Maryland's Verdant Visionaries

By Dawe, Nancy Anne | American Forests, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Maryland's Verdant Visionaries


Dawe, Nancy Anne, American Forests


Gather a group of dedicated Garden Club women together and watch an idea take root. When the National Council of State Garden Clubs decided in 1995 that its countrywide theme through 1997 would be "Millions of Trees for the Environment," the nonprofit Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland - comprising 120 clubs with 4,302 active members - threw themselves into the effort.

Tree planting was already traditional for them, based partly on the work of the late Alice Rush McKeon, a visionary roadside beautification activist and president of the Maryland clubs in the 1930s and early '40s. She wrote a booklet, "Sonnets for the Scenic Ease," and in 1959 its invested proceeds started funding tree plantings in conjunction with the Maryland Highway Administration.

Those plantings continue today and Maryland club members remain committed to McKeon's verdant vision. "We're planting trees for several reasons," says Dessie Moxley, past president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland and former land trust chairman of the National Council. "It's not only for beautification, recreation, and enhancing the quality of life, but because it's environmentally sound, appropriate, and desirable. And an investment in the future."

The future of this region's forests is in some peril. Maryland lies within the 64,000-square-mile drainage basin of the Chesapeake Bay, our nation's largest and most productive estuary. When colonists first arrived on the Chesapeake's shores in the 1600s, more than 95 percent of the landscape was forested. But with them came: agricultural expansion, deforestation, and the growth of cities, which together removed almost 70 percent of the watershed's forests by the mid-1800s.

Today more than 13 million people live in the watershed, with urban growth resulting in the permanent loss of almost 100 acres of forests every day, forests that had acted as a natural filter, helping to maintain the Bay's health. …

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