Family Fun Day!

This is how our assigned position looked when we arrived
Every year on the last Sunday in April, Patapsco Valley State Park, of which Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area is part, hosts a “Family Fun Day” event at its Avalon area near Glen Burnie, Maryland. This year, due to scheduling conflicts, Family Fun Day took place at the Hilton area of PVSP in Catonsville, Maryland. To Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., the Friends Group for Soldiers Delight NEA in Owings Mills, it didn’t much matter in which area of the park system the event was held. We knew we’d be there with bells on our toes, enthusiastically staffing a display table and hosting a mock firefighting activity for children.

In just a few minutes, we set up our display 
Our display goes almost anywhere -- and SDCI takes almost any opportunity to share with the public all the wonderful attributes of the unique and fragile ecosystem that snakes through northwestern Baltimore County. Home to 39 species of rare and endangered plants and animals, and the single most important biodiversity site in the state of Maryland, SDNEA is constantly threatened by encroachments -- from development to deer browsing. Perhaps most pervasive is the persistent incursion of invasive vegetation, which chokes out our native flora and pushes some of the rarest plants ever closer to extirpation. Events like Patapsco Valley State Park’s Family Fun Day serve as ideal opportunities for SDCI to share our message that native plants should always be chosen over non-native plants when buying landscaping at your local nursery or big box store.
Members of Patapsco Heritage Greenway pull invasive Japanese barberry during the festival.

As Sunday dawned, SDCI was ready. Though the weather forecasters called for “wall-to-wall sunshine”, they also forewarned that a cool front would prevent the temperature from getting too warm. That was fine with the stalwart volunteer board members at SDCI. Cool and sunny is always preferable to blistering heat when one must stand for hours in a ranger uniform or a Park-issued polo shirt, pants and hiking boots. But this time the weather forecasters were wrong! There was no wall-to-wall sunshine in Baltimore on April 29th. Instead, the sun was obscured for most of the day by thick clouds, while a shrill wind played havoc with displays throughout the event. Can you say “blustery”?

From left to right, Lynell Tobler, Paula Becker, Joe Kelly and Laura Van Scoyoc staffed the SDCI table and hosted a "controlled burn" activity for children at Family Fun Day
We arrived promptly at noon to set up our display for the 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. festival. The spot we’d been assigned was picturesque, tucked under a tall tree canopy with sturdy, mostly level earth beneath our feet. We set up our tables, draped them with tablecloths adorned with the SDCI logo, and arranged rocks and minerals, books and flyers and other accoutrements describing the hiking trails, nature programming and unique natural features of Soldiers Delight.

Beside our table, SDCI board president Laura Van Scoyoc erected her favorite tableau: tubs full of greenery in front of a chalkboard sign inviting visitors to “guess what is wrong with these plants?” As children and adults looked over the thorny branches of Japanese barberry, observed the early blossoms of autumn olive, took in the pungent scent of garlic mustard and fondled wispy fronds of miscanthus grass, Laura, SDCI vice president Lynell Tobler and Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service biologist Paula Becker took turns describing the evils of invasive vegetation, much of which can be purchased at any garden center.

sdcidisplay05,04-29-18.jpgWhat people don’t realize is that the thorny prongs of Japanese barberry provide excellent protection from predators for the white-footed mouse, which takes refuge and builds its nests deep inside the barbed shrubbery. But the white-footed mouse is a major host for the ticks that carry Lyme disease. Together with deer, which bed down near barberry outcroppings and are likewise major hosts of the black-legged tick, Japanese barberry has been found to be responsible for a twelve-fold increase in the number of Lyme-infected ticks found per acre of forestation populated with the invasive shrub in its understory. Indeed, Japanese barberry has created an “ecological perfect storm for tick-borne diseases”, according to Dr. Scott Williams, one of the leading experts on Japanese barberry in North America. Six states have banned the sale of Japanese barberry or are phasing it out of their retailers’ inventories. And that’s just one of the invasive menaces the conservationists at Soldiers Delight must confront on an ongoing basis.

SDCI board member Joe Kelly and Wildlife & Heritage biologist Paula Becker demonstrate their above-the-head and behind-the-back firefighting techniques
Behind our table, Paula, Laura and fellow SDCI board member Joe Kelly set up our kid-friendly “controlled burn” activity. As part of our ongoing effort to curb the spread of invasive plants within Soldiers Delight’s 1,900 acres, Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service ecologist, Dr. Wayne Tyndall, oversees twice yearly vegetation burns across the ecosystem’s serpentine barrens. In spring and fall, firefighters from Maryland’s Blackwater Wildlife Refuge dress in fire retardant Nomex suits and light fires under strict conditions, which they control by spraying water on the flames through hand-pumped nozzles connected to extremely heavy, water-filled backpacks. For our controlled burn activity, Paula,
Children enjoy participating in the "controlled burn" activity at the SDCI display
Laura and Joe gave children an opportunity to don the Nomex shirts and protective helmets worn by our burn crews and shoot water at a board of brightly painted flames about twenty feet away. They set up orange traffic cones, small boundary flags and authentic metal signs to realistically portray a controlled burn site. Always a popular activity, children lined up all afternoon for a chance to shoot water at the faux flames and other targets, while we regaled their parents with information about the importance of controlled burns to keep invasives in check and allow the germination of grasses which are native to the site.

