Holiday Open House

SDCI founding member Jean Worthley, 90, and longtime volunteer Donna Shoemaker share a joyful reunion at the open house
What better way to get folks interested in Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area and the globally rare serpentine ecosystem that makes the place so special than to throw the doors of our visitor center wide open and invite people to enjoy baked treats, mulled wine, spiced cider and hot chocolate while learning about the cause dearest to the hearts of the board members of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc.? There is no better way, so that’s exactly what SDCI did on the first Sunday of December, and our party was a big success.

Poor weather had threatened, but the morning of our annual Holiday Open House dawned bright and sunny this year. SDCI vice president Lynell Tobler and some helpers had spent most of the previous day preparing the visitor center for its big event – setting up dozens of long tables throughout the auditorium, lobby and exhibit hall, then decorating those tables with holiday cheer and organizing a program that would give visitors an opportunity to make more than a dozen different nature-themed ornaments, buy nature books and engage in seasonal activities.

At noon on the day of our event, visitors streamed in, greeted by the smells of steaming cocoa and freshly baked baklava, among other delicacies. Out in the parking lot, Westminster Astronomical Society coordinator Wayne (Skip) Byrd, who leads monthly star-gazing programs at Soldiers Delight, held forth with a gigantic solar telescope, giving all who wished a chance to safely view the early December sun.

Harry Blondell, his sister, Maddelena, and their mom, Maria Caruso, make "edible bird houses" with other visitors in the crafts room 
Inside, visitors could enter a fun-filled crafts room, where Lynell oversaw nine large tables at which 16 different crafts could be made. For a single entry fee of $5, adults and children could move from table to table, making as many different crafts to take home as they liked. In one corner, simple balsawood birdhouses were being coated with peanut butter “glue” and then decorated with different-colored seeds, sticks and greenery. At another table, children could assemble snowmen out of walnuts and adorn them with acorn hats and tiny felt scarves. At yet another, reindeer were being fashioned out of sweetgum balls with sticks forming antlers and legs. Popcicle-stick picture frames could be decorated with moss and leaves and strips of unusual bark. Angels grew out of clothespins to which oyster shell wings, pipe-cleaner arms and pine-needle skirts were affixed. Tiny nativity scenes made from slender nuts and fabric scraps took shape inside plastic laundry scoop dioramas, while across the room youngsters filled hollow glass balls with a variety of seed pods, dried flowers, colorful pasta and glitter.

Mine historian and former board member Johnny Johnsson gets ready to lead a hike to the Choate Chromium mine while SDCI board member Dwight Hendrickson and PVSP Ranger Sara Marcinak look on
In the visitor center lobby, Patapsco Valley State Park ranger Sara Marcinak offered guests an opportunity to purchase a yearly sponsorship of one of the wild raptors or other animals who reside in the rehabilitation aviary adjacent to the visitor center, which itself was open for tours on this special day. Several people stepped up to pay a small fee in exchange for a beautiful sponsorship certificate, a full color photograph of the animal they were sponsoring and a fact sheet about the animal. Although the sponsorships are available for purchase all year long, at this time of year they make ideal holiday gifts for loved ones. Sara sold several of them!

About fifty yards behind the visitor center, Naturalist Mercedes Harris tended a roaring fire inside Red Dog Lodge, where she invited families to roast marshmallows over glowing embers while she described the history of the tiny log cabin built in 1912 by the Dolfield and Sherwood families as a hunting, camping and picnic venue. At the same time, mining historian and former board member Johnny Johnsson led a group of visitors on a short hike to the Choate mine, home of the world’s first chromium mining operation in the early 1800s.

Back inside the visitor center’s exhibit hall, guests perused stacks of mint-condition books for sale on botany, biology, minerals and the natural sciences, and chose from a plethora of ready-to-purchase home-baked goods lovingly donated by a throng of dedicated volunteers. Enticing smells wafted across the air, cinnamon and other spices lending intrigue to the scent of warm apple cider, a hint of peppermint infusing the smell of hot chocolate. It was all good. Very good.

Volunteers Irene Hillen, Kristen Hise and Nancy Rescigno braved an unheated exhibit hall to staff the SDCI book, beverage and bake sale
Throughout the afternoon, visitors streamed into our open house, filling the building with a bustle of festivity and good cheer. When all was said and done, this year’s Holiday Open House, a principal fundraising affair, turned out to be our most successful event to date, almost doubling last year’s tally. To those of you who attended our celebration, purchased a bakery item or a nature book, or made a craft or two to take home, the board of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. offers a hearty THANK YOU!! We can’t do what we do to conserve and restore the fragile ecosystem that is Soldiers Delight NEA without your help and support, and we appreciate your assistance and encouragement very, very much.

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