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Harford Glen hikers browse past nature's smorgasbord


Standing beside a black locust tree, Kit Brown saw the makings of a tasty meal.

"There is a real, honest-to-goodness supermarket of food around this tree," Brown said as she stopped along a trail at the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center east of Bel Air.

The 57-year-old Bel Air resident led the first public nature walk through part of the 300-acre center Tuesday, pointing to the many wonders of nature -- including some that are edible.

Brown noted that the tree's blossoms are a flavorful ingredient in fritters, and elderberries from a bush surrounding the tree make good wines, pies and jellies.

The guide pulled on ground ivy skirting the tree, noting that its leaves add a -- to tea. And violet flowers growing in the grass are a colorful, nutritious addition to salads, she noted.

About 70 people, from pre-school children to senior citizens, participated in the hike around the center's grounds. One group hiked around the center's reservoir, while another walked along Plumtree Run, a stream that flows into the reservoir.

Dennis Kirkwood, teacher-in-charge at Harford Glen, said the walk was organized so the public can learn more about the center, which is operated by the county Board of Education.

"We're hoping to interest the public in the environment," Kirkwood said.

Additional nature walks and several bird-watching hikes are planned at the center later this summer.

Some hikers carried walking sticks. Others brought cameras and binoculars. All were out to enjoy a day with nature.

For many, the trek was a learning experience.

"This is good to have," says Barbara Semon, a Jarrettsville resident who went on the tour with her husband, Jack. "I think this is great for education. There is a definite hunger for this."

Out on a wooden walkway along Atkisson Reservoir, a red-winged blackbird sailed above the hikers. As the hikers watched the bird, Brown noted that the females are "drab," while the wings of male birds are brightened by a red band. She says the males use the color to attract females and establish territory.

"I could tell that a red-winged blackbird was here without opening my eyes," Brown said. "Listen a minute."

The hikers remain hushed as the music of chirping blackbirds filled the air.

On a tree-lined pathway along the lake, Brown stopped the hikers at a stand of rust-colored day lilies. She broke off buds and passed them to the crowd to taste.

Though some were tentative at first, the hikers popped the buds into their mouths to taste a flavor similar to lettuce or yellow squash.

"That's the end of my day lilies at home," one hiker said. "I can see the kids eating them. But they'd be better with a little bleu cheese."

Down the trail, Brown paused at a line of holes punched in an elm tree by a woodpecker. She cautioned hikers about a patch of poison ivy, and then they climbed over a fallen tree, downed by beavers, following Brown to the banks of the reservoir.

The guide stopped at a bush of multi-flora roses, which grow so quickly they can take over pastures and forests, Brown says.

"Man is the greatest alterer of the environment," she said, noting that the bushes originate in Asia but were brought to America to form "living fences."

Brown, who works as a guide at the Irvine Natural Sciences Center in Baltimore County, holds a Venus' Looking Glass, a wildflower with purple blooms and green leaves.

She noted that the flower was the first plant she identified on her own by matching it with a picture in a guidebook. That was 15 years ago, when she would drive along country roads to identify plants growing along the way.

"From then on I was hooked, and now here I am," Brown said, as she led the way down a meandering trail.

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