Trail honors environmentalist's memory
Feb. 25, 2004
Matt Boyd
Staff Writer

It's widely known that Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring," the 1962 book that exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT and helped spark the environmental movement.

It's less widely known that she lived in Montgomery County when she wrote it.

This April will mark the 40th anniversary of Carson's death, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is commemorating her by extending and renaming a trail in her honor.

The Northwest Branch Trail Corridor, soon to be the Rachel Carson Greenway, is being extended to the Patuxent River. Carson's home in the Quaint Acres neighborhood of Silver Spring, a national historic landmark, will be open to the public during the naming ceremony March 20.

"Silent Spring" was a landmark book in that it changed the way people thought about the relationship between technology and nature, said Diana Post, the executive director of the Rachel Carson Council, which maintains the home in Quaint Acres.

"At time, there was no EPA," Post said. "People were approaching DDT as the silver bullet."

First used in World War II, DDT was so effective that some called it the atomic bomb of pesticides. Many people at the time thought there would be no need in the future for entomologists, because all the troublesome pest insects would be completely wiped out, Post said.

However, there were scientists even in the 1940s who foresaw the dangers of a persistent broad-spectrum pesticide that killed pests and pollinators alike. Unfortunately, warnings were not heeded, Post said.

DDT also appeared to be nontoxic for non-insect species. It isn't generally absorbed through the

skin, and it appeared to be relatively harmless even when taken orally, Post said.

However, DDT proved to be toxic to fish and other animals. For humans, it turned out to be a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. It also interfered with the immune system response in humans and amphibians.

It is also very stable, and doesn't break down easily in the body or the environment, Post said. It can be stored in fat tissue and can take years to reach the top of the food chain. By the time it does, it can be concentrated at 80 thousand times what it was in the environment originally, she said.

This kind of connectivity in nature was a new thing for people, Post said. In some early criticisms of "Silent Spring," people scoffed at the idea that surface water is connected to groundwater which is connected to rainwater which is connected to ocean water.

"She introduced concept of ecology as well as toxicology," Post said.

Carson's love of nature was one of the reasons behind the name change, said Lyn Coleman, a trail-planning supervisor with M-NCPPC. This area is known for being protective of its natural resources.

In addition, the name was well suited because Carson's house lay at one end of the trail and the Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Olney lay at the other, Coleman said.

The Northwest Branch Trail Corridor is currently about 11 miles long. Coleman said. "It goes right along the stream; it's really very pretty," she said.

Once finished, the Rachel Carson Greenway will be 22 miles long, running from Prince George's County and through Silver Spring, Ashton and Sandy Spring before finishing in Olney.

There is no timetable yet for finishing the natural surface trail, Coleman said. The project, as always, will have to compete for money.

The renaming ceremony will be held 10 a.m. March 20 at the Burnt Mills Dam, 10700 Colesville Road. Afterwards, the public is invited on a one-mile walk or a six-mile hike with M-NCPPC staff.

Maps of the Northwest

Branch Trail Corridor and other

Montgomery County trails

can be found at