Group Chair, had a vision and liked the idea of being first.

 

“Deep down I am some kind of crusader,” the retired land surveyor says. “When that stops I get bored. I am more of a pioneer stock. Surveyors are the first people into any type of project. I liked that aspect, first in and you’re mapping, discovering, laying the foundation that comes thereafter. I was always intrigued with the Lewis and Clark expedition.”

 

In 2008, Andrews’s expedition into uncharted territory succeeded in having the Carroll County Commissioners unanimously vote to allow the installation of small wind turbines, priced at $10-20,000. Andrews envisioned hundreds but he counts the 26 in his county as a huge success.

Andrews’s SC involvement began in 2004 with the Cool Cities program. His attachment to nature began long before that, when he hiked 720 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the late 70s and became fascinated with climate change in the 80s.

 

“I thought there was a need to bring climate change to the local level,” notes Andrews.

 

He cofounded the Maryland Heartland Sustainable Living Fair, (now called Sustainable Living Maryland) and was a member of the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council, which pushed for the wind turbines. A second achievement on that council is the solid waste task advisory board, which rallied against the proposed 1,500 ton/day Frederick County incinerator which would haul waste in from Carroll County. He called the incinerator, “a legacy project that will chart the course of waste disposal for the next 30-40 years.”

The council also provides a forum for individuals, says Andrews, to bring any kind of environmental issue for study and recommendations. For example, several years ago, a hauling business was illegally storing manure and human solid waste on a site where it was not permitted. The neighbors brought it to the council which ruled against it.

 

“I am perpetual worker,” notes Andrews. “I believe passionately in the work that we’re doing. And it’s not being done by enough people. There is a great need. We have to get people off the couch. That’s the hardest part.”

 

And all of his activism has taken place in a county which is not exactly warm and fuzzy toward environmentalists.      

 

“This has become escapism country,” says Andrews. “They think they’ve made it when they move here. We have people living in illusion. Sixty-three percent of the county commutes out to make a living. The remaining live on the service sector. We would have a hell of a time being self-sufficient.”

He is frustrated with officials’ bias against environmentalism.

 

“It’s a tremendous hurdle—their resistance to change. They should entertain both facets of the problem. They think that if they do, they will lose their base support. But they have lost their connection to nature.”

 

Andrews enjoys working with SC members, whom he finds to be “intelligent, caring, and altruistic people”. And it is rewarding, he notes, “helping the planet and watching others evolve.”

 

“You get bolstered by other members. It’s like being in the army. I look at it this way: if we lose, we are becoming better human beings in the process. That is a great gift.”

 

A man in a kayak on a beautiful creek. A creek that might not stay that way. That was the opening scene for Jim Long’s Mattawoman Creek journey that began in the mid 1990s.

 

“I was actually paddling all of the tidewaters in my neighborhood and I had heard that Chapman Forest was threatened and that included the Mattawoman, which I hadn’t checked out yet,” said Long, a physicist with the Navy. “I took my kayak out there and it was love at first sight. It’s hard to emphasize how much the place shouted at you that it was special. That motivated me.”

 

What the Mattawoman shouts: “as near to ideal conditions as can be found in the northern Chesapeake Bay, perhaps unattainable in the other systems” (MD Department of Natural Resources—DNR), the healthiest food-chain in the Chesapeake; one of only three Maryland sites for the American lotus; Maryland’s largest breeding wood duck population; important black duck wintering ground; nesting bald eagles.

 

But the Mattawoman has another descriptor: “Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers”.

 

Long, who lives three to four miles from this jewel of a Potomac River tributary, has become a self-taught expert on the hydrology and biology of Mattawoman, and the county politics that threaten it.

 

 After he put his paddle up on that eye-opening trip, he joined with grassroots efforts of the Friends of Mt. Aventine, led by Joy Oakes of the SC. They saved the 2,200-acre Chapman Forest State Park and Long was forever hooked on the Mattawoman.

 

He proceeded to fight the proposed four-lane highway (Charles Co. Cross County Connector extension), which would bisect the watershed. (See article on page 19.) As president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, Long praises the SC’s unique hierarchical organization (national club, state chapter, local group), which, when combined with its willingness to partner with other organizations, makes it a local, grassroots powerhouse.

 

The state chapter has been instrumental in introducing hundreds of people to the pleasures of the Mattawoman.

 

“SC’s strength is its volunteers, in terms of both elected leadership and feet on the street,” notes Long, “Most rewarding are the people you work with and focusing on worthy preservation and protection goals.”

 

Long figures he averages 30 hours/week championing the Mattawoman, long a SC chapter priority.

 

“I do two things: work and work,” he laughs.

 

Does he have time for kayaking?

 

“I enjoy it, but usually there is an additional purpose.”

 

He’s either educating others about the Mattawoman or providing data. For example, he recently measured the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water for the DNR. Rust doesn’t rest, and neither does his Mattawoman vigilance.

 

“Because of its location, you have to be on guard. It’s the last estuary so close to urbanization spreading from DC.

 

“There are reasons to be guardedly optimistic, with the demise of the highway,” notes Long, “if it moves Charles County towards smart growth and land use as it impacts water quality  . . . They are making a compromise. Usually when you compromise, you compromise the resources. So we’re on pins.”                         

 

 

 

> 2011 Table of Contents

   
   

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