Trailblazing teens leave no stone unturned
Students hold cleanup Sunday on land near Northwood High School
The woods behind Northwood High School in Silver Spring are infamous as a sanctuary for teenagers skipping class, students say. As of this weekend, though, the rusted folding chairs, empty McDonald's cups and yes, even the bong a teacher found among the trees, are gone.
Funded by a $7,500 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a group of nearly 60 students and nearby residents started a project Sunday to turn the property into a nature trail that could inform the school's students and the surrounding community of the land's connection to the Chesapeake Bay.
The 15-acre lot was purchased by the State Highway Administration about 50 years ago for constructing Route 193, but the land was never used and has remained empty. Since then, co-grant-writer and environmental teacher Jennifer Chambers said it has served as a dumping ground for household items, car parts and the trash of students walking home to nearby neighborhoods. A pool of water in part of the property drains into Northwest Branch Watershed, which eventually feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, she said.
The students hope the newly cleaned property, which will feature informative signs and a marked trail, will inspire people to take their litter elsewhere.
"It won't make much of a difference," senior Rhianna O'Reilly said. "The culture around here is just to throw things around, but hopefully this will help. ... Slowly it will process, and people will start to keep it clean."
Other students seem more hopeful.
"I hope it becomes a nice place for people to come and not just a place that looks bad," said senior Ivonne Diaz. "Hopefully it will become a nice place for animals."
Among the unique finds of the day were auto carburetors, a kitchen sink and a purse still filled with all of its contents, Chambers said.
"It looks more like what a woodlands is supposed to look like instead of a trash dump," she said of the newly cleaned property.
Chambers said Sunday's three-hour cleanup was just the first step in creating the trail.
Student volunteers will also learn how to "blaze" or mark a trail. Two students will intern with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club next semester, creating interpretive signs to go around the trail and producing educational videos for the school's television station.
In the spring, Chambers and horticulture teacher Erol Miller, the other grant writer, will hold a community-wide volunteer day to restore a meadow on the property by planting 300 native plants. They'll also work to remove invasive plant species.
"I really want neighbors to take ownership of the property so that they will feel prideful and want to maintain it and keep it in its cleanly, healthy state after the project is done," Chambers said.
When everything is completed, the trail will be the perfect venue for cross-country track meets and for the community to enjoy nature, she said.
"The grant is not just about the restoration part, but using the trail to educate people about the trail and the Chesapeake Bay," she said.
The willingness of students to care about nature has to come on its own, she said. The passionate students working on the project became interested in the environment themselves, though she hopes this project will help propel that interest forward.
"You can't make them care," she said. "The biggest thing in my mind is that they create a relationship with the environment and nature. ... It's just creating that relationship, that connection."
Correction. The original version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Northwood High School teacher Erol Miller.