- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

FREDERICK, Md. Wagon loads of acorns, black walnuts by the bagful the nuts keep coming and Hilari Benson couldn't be happier.
Miss Benson is executive officer of Community Commons, a local conservation group that is among nearly 100 organizations collecting seeds this fall for state tree nurseries in the Potomac River watershed.
Two years from now, saplings grown from the seeds at nurseries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be planted along stream banks to help improve water quality and shelter wildlife.
Organizers say more than 1,500 volunteers are participating in the effort, which included a rally Saturday in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park along the Potomac River near Bethesda.
Miss Benson is coordinating nut-gathering in Frederick County and adjacent areas drained by Catoctin Creek and the Monocacy River, two Potomac tributaries. She has been busy taking calls and picking up nuts from people responding to her Oct. 9 news release announcing the project.
"It's been amazing, the number of landowners who have called and said, 'Get these acorns out of here,'" Miss Benson said.
They include Ruth Duprey, who enlisted her two grandchildren and a Radio Flyer wagon in gathering acorns from several oak trees in her half-acre Frederick yard.
"Typically, I will collect them and feed them to the squirrels. This way it will get them off our lawn and it will do the environment good," Mrs. Duprey said.
Her yard trash is forestry treasure.
Maryland, Virginia and other states have been hard-pressed to provide enough saplings to meet the demand caused by government programs that offer landowners incentives to plant trees along streams, according to the Potomac Conservancy, a nonprofit organization overseeing the volunteer effort.
"State nurseries have been experiencing a little bit of pressure to provide more native tree stock for restoration projects," said Christine Rodick, a project coordinator at the Arlington-based conservancy.
The group is part of the Potomac Watershed Partnership a consortium of state and federal agencies and private organizations which issued the call for acorn harvesters.
The response has been overwhelming in all of the watershed's 39 counties, Miss Rodick said.
Ecologists say trees restore eroded stream banks and improve the quality of the water by consuming soil nutrients that otherwise would cause water pollution.
Bryan Seipp, a state forester in Maryland's four-county western region, said seeds collected by volunteers will help state forest and park workers meet their yearly quotas.
In western Maryland, this year's quota includes 6,000 pounds of black walnuts and 1,500 pounds of acorns from three types of oak, Mr. Seipp said. The state is encouraging volunteers to gather those easily identified nuts, leaving species such as white and green ash to the experts.
Government programs to encourage tree planting include the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which reimburses farmers for costs of creating forest buffers along waterways and offers payments for converting cropland and pastures into forest.
That program along with various state incentives have helped Maryland create 600 miles of forest buffers in the past five years, according to the state forest service Web site.

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