Hiking trail descriptions routinely enumerate crossslope, grade, distance, surface composition, degree of difficulty, etc. The new Jay Norwood Ding Darling Conservation Heritage Trail at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland no doubt leads the nation in a rarely cited category: the herotomile ratio.
The trail is shortjust onethird of a mile. But the list of conservation heroes it recognizes is long31 in all.
Six interpretive signs along the fully accessible path display short biographies of the 27 men and four women who comprise the National Wildlife Federations Conservation Hall of Fame. National Wildlife Refuge System favorites Rachel Carson, Ira Gabrielson, Olaus Murie and Aldo Leopold are among those honored. So are more obscure conservationists, such as Hugh Hammond Bennett, George Perkins Marsh and Anna Botsford Comstock.
The heroes trail, which was dedicated last spring, is part of a yearlong celebration of the 75th anniversary of the federation and Patuxent Refuge.
Most people dont realize what an incredible legacy this place has, says Nell Baldacchino, the refuges education/outreach team leader.
A Rich Conservation History
Patuxent was established in 1936 as the nations only research refuge. The research function was transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey in the mid1990s. Now, USGS, Refuge System and Service Migratory Bird Program administrative buildings and research facilities are colocated on the 12,800acre refuge. Researchers in the field work side by side with lab scientists.
Two new facets of the 75th anniversary celebration were unveiled during National Wildlife Refuge Week: a Patuxents Heritage exhibit in the visitor center lobby and a 26minute video titled The History of Patuxent: Americas Conservation Story. If you tour the exhibit and watch the film, youll understand why the refuge has been of vital importance to conservation and the Refuge System.
You will learn, or be reminded, that:
- Patuxent Refuges research on pesticides in 1940s and 50s helped inspire Carsons 1962 book, Silent Spring. Research at Patuxent in the 60s about the effects of DDT and similar pesticides on earthworms showed how the pesticides became concentrated as they ascended the food chain. Other studies linked a metabolite of DDT to eggshellthinning in birds, most notably species high in the food chain such as bald eagles. That led to the banning of DDT in this country, which led to the recovery of the bald eagle.
- In lieu of military service, conscientious objectors to World War II helped do scientific work at Patuxent and constructed many of the refuges 50 impoundments.
- A study at Uhler Marshnamed for Francis Uhler, a wildlife biologist at Patuxent from 1940 to 1985determined that starshaped manmade islands are more suitable for bird nesting than oval islands, a management principle now accepted on refuges and state and private lands nationwide.
- In 1966, Patuxents Chandler Robbins launched the North American Bird Breeding Survey, which monitors avian status and population trends. Robbins is credited with banding more than 190,000 birds during his career.
- In the 1970s, Patuxent scientists helped develop captive rearing and releasing techniques for bald eagles and California condors.
- Today, the refuge rears whooping cranes, sea ducks, screech owls and kestrels for species recovery or research purposes. The first whooping crane hatched in captivity at Patuxent in 1975.
The refuge is one of a kind. Not only does it provide habitat for wildlife in a huge urban area, it also is a research lab for here and the rest of the country, says Baldacchino. Former senator [Paul] Sarbanes used to call us the lungs of the BaltimoreWashington corridor.
Yes, the refuge is thatwith its forest, meadow and wetland habitats. But for threequarters of a century, it also has been the conservation brains of the corridor.