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How Volunteering Helps Our Community Thrive

Charlotte’s Quest is so lucky to be situated in the heart of the Town of Manchester. We still have a small-town feel that can be so easily lost in today’s hustle and bustle and urban sprawl. The annual 4th of July parade and carnival is always such a quintessential reminder of the wonderful sense of community that a town like ours can foster. 

We have always been an organization that is of and for the community, almost completely dependent on volunteers to carry out our mission. Some of our Board Members have been dedicating time to Charlotte’s Quest since its inception over 25 years ago. They do it because they love it, but also because they see how this community service positively impacts their town.

Yes, volunteering with Charlotte’s Quest helps keep the nature center up and running, and our organization benefits greatly from these efforts. But the bigger picture is that our community members have hiking trails to explore, programs to learn from, and fun family events to enjoy.  Charlotte’s Quest is certainly not the only game in town – volunteers support our schools, operate the pool, rallied together to build a skate park, and so much more. This town, and so many others, would not be recognizable if you took away everything that has come out of volunteer service.

A community in which residents voluntarily jump in to contribute to the greater good stands to gain so much from the collective efforts of everyone involved. We gain a sense of pride in our neighbors and our hometown, and we teach our younger generations what it means to be part of something larger than ourselves. This is one reason why we are so excited by the ongoing and growing scout involvement at Charlotte’s Quest – not only do they help make the park a more beautiful place, but we get to watch these young community members understand the powerful impact they can make when they choose to dedicate their time to a worthy cause. 

So as we gather this week to celebrate in wonderful, small-town fashion, take a moment to look past the rides and games to the people that surround you. Maybe you don’t recognize them all, but chances are good that many of the folks you see have had a hand in making our town what it is. Let’s all do our part to keep that spirit of community service alive!

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Presenting: Open Hours

Charlotte’s Quest Nature Center was brought into existence by volunteers who were dedicated to serving our community.

Today, we serve:

  • local schools and preschools by hosting field trips,
  • the local home-school community and kids younger than school-age with nature education programming by Timbernook,
  • the local scout community by offering our park as a safe meeting place, and
  • volunteer-minded folks by making service opportunities available.

Now we want to expand our reach even further, making it easier to access Charlotte’s Quest even when there are no programs or special events scheduled.

Have you ever wondered “What’s inside that little building?!” We get that a lot.

It has long been a dream of the Manchester Parks Foundation to make the Nature Center available to the public on a regular basis.

For years the Board has grappled with the cost of hiring a staff person, but even after receiving support from the Town of Manchester and loyal members of Charlotte’s Quest, our funds fall short. We have been thus far unable to make that dream a reality.

A recent shift in focus has lead us to realize the answer was in front of us the whole time – VOLUNTEERS!

As of now, we have the Volunteer resources available to open the Nature Center from 10am to 12pm to the public, most Saturdays this Summer. Keep an eye out on our Facebook Page for more information or stop by the park on Saturdays between 10am and 12pm to catch us there!

Thanks to a growing team of volunteers, when you visit the park, you will also have access to the resources within the Nature Center. Our sincere hope is that the growing Charlotte’s Quest community takes advantage of this new opportunity!

Kids love to explore the many textures of the natural items we have collected in the Touch-Table, play with puppets and models, and see the animals in the display. Adults can even learn something new as they peruse our bookshelf of nature knowledge (P.S. The Touch-Table is fun for everyone!) .

Back to Basics

To tackle this obstacle, we reached back into our volunteer-heavy history, and pulled out a somewhat weathered idea…

Some of you loyal members may remember that years ago, the Nature Center was open for a few hours each Saturday afternoon. A handful of board members volunteered to open the Nature Center and greet visitors. As Board members were inevitably pulled in too many different directions, both related to CQ and their personal lives, these open hours took a necessary back seat and eventually became a thing of the past.

We are attempting to revive this idea by reaching out – to begin with – to dedicated members of our Board. It is important to the long-term sustainability of open hours, however, that we expand our reach beyond the eight Board members to other volunteer-minded members of the Charlotte’s Quest community. If you appreciate our efforts and think that volunteering for open hours might be right for you, please let us know!

To learn more about or join our Volunteer Team, please contact volunteer@charlottesquest.org or complete this survey. Your participation in any Charlotte’s Quest initiative supports environmental education in your community.

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Weekly Weed Series: The Japanese Barberry

Coming straight from the Carroll County Forestry Board by way of Bethany Slaughter, here are some great tips on how to identify and control Japanese Barberry in Maryland, as well as the ways in which it threatens our local ecology.

