Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 47

November 21-27, 2002

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In This Week's Issue:

Saving the Bay: As Easy As Kids’ Play

Sediment, sediment, run down my hill!

On the playground at Gibson Island Country School in Pasadena, a handful of grownups and four-year-olds stand like trees, their feet rooted to the ground and their arms waving like branches in the wind. More four-year-olds attempt to scramble past the waving boughs. Each child who gets caught by a tree’s arms becomes another tree, until the lawn is nearly impassable. All the little bodies of sediment get caught by trees before they can sprint across the playground to the finish line.

photo by April Falcon Doss
There’s plenty of hands-on learning, from muddy excursions in wetlands to touch tanks filled with the fish and shellfish just pulled from the Magothy River, for students of Gibson Island Country School now that the Living Classrooms Foundation has come aboard.
The game these preschoolers play was invented at Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore-based educational organization whose motto is Learning By Doing. It’s a lesson the children grasp at once: More trees catch more sediment, thereby halting runoff of dirt and pollution into the Bay.

Such games are part of a waterfront day celebrating a partnership between Living Classrooms Foundation and Gibson Island Country School. With its new waterfront studies program, the school integrates its campus into its curriculum. Living Classrooms Foundation adds the ingenuity and some of the staff.

“We’re trying to instill in the students an appreciation for the environment. If you can begin with them while they’re young, they’ll carry that appreciation with them through their lifetime,” says school head Cameron Noble. In the Living Classrooms Foundation, she’s found the partner to create a waterfront studies program that takes advantage of the school’s natural environment: woods and wetlands on the banks of the Magothy River.

Foundation staffer Carla Yeago shares Noble’s enthusiasm for the next phase of this year-long project. Students will map the campus, including its buildings, woods, wetlands and shoreline. Each grade level (enrollment includes pre-K through fifth grade) will use art, French, music, science, library, computers — in short, all of the subjects in their curriculum — to produce the final project: a publication that describes the school, its environment and history.

“Nothing is more motivating to students to do their best work,” Yeago explains, “than knowing that the work is going to be published and read by others, that it’ll be something long-lasting.”

The mapping project fits into the school’s plans to remove non-native grasses and restore native plants to its shoreline. But programs like this one would work in other schools just as well. “There’s always a story and a history to any school, no matter where it’s located,” Yeago explains. Wherever they are, helping students to understand the place where they do their learning opens up new and interesting ways of learning.

On waterfront festival day, there’s plenty of hands-on learning to be had: from muddy excursions in wetlands to touch tanks filled with the fish and shellfish just pulled from the Magothy River: blue crabs, white perch, oysters, a horseshoe crab and a hog choker. As foundation instructor Josh Biebesheimer describes the creatures to the kids, he also provides directions on how to learn hands-on: “The first rule when we’re looking at fish is you have to get your hands wet,” he says.

Enthusiasm is clearly infectious, and these kids have caught it. As they tromp on and off the foundation’s buyboat, the Mildred Belle, all the children listen intently as foundation instructors Jen Wishinski and Bryn Carey explain the water quality tests they’re doing. They’re just as delighted at making paintings from dead fish, a Japanese art known as gyo tako that the children seemed to love as much for its yuck factor as for the outcome.

“We’re here to see how clean and healthy the water is,” says Biebesheimer. “Why do you think that might be important?”

A four-year-old pipes up: “So it can be safe for the animals who live in it.”

“That’s right,” says Bryn. “And so we can swim in it.”

That the environment matters to all its living creatures is a lesson the children are quick to grasp.

With that, the kids help lower the testing tube into the river, delighted to learn about pH and oxygen. As they do, the day’s lessons become as clear as the Magothy’s water in late fall: These children are our littlest citizens, the future stewards of our environment.

— April Falcon Doss

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Even the Kitchen Sink Can Be Recycled

Nowadays, almost anything can be recycled. Bottles, cans, you name it. But what would happen if you tried to recycle something on a much larger scale? A car? A playground? What about a house?

A house?

It can be done. Believe it or not, you can donate almost every part of a building, from carpets to pipes, to an organization that will reuse it to build low-income housing. The Loading Dock, an 18-year-old Baltimore-based non-profit, recycles building materials to low-income housing builders and community service projects.

Executive director Leslie Kirkland talks about the collections as if they were animals at a shelter. “We find homes for unwanted materials, and our emphasis is on reuse,” she said. “We’ll take a toilet to our warehouse, and find a home for it.”

To spread the word about the work of the Loading Dock, Anne Arundel County is sponsoring the deconstruction of an old administration building at the county’s Millersville Landfill. There the Loading Dock is teaming up with the REX Company, a construction contractor, to salvage all materials from the house and determine their reusability.

On America Recycles Day, the county opened the doors to the deconstruction project they hope will set an example for home-renovating residents. “Today we’re practicing what we preach,” said Jim Pittman of the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works.

