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Get outside and enjoy the end of summer.

IronweedWe had a great hike around Kendall Ridge, Maryland on this past Thursday. I bet you have never been there. It was a 2 mile walk – part of the 120 miles of paths in Howard County. It was 1 of 10 walks I am leading this year for the Columbia Association.

The woods have changed so much over the past few weeks. Dark green canopies cover the paths. Noonday cicadas drown out all human noise including the airplanes, and Joe Pye, Ironweed, jewelweed and golden rod offer a bit of color.

Grape.360Part of the difference in the woods or the edges of the woods is the result of the vines taking over the forests. All the trees were magically draped with vines climbing up 10, 30, 60 feet covering trees of all sizes. We saw a range of grapevines (fox, summer, riverbank, etc.), Virginia creeper, poison ivy, English ivy, cut-thumb/mile-a-minute, porcelain berry, honeysuckle, and trumpet vine.

It was a special walk along boardwalks reaching across streams, floodplains, and engineered wetlands. We saw stressed sycamores and locust trees, lots of black walnuts, and a series of dying ash trees. It was interesting to envision what life must have been like pre-colonization, and after Daniel Kendall received his 400 and 500 acre land grants back in 1701 (Kendall’s Delight and Kendall’s Enhancement). The forests are recovering as are the streams and a whole host of flora and fauna, including many native and non-native species. It is a seldom visited path that extends sound from the Kendall Ridge Pool. Go try it one day. You will forget you live in a city.

Take-a-way: For a list of future hikes this fall visit this schedule of events. Don’t leave the trails just to the PokemonGo searchers!

Pokemon GO is brilliant – Whatever it takes to get people outside.

Pokemon GoI love the fact that I am seeing hundreds of people of all ages out on the paths during these hot days of summer. It took me a few minutes to appreciate what they were doing: they are all playing Pokémon GO “which allows you to find and catch more than a hundred virtual species of Pokémon as you explore your surroundings with your IPhone or Android device.”

I am still trying to understand why they are doing it. I did ask this question and received the following comments listed below. I think there is some real potential here for getting more people out of their basements and off of their couches to explore the real world while playing a virtual game. As you can see in some of the comments, these folks are starting to appreciate some of the paths and the special places that our ancestors have saved for us. Maybe a few of them will become stewards as well.

Kathy Smith It’s fun! It gets me outside, it allows me to talk with the people around me, and I’m learning a lot of trivia about the physical spaces around me (almost all of the pokestops where you can get virtual prizes are historical, artistic, or local landmarks). I’m really enjoying it. Yes, it’s a silly game, and yes, I’m a geek – but on the other hand, how many people play solitaire, or minesweeper, or any one of a hundred other games on their phones or tablets? But no one ever says anything about that … mostly because they’re sitting inside, alone. I’m enjoying this game that seems to be bringing people out and bringing people together.I’m highly enthusiastic about this game, Ned. I haven’t walked this much (regularly) since my walking partner up and moved to North Carolina.

Judy O’Keefe Kelsey says it helps learn the metric system and they are using it in PT to encourage kids to move. All good in my book as long as caution is used. I’m wondering if we’ll see this in the winter

Jen Cook I stopped to hunt Pokémon at a spot I’ve driven by all of my life. I’ve never seen egrets there before, just geese and ducks.

Chas Parr The week after it came out I accidentally walked more than six miles to Wilde Lake and back. I think it is a very positive influence despite the naysayers.

Ken Crandell I saw a ton of them roaming around Pismo Beach pier at night, too. Glued to their phone, but outside and walking, with some interaction with other actual real live people. So, it’s an encouraging development.

Sherry S. Wechsler While I am clueless about Pokemon Go, right after it was released my daughter Rebecca posted this: “Ok, I am not usually a big fan of apps and video games but am really a big fan of this new Pokemon Go. In the past few days We have walked over 10 kilometers, hiked Patapsaco Park, discovered a nature trail by our home, and walked our entire neighborhood multiple times. My kids have been outside nonstop and had a blast. We live in a digital world and if this gets people out and moving than I am all for it.” They have continued to explore. Of course, I did find myself in my typical Mom/Grandmother style cautioning her to make sure they all watch where they are walking and stay away from traffic, don’t focus on phone in parking lots, avoid cliffs, edges of swimming pools and watch for bicycles. 😊

Carol Weisman I still don’t understand the appeal of bellbottoms.

