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‘Nature is open’: Howard County Conservancy, local students celebrate Earth Day virtually due to coronavirus

The Howard County Conservancy is celebrating its 30th anniversary and Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on Wednesday through a virtual Earth Day.

“Like everything in everyone’s lives, [the original plan] all had to change,” said Meg Boyd, 49, executive director of the Howard County Conservancy. “Folks were really excited to participate and help us celebrate this year.”

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This year’s celebration is a full-day event. The conservancy is hosting two Facebook Live programs; one at 9 a.m. allowed viewers to meet the conservancy’s beekeeper and one at 1 p.m. will discuss backyard biodiversity.

At 3 p.m., local officials — including Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, County Executive Calvin Ball and Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano — will appear on Google Hangouts, a video and instant messaging platform, to hear Howard County ninth graders present the Watershed Report Card, an annual tradition the conservancy hosts.

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“Certainly on Earth Day we knew we couldn’t let this pass without organizing something to celebrate,” said Boyd, an Elkridge resident.

Ninth graders spent the school year conducting a stream study and detailing Watershed Report Cards in their biology classes. The students will grade the county on the health of its watershed, and about 300 students are expected to present their research on the watershed this year, according to Boyd.

Oliver Song, 15, a freshman at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, visited the Faulkner Stream during the fall to collect data for his report card. On Wednesday afternoon, in a 1-minute presentation, he and his partner will present their findings.

“I was a little surprised. I thought it was going to be cancelled. I was pretty glad it wasn’t,” Oliver said. “Quarantine is a little boring. I [am] really looking forward to this.”

To prepare for Wednesday, Oliver said he practiced his presentation with his family. Since he and his partner won’t be standing side by-side, they prepared a script to ensure their virtual presentation goes off without a hitch.

“If it were in person, we probably would need more time to prepare,” Oliver said. “Preparing online is slightly less stressful because you’re not actually there.”

County Council member Christiana Mercer Rigby will also be joining the virtual Watershed Report Card event. Despite the public health crisis, Rigby said it’s important to acknowledge the imminent threat of the climate crisis.

“Climate change and environmental justice impact all aspects of our lives, from transportation to public health,” Rigby said. “I’m grateful to the students who come together to analyze the environmental conditions of our school watersheds and provide their recommendations virtually this year.”

More than ever before, Boyd said it’s important to understand and appreciate the value of being outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer. The conservancy trails have seen an increased number of visitors since the start of the pandemic, she said.

“It is so easy to enjoy and celebrate Earth Day in the current situation that we are in,” Boyd said. “The beauty of our mission is that people can go outside and that, even though many things are closed, nature is open.”

Boyd said the conservancy will find a way to celebrate their 30th anniversary in person sometime in the future.

“Right now we’re hoping that we might be able to do something in the fall,” she said.

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