Girl Scout builds bridge to help protect wetland area


All the sweat and muscle Amy Langhage and her classmates put forth Friday was ultimately to build a bridge for some fish.

The fish won't be walking along the wooden planks, but people will. If human feet stay out of the wetland behind South Carroll High School, a little spring uphill from the bridge can flow undisturbed into the stream that eventually leads to the Piney Run Reservoir.

So the work, which is earning Miss Langhage her Girl Scout Gold Award, is not just for fish. It's for people who will drink water that comes out of Piney Run -- a little clearer, she hopes, for all her work.

The students estimate 4,000 people run, trudge or ride their all-terrain vehicles through the wetland behind the school each year. The school's cross-country team members are among them.

Miss Langhage and other students who study and work to protect the wetland are trying to keep feet and wheels out of the muddy, soft sections where small springs flow into the larger stream.

"They would tear up all the stuff [now] under the bridge," Miss Langhage said of the runners and riders. "The sediment would wash down into the stream. The whole reason we did this was to save the trout."

Brown trout are to freshwater what the canary is to fresh air. These fish will thrive in only the cleanest and coldest of streams, and their presence commands strong federal and state protection for the purity of the waters in which they live.

So far, the only brown trout at South Carroll High School are swimming in tanks in the science research classroom. Students won't introduce the fish to the stream until they do more work to prepare it for them, Miss Langhage said.

"I don't know when it will be," she said. "I don't expect to see it" before graduation.

Miss Langhage, 17, a senior at South Carroll and daughter of Bob and Joyce Langhage of Mount Airy, took on the bridge project to earn her Gold Award. Few Girl Scouts achieve the high-ranking distinction because it involves a lot of work, she said.

She picked up the bridge project in September from one started last year by Jason McCreedy, then a South Carroll senior, and has worked on it every day since then to plan it and carry it out Friday.

She took the grant application he had written, revised it with lumber prices, a design for the bridge and other details, and submitted it to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a private, nonprofit environment group based in Annapolis.

With no carpentry experience, Miss Langhage said she just used common sense to design a simple bridge that is four feet wide and 48 feet long, with no railing and only a few inches above ground. It is nearly identical to one built two years ago. The two bridges were joined to make a right angle.

The trust granted Miss Langhage and the school $535, of which she spent $244 on lumber and $28 on nails. Leftover money will go toward buying field guides for students to use as they identify plants, birds, fish and insects in the wetland.

A little more lumber and some tools came from leftover wood in the school's carpentry classes.

While foot traffic can use the new bridge directly, Miss Langhage hopes the structure will act as a deterrent to all-terrain vehicles by breaking up the open ground space so that riders will stay out of the wettest part of the wetland.

"We really don't want them down here," she said of the ATVs. "It just tears up the soil. There are signs posted around, but they don't pay any attention to them. We can't monitor the place 24 hours a day. Our main focus is to save this spot down here."

She wanted to earn a Gold Award because it looks good on college applications, and the wetland seemed like the perfect and natural place to perform her good deed. She hopes to be a biology teacher.

"And I know the wetlands are really precious here," Miss Langhage said. "It's important to save what we have."

Miss Langhage is not the first senior scout to choose the inviting wetland behind the school as her crowning project.

South Carroll graduate Heather Daniels earned her Gold Award last year by building a natural staircase into the wetland, using concrete posts embedded into the hillside so that students could walk down the hill without shoving all the soil down with them.

Another graduate, Stewart Rogers, earned his Eagle Scout award by organizing the building of a bridge near the one Amy built.

Juniors Brian Booz and Ilisa Pyatt are also planning projects that will earn them scout awards and support the wetland.

For all the projects, the labor force has been a group of energetic students from teacher Robert Foor-Hogue's science research classes.

Friday, about 70 students from his classes came out to help throughout the day.

"It's one of those places that lend themselves well to all sorts of things," Mr. Foor-Hogue said. "Some day this place will become a natural study museum."

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