 

Barberry is native to China and Japan, then was introduced as an ornamental plant. The seeds are eaten by mammals and birds, spreading it throughout the eastern U.S. The berries of this plant are also edible with a bitter taste and a hint of sweetness. You could try using them with other fruits in pies or jelly preserves to add a tart flavor.

 

How to Identify the Japanese Barberry:

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The Ecological Threat:

Japanese Barberry produces a large number of seeds as well as rhizomes to form new plants that shade out and displace native species. The thorns and dense foliage also provide refuge for small mammals that host the deer tick, the carrier of Lyme and other diseases. That makes this species a human health hazard.

Likely Habitat:

Japanese Barberry can tolerate a range of conditions but grows best in sunny, fertile, moist, and well-drained soil. It spreads from gardens to natural areas that are suitable for its growth and establishment.

How to Control:

Do not plant or encourage the planting of this species. Some garden supply dealers and landscapers have agreed to stop selling Japanese Barberry. When removing this species, pull out the entire plant including the roots to prevent regrowth.

 

Join us next week when we explore Oriental Bittersweet.

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Weekly Weed Series; What You Should Know About Invasive Plants

At our recent Community Plant Swap, the Master Gardeners supported native plant selections and discouraged attendees from picking up those few “invasive” plants that were found in circulation. Valid advice though it is, why should we choose native, non-invasive plants for planting and avoid exotic invasives? Even further, what should we do when we find ourselves dealing with a garden (or yard!) take-over? Read on for expert information regarding invasive exotic species, how to identify them and what the best way to control their growth.

What is an invasive exotic species?

Invasive exotic plants are ones that have been introduced by people from other continents or ecosystems, whose introduction causes economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health.

How did they get here?

Many were brought here intentionally for ornamental use, erosion control, or wildlife habitat. Others were brought accidentally or as byproducts of human industry; in transporting goods in the hulls of ships, by carried seeds.

How do invasive exotic species take over?

They have a lack of natural enemies to control their populations, because when they are brought to a new ecosystem, their predators don’t come along. They can also be spread by prolific seeding, which is when they are dispersed inadvertently by animals and humans. Some invasive species can even spread by stolons or rhizomes underground, making the roots hard to remove. Most of them green out early, which shades out native plants and improves their own chance of survival. Deer also play a role in the spread of invasive species by only browsing on native plants, preventing them from growing.

 

 

Why do we care?

After the loss of habitat through development, the encroachment of invasive exotic plants causes the most harm to our native species. Development is something we are always going to be doing, while the spread of invasives is something we can prevent. These invasive weeds crowd out native plants that are important to the ecosystem. Our native animals suffer when the native plants they depend on are no longer around. Getting rid of these non native plants will improve forest quality by allowing the native plants to grow, which provide food and shelter for wildlife. Healthy ecosystems also help provide clean air and water for people, as well as filter the soil. A forest may look healthy with lots of older native trees, but invasives in the understory will eventually affect the overstory by preventing new trees from growing.

What can we do?

Learn how to identify and remove invasive species by reading the Weekly Weed articles and becoming a Weed Warrior! Most counties have one of these programs to do invasive species control and keep their forests healthy. The Carroll County Weed Warrior program was initiated by a Master Gardener, Carolyn Puckett, in 2010. Anyone can be a Weed Warrior! There are currently over 400 volunteers in our database who have removed over 40 acres of invasive plants. We work mainly at Bear Branch and Piney Run Park, but are always looking for new places to work and new groups to network with. You can help change the forest from being covered with invasives, to providing food and shelter for wildlife! Contact ccforestryboard@gmail.com for more information.

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Energy Efficiency Looks Great


Our Building Overhaul isn’t just about looks. We are excited to be updating the nature center in ways that not only make it more educational, comfortable, and welcoming, but also more energy efficient! The best part is, the steps we are taking are all things that could be easily implemented at home – significant energy savings can be achieved even without a major renovation. Small changes can add up to make a big difference, especially if we all pitch in.

LED Lighting

Next time you’re in our nature center, take a minute to look up and admire our sleek, new LED lighting. While LED bulbs do cost more than other options, the higher up-front investment is paid back through long-term energy savings of up to 65%. These lights are brighter despite using less energy than our old fluorescent tubes, and could last up to 25 years – here’s to never having to change the light bulbs! A change like this is a win for the environment and a win everyone who is making the switch to household and business LED lighting.

