National Night Out 2019!

The SDCI Invasives display at National Night Out in Owings Mills, Maryland
Since 1984, the first Tuesday in August has been a day for communities across the nation to gather to celebrate National Night Out, a time for residents to come together in fellowship and good cheer, to get acquainted with their police departments, with the local business community, and with their neighbors, all in the name of tamping down crime in our urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods by getting to know and understand one another better.

On Tuesday, August 6, the Owings Mills New Town Community Association in Baltimore County, Maryland, staged its seventh annual National Night Out event and, for the sixth time, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. was invited to host a display. We happily accepted the invitation.

From left, SDCI board member Joe Kelly, State Restoration Ecologist Wayne Tyndall, SDCI Vice President Lynell Tobler, Department of Natural Resources Biologist Paula Becker, and SDCI board President Laura Van Scoyoc
To visitors who approached our canopied space, Soldiers Delight Conservation board members Lynell Tobler, Laura Van Scoyoc and Joe Kelly, along with Maryland Wildlife and Heritage biologist Paula Becker and Maryland state ecologist Dr. Wayne Tyndall, posed a question writ large on a chalkboard above buckets containing cuttings from an assortment of trees, shrubs and vines: "What is wrong with these plants?" Some suggested the plants were dying or needed water. Others asked if they were poisonous. Those who ventured the correct guess received a piece of candy. There weren’t many.

SDCI collects a host of invasive plants growing wild all over the community for our display each year
Probably the single most important outreach message we impart at Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., the Friends Group for Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area in Owings Mills, Maryland, is about the danger of planting non-native, invasive species of plants, vines, shrubs, flowers and trees, many of which can be purchased at any local garden center or big box store. To our target audience, the homeowners in the Owings Mills New Town community whose properties are near or adjacent to the Soldiers Delight wilderness, our message is especially urgent: the seeds from common but terribly invasive ornamentals, groundcovers and landscape specimens, several of which we displayed at National Night Out, are eaten (and later expelled) by birds, caught in animal fur, and float on the wind out of neighborhood yards and into the Soldiers Delight NEA and other wildlands, where they sprout and spread with abandon.

SDCI board President Laura Van Scoyoc discusses the dynamics of invasive plant infiltration on native habitats with neighborhood residents
Because non-native, invasive plants, many from Asia, have no natural enemies here to control their reproduction, such as animals, insects, fungi, bacteria, and viral diseases, there is nothing to stop their aggressive spread throughout the landscape. The resulting takeover of invasive plant species can and does wreak havoc on native ecosystems. In Soldiers Delight, especially, invasive plants quickly overwhelm the fragile native habitat. We at SDCI consider providing information and cautioning nearby residents to avoid planting invasive ornamentals more than a community service. It is an imperative call to heed the intrinsic value of our native plant and animal life, lest we lose our precious indigenous species forever. It is a message we fervently and repeatedly deliver whenever we get a chance.

State Restoration Biologist Paula Becker demonstrates how to control "flames" during SDCI's prescribed burn activity for children
Beyond our invasive plant display, SDCI set up a large plywood board painted to resemble flames roaring over a grassy plain, with accompanying signage indicating that a “prescribed burn” was “in progress”. On the grass in front of the painted fireboard, neighborhood children lined up to try on genuine Nomex fire-retardant shirts which, of course, were many sizes too large for our diminutive fans.
Ben Meyer, 3, of Pikesville, tries his hand at controlling the "flames" in our prescribed burn activity for children
Aided by Maryland State Restoration Ecologist Wayne Tyndall, Maryland Wildlife and Heritage biologist Paula Becker, and SDCI board member Joe Kelly, children eagerly donned the accoutrements of firefighting. Once suitably attired, each child took a turn spraying the "flames" while wearing or standing next to a heavy backpack water-bladder, as board members Lynell Tobler and Laura Van Scoyoc regaled nearby parents with information about the twice yearly burns which help control invasive plants and further improve the delicate balance of native habitat.

Mael Carpenter, 3, of Owings Mills, takes aim at the faux flames with help from SDCI board member Joe Kelly
Amidst our invasive plant exhibit, SDCI board members staffed two long tables displaying literature about our visitor center, the nature programming we offer, and various specimens of the unique geological features that comprise the serpentine barrens at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area.

As the Owings Mills New Town neighborhood commons flooded with residents enjoying various booths offering free food from area restaurants and demonstrations by local businesses and fire and police departments, our SDCI display saw a steady stream of neighborhood families for the full two hours of the event. As dance music blared from loudspeakers and families munched happily on local restaurant fare, it was clear to all that the Owings Mills New Town Community Association’s National Night Out event was a success. We, the dedicated volunteers of SDCI, were certainly happy to be there.

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