Christmas Trees Get New Life In Bay Erosion Prevention

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On January 4, an environmentally passionate group of Arnold and Cape St. Claire residents mobilized to help the Chesapeake Bay by collecting dry Christmas trees to be used as erosion-prevention barriers. The grassroots effort started with a simple Facebook post by a Beverly Triton Nature Park ranger.

Like most shorelines, the shore of Beverly Triton is impacted by rain, weather and excessive high tides, which cause soil to erode into the Chesapeake Bay. Ranger Karen Jarboe, Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks (Mayo Peninsula Parks), had done shoreline conservation work in the past and used trees and logs to help slow the rate of erosion. Knowing people generally throw out their Christmas trees after the season is over, Jarboe used social media to let people know they could donate their pine tree to the park for shoreline conservation. The message spread instantly.

Stacey Wildberger, president of Cape Conservation Corps, read Jarboe’s plea for trees and shared it in a Cape St. Claire Facebook group. Matthew Toronto, owner of Matthew’s Hauling Service, saw that post right after Christmas and offered his truck to haul trees for the project.

“When I started this campaign, it spread quickly,” Wildberger said. “It got bigger than I thought it would, and it spread beyond Cape St. Claire into Arnold. People were excited about the idea that their Christmas trees could help the bay.”

“It became immediately apparent that response was going to be high,” said Jessy Oberright, an Arnold resident and creator of Broadneck Nature Nook. “Since I know both Matt and Stacey, and I have a passionate interest in environmental conservation, I offered my assistance on the administrative and logistics side of things.”

Toronto, who grew up in Cape St. Claire and spent summers crabbing and splashing in the bay, contacted Beverly Triton Beach Ranger Ariana Kidder offering to help haul trees. By then, several interested friends and neighbors also volunteered to help. In seemingly just hours, there were 11 volunteers, three rangers, and dozens of Arnold and Cape St. Claire residents ready to pitch their drying Christmas trees into the bay.

“It kind of just snowballed in a good way,” Oberright said. “There is so much negative news concerning our environment; I think people are really desperate for opportunities to feel like they are helping.”

The trees will help to protect the Beverly Triton shoreline from damaging winds, rain and tides by providing a buffer. Jarboe said the trees are only a temporary solution to a larger problem. “The trees do lose their needles and will need to be replaced until a more sustainable solution is available.”

Erosion is the process of soil removal via rain, wind, tides, soil disruption, etc. Soil is difficult to replace. The more we lose, the less we have. It also silts in the bay, covering up submerged aquatic vegetation. Erosion also makes the water turbid or cloudy, preventing sunlight from getting to that vegetation, so water quality continues to deteriorate.

“There are uses beyond shoreline restoration that the trees can be used for,” Jarboe said. “Promoting fish habitat is a common use at other parks throughout the country. Some parks use [dead] trees for enrichment for their educational animals or as wind breaks for their critters, like at Tuckahoe State Park.”

Trees are not permanent solutions, but they certainly help.

“The most important thing people can do to get involved with conservation or preservation is to focus on their own backyards and actions,” said Jarboe. “Learn how to manage your backyard for the benefit of the environment and promote this attitude in your own communities. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has many classes that promote backyard conservation. You can also talk to your local park ranger for tips.”

Jarboe said she comes from a family of watermen who have always had a connection to the bay. “I grew up on the bay and have pretty much have always had the bay in my life,” she added. “The Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways are important not only for the resources it provides us, but for recreation, and in many ways, mental and spiritual health.”

The Arnold-Cape Saint Claire crew moved more than 60 trees over a nine-hour period after pulling the entire event together in just a week. They had to stop taking pickup requests when they met their hauling limits, but inquiries kept coming.

“People were overall very grateful for the service and were delighted that their trees would ‘live on’ to provide a benefit to the Chesapeake Bay,” Oberright said.

Toronto, Oberright and Wildberger plan to meet soon to debrief and discuss ways they can improve their process to hopefully “branch out” and increase the number of trees they can get to Beverly Triton next January.

For Oberright, a nature educator and environmental scientist, she’s passionate about connecting people with the outdoors through meaningful experiences.

“Whether that’s leading a family hike through the local woods, talking to a preschooler about how awesome horseshoe crabs are or giving people an opportunity to do something positive for the earth like donating their Christmas tree for shoreline restoration, it’s all going toward the same personal goal: to get people to care,” she said.

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