Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Department Festival

Austin Cove, 2, of Pikesville, with an eastern screech owl from the Soldiers Delight aviary behind him
Saturday, October 31, was bitterly cold this year. But that didn’t stop the Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Department in Randallstown from hosting its annual fall festival on the fire department grounds. SDCI was invited to staff a booth at the event this year and we happily obliged.

Children were encouraged to come to the outdoor event dressed in Halloween costumes and they certainly did, by the scores. SDCI president Laura Van Scoyoc, vice president Lynell Tobler and board member Mark Jennys set up a table displaying T-shirts, nature books, gift items such as Christmas ornaments, refrigerator magnets and coaster sets, a sampling of rocks and minerals found at Soldiers Delight, which was home to the world’s first chromite mine in the early 1800s, and an endless loop video depicting the wondrous ecosystem on the serpentine, located just a couple of miles from the fire station.

To one side of our table, Mark, who has taken training in the handling of raptors, assisted Patapsco Valley State Park naturalist Tabitha Aguirre with a wild animal display featuring a tiny eastern screech owl, a red-tailed hawk, an American crow and