SDCI's Exhibit at National Night Out

SDCI board member and Scales & Tales volunteer Mark Jennys shows a black vulture to visitors at New Town's National Night event on August 4th.
On Tuesday, August 4, National Night Out events were put on by communities throughout the United States. In northwest Baltimore County, Maryland, the Owings Mills New Town Community Association staged its fourth annual National Night Out and, for the third time, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. was invited to host a table at the event. We happily accepted the invitation.

To visitors who approached our table at the event, board members Lynell Tobler and Laura Van Scoyoc posed a question writ large on a chalkboard above vases containing cuttings from an assortment of trees, shrubs and vines: "What is wrong with these plants?" All who ventured a guess received a piece of candy.  Those who guessed correctly got to take home a book containing the answer.

Probably the single most important outreach message we impart at SDCI 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 big box store. To our "target audience", the homeowners in the New Town community whose properties abut the Soldiers Delight wilderness, our message is especially critical: the seeds from these common ornamentals, groundcovers and landscape specimens are carried by birds and the wind out of neighborhood yards into the Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area, where they wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem and sensitive native habitat. 

Visitors to the SDCI table at New Town's National Night Out event were asked to describe what "was wrong" with the plants on display.
Next to our display, Patapsco Valley State Park Ranger Sara Marcinak, aided by SDCI board member Mark Jennys, offered a red-shouldered hawk, a black vulture, an American crow and a wood turtle from PVSP’s Scales & Tales Aviary at the Soldiers Delight Visitor Center. A steady stream of enthusiastic children and adults enjoyed a close-up encounter with these normally elusive animals.

On the other side of our invasive plant "pop quiz", SDCI set up a large plywood board painted to resemble flames roaring over a grassy plain, behind which a poster depicting an actual grassfire hung from a tree in an attempt to lend a bit of realism to the backdrop. On the lawn in front of the painted "fireboard", children lined up to try on genuine Nomex fire-shirts and helmets (many sizes too large for our diminutive fans). Once suitably dressed for firefighting, each child took a turn spraying the "flames" with a backpack water-bladder, as SDCI president Laura Van Scoyoc regaled nearby parents with information about the controlled burns conducted twice yearly at Soldiers Delight and the importance of fire to the delicate balance of native habitat. 

A young participant dresses in firefighting gear to simulate a controlled burn event at Soldiers Delight
Between our invasive plant exhibit and the wild animal presentation, vice president Lynell Tobler staffed a long table displaying literature about our visitor center, the nature programming we offer and various specimens of the unique geological features that comprise the serpentine barrens and Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. As the neighborhood commons flooded with residents enjoying various booths offering free food from area restaurants, demonstrations by local businesses such as yoga and dance music provided by Merritt Athletic Club and a karate demonstration put on my the White Tiger Karate Club, the SDCI display saw a steady stream of neighborhood families for the full two hours of the event. As the local fire department demonstrated their sirens to throngs of cheering onlookers and happy families arranged themselves in rows on the lawn for line dancing, it was clear the neighborhood National Night Out event was a resounding success.

According to event coordinator Ellen McNeill of the Owings Mills New Town Community Association, well over 900 people attended their neighborhood festival. That’s 900 residents who heard SDCI’s message of conservation and the importance of planting native, non-invasive landscaping plants in their yards.  A resounding success, indeed.

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