On a Saturday morning in late September, Daisy Sudano-Pellegrini, a forest steward of Fairwood Forest and certified Master Naturalist, waited in a forest clearing wondering whether anyone else would show up. Suddenly, two young boys came running up the road, followed later by 34 more people, making our largest event in one forest yet!
The neighbors came for one of Baltimore Green Space’s “urban forest hikes” where we partner with Baltimore-area science experts and forest stewards from the community to deepen participants’ knowledge and connection to neighborhood forest patches. A second goal for the event was to raise awareness of the threat to Fairwood Forest. (A private owner of one of the lots that makes up the forest has considered developing the site, which would break up the four-acre forest patch that many neighbors treasure.)
In the age of connecting over the internet, many event planners rely on a Facebook post to spread the word. While this reaches hundreds of people at once, Baltimore Green Space also practices old-fashioned community organizing – phone calls and door-knocking. Why did so many people come out to walk in the woods with us? The answer is simple: their neighbors asked them to come.
The week before the forest hike, forest steward Michael Karasik led the charge in directly inviting his neighbors along with stewards Eugenia Argires & Heidi Thomas. Together with Baltimore Green Space staff they spent a few afternoons knocking on doors and passing out flyers. In total we visited more than 100 houses, and most of the people who hiked with us heard about it from our door-to-door outreach. Many grew up visiting the forest as children, and some brought their own kids.
Among the hikers were ten kids, which always makes an event more exciting. The two boys who arrived early were on the hunt for creatures of all kinds. They excitedly turned over rocks and logs, and during the hike captured a cricket, salamander, snake, and several worms. (Don’t worry, all creatures were safely returned to the forest!) Daisy also set up a kids’ station with snacks and a coloring activity with “tree cookies” – small slices of tree trunks that kids drew their own designs on.
Ian Yesilonis of the USDA Forest Service, along with Daisy, taught us to identify white oak, sassafras, beech, and cherry trees, among others. In the forest, Ian found a patch of snakeroot, fabled to have been responsible for the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, who supposedly drank milk from cows that ate the poisonous plant. While we stayed away from the snakeroot, we did enjoy other forest snacks while roaming through the woods.
We couldn’t have imagined a more successful day, and want to thank all of our partners for their work in bringing the neighborhood together! Friends of Fairwood Forest, Fairwood Forest stewards, and Glenham Belhar Community Association helped tremendously by convening meetings to plan and shape the event.
Overall, we recognize the deep role that green spaces can play in individuals’ lives, but also in strengthening connections between community members.