Masonville Cove named first urban wildlife refuge 'partnership'

Masonville Cove, a reclaimed stretch of South Baltimore's industrial waterfront, has earned a new distinction -- the nation's first "urban wildlife refuge partnership."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe was to announce the designation Thursday morning at the 11-acre nature area that's been developed by the Maryland Port Administration in a formerly abandoned and contaminated stretch of Baltimore's harbor.

It's not a federal takeover, but the beginning of a new cooperative effort by the wildlife service to instill conservation values in urban residents, especially youth.

To kick off the partnership, the federal agency, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust are donating $55,000, which will go toward further restoration efforts around the cove, including trash sweeps and invasive species removal at a neighboring park and environmental education for Baltimore city students.

The cove has long been a favorite bird-watching spot. Ducks and geese paddle its quiet waters, while the land has been habitat for deer, fox and rabbits, among other wildlife.

The port administration agreed to reclaim the cove several years ago in return for getting community assent to using a neighboring stretch of waterfront for disposal of muck dredged from the harbor bottom. 

More than 60,000 tons of debris were hauled away in the early stages of reclaiming the cove, and an education center built where the Living Classrooms Foundation and National Aquarium staffs have provided hands-on learning about the Chesapeake Bay and environment to several thousand youngsters since 2009.

The 11-acre nature area has been open since last fall, featuring trails, a fishing pier and floating dock for paddlers. Eventually, plans are to restore 54 acres of land and 71 acres of water for wildlife and public access.

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