Taking a day to get in touch with nature; Earth Day: Chilly weather fails to dampen spirits as hundreds gather to celebrate.


Wayne Grauer showed youngsters how to cast a fly-fishing line yesterday -- on the grass, though, not the water -- and figured he was doing his part for the environment.

"If you don't get kids interested in the outdoors, you're not going to have an out-of-doors," said the Parkville resident. A fly-fisherman for about 38 years, he said the sport is only partly about catching fish. It's also about learning to cherish the land, he said, and that lesson is more important than ever. "Today, there's even more pressure to overdevelop land," he said.

All around him in Patapsco Valley State Park were people celebrating the 30th Earth Day in their own way -- from taking hayrides to learning about injured birds of prey.

Founded in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day has grown into a worldwide celebration. More than a dozen events were planned in Maryland alone this weekend. Mother Earth didn't cooperate locally -- rain and chill kept the turnout low -- but that didn't stop celebrations that included a star-studded gala on the Mall in Washington and a festival at Gunpowder Falls State Park.

At ECO-FEST in the Elkridge portion of the Patapsco Valley park, the activities were down-to-earth -- or at least most of them.

Visitors could scale a 28-foot climbing wall. That's especially challenging if you happen to be 44 pounds and 44 inches tall, but 6 1/2-year-old Laura Bruns worked her way to the top steadily, from handhold to handhold, and rappelled down to the grass.

"What was probably the best was I didn't look down," she said when she was safely back on the ground.

"I thought it would be less scary."

Patapsco Valley's rangers -- who are also celebrating the Year of Maryland State Parks -- are hoping visitors remember the fun they had yesterday and come back.

"You'd be amazed how many people live within a few miles of the park and don't even know it's there," said Fraser Bishop, an area manager with Patapsco Valley.

All about bees

At Howard County Earth Day 2000 in Woodstock, the offerings included nature walks and a lesson about honeybees.

They're not out to sting you, said Wayne Esaias, a Highland resident who has kept bees for about 10 years. They're gentle, attacking only if their colony is threatened.

Behind him stood a small observation hive of about 2,000 bees -- from the versatile worker bees and the fat drones to the queen.

Esaias shared some bee facts with visitors, such as that it takes a colony of 60,000 bees to produce 100 pounds of honey, and that without bees, our meals would be pretty dull.

Without honeybees, which pollenate plants as they go about their daily activities, Esaias said, many of the foods we take for granted would not be around.

There would be no oranges. No berries. No cucumbers. No almonds. There would not even be hamburgers, Esaias said, because beef cattle eat alfalfa, which relies upon bees for pollenation.

"About a third of the crops we eat in America require bees," he said.

The event, organized by Vision-Howard County and sponsored by the Howard County Conservancy, drew about 200 people. They went on bird walks, searched for wildflowers and learned about the process of composting. Catriona Moody, 8, planted zinnia seeds in a small container and said she planned to move them when the weather is warmer.

"I'm going to plant them outside with my mom's," said Catriona, a Columbia resident.

Water-quality check

In the afternoon, a small group walked to a little stream to test its health by checking its inhabitants. Ecologists can check water quality by looking for a good population of aquatic creatures such as crane flies, stoneflies and salamanders.

Carl Brudin, a naturalist with the county Department of Recreation and Parks, scooped insects and grubs from the stream into a net so everyone could see. He found plenty, and declared the water quality to be pretty good.

"This is just a little feeder stream, but it's by no means unimportant," he said. "The bay starts right here -- hundreds of thousands of these feeder streams run into the Chesapeake Bay."

Dennis Luck, chairman of the county chapter of the Sierra Club, stood amid the flowering trees and the trilling birds in Woodstock and said that people need to spend time like this, investigating streams and learning about bees. It's easy to get "out of touch with nature," he said.

"I think it's important to focus people on the environment, and this is another way of doing it," he said.

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