Take-a-way: I have been searching for ways to get younger generations outdoors. This game has done just that. It is now up to them to see what happens next.

 

Bats, Bullfrogs, and Fireflies

bull_frog_face_04_17-67-777694Kathy and I walked a friend home after dinner last night along an unlit path through the woods. The sun had set, the moon was out and we could see numerous stars – it was a spectacular time for a walk. Nighttime walks are another wonderful natural resource we have right in our backyards that very few of us take advantage. After last night’s experience, we are planning to do it much more often.

We walked around Lake Elkhorn in Howard County, MD. Kathy had on a head lamp which was helpful since the stretches in the woods were quite dark and the paths had steep edges. The path that we followed was deserted by humans except for one couple walking arm in arm – but the walk was full of life.

The first surprise was a bat that fluttered right over our heads. Several of them seemed to stay with us for a while, passing back and forth, our headlamp catching them in the light on each pass they took. They were probably harvesting the white moths that were attracted to our light. It was pretty neat to be escorted by bats.

As we approached the open meadows and wetlands at the east end of the lake, we were greeted by hundreds of fireflies doing their mating routines in the tall grasses. The area has been left to grow with many native plants and the fireflies seemed to like the habitat a lot.

We were also treated by a series of bullfrogs calling out to their mates and often jumping into the water as we passed. Their deep calls resonated across the waters and off the tree-lined edges to the lake. We also heard them later as we drifted off to sleep with our windows open. It is a very soothing and primordial sound.

The last thing we saw was the reflection of our headlamp in the eyes of a small mammal. Turning off the light we could see the silhouette of a fawn standing by the water’s edge. We wished we could have spent the entire night out exploring and learning more about the nocturnal habits of our fellow creatures. I am sure that like the daytime, there is so much to see as a wide range of life goes about their activities around this vibrant ecosystem.

Take-a-way: Enjoy paths near your home for nighttime walks. Probably best to go with friends and be careful of your footing.

Road Salt as a Water Quality Issue

This summary was written by Mark Southerland for the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board.

road saltWe are all familiar with the use of road salt to melt ice and snow from paved roadways in the winter. There are a variety of deicer products, but the vast majority of what is used is common table salt—sodium chloride (Na-Cl). Road salt improves tire adherence to the pavement, greatly increasing vehicle safety, but has adverse effects on property and the environment beyond the road surface.

The types and extent of these adverse effects are becoming clearer through recent (more…)

National Parks Revisited on Their 100th Anniversary

Denali National Park, AlaskaThis is the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. What a wonderful bipartisan step that was to institutionalize a process for creating and maintaining national parks throughout the country. They are enjoyed each year by millions of domestic and international visitors. We have been emulated by nearly every other country on earth.

In my second book, Saving the Places we Love, I provide numerous stories on the (more…)

Mosses – Our Local Sustainability Experts

moss on treesWhen you go for a walk today, take a moment to marvel at the amazing wonders that we call mosses. Bend down close, even get on your hands and knees, and examine all the shapes, textures, and colors that you will find in a bed of moss. Then ponder their powerful ability to be there year round, staying green throughout even the coldest snaps in winter and quickly rebounding from droughts in summer. Very few living organisms on our planet are this resilient.

Then again, why am I so surprised? These organisms have been around for more than 300 (more…)

Ranger Max Considers Trail Etiquette – Guest Post

Ranger Max - EtiquetteMax has been a Volunteer Ranger at Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) since he retired back in 2010. He made a personal goal of hiking each major trail in the park for the fun of it and so he could advise park visitors which trail best meets their needs-Easy? Scenic? Bikeable? Peaceful? Accessible?

One of the more frequently asked questions is about trail etiquette, especially when it comes to the encounters between equestrians, mountain bikers, dog walkers? The Rangers’ usual reply involves an understanding of right of way and park rules. We will discuss these one at a time. (more…)