Rare trees found in bog

Signs of growth in Severna Park

By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
The Capital, January 31, 2009

Joshua McKerrow - The Capital Keith Underwood describes the water system in a cedar bog he's discovered in Severna Park.

While doing fieldwork for a potential stormwater restoration project in Severna Park, "Bogman" Keith Underwood discovered another rare stand of Atlantic white cedar long thought nearly extinct in these parts.

The surprise find gave him confidence conditions could be restored in the several-acre bottomland forming the headwaters of Yantz Creek.

"We can restore this cedar bog, the elements are here," Mr. Underwood said after also noticing other telltale species amid the snow-covered bog: sphagnum moss, Magnolia virginiana and more. "Finding this is a really big deal."

In 1995 a survey of county waters found only 1,243 Atlantic white cedars left of the species that once dominated the bogs that lined riverbanks.

"There were 10 sites on the north shore of the Severn, one on the south shore and two sites on the Magothy," he said.

The best part of the find, aside from some 30 mature trees - some of which are 200 years old or more - is a small stand of 10 new, young cedars among them.

"To find regeneration is amazing. It means we can come and gather seed," said Mr. Underwood, president of Underwood and Associates, best known for waterway and bog restorations in the county that have gained national attention.

"The Nature Conservancy stepped in to preserve Sullivan Cove bog because of the Atlantic white cedar there," he said. "This is equally as valuable."

Part of his program involves county school students who propagate and care for young Atlantic White Cedar trees, then participate in planting them at restoration sites. The most notable sand bog restorations are Howard's Branch, which feeds into the Severn, and the Wilelinor subwatershed of Church Creek south of Annapolis.

Recent research has preliminarily found those projects reduce nutrient pollutants by about 40 percent - the same reduction as Chesapeake Bay-wide goals.

The native cedars that once dominated the peat bogs feeding local rivers were decimated by development and the stormwater that deposited silt into the sandy, absorbent bottomland. Eventually other species of trees supplanted the cedars and other plants, depleting the native plant's ability to clean and cool waters before they reached tributaries of the bay.

Jeff Opel, former chief at the Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District who moved to Delaware a couple years back, is now working with Mr. Underwood. He grew up next to the bog.

"This was full of cedars," he recalled on a trudge through the area yesterday. "I used to trap all through here. The creek used to be over there," he said, pointing several yards away from where the main channel feeds into Yantz Creek by the West Severna Park community marina.

"Now the channel is incised stormwater," he said.

Near the bog's outlet to the creek the peat was so thick Mr. Opel and his boyhood friends used to play on it. "Over there," he said, pointing to an area across from a residential pier, "we used to call it Blubber Island. You could stand on it and it would bounce up and down under your feet."

The county could develop a project to restore the bog by creating a stepped, sand-infused outfall to replace the metal pipe that pours stormwater from the subwatershed that stretches from the parking lot at Severna Park High School down to the bog.

If successful, it could turn back the clock, restoring the bog to the way Mr. Opel remembers it as a boy some 40 years ago, and improving water quality in the creek and Severn River.

(Revised January 2009)