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Foundation says watershed program is progressing well

July 26, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Chesapeake Bay Foundation conservation incentive program aimed at getting local Mennonites to do work they might not do under similar government programs because of religious objections is progressing well, a foundation official said Friday.

One of the reasons the program was started in Washington County in March 2002 is because of its Mennonite population. Mennonites own at least 60 percent of the county farmland, said Rob Schnabel, a Bay Foundation restoration scientist.

Mennonite farmers have embraced a similar foundation program in other parts of Pennsylvania while rejecting government programs, foundation officials said.

The program to restore streams along the Antietam Creek Watershed and improve water quality includes Franklin County farmers with land along related streams, Schnabel said.

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Schnabel on Friday was monitoring progress on three projects, including one on the dairy farm of Troy Landes at 3346 Waynecastle Road in Franklin County. Landes is as close as the foundation has gotten to Mennonite involvement so far, Schnabel said.

While Landes is not a Mennonite - he is Old German Baptist Brethren - he spends much of his life around Mennonites and helps treat many of them as a physician's assistant in Shady Grove, Pa., he said. He distributes information and tells them how the program can benefit the community and property owners.

"I'm telling them, 'This is a positive experience,'" he said.

In March, the foundation, with volunteers helping, built a 20-foot buffer along 1,000 feet of stream on Landes' farm and stabilized a cattle way and a stream crossing to get the cattle from the barnyard to the pasture.

Before the work was done, the farm's creek water was full of dirt and silt, and the pathway was so muddy the cows found it almost impassable, Landes said.

"It really provided a cleaner, better crossing for the cows," Landes said.

The buffer includes eight types of trees and shrubs native to the area, Schnabel said.

On Friday, the Rev. Maurice Martin, pastor of Hagerstown Mennonite Fellowship, said the conservative members of his church won't have anything to do with government or foundation programs. They prefer to help each other as a community.

Some less conservative members may participate in the foundation work, he said.

Landes said it is hard to persuade Mennonites to get involved in a government program when they generally avoid all government intrusions, including Social Security benefits. One concern is if they get help from the government, the government will want something in return, he said.

Landes said another obstacle to getting Mennonites to participate in the program is they are being asked to allowing a non-Mennonite to alter their farmland, which goes against their custom.

Schnabel said he thinks he soon will be able to announce more progress. One Mennonite farmer with 1,500 feet of land along Antietam Creek near the intersection of Route 66 and Mt. Aetna Road in Washington County is leaning toward participation.

Meanwhile, the foundation has worked with six property owners making improvements along three miles of the watershed, Schnabel said. He expects the number of participating property owners to increase to 12 next year.

Under the program, the foundation pays the cost of fencing and planting adjacent to streams and wetlands of waterways to help restore streams, wildlife habit and water quality. The program also fences cattle out of waterways and wetlands on agricultural land and helps landowners create wooded stream buffers or widen existing buffers.

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