A Wealth of Woodlands at Greenbelt’s Doorstep
A big part of what Greenbelt has to offer is our forest preserve.
Nearly 200 acres of forest preserve land form the “belt” from which all of Greenbelt derives its name, yet I wonder how many of us merely know the periphery.
“We have some trails and trees that would rival what you would see in western Maryland or the Appalachians,” Greenbelt Homes, Inc. maintenance operations manager Matt Berres said. “They’re in your back yard, right here in a metropolitan area.”
The woodlands were vital to our town’s founding vision, a vision of which Greenbelt, old and new, are all beneficiaries.
My dad moved here when he was eight years old in one of the waves of pioneer families who came in 1938 — the first wave of 197 families having come in October 1937.
From his home base on 5 Ridge Road, he set out immediately to explore the woods. The town was so new there weren’t any trails yet. But he said he found they weren’t necessary. Navigating his way through the forested areas became a kind of second nature to him.
Within no time, he could traverse the woodlands with as much ease as the roads more traveled, and he enjoyed the journey more. One of his popular destinations was the former American Legion house where his Boy Scout troop met. The designated way there was going down the only road into town to end up near Schrom Airport, which has since become Greenway Shopping Center along with the Schrom Hills Recreation Center.
Seventy-two years later, my dad still declares Greenbelt is the best place he ever lived — and the woods had a lot to do with that. Yet I wonder how many of us ever venture into them today and what we may be losing out on.
“They’re missing peace of mind,” native Greenbelter and Ancestral Knowledge instructor Joey Murray said. With millions of years of human history rooted in the forests, Murray, who instructs children and adults in wilderness living, believes getting in touch with who we are brings us back into a natural rhythm of life. He has found it takes traveling 20 to 30 minutes into the forested areas to accomplish this, then another 20 minutes of stillness before the wildlife risks coming into sight.
Pointing out that the buffer of trees also cleans our air and filters out the noise generated by our major roadways, former GHI Woodlands Committee member Mary Kingsley said, “The importance is historical, the importance is environmental, and the sheer beauty and enjoyment you can get from just being able to walk through the woods.”
Although Berres, Murray, Kinglsey and my dad know firsthand the invaluable benefits of our forested areas, I worry that too many of us may only know our way around the lake, parks and periphery of the preserve. So how vigilantly will we protect the rest of it when the next wave of development fever strikes?
Along with the history of our belt of green is a history of salivating developers who destroyed a huge chunk of our woodlands. Though 200 acres sounds like a lot, when my dad lived here it was closer to 800 acres.
We have some protections in place. But we’ve had them in the past too, and that didn’t save the majority of our forested areas.
“Once it’s gone, its gone forever.” Woodlands Committee member Ed James said, “It’s never going to come back.” He speaks from personal experience, recalling that the woodlands he explored as a kid in Adelphi are now apartment buildings and shopping centers.
I imagine the final winner of the green versus greenback battle will be the group that realizes it has the most at stake. Will those of us who have never walked through Greenbelt’s Great North Woods fight as hard to save it as the developers will to raze it?
While we still have time, I’m going to do something about it by starting with me. One of my first steps has been to become a friend of the Woodlands Committee, where I’m gaining valuable information about the challenges and opportunities of our forest preserve.
I’m also planning to literally see what I stand to lose. I’m not going to start wandering through the trees and poison ivy to take a look, although that is what my dad did. For my part, I’m relying on some veteran Greenbelters to show me around, but I will follow my dad’s example of not hacking trails and of leaving the tapestry of nature as undisturbed as he found it.
With the economy holding the developers at bay, it seems a good time to start a new adventure as a student of trees and wildlife.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden