Volume 12, Issue 15 ~ April 8-14, 2004
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James R. Martin Jr. Saint of the Severn?
In GreenScape 2004, April 17, you’ll see Martin’s hand at work in Annapolis.
by Lucy Oppenheim

“Jim’s really an unsung hero. He’s always there as the backbone of all kinds of organizations,” says Jane Sinclair about her fellow past president of the Severn River Association, Jim Martin.

Chairing Annapolis’ GreenScape 2004, set for April 17, lets Martin shine in his dual role as longtime environmental activist and successful local businessman.

Martin has been involved with Annapolis GreenScape all of its 13 years. “I’ve done everything from cleaning out streams, rivers, creeks and lakes — by swimming in them, being in a boat or working from the shoreline — to planting numerous trees, flowers and shrubs,” he says. Now in his second year as chair, he’s been knocking on doors, asking other businesses to donate gloves and food and beverages for a picnic to wrap up the morning of planting trees and shrubs around the city.

This year, GreenScape encompasses some 60 projects across Annapolis.

Event coordinator Steve Carr calls it amazing. “You’ll have a thousand people out running around everywhere you look. You pull up to a traffic light and see some people planting trees and shrubs on the corner. You go down the street and see five people and a dog, and they’re GreenScaping, too.”

As the planting projects wind down around noon, many GreenScapers will picnic at the Arc of Anne Arundel County on Spa Road.

photo by Louis Llovio
Jim Martin shows his tools for helping Annapolis: his shop and his shovel.
There, they’ll enjoy another GreenScape project, the Sensory Garden. It’s one of the most beautiful gardens in Annapolis,” Martin says of the garden planted by Mel Wilkins, this year’s winner of the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Ellen Fraites Wagner Award.

This year, GreenScape has taken as its theme the mission of Breathe Deep, Annapolis, Mayor Ellen Moyer’s clean-air initiative to plant trees and shrubs that provide air filtration and cooling. “We’re encouraging people who have a place, to plant trees, shrubs, even grass or flowers, to get rid of the impervious surfaces,” says Martin.

Annapolis supplies the GreenScaping plants, many of them native to the county. “A lot are from plants that were rescued from development sites and propagated on a farm to produce more plants,” Martin says. Once they’re planted, these native plants need less watering and attention than aliens.

Martin’s ability to explain a principle like that one is one of many talents Sinclair praises. “He’s one of the few people who can work with people at all different levels. He’d take someone who had a PhD and give them all the facts, then turn around and deal with my children.”

Practicing What He Preaches
Sinclair also admires the way Martin supports other people’s efforts. Many of the issues he works on come before the Anne Arundel County Council. Activists often show up early in the evening to sign in, then wait hours to testify. “Jim would close up his shop and walk over, and he’d sit with you so you didn’t have to sit by yourself all that time,” she says.

Martin’s shop is Free State Press on West Street at Calvert. It’s a resource he’s widely credited with sharing generously with the causes he supports, from opening it as a meeting place to donating or discounting his services.

Carr, a longtime friend, sings still higher praises. “Jimmy’s about as close to a saint as you’re going to find around town,” Carr says, meaning by saint a person who gives of his time without measuring the return. “You won’t find a more decent, caring person. He gives of himself constantly. He gets great pleasure from helping people.’

But, Carr notes, Martin is also a successful businessman who brings environmental credentials to the business table.

Carr points to both the comfortable environment Martin has created for his employees and his comprehensive recycling program. “There are an awful lot of people who have great ideas about what’s good for the environment,” Carr says, “but they’re not willing to practice that themselves. It’s always something somebody else should do. Jimmy practices what he preaches.”

Here’s what Carr means: “When Jimmy goes to a meeting of the Annapolis City Council and says workers in the Spa Road garage should have a safe work environment, he practices that when he goes back to his own business. He says that his employees should have that, too. When Jimmy goes out and says ‘You should do this,’ he’s telling you that because he does it.”

