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Posted 1/30/2015

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By Cynthia Mitchell
Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District

The Baltimore District and Maryland Environmental Service recently hosted a group of 16 children and their parents from Cub Scouts Troop 1116 out of Vienna, Virginia, for a guided tour of the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island.

The outing marks the beginning of a partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and the Baltimore District’s ongoing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) outreach program.  The event was organized by Maj. Jason Allen, deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, and Justin Callahan, Poplar Island project manager.

The partnership is a natural fit for the Corps of Engineers and the Cub Scouts, thanks to a shared environmental mission. 

Working in partnership with the Maryland Port Administration and other federal and state agencies, the Corps of Engineers are currently restoring Poplar Island by using dredged material from the Baltimore Harbor and Channels federal navigation project.   It is part of a vast environmental mission that prioritizes protection and restoration of portions of the Chesapeake Bay.

Approximately 68 million cubic yards of dredged material will be placed to develop 735 acres of wetlands, 840 acres of uplands and 140 acres of open water embayment, bringing the island close to the footprint it once held in the mid 1800s. 

Similarly, the Cub Scouts adhere to an “outdoor code” that includes being conservation minded. 

Troop 1116 members are currently undergoing a series of engineering and science based lessons that will lead to their Engineering Achievement Badge in Scouting, one of several milestones that must be met by participants in order to advance from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.

The Poplar Island day tour began onboard a boat that departed from Tilghman Island in Talbot County, Maryland, approximately one mile northwest of the restoration project and 34 nautical miles southeast of the Port of Baltimore.

Upon arrival, guests were greeted by Chris Homeister, an environmental specialist for Maryland Environmental Service, who provided the group with information on the project’s origin and scope, as well as a glimpse of the day’s agenda. 

 Over the course of five hours, the children learned about habitat restoration, species diversity on the island, and erosion and sedimentation.

“The boys saw how Army engineers took something undesirable like dredge muck, and turned it into a beautiful wildlife sanctuary,” said Brian McMenamin, co-den leader.  “They were amazed at the scale of the operation.”

“You definitely came away with a sense that someone had put a lot of thought into how to make this project successful,” McMenamin said. 

The event organizers could not be more pleased with the interest displayed by the Cub Scouts throughout the day.

 “The Cub Scout’s exposure to Army Corps activities and projects could potentially influence more young men to consider a career in STEM,” said Callahan. 

“I want each and every visitor to Poplar Island to come away with the sense that they've had an opportunity to directly interface with an extremely crucial Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. These physical interactions with nature tend to have some of the most profound positive effects on how individuals view and treat the environment.”

The Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project is scheduled for completion in 2043, with a final price tag estimated at $1.4 billion over 47 years.

Tours of Poplar Island are open to school groups, community organizations, and individuals during the spring and summer seasons.  To schedule a tour, contact the Maryland Environmental Service Poplar Island tour coordinator via email at PoplarTours@menv.com, or call 410-770-6503. 

baltimore district chesapeake bay Cub Scouts engineering habitat restoration Poplar Island U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Boy Scouts of America USACE