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Volunteers work on park projects during National Public Lands Day

September 24, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Chelsea Myers, left, clears the land near Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield with her friend Casey Osborne Saturday morning.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Julie Harsh hit the battlefield early Saturday morning.

Armed with hand loppers, garbage bags and a will to conquer, the 17-year-old president of the history club at Williamsport High School seemed to have declared war against non-native invasive vegetation.

Harsh gathered with about 50 other volunteers at Antietam National Battlefield for National Public Lands Day, a hands-on volunteer effort to improve and enhance public lands.

One of four teams working on various projects throughout the park, members of the high school history club worked vigorously to clear Japanese honey locust and thistle from a hillside at Georgians Overlook near the famed Burnside Bridge.

"I want to be involved in restoring the national park and keeping it clean so that everybody can use it," Harsh said. "It's about preserving history and knowing it will continue on into the future."

Debbie Cohen, natural resource specialist with the U.S. National Park Service, coordinated the effort. Cohen said one of the biggest issues facing the park from a biological perspective is reduction of non-native vegetation and restoration of native plants.

"Our goal is to maintain the biological integrity of the historical landscape," she said. "We want to re-create what this area would have looked like in 1862."

Cohen said the native landscape has been altered by various means, including non-native seeds being distributed by wind, stream and animals.

Boy Scout Troop 1450 of Rockville, Md., participated in the effort at the battlefield for the third year in a row, working to restore a stream buffer near the park's Miller Farmhouse.

Nathan Serway, 14, of Rockville, said he was surprised and overwhelmed that he could be a part of the effort.

"It's cool to realize that people were here, that there was a war here and we are helping to preserve the battlefield," Nathan said.

Jack Muha, 13, also of Rockville, said he was glad to serve at a place that teaches people about history.

"It's nice to be here knowing I can help people know more and want to come here more," Jack said. "To find out the history of what happened to America. It's good to preserve where our fathers fought 149 years ago."

Cohen said she was pleased with the level of volunteerism for the event.

"People invest their time, they invest their sweat and their investment comes back multifold," Cohen said. "In some cases, these people will come back when they are older and show the fruits of this work to their children.

"And that's my biggest thrill — to make the park come alive for the public because it belongs to them."

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