Towson University students staffed a table showing how Patapsco Valley State Park is making its programs more accessible
Elsewhere throughout the Family Fun Day festival, volunteer groups staged displays to show off their various causes. Students from Towson University, partnering with the Park system this year to ensure that all of Patapsco Valley State Park is accessible and welcoming to people with limited abilities, provided a display showing how PVSP’s nature programming is user-friendly and accommodating to individuals with differing emotional and physical needs.

Members of the Volunteer Mounted Patrol brought their horses for the children to meet
Members of the Volunteer Mounted Patrol picketed their horses on a broad expanse of lawn so that visitors could pet the steeds while asking questions. Henry Irving, a longtime member of the Jerusalem Mill Blacksmith Guild, displayed hand-wrought candlesticks, square nails, a giant iron anvil and other accoutrements of blacksmithing from the 1800s.
Henry Irving, of the Jerusalem Mill Blacksmith Guild, explains the finer points of smelting to Ranger Jamie Petrucci.
Members of Mid-Atlantic Off-road Enthusiasts (M.O.R.E.) and the women-oriented group, Muddy Pedals, set up a course in a grassy field and provided pint-size mountain bikes to children who wanted to try their hand at the sport.
The M.O.R.E. and Muddy Pedals mountain bike groups teamed up to create an interactive off-road course for two-wheel fanatics of all ages

Members of the Westminster Astronomical Society focused their solar scopes on the sun -- when it came out from behind the clouds
Brenda deLuna, Skip Bird and other members of the Westminster Astronomical Society erected large telescopes in the parking lot, each outfitted with a special glass solar filter so that families could take turns viewing our closest star with its sunspots and solar flares.
Volunteer Patty Rubin (mother of Soldiers Delight ranger Maddy Rubin) and seasonal naturalist Ellen Reinecke staff the National Aquarium BioBlitz table 
Volunteer Patty Rubin and seasonal naturalist Ellen Reinecke held forth at a table offering information about the National Aquarium’s BioBlitz, a competition among scientists, naturalists, students and volunteers to identify and record as many living organisms as possible, while Martin Schmidt, a professor at McDonogh School and author of Maryland’s Geology, displayed a topographical map of the Free State and explained to interested visitors how our three distinct landforms,
Martin Schmidt discusses the topography of the Patapsco River Valley with interested visitors.
the Appalachian mountain range, the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain, constitute a geographic wonder, considering that Maryland is the nation’s ninth smallest state -- at only 9,975 square miles.

Seasonal Naturalists Bryan Feylock and Katie Crane hold forth with a great horned owl and other feathered friends from the Soldiers Delight aviary.
On one side of the festival, Ranger Maddy Rubin and naturalists from our Soldiers Delight aviary displayed a variety of raptors, including a great horned owl, a red-tailed hawk and a tiny screech owl, while on the other side of the venue the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park handed out free ice cream bars. A bluegrass band, calling themselves the Fourth Fridays Jammers, entertained onlookers with tunes from their banjos, fiddles and other stringed instruments.
The "Fourth Fridays" bluegrass band jammed together all afternoon.

And at a table behind our SDCI display, Patapsco Heritage Greenway, whose members are dedicated to the eradication of invasive plants throughout the Patapsco Valley State Park system, displayed seven large bags of Japanese barberry they’d pulled over the course of the day.

Members of Patapsco Heritage Greenway display the Japanese barberry they pulled during the festival.
Catonsville Library held a story time session, while folks from the Healthy Parks and People initiative staffed an information booth on ways to get and keep fit by utilizing our beautiful outdoor spaces.

While the clouds only parted a few times for the sun-gazers to get a peek through the solar scopes, and the windy conditions made it too dangerous for the blacksmith guild to fire up their iron forge, Family Fun Day maintained its enthusiastic good cheer all afternoon. When the winds gusted so strongly that our displays were knocked down, we just set them back up again. When the bluster wreaked havoc with our tablecloths, we smoothed the wrinkles and persevered. Bricks and stones kept our printed materials from blowing away. Volunteers and an estimated 250 visitors were bundled up in coats, gloves and ski caps to escape the chill, but all had smiles on their faces and spring in their step. It was a very good day.

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