Ductless HVAC System

One of the most significant upgrades is the building’s heating and cooling system. We used to have a series of fans and portable AC units that struggled to keep the building cool, and an electric fan heater that was very loud and certainly didn’t do anything to help keep the electric bill down. A new ductless heating and cooling unit is a perfect solution for our space – very quiet, energy efficient, and programmable so that we can optimize use according to when we will be in the building. A similar system could be a great choice for a home renovation or HVAC replacement.

Other Green Practices

The Charlotte’s Quest team will also be re-vamping and highlighting some existing green features.

  • Our compost bins – used to convert food and yard waste to useful fertilizer – are ready to be put to use.
  • When the weather warms up the rain barrel will once again be collecting rainwater so we can use it in the gardens.

During your next visit, we hope you check out our green features and perhaps be inspired to try some at home!

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2 days, 40 Volunteers, Some Dirt, and Lots of Love

Charlotte’s Quest has been feeling the love from hardworking volunteers, and it shows! Over the course of two work days, nearly 40 people came together to give our grounds a major overhaul. Projects included everything from garden maintenance, to cleaning and staining benches, to fresh paint on our building.

BGE demonstrated their commitment to the community by not only supporting these events through our Green Grant award but also getting their hands dirty working with us last week. Boy Scout Troop 665 – frequent visitors to the fire pit and council circle – paid it forward by cleaning and weeding the campfire area.

From the beginning, Charlotte’s Quest has been built on community service. Many features and displays are the results of scout projects, donations, and the like. We are thrilled to have our neighbors involved with our current updates to keep this long-standing tradition of volunteerism alive.

THANK YOU to all those who lent us your time and talents, it means the world! We look forward to continuing our updates throughout the winter months and sharing them with you come spring. Stay tuned!

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Fossil Hunts, Star Parties and Campfires of Summer

Summer was an exciting time at Charlotte’s Quest as we enjoyed a much more active calendar of programs than in recent years. Nothing says summer like a campfire, and our Twilight Skies series brought children and adults alike outdoors to enjoy the magical evening hours. Kids of all ages explored the recent history of our park as they participated in an archaeological dig at the Wilhelm Farmhouse site. Many of summer’s most successful programs were made possible through the work of dedicated volunteers and partnerships with other local organizations. Pine Valley Park has hosted various activities of the Archaeological Society of Maryland and the Westminster Astronomical Society for many years, and it has been wonderful to team up with them to enhance our public program offerings.

The Central Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Maryland

has investigated both the recent and ancient history of Pine Valley Park over the course of many years and multiple dig locations. They have found spear points and other artifacts left behind by Native Americans between 2,000-4,000 year ago! Archaeologists have also helped provide insights into our more recent past through investigations of the site where a Nineteenth Century farmhouse once stood, not far from our interpretive building. This summer, volunteers Tom Smith and Stephen Israel shared their expertise and enthusiasm with our visitors through not only the Wilhelm Farmhouse dig, but also a hands-on lesson with shark teeth and other fossils.

Westminster Astronomical Society

is a fixture at Pine Valley Park, thanks in large part to the permanent addition of Pine Observatory. Throughout the year they host regularly scheduled public events as well as special viewings when particularly interesting astronomical features are in sight. In partnering with them to host Twilight Skies events this summer, we were able to introduce families who might not be able to attend late night events to the exciting world of astronomy. There are so many exciting features of the sun and moon that can be seen before dark! And, of course, there was the eclipse – the Astronomical Society put us on the map as a viewing location and helped draw well over 300 people to the park. Special thanks to Bob Clarke and Chris Bennett, the dedicated Astronomical Society volunteers who made these programs possible. Keep an eye out for their events on our calendar, they are always open to the public and they love to see new faces.

We want to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to these partners for sharing their time and talents with our visitors. Charlotte’s Quest is made all the more dynamic by these groups who open our eyes to the wonders beneath our feet and over our heads!

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Improvements to the Nature Center

Many of you have been around to watch our interpretive building grow and change – and age – over the years. We are excited to announce that additional investments from the Town of Manchester and a financial award through BGE’s Green Grants Program are supporting a building update that will make our facility more informative, more energy-efficient, and more conducive to learning!
Improvements will include a new heating and cooling system, LED lighting, informational signage, fresh paint, and more!

These updates represent a launch pad for our continued efforts to expand and improve our service to the local community through educational programs and engaging outdoor experiences.

 

It is in this spirit of community that we are looking to our supporters for help in supplying some of the elbow grease needed to complete our renovations!
At an upcoming Volunteer Event, we invite you to be an active part of our exciting transformation. Tasks will include painting, weeding and gardening, trail work, and more. One meaningful afternoon can do wonders, so bring the whole family.