Why you need to know Frank Marsden, program director at Eden Mill Nature Center

For Harford Magazine

Whether canoeing, backpacking or photographing nature, Frank Marsden has always cherished his time outside. And for the past 25 years, he’s made it his mission to help others do the same at the Eden Mill Nature Center in Pylesville.

“We learned early on, particularly as this county grew, how instrumental a place like this is for folks that aren’t used to a rural atmosphere,” says Marsden, 69, of Pylesville.

As program director and a longtime volunteer at Eden Mill, which draws more than 10,000 visitors each year, Marsden knows a thing or two about the benefits of the great outdoors.

How has Eden Mill grown in recent years?

The biggest thing that’s helped us grow is a good core group of people. We’ve had about 25 to 30 [volunteers] who have been here over a quarter of a century, and now we’re bringing younger people on. The programming has grown immensely.

We do a tremendous number of school field trips in the spring and fall and have tremendous summer camps that go on. We do family canoe trips twice a week.

We’ve been able to put a heated and air-conditioned classroom in with grants. And we put a sustainable agriculture program in. All the produce we grow goes to the food bank.

Tell us more about the sustainable agriculture program.

We have two big, beautiful areas of gardens, and we grow a diversity of plants.

They do a Native American theme in some areas. We take children up there, and they actually get to plant stuff and learn where food comes from. We grow all kinds of vegetables, from corn to pumpkins to strawberries to potatoes. And they do it in all kinds of unique, sustainable ways without pesticides.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

To see people who were kids a decade and a half ago come up to me and say, “I became a teacher because of what I did here.” Or “I’m a wildlife biologist now.” It just overwhelms me when people do that.

What is one of the most surprising wildlife photos you have captured there?

The one with the otter where the otter is sitting there eating a frog. I’m out there in the morning, it’s as cold as can be, there’s ice on the creek, and my fingers are turning blue and all of a sudden … To watch an otter swim down to the bottom of the creek and then see mud and bubbles and debris come up, and he comes up with a frog in his mouth. It’s digging up frogs that were hibernating for the winter. I was sad for the frog, but it’s just so cool to watch this stuff go on.

How can county residents connect more with the natural world?

It’s simple: Go outside. If you can spend a half an hour, 45 minutes every day — and we’ve all got that time, even though we don’t think we do — even in just your neighborhood. I call it backyard safari. Go out in your back yard, throw a blanket down and sit there for a half-hour and watch what’s going on. It will overwhelm you, what’s out there.

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