A hectic drive up the bustling I-270, five miles under an umbrella of hundred-year-old oaks, a dozen footsteps across a field of green corn shoots, we arrived at Dickerson, a corner upon the outskirts of our county. Dickerson is at the tip of the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, also known as the ‘lungs of Montgomery’, a 93,000-acre sanctuary established in the 1980s to preserve historical and environmental landmarks from the rapid development of Washington suburbs. The reserve encircles the Sugarloaf Mountains like a river of green hugging a turquoise castle.
“If you look on the satellite map of our county, you’d see that its northwestern frontier is filled by a patch of green,” said Jim Brown, President of the Piedmont Environmental Education Foundation. “We set a limit to the housing densities in our town, and all of us want to try everything we can do to keep the earth green.”
As I drove past the forests rich with the prime of spring upon a road built in the Civil War era, we arrived at a cozy farm—Lindsey’s Barn, where the annual Sugarloaf Citizen’s Association meeting took place. Greeted by County Councilors Hans Riemer, Phil Andrews, and Roger Berliner, members of the association celebrated the creation of the reserve, discussed eco-friendly practices in horticulture, and shared inquires about current local environmental issues.
Although a stranger to farming, I felt at home while surrounded by a crowd of fifty or so ardent environmentalists dedicated to leave something for the ‘next generation,’ whether it be cultivating a bushel of barley, driving a hybrid car, or lobbying for one more acre of green land. At the conclusion of the meeting, several members started planning a ‘seed exchange’ program to promote horticulture in every home.
The Sugarloaf Citizen’s Association helps fund the Piedmont Environmental Education grants each year, working with Montgomery County Public Schools in organizing green-school projects ranging from recycling art, worm composting, rain garden construction, and efforts for biodiversity conservation. With the rising enrollments and energy costs, schools incur an increasingly high stress upon the environment. Thus, bringing green practices back to campus, particularly gardening and natural composting, results in a great amount of saving for our community. Applications from each school enter a competitive process during early January, with the winners being granted funds. This year, grant recipients include John Poole Middle School, Cedar Grove Elementary School, Poolesville High School, and Richard Montgomery High School, among others.
As I travelled with Mr. Brown back between the alleys of Barnesville, a parade of bicyclists streamed down the hills of an equestrian drill court. We turned onto Old Baltimore Road, which connected Poolesville to southern Baltimore back in the early nineteenth century. After going for miles on this forested, one-lane street, we suddenly arrived at a shallow creek that directly cuts through the road.
“This is Ten Mile Creek,” explains Mr. Brown, as gravel from the riverbank ricocheted between the tire and bumper of his car while we waded through the clear blue waters.
Soon I learned that this creek is in danger. A real estate developer had already purchased a large area of land in nearby Clarksburg to build a shopping outlet. Despite the developer’s claims to use technology that would reduce waste disposal into the creek, and that pollution levels will be minimized, it is impossible for the shopping outlet not to affect the creek’s water quality. Like a heavy load of coal at the center of a swimming pool, the shopping center will inevitably impact the original face of Ten Mile Creek as car runoff, emissions, and trash from parking lots and stores make their way into the water. What is now a safe haven for all sorts of creatures may soon deteriorate.
“All the biodiversity will be lost,” Mr. Brown contemplates solemnly. “Perhaps Monocacy will never be blessed with the creek again in the not too distant future.”
This October, the County Council will debate final plans for the shopping outlet and Ten Mile Creek. Preserving the natural landscape is a major goal of Sugarloaf residents.
“It would make a tremendous impact if young people can speak on our side and save the creek,” Mr. Brown said as we returned to Rockville.
When we are distressed by the pressures of school and work, it is always pleasant to know that there’s a sanctuary not too far from where we are that offers nature’s most genuine consolations. Take a hike up Sugarloaf or hold a picnic by the pumpkin farms, and one can easily realize the healing power of the environment. The least that we can do, as students, is to voice our wishes for this green land to always be blessed with healing powers for our younger siblings and the generations to come.
Article by Jessica Li, SAC Press Secretary