Fort McHenry is a source of fierce pride for the residents of Baltimore. It is here that our citizens stopped the British Navy from attacking the city during the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814. The flag that flew over the fort the morning after the battle not only signaled a defensive victory, but inspired a young lawyer, watching from a nearby ship, to compose a poem that would eventually become our national anthem. I visited that exact same flag this past weekend.
It’s currently on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. I grew up in this area and have taken many trips to the museums in Washington throughout my life. I’ve seen this flag several times. This one object, more than any other, inspires a personal sense of patriotism and continues to make me reflect on the events that happened at Fort McHenry in Baltimore almost 200 years ago.
Now, I get to visit Fort McHenry several times a month. It is the location of the National Aquarium’s urban field station. Adjacent to the fort is a ten-acre wetland created by the Maryland Department of Transportation as mitigation for constructing the I-95 tunnel that runs just offshore of the park. After years of inattention, the National Aquarium took over stewardship of the wetland in 1998 for use as an urban outdoor classroom and site for community-based stewardship activities and citizen science. We’ve hosted thousands of local students at the wetland site. Sometimes, it is the first time Baltimore City students get a chance to make a meaningful connection to the natural world. Students may have a chance to seine for fish (up to 20 species have been identified using the wetlands), bird watch (more than 250 species have been documented at the fort), plant native plants in the wetland or demonstration rain garden, or study wetland ecology. They may also have a chance to observe any of the large variety of animals that use the marsh for food or shelter. The list includes river otter, muskrat, deer, fox, and many species of turtle and snake.
Every spring, the National Aquarium partners with the National Park Service, NPCA, and others to recruit volunteers to restore this vital habitat. Volunteers represent the diversity of the Baltimore community and come from local community associations, corporations, schools, churches, civic groups, social clubs, and other venues. Like us, our volunteers see real value in creating a healthy habitat for local wildlife and a much-needed outdoor classroom space for students. Since volunteer efforts began, citizens have helped plant native trees and marsh grasses, install bird boxes, and collect nearly 600,000 pieces of debris from this urban wetland. This work all adds up to create a valuable green space in the heart of Baltimore City.
Our next event will be held April 27, 2013, in celebration of Earth Day and Arbor Day. If you would like to help support our restoration and environmental education efforts at the fort, check out our ioby project page. If you are interested in joining us as a volunteer, please register here.
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