From outside, the project seems an ordinary ranch home with brick exterior, white trim and hedging along the front. But inside, something is awry.

Exposed insulation peeks out of corners, and piles of ceiling tiles are stacked on the floor. Neon green stickers are attached to nearly every detail in the room, marking items for reuse. A poster on the wall lists materials, from copper pipes to aluminum siding, to be recycled, and those to be reused, such as toilets, mirrors and hardwood flooring.

REX Company’s Steve Verill led the tour. “We remove everything from a house that is humanly possible to reuse or recycle,” he said, pointing to a hot water tank about to be recycled.

Eighty-five percent of the building will be recycled or reused, from the roof shingles to the cement foundation, things that would ordinarily go straight to the landfill.

“We’re going to track some of the items to their final resting place,” Pittman promised. “We’re going to videotape it and share it on the local access channel.”

County land use officer Bob Walker urged citizens and corporations to follow the county’s lead. “Remember that anything we can do, no matter how big or small, contributes to the preservation of our resources,” he said.

How can you do your part? Instead of demolishing a piece of property, you could have it deconstructed and recycled at a tax-deductible cost. On a smaller scale, you can donate any extra building materials to the Loading Dock; they’ll take any reusable objects from door frames to recessed light fixtures. Or you could volunteer with the Loading Dock.


—Sara Williams

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A Wild Ride Rolls on in Calvert Elections

It’s official — sort of.

The votes cast in the General Election November 5 have been counted. But like the building of Rome, it wasn’t done in a day. And as Yogi Berra says, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Votes were counted in three days, and for some candidates, every one of those days was a roller coaster ride.

By 10pm November 5, when the votes cast that day had been counted, Calvert County Board of Commissioners candidate Grace Mary Brady thought 10,550 votes just might have won her a job.

Yes, she’d come in seventh in a field of 10 where only five could win. But in Calvert’s peculiar electoral system, where three commissioners are elected in districts and two at large, she was the highest vote-getter for the county’s southernmost Third District.

She went to bed happy but, she said at the time, not overconfident. Trailing her by only 52 votes, with 10,498 votes, was Jerry Clark, the eighth-placer and her competitor in the Third District. And some thousand absentee ballots were still to be counted.

November 7, Brady’s heart slammed to the bottom of the ride while Clark’s soared. For when the absentee ballot count was finished, she trailed her competitor by 13 votes.

And it wasn’t over.

On November 15 came yet another count. Allowing for the vagaries of the mails, Maryland gives military and overseas ballots an extra 10 days to find their way to their county’s election board. With those, Calvert County still had 63 ballots to count.

But it’s not that simple. To protect secrecy of those votes, explains State Board of Elections director of election management Donna J. Duncan, “we hold back from initial absentee count five of each ballot style.” By styles she means unique combinations of candidates. Calvert had three ballot styles, amounting to 15 of the last 63 ballots counted.

With that count, Brady’s roller coaster crashed. For Clark jumped ahead by 36 votes.

That’s the vote, but it’s not official until November 25.

On that day, the State Board of Canvassers — the secretary of state; attorney general; comptroller; treasurer; the clerk of Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court; and the state election administrator — will appear in the office of the State Board of Elections and declare the winners.

So when Calvert County’s vote is certified on November 25, along with Baltimore’s and all the other counties’, Jerry Clark will be the official winner of Calvert’s Third District Commissioners seat.

It’s official — but it isn’t over yet.

At an initial cost of $5,000, Brady’s buying another ticket on that roller coaster. On November 18, after the last provisional ballot had been counted and she appeared to have lost by all of three dozen votes, she called for Calvert County’s first recount — at least the first that anybody can remember.

“I’ve never seen one, and I’m in my 17th year. This will be the first,” said Calvert County elections administrator Gail Hatfield.

Said Brady: “If I didn’t do it, I’d regret it every day for the next four years.”

After all, she says, the vote difference between Clark and herself amounts to slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of Calvert County’s 26,661 vote. If she wins, or even if she can narrow the margin down to 26 votes — one-tenth percent or less — Brady will get back the $5,000 bond she charged on her last available credit card.

Just how likely is Brady to win her gamble?

“It used to be 14 votes separating them. Now it’s 36. You just don’t know,” says elections administrator Hatfield. “I have the utmost faith in our electoral system, but there’s a minute margin for error.”

Brady says she’s not counting on her recount turning up 37 votes marked with her name, but she just can’t give up until she knows for sure.

So, on Monday, November 25, Calvert County’s Board of Elections will be setting out boxes of thousands of ballots. Teams of counters recruited from both parties will be sitting down at the county fairgrounds to count them by hand.

It won’t be a Calvert County miniature of Florida’s great count of November, 2000, when the presidency hung in the balance. Chads, hanging or otherwise, will be absent, because Calvert Countians vote with pens and pencils, not hole punchers.

