Mechanicsville couple restores habitat in backyard
Certification program encourages efforts to re-create space for wildlife
David Ack and Charles Neill want their yard to be more than pretty.
“A lot of people plant pretty gardens,” Neill said. “But they are not dynamic.”
In his opinion, those yards make pretty pictures, but they don’t have the movement of life he desires. The couple’s yard in Mechanicsville has native plants that attract butterflies, bees, bugs, birds, caterpillars and squirrels, to name just a few.
“You walk around; there’s life,” Ack said. “It’s nice in the winter time; there’s always activity going on.”
More importantly, the couple hopes to re-create a habitat for wildlife.
“We take so much land away from wildlife,” Neill said. What they did with the yard is not enough to restore all the habitats lost to building their new home in Grandview Haven in Mechanicsville, but it’s something to start with.
Nationwide, the National Wildlife Federation has a program set up since 1973 to encourage and celebrate the efforts to restore wildlife habitats through providing natural food resources, water, cover and places to raise animals’ young.
The Garden for Wildlife program has more than 200,000 wildlife gardens nationwide and more than 5,800 in Maryland, according to Erin Sweeney, the program’s coordinator.
Ack and Neill’s yard is one of 88 certified wildlife habitats in St. Mary’s County. Their neighbor, Norm Bleakley, also has a certified yard. Each certified garden or yard receives a roughly 15-inch-long and 8-inch-wide sign for display.
“People are really passionate about it because it brings the natural beauty of the landscape back,” said Mary Phillips, the organization’s senior director of garden for wildlife. “It brings a lot of life back to the community.”
And it can be done almost anywhere.
Whether it is a suburban yard, an apartment balcony, a 10-acre farm, a school yard or a business park, people can create a home for local wildlife, said David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, in a press release.
“Turning your space into a certified wildlife habitat is fun, easy and makes a real difference for neighborhood wildlife,” he said.
Ack and Neill got to know the program after some online research when they tried to find solutions to an erosion problem at their old house in Golden Beach. They certified their previous house yard in 2011 and had their new home yard certified last month.
“It shows your neighbors you really care,” Ack said. The sign hopefully will also “generate questions and open up dialogues.”
The couple grew up in the county and said being surrounded by water taught them how important the Chesapeake Bay is to recreational fisheries and watermen. Neill’s uncle was a waterman, and his father, Charles Neill Sr., “had a great appreciation of the water and the environment.”
When he was a teenager, Ack read about the annual Patuxent River wade-in organized by former state senator Bernie Fowler in Calvert County, and Neill remembered his elementary school teacher organized a kid’s version of the wade-in one year, which made him realize the importance of water quality and how it had been declining over the years.
Growing up on Kingston Creek, Ack recalled an invasive bay grass called hydrilla nearly took over the creek one year and would get into boat motors.
“You can’t even go swimming,” he said. “You became aware of where to go and where not to go. You end up going to the pool.”
Ack remembered how his school teachers used to say “take care of where you live.”
At the bottom of the hill where the couple’s house is located runs St. Clement’s Creek. Transforming their backyard into a wildlife habitat is one way for the couple to help reduce runoffs and contribute to the community they live in. And planting native plants makes the whole process easier, they said.
“When you plant native plants, they come back,” Ack said. “You don’t really need to take care of them. They kind of take off on their own.”
For more information on the wildlife habitat program, go to www.nwf.org/ Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx.
David Ack, left, and his husband, Charles Neill, stand in their yard in Mechanicsville on Thursday. Their yard is one of 88 certified wildlife habitats in St. Mary’s County.