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Watching the Grass Grow

Arlington Echo Gets More Resilient 

By Matt Liptak 

It usually means doing something extremely boring, but for Rachel Pierson, watching grass grow is actually somewhat exciting. 

“I just went down to check on them today, and they’re holding up great,” she said. “They continue to grow taller, wider and thicker.” 

Pierson has been checking on plugs of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) that were planted in early June at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville. She has been watching the grass grow ever since. 

Thanks to AmeriCorps and volunteers at Arlington Echo, the shoreline at the convergence of the Severn River and Indian Creek have at least 1,000 new plantings of grasses this summer. 

Arlington Echo is an environmental education center run by Anne Arundel County Public schools and teaches students to make responsible environmental decisions with overnight camps, field trips and hands-on activities. 

The grasses serve multiple purposes on the shoreline. Their roots help stabilize the shore and help prevent the tides from washing away sand. The grasses themselves pull in excess nutrients and toxins, preventing them from entering the Chesapeake Bay. And they also provide habitat for creatures like grass shrimp. 

The planting of the plugs that start the grass took a bit of patience. Volunteers put on chest waders and entered the water to scoop out a little sand and plant a plug under water. This year the event took place in conditions that weren’t really cooperating.  

The tide was higher than expected during plantings. And the weather didn’t exactly cooperate either. On one occasion it was pouring rain when they planted 800 plugs, and on another day, the heat was beating down on them as they planted an additional 300-400. But they persevered. 

“Working with volunteers is really special,” Pierson said. “They’re really down-to-earth, genuine people. We have some very awesome people who come out in the heat and the rain.” 

Pierson recalls the experience cheerfully. She noted the downpours they were working in were warm and refreshing. They celebrated with a round of air high fives. And to mitigate the heat there were snacks… 

“I brought little snacks,” she said. “We celebrated with donuts and lunch the day it was hot.” 

Volunteers were happy to be working together on a project they believe in. “It was just a chance for all of us to get together and contribute to environmental restoration,” Pierson said. 

AmeriCorps member Eliza Poffenberger didn’t seem to mind the heat, she just enjoyed getting out on the water. “It was really enjoyable,” she said. “The planting I found very relaxing. We put on our full-body waders and went in the water. It was meditative.” 

Poffenberger, who is an AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator for the Girl Scouts, is originally from the mountains of western Maryland but now lives in Annapolis. She said she loves spending time near the water and would jump at the chance to go back to the center. 

“I was pleasantly surprised we got to go into the water,” she said. “Even though I wasn’t a child at Arlington Echo, it was a relaxing place. I’d definitely go back.” 

As the grasses continue to grow at the center. Pierson said she will continue to monitor them. “As they become more dense, they’ll provide more habitat and hold more shoreline,” she said.