But until it’s over, it will be a roller coaster ride.


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Skateboarders Roll Into Truxtun Park

The jar sat on the counter at Evolve, Chesapeake Country’s most popular skate shop, for a long, long time. It sat half-full of bills and change beside a grinning skull wearing a safety helmet. A note was taped to the front. In felt-tip scrawl, the note said:

photo by Brent Seabrook
Skateboarders — who once had to truck to skateboard parks as farflung as this one in Dunkirk — will now have a home at Truxtun Park.
“We found it! It took a while, but the Annapolis Skateboard Park has a location in … Truxtun Park. We need … money … volunteers … a clever name.”

The name isn’t so clever, but everything else is in line for Saturday, November 23, when the Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department cuts the ribbon on the new Truxtun Skate Park.

Skate parks have come a long way since the plywood ramps and drained swimming pools of the 1970s. There are famous concrete parks — built into the ground like swimming pools — in Ocean City and outside Baltimore. Closer to home, there are public parks in Dunkirk, Bowie and on Kent Island. But an abandoned basketball court at Sawmill Creek Park in Glen Burnie has been the only skate park inside Anne Arundel County — until now.

Back in May of 2001, the State Board of Public Works anted up $27,750 to make possible what then-mayor Dean Johnson called “a dream of skateboarders in Annapolis for six years.”
The wheels of progress turn slowly, however, and it took more than a year to put those dollars to work. Located between Hilltop Road and Spa Creek, Truxtun Park adds vertical skating to a mix of playful activities including walking and biking trails, a swimming pool, boating, volleyball courts and softball fields.

Near the boat trailer parking area, the city has built an all-weather surface approximately 80 by 100 feet, surrounded by a 10-foot chain-link fence. After the opening ceremony at 1pm, local skaters will show the crowd how such parks are used; then the park will be open to all — unless it rains.

The park is open to skate boarders and roller skaters (inline and otherwise) only. Skaters must complete a registration form, have a liability waiver (if under 18, signed by a parent) and wear safety equipment — including elbow pads, knee pads and a helmet. Variable open skating hours are posted at the park.

Information? 410/263-7958.

—Brent Seabrook

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Earth Journal ~ The Kestrel
by Gary Pendleton

The rapacious robin preys on earth worms; the fierce and terrible wren hunts for caterpillars, while the swift and agile swallows capture air-borne victims. They are all predators.

However birds of prey usually refers to birds such as hawks and owls. There is another word to describe such birds: raptor.

Falcons are raptors; they are the swifter, more agile members of the branch of the family tree that includes hawks and vultures. Over 20 species of falcon occur throughout the world. They range from six to 20 inches in length. They are usually boldly patterned — and some are brightly colored — and they have long, powerful wings and long tails.

Three species of falcon inhabit Maryland: the peregrine falcon, the merlin and the American kestrel. To me, their dramatic-sounding names suggest ancient origins and mythical connections. The merlin, for example, might have been named for the wizard of King Arthur’s Court, although the connection is not clear. The names are ancient, pre-dating the European discovery of North America, for the American falcons are named for their European cousins, which they closely resemble.

Of all American falcons, the kestrel is by far the most common and the smallest. Male American kestrels are a splendid combination of red, blue, black and brown. Females are similarly patterned but less colorful.

American kestrels were once called sparrow hawks, but that name is misleading in that it suggests their diet consists of small birds. Kestrels will eat small birds, but they prefer to hunt for large insects and small rodents.

Solitary kestrels frequently perch on telephone wires, near (but not too near) other birds such as the slightly larger mourning dove. The kestrel is the one with the squared-off tail and the thick neck and head. Sometimes they demonstrate their superb aerial skills by hovering above their prey before striking. These exquisite creatures are common along the highways and roads of southern Maryland.

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Way Downstream

In Virginia, members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission came up with a scary number last week when they added up what it would take ideally over the next seven years to restore the Chesapeake Bay: $19 billion. Virginia has the biggest spending deficit among member states — $5.7 billion through 2010. Maryland has the smallest, $3.1 billion, but that’s still a huge amount given the state’s $1.7 billion shortfall next year …

In St. Michaels, a new project at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has a worthy aim: documenting African Americans’ contributions to the Bay’s seafood industry. The museum hired doctoral student and St. Johns College grad Harold Anderson to do research. He’s looking for information, waiting for your call at 410/745-2916 …

Our Creature Feature is a high seas adventure ala James Bond from Hong Kong, where police encountered a crude weapon during a speedboat chase with smugglers: flying cobras. The smugglers, it turns out, were hauling hundreds of the cobras to China, where they’re regarded as a delicacy.

When the police closed in, the smugglers began throwing boxes of the endangered snakes at their pursuers. Then the boats crashed, killing one of the smugglers. Police recovered most of the cobras, Reuters reported.

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Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly