The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park is surrounded by the forests and marshes of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which protects the habitat that Tubman herself likely traveled through while leading enslaved people to freedom. While the park is best known for its exhibits about Tubman's life and legacy in its visitor center, there are also many eco-friendly features to preserve the surrounding habitat.
Whether one's home is surrounded by forest, marsh or other homes, many of the natural design features at the park can be incorporated on your property, not only for your own benefit but also for that of the neighborhood and its ecological well-being.
Scattered throughout the park’s Legacy Garden are birdhouses, which provide nesting habitat for birds, as well as birdwatching opportunities for people. Birdhouses can be purchased from retailers or built from a kit or scratch.
Different birds prefer different kinds of houses, so it’s best to learn about the birds near you to accommodate their needs. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website has instructions for building birdhouses for many species. To find it, search for “Maryland’s Wild Acres” in your web browser.
Three beehives are tucked away in a corner of the park. Bees are needed to pollinate many flowering species. Without bees, many plants can't produce seeds.
Bees are naturally attracted to flowers, which contain the pollen and nectar they eat, but other factors also influence them to frequent your flowers. Bee boxes can be easily built using simple tools and instructions on theWild Acres page (select “Bees”), which also shows how to modify the boxes to attract specific bee species. It’s also important to avoid using pesticides to control problematic insects because they also kill beneficial species like bees. Identify what’s "bugging" you, then check the Beneficial Insects section of the Wild Acres page to find a treatment that won't inadvertently kill bees.
All of the intentionally planted greenery in Maryland's state parks is native to the area. Native plants maintain ecosystems, while some nonnative plants are not only invasive but can disrupt ecosystems and overrun a garden or backyard. Before buying a plant, make sure it will not be a problem down the road. A list of common invasive plants is included on the Wild Acres page under the “Bad Plants, Planted by Good People” section.
Growing above your head as you explore the visitor center is a vegetated roof, which is frequented by butterflies and a family of killdeer. Vegetated roofs provide habitat for wildlife, insulate buildings and absorb heat, saving energy costs and shrinking urban “heat islands” in the process. Installing a vegetated roof is a complex and expensive process, best handled by a company that specializes in it, but there are other do-it-yourself alternatives to consider — container plants on a porch, patio or balcony, for example.
The park’s Legacy Garden trail and parking lots are made of densely packed gravel instead of asphalt. Hard surfaces that water can’t seep into increase runoff, which drags pollutants into our waterways and increases erosion. Permeable surfaces like gravel reduce runoff and protect vulnerable shorelines and other geographic features. When adding a trail in your backyard, opt for permeable over paved.
Rain barrels connected to the park building’s downspouts collect and store rain. This not only reduces runoff from permeable surfaces but cuts down on municipal water usage when they are used to water plants long after the rain has passed. Purchase a rain barrel or make one using the Wild Acres website's directions under “Greening Your Landscape.” Some jurisdictions even offer financial incentives for installing rain barrels, so it might pay to check with local municipalities before installing.
Solar photovoltaic lights
The parking lot uses solar-powered lights that convert and store energy from the sun to run the lights at night. Federal and state incentives are available to help homeowners install solar panels, and the Maryland Energy Administration has advice on solar panels on their website under the “Residential” tab on the main page.
Whether planting native flowers, building a birdhouse with children or grandchildren, or installing solar panels on your roof — all great options — you'll be improving your property and helping the environment.
Adam Larson is a seasonal ranger with the Maryland Park Service.
The views expressed by opinion columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.