Ducks taken across highway to a friendly new habitat in Waldorf

July 3, 2013

More than 30 ducks were taken across a highway recently and deposited at a wetland behind Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School in Waldorf. The wetland is a more suitable habitat than where the ducks had been nesting: in a courtyard at William B. Wade Elementary School.

Behind Brown Elementary, 8.5 acres of wetland, constructed with the help of students, provide a habitat for many kinds of plants and animals. Summer school students watched the June 21 release of the ducks, which ran toward the water.

The wetland was started as a project eight years ago by Brown Elementary teacher Jack Belle, aided by his wife, Peggy.

Over time, the Belles said, the wetland has been the site of many projects for students and the focus of an annual science education day.

“When I began teaching here, I used to take my students out there to explore, and there looked like there was one little area that would be perfect for a pond,” Belle said. “I got permission to build the pond, and the county gave us $30,000 to build it.”

Despite having county permission, he said, he needed to seek state and federal approval, given that the water would eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

Belle and his students cleaned a large amount of trash behind the school before federal and state officials told them they couldn’t build the small pond there. Instead, Belle said, agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake office provided $3.5 million to construct the wetland.

“There’s a little island and a pier that goes out. It’s pretty neat,” said Belle, adding that it includes a bridge connecting the island portion with the mainland. The wetland takes in the runoff from the neighborhood and filters the water of sediment and some nutrients before sending the remainder into the Potomac River, then to the bay.

Peggy Belle said students helped shape the wetland. “They planted thousands and thousands of plants. They’d go out in their wading boots and go in and plant everything.”

Charles County Commissioner Kenneth Robinson (D) said that having the wetland behind the school provides students with an opportunity for learning. “The educational value of creating it is invaluable for the kids,” Robinson said. “I admire the school for taking this on.

“I think that [the wetland] garners a respect for nature and not paving over it,” Robinson said. The kids just love this stuff, and they’re much more in tune now with the environment than people from previous generations. I think that eventually the term ‘environmentalist’ will eventually go away, because it will just become the standard.”

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