“Jimmy’s also one of the wackiest people I know,” says Carr, illuminating another aspect of Martin’s character. “There’s a childlike quality to him. Everywhere you take him, he’s like ‘Cool! Check this out! This is neat!’ It’s like taking a big kid around.”

Still Active after All These Years
Martin, 55, was an activist kid. He started as a page in the state legislature — the first volunteer one — and served as the Governor’s Youth Representative on the Maryland State Board of Social Services.

“Marvin Mandel appointed me,” Martin recalls. “That was probably his way to try to shut me up. It’s a shame I disappointed him.”

His resume has since grown heavy with memberships. The former president of the Severn River Association (and former member of the Severn River Commission) is the current president of the Spa Creek Conservancy. He’s chaired both the city’s Recreation and Parks board and its Transportation Advisory Board. He’s been involved since the beginning with the former Severn River Land Trust, now the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, and he’s been vice president of the Weems Creek Conservancy.

Martin loves the closeup views he gets kayaking — which he’s done on both shores “from Zekiah Swamp to Blackwater” — but a broader view guides his efforts.

“To be a true environmentalist,” he says, “you have to be prepared to deal with the issues that directly affect people, not just fresh air and fresh water. It’s about the human environment as well as the plants-and-animals environment.”

So it all fits together, his continued commitment to the Severn River Association, his work on affordable housing, his support for We Care and Friends, his contribution to renovations that make the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Rowe Boulevard greener.

The stadium project got started when Evan Belaga and Martin sat down with the Naval Academy Athletic Association before stadium renovations began. “We talked about building a tree and shrub buffer around the stadium, and they agreed,” says Martin. “We talked about building a pedestrian pathway around the stadium, and they agreed. We talked about storm water management, and they agreed.”

That’s how Martin works, with a positive approach. “Sometimes you have to be forceful and negative,” he says, “but it’s rare and it’s not a good situation. This was a positive effort that shows that if you work with people, they’ll work with you.”

A few blocks from the stadium, he’s worked on tree planting at Germantown Elementary School and the Admiral Heights-Bristol Drive reforestation. That, too, is part of the kid in him. “I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors, planting, digging, cultivating, and fooling around,” he says.
Green to the Roots

Martin’s activism started at home, according to friend and Free State staffer Carol Youmans. “His father was a doctor, and he’s from a longtime Annapolitan family. He’s got that same nurturing-of-the-community quality that must have been born and bred in him,” she says.

Martin also credits the example his father set, but he sees himself differently. “Annapolis has been good to me. It’s put up with me for 55 years. You have to give something back to somebody that’s fool enough to do that. And I enjoy it. It’s not just altruistic.”

Having worked in Martin’s shop for more than 20 years, Youmans has seen another side of him. “He’s a real visionary. When he started his business, it was him and a little mimeograph machine under the stairs,” in a Main Street building that burned down in 1997.

Sinclair, too, sees him as forward-looking: “He’s definitely an icon when it comes to the environmental climate in Annapolis. He’s always at the forefront of whatever’s new and upcoming.”

The future and the climate are indeed points of the compass in Martin’s environmentalism. “The more trees we plant, the better off we’ll be,” he says. “Living plants are humans’ salvation.”

The religious overtones of that statement aren’t accidental. Martin believes that “we live in a Garden of Eden. It doesn’t matter if you believe in divinities. We were put in an environment that was given to us. The measure of our ability to survive as a species will be how well we care for that environment. When you leave this world, either you take a lot of stuff with you or you leave a lot behind.”

True believer though he is, there’s nothing holier-than-thou in Martin’s view of himself.

“I’m no saint,” he says. “I’m as consumptive as anyone else. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to struggle to deal with that or not going to counsel others to be less consumptive.”

Want to join in Annapolis’ GreenScape projects on the morning of April 17? Annapolis Recreation and Parks: 410-263-7958 RecPark@annapolis.govStevecarr@toad.netJim@freestatepress.com.

About the Author
Lucy Oppenheim, a freelance copy editor, an activist and an aspiring writer, lives in Annapolis.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 8, 2004 @ 12:59am.