Holiday Open House

Patapsco Valley State Park Scales & Tales naturalist Tabitha Aguirre holds a red-tailed hawk at SDCI's annual open house
On Sunday, December 7, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., the Friends group for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Owings Mills, Maryland, hosted a holiday open house in conjunction with Patapsco Valley State Park’s Scales & Tales program.  From noon to 4:00 p.m. on a brisk, sunny day, staff and volunteers at Soldiers Delight threw open the doors to the visitor center and aviary and welcomed children and adults to partake in a variety of nature- and holiday-themed activities.

In the building’s large exhibit hall, long tables were bedecked in yuletide décor and laden with home baked goods prepared by a cadre of dedicated volunteers and inveterate bakers.  The savory and sweet treats included everything from baklava dripping with honey and nuts to chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks,

Baked goods, festively wrapped and attractively displayed, are offered for sale during the open house
 parmesan-encrusted biscotti, and cranberry-ginger-pear tartlets.  A beverage bar was set up in the middle of the room, on which a tower of wine glasses was positioned next to a trio of beverage dispensers steaming with mulled wine, hot chocolate and spiced cider.  The drinks could be enjoyed as-is, or enhanced with a shot of peppermint schnapps or apple liqueur for an extra donation.

Volunteer Susan Thompson runs the beverage bar at the SDCI Holiday Open House and tallies baked goods and book sales
Throughout the cavernous hall, other tables were piled high with every kind of nature book imaginable, all donations from retired U.S. Forestry Technician Richard H. Wiegand. 
Nature books donated by retired U.S. Forestry Technician Richard H. Wiegand are piled high on several tables for a book sale to raise money for ongoing conservation efforts at Soldiers Delight
The volumes were generously offered as a concession from which the Friends of Soldiers Delight can raise money for ongoing conservation efforts at Soldiers Delight NEA in northwest Baltimore County, the largest remaining serpentine barrens ecosystem on the east coast.  Book sales were steady all afternoon, with Audubon field guides ranging from reptiles to trees selling fastest.

In the visitor center’s auditorium, five dollars gained entrance to a bonanza of creative opportunities.  Volunteers offered visitors a chance to craft a variety of ornaments and holiday decorations using materials found in nature.

The auditorium at the Soldiers Delight NEA visitor center is set up with nine tables, each outfitted with a different craft opportunity at the SDCI Holiday Open House
  Sputnik-like ornaments fashioned from sweetgum balls and toothpicks could be painted gold or silver or left au-naturel.  Tiny balsawood birdhouses and pine cones could be "painted" with peanut butter and then covered in millet or sunflower seeds to hang outdoors for hungry birds. 
A trio of adorable animals made from milkweed pods, acorn caps, pine cones and twigs charms children and adults
Walnuts could be glued together to make pert snowmen adorned with pasta mustaches and fabric scarves.  Oyster shells became the bodies of angels, to which feathered wings could be attached, along with halos fashioned from pipe cleaners.  Milkweed pods formed wings for clothespin angels who were given pretty skirts of pine needles.  Even plastic laundry scoops were repurposed to good use, becoming tiny shadow boxes inside which miniature dioramas could be assembled using cotton balls, acorns and remnants of velvet and ribbon.

Wayne "Skip" Bird, president of the Westminster Astronomical Society, readies a telescope designed to allow viewers to safely gaze at the sun
All the while, the visitor center’s aviary, which houses rehabilitated, non-releasable raptors and other animals used in PVSP’s Scales & Tales program, offered the public a rare glimpse into the private lives of the center’s barred owls, black vultures, red-tailed hawks and other wild critters.  Many visitors took advantage of the opportunity to snap photos of the animals in their roomy enclosures.

Outside in the parking lot, Wayne "Skip" Bird, president of the Westminster Astronomy Society, braved the cold to offer visitors a look through his solar telescope, equipped with a hydrogen-alpha filter system designed to allow viewers to gaze safely at the sun’s shape and occasional solar flares.

An angel wears a pine needle skirt, wings made of milkweed pods and a mop of hair fashioned from an acorn harvested from Asian oak trees used as landscaping at Owings Mills mall 
At 2:00 o’clock, mine history expert Johnny Johnsson led a hike to the Choate Chromium mine, the first site of mined chromium ore in the United States, developed by Isaac Tyson in the early 1700s, which is located on Soldiers Delight property.  Hikers learned how early lighting techniques illuminated the cavern well enough for miners to do their dangerous work (think candlelight) and other lore of mining history.

Sales of baked goods and beverages were vigorous. The craft room was hopping.  Several visitors said they had never been to Soldiers Delight NEA before. Some had hiked the trails but didn’t realize there was a visitor center nearby.  Many said they would be back now that they had been given a glimpse of everything there is to see.

When all was said and done, volunteers tallied proceeds and were exuberant over sales that tripled last year’s earnings.  Well over a hundred people came through the doors, observed the snakes, turtles and fish which reside in the visitor center classrooms, bought a baked good or a book and made a craft or two.  By all accounts, the SDCI Holiday Open House at Soldiers Delight NEA, SDCI’s biggest fundraiser of the year, was a rousing success.  The numerous volunteers who pulled it all together (and cleaned up afterward) left for home that evening feeling exhausted but very happy.

SDCI president Laura Van Scoyoc and vice president Lynell Tobler jump for joy at the success of this year's annual fundraiser for Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.

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