Boundaries and Buffers

Winter stream in the woods.You’re walking alongside the road, shooting pictures of birds returning from their winter sojourn, when a car pulls up and stops beside you. The passenger side window whines down and a face asks, “Where’s the battlefield?”

“You’re sitting in it,” is the only possible reply.

When one has lived here for awhile, and driven on the numerous ungated roads that crisscross the official Gettysburg National Military Park, it’s easy to forget there is a border. Anyway, the battle of July 1863 took place for at least 30-40 miles in virtually every direction.

Water is like that. Human political whims establish boundaries and change names at some pretty non-obvious places, but like Old Man River, the water just keeps rolling along. Thus Marsh Creek, for instance, begins in a thicket in Franklin Township, gathers more contributions from tributaries and stormwater channels in several other municipalities in its southern flow, and joins Rock Creek at the state line. In Maryland, Rock and Marsh creeks become the Monocacy River, which joins the Potomac River, which joins the Chesapeake Bay, which opens on its southern end into the Atlantic Ocean.

Water knows no border – or owner, actually, though some of us are fortunate to claim ownership of the hole through which we take it. But we all own responsibility for caring for it, for making certain our action, or inaction, doesn’t poison someone downstream. The thing with water is everyone – millions of everyones, actually – lives downstream.

According to data collected by the Watershed Alliance of Adams County and the Adams County Conservation District, water quality has been improving. Part of the better water can be credited to some of the shoreline of some of the streams, where landowners have created so-called “riparian buffers” – places where vegetation grows between humans and the flowing water.

In some cases, that means simply not mowing the lawn closer than about 30 feet from the waters edge. In other places, it means preventing the cows from spoiling the stream that runs through the pasture toward the river. And in other places it means planting trees of various species to hold the ground in place, filter runoff, and provide habitat for the wildlife that is, after all, the reason one buys land with a stream in the first place.

All one need do is copy nature. We often like to “make things better,” shape the world to our desires; that is, after all, why we have lawns, and laws that require mowing them. But Ms. Nature has been doing this living-thing much longer than we homo sapiens, and she had become very good at it. There are plenty of streams in Adams County. To see a riparian buffer “in action,” find a watercourse where houses have not been planted, park the car and look down from the bridge. Better yet, walk along the bank. (There are plenty of streamside and stream-crossing trails in Michaux State Forest).

Some of the finest entertainment is watching for Wolf Spiders, Cedar Waxwings (I remember the day I discovered they exist in the wild, rather than only in the Hallmark store Christmas ornament section), deer and other critters.

The Watershed Alliance of Adams County has begun a campaign to find owners interested in planting trees along their creek banks. WAAC will provide the trees and the volunteer help to plant them. Planting is planned for late April, to coincide with the annual tree sale  Contact Pat Naugle at (717) 334-1142 for more information. The local critters, your downstream neighbors and you will be glad you did.

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