Holiday Open House At Soldiers Delight

From left, Kristin Taylor, her daughter, Hattie, 3, Jacob and Daniel Hugg, both 5, and their mother, Beth, decorate "edible bird houses" with peanut butter and colorful seeds.
What better way to get folks interested in Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area than to throw the doors of our visitor center wide open and invite people to enjoy baked treats, mulled wine, spiced cider and hot chocolate while learning about the cause dearest to the hearts of the volunteers of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.? There is no better way, so that’s exactly what SDCI did on the first Sunday of December, and our party was a big success.

SDCI vice president Lynell Tobler and some helpers spent most of the previous day preparing the visitor center for its big event – setting up dozens of long tables throughout the auditorium, lobby and exhibit hall, then decorating those tables with holiday cheer and organizing a program that would give visitors an opportunity to make more than a dozen different nature-themed ornaments and engage in other seasonal activities.

At noon on the day of our event, visitors streamed in, greeted by the smells of steaming cocoa and freshly baked baklava, among other delicacies. Out in the parking lot, Westminster Astronomy Society event coordinator Brenda DeLuna, who leads monthly star-gazing programs at Soldiers Delight, searched for the sun behind a mildly overcast sky and offered children a chance to create their very own impact crater, the hole that results when one heavenly body strikes another, in a tub filled with flour and cocoa powder.

Kristen Bergstrom and her son, Camden, 5, of Owings Mills, use a glue gun as Michelle Jaecksch and her daughter, Meaghan, 8, of Ellicott City, prepare to glue their own crafts
Inside, visitors could enter a fun-filled crafts room, where Lynell, fellow board member Melissa Schehlein and volunteer Jesse Turner oversaw nine large tables at which 15 different crafts could be made. For a single entry fee of $5 per person, adults and children could move from table to table, making as many different crafts to take home as they liked. In one corner, simple balsawood birdhouses were being coated with peanut butter “glue” and then decorated with different-colored seeds, sticks and greenery. At another table, snowmen could be assembled out of walnuts and adorned with acorn hats and tiny felt scarves. At yet another, reindeer were being fashioned out of sweetgum balls with sticks forming antlers and legs. Popcicle-stick picture frames could be decorated with moss and leaves and strips of unusual bark. Angels grew out of clothespins to which oyster shell wings, pipe-cleaner arms and pine-needle skirts were affixed. Tiny nativity scenes made from slender nuts and fabric scraps took shape inside plastic laundry scoop dioramas, while across the room youngsters filled hollow glass balls with a variety of seed pods, dried flowers, pine needles and other natural items.

SDCI Board member Joe Kelly tends the beverage bar at our Holiday Open House
In the visitor center lobby, author Jack Wennerstrom and photographer Frank Wisniewski offered guests an opportunity to purchase their newest book, a coffee-table-worthy compendium of stunning photographs and prose entitled Soldiers Delight Journal Revisited: A Photographic Ramble, along with some of Jack’s previous works. Behind them, our concessions cabinet offered a variety of stocking stuffers like trail maps, coasters, refrigerator magnets and ornaments fashioned from disks of Virginia pine branches. Our newest addition to the merchandise being offered is a 2017 calendar depicting gorgeous photos of the serpentine ecosystem. The calendars and Jack's books sold like hotcakes!

The Patapsco Valley State Park aviary adjacent to the visitor center, which itself was open for tours on this special day, houses a variety of injured owls, hawks and vultures. Soldiers Delight ranger Jamie Petrucci and naturalist Tabitha Aguirre warmly greeted visitors to the aviary and led them past the animal enclosures so they could enjoy up-close encounters with some of nature’s most magnificent raptors.

About fifty yards behind the visitor center, Volunteer Ranger and fellow board member Mark Jennys tended a crackling fire inside Red Dog Lodge, where he invited families to toast marshmallows over glowing embers. For $5, visitors to the 1920s-era hunting cabin could have their portraits taken in front of the old stone fireplace.

Home baked treats like "Red Dog Lodge chocolate logs", apple-pear cake, baklava and peanut butter pie were among the festive offerings at our bake sale
Back inside the visitor center’s exhibit hall, guests chose from a plethora of ready-to-purchase home-baked goods lovingly donated by a throng of dedicated volunteers. Enticing smells wafted across the air, cinnamon and other spices lending intrigue to the scent of warm apple cider and hot chocolate.

Throughout the afternoon, visitors filtered through our open house, enlivening the building with a bustle of festivity and good cheer. When all was said and done, this year’s Holiday Open House, a principal fundraising affair, was quite successful. To those of you who attended our celebration, purchased a bakery item or made a craft or two to take home, the board of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. offers a hearty THANK YOU!! We can’t do what we do to conserve and restore the fragile ecosystem that is Soldiers Delight NEA without your help and support, and we appreciate your assistance and encouragement very, very much.

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