Last week, I volunteered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore for a day of shoreline buffer planting at the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head, located along the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. Over the course of five days, Aquarium staff, the Maryland Conservation Corps, Charles County Master Gardeners and local residents planted over 5,000 native grass plants and 1,500 native trees along 4,830 feet of Potomac shoreline.

I’m pretty sure the trees I planted that day are among the most protected in the state of Maryland. After successfully passing through several security checks to enter the Naval facility, I met up with Aquarium staff at the marina. We then piled into vans and passed through yet another security checkpoint before entering what I was told was a highly restricted area of the base (think ‘explosive deliveries’ signs and mysterious steam hanging in the air). We soon arrived at the drop-off and scampered down a steep hill to our planting site along the Potomac River.

When I arrived at the site, I was given the job of ferrying plants from the center of the site to their new and permanent home along the shoreline. There were low, medium and high marsh plant species that had to be placed accordingly. After ferrying the plants to their new home, the planting brigade -- mostly Maryland Conservation Corps folks -- dug holes and planted the trees.

After a short lunch break, I informed those in charge that I wanted to participate in the planting so I could have a more well-rounded day of volunteering (and because ferrying the plants was a lot of walking!). Soon after I began planting, I truly realized how difficult it is to successfully plant a tree. For some holes I had to use a pick ax to get through the tough soil! After about three hours of planting, we had completed our section for the day and all the trees were securely in the ground.

I climbed back up to the top of the hill where I had been dropped off in the morning and looked down upon the section we had planted. It was amazing to see the sea of plants below me and the hard work of everyone volunteering that day. I’m curious to see what the site will look like in five, 10 and 20 years when the plants have established.

I especially enjoy these days of my job when I’m able to leave the office and experience watershed restoration first-hand. I walked away from that day with muddy boots, sore arms and a greater appreciation for ferrying plants.



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