Me­chan­icsville cou­ple re­stores habi­tat in back­yard

Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram en­cour­ages ef­forts to re-cre­ate space for wildlife

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com Twitter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY DANDAN ZOU

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.

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