About Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.

(with excerpts from Soldiers Delight Barrens: Preservation of a Rare Ecosystem by Claudia J. Floyd)

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Jean Worthley in 2008
Jean Reese Worthley, who frequented Soldiers Delight as a youngster, together with her husband, University of Maryland botanist Elmer Worthley, and their friends William and Frances Fastie, created an informal natural history club in the 1950s, making frequent trips to Soldiers Delight to study the distinctive flora and to collect minerals. William Fastie, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, was an active member of the Owings Mills Recreation Council, an organization that the two couples used to spearhead the original movement to set aside the barrens as a preserve.

By the late 1950s, Owings Mills was growing rapidly in the postwar suburbanization of Baltimore.

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William and Frances Fastie were original board members of SDCI
Construction on the very edge of Soldiers Delight created an impetus to act quickly if the area was going to be preserved. In 1959 the Owings Mills Recreation Council formed the Citizens' Committee for Soldiers Delight Park, led by the Fasties, which voted unanimously to approach Baltimore County to get action on this matter. The County's Planning and Zoning Committee received a staff report in 1963 recommending immediate acquisition.

Baltimore County eventually came to support the formation of a preserve, due primarily to the dogged persistence of the proponents who refused to take "no" for an answer.

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Jean and Elmer Worthley were early proponents of SDNEA

While the obstacles against conservation were formidable, the talent and persistence of the Citizens' Committee for Soldiers Delight Park were unmatched. The Worthleys, Fasties and others had the scientific expertise to testify to the proposed preserve’s historical, geological, and ecological value. Upon the recommendation of the CPHA (Citizens Planning and Housing Association), they were joined by Florence Rogers, a Pikesville resident and long-time community activist known for her impressive political and fund raising skills. Rogers brought in Dr. James Poultney, a classics professor at Johns Hopkins University, to help raise both money and consciousness in favor of the preserve through their involvement with Soldiers Delight Conservation, Incorporated (SDCI), a new group formed in 1965. 

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Florence Rogers and James Poultney at the Assay Office (log cabin) in 1975.
SDCI sought and received numerous endorsements for its proposed preserve from business, civic, environmental, and educational organizations. The Natural Area Council, a private consulting firm specializing in land preservation, was hired to assess the value of the site. They noted in their report few areas in the world with such extensive outcrops of serpentine rock, producing unique flora and the prairie grasslands more typical of western forests than of eastern ones. The geological and ecological distinctiveness of Soldiers Delight and the proposed use of the site for educational purposes were two of the principal arguments used successfully to promote preservation. 

Members of SDCI sought to demonstrate their commitment by seeking direct community support. The fund-raising labors of SDCI included extensive efforts to elevate public knowledge of the potential preserve through luncheons, workshops, meetings, hikes, dedications and commemorations such as Park Day. Florence Rogers, then the chair of SDCI, accompanied her efforts to inspire the public with an extensive one-woman lobbying campaign, arousing the awareness of public officials concerning her special project.  By 1969, Baltimore County had appropriated $75,000 for the conservation of Soldiers Delight. 

Florence Rogers chose Baltimore County Democratic Delegate Richard Rynd to champion her cause because of his friendships with governors Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel. Rynd became an ardent champion for its preservation.

Land acquisition began in 1970 with the purchase of the Dolfield Estate of 575 acres and continued into the 1990s with the use of Project Open Space funds and parcels donated to the state by the Nature Conservancy (Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc.). The preserve officially opened in 1975 with a public ceremony and fanfare provided by musicians and politicians. 

The newly designated Natural Environment Area relied heavily upon volunteers and upon borrowed equipment to function its first few years. Rangers Vern Tracy and Fraser Bishop enforced laws banning hunting, vandalizing, and dumping and were instrumental in getting Maryland's Natural Heritage Program interested in the rare and endangered species found in the area.

In the 1980s the focus of Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc. turned toward efforts to construct a multi-purpose center that would serve the public. The first funds for the Soldiers Delight facility were appropriated in 1986 and ground-breaking began in 1990. When the million dollar Visitor Center was dedicated in 1991, Rogers saw the culmination of her intense devotion to the site.  Eventually, Soldiers Delight was administered as part of Patapsco Valley State Park, and is now a natural environment area designated by Maryland as "wild land", which is the highest protective category for state property. 

Since construction and opening of the visitor center, the principal initiative of SDCI has been an intensive, volunteer-driven effort in serpentine restoration. To date more than 20,000 hours of volunteer labor have been logged in support of restoration efforts. SDCI board members and volunteers help in clearing and creating firebreaks in support of the Department of Natural Resources’ prescribed burn program, conducted in fall and spring, weather permitting. These burns help remove non-native invasive species and encourage the growth of native vegetation. Volunteers spend their weekends cutting and killing invasive Virginia pines, "freeing" the oaks, preparing firebreaks, and waiting for opportunities to conduct controlled burns. To help the public understand this effort, naturalist Jack Wennerstrom explains: "The ultimate payoff will be a restored serpentine prairie with lots of biodiversity that will be able to withstand stresses. And it will also be beautiful for the reason that all these numerous species are intertwined in a more healthy and interesting way".

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Some of the current board members of SDCI
While most of the original members of SDCI have long since passed away, Jean Worthley still participates, lending her wisdom, experience and enthusiastic support of our efforts. Today’s all-volunteer board of directors is twelve members strong, each with diverse interests and busy careers. Yet a mutual love and respect for Soldiers Delight and the serpentine barrens remains the driving force behind all the board strives to achieve. Our ongoing mission, to educate the public about Soldiers Delight and to conserve and restore its rare and endangered ecosystem for future generations, continues to inspire the members of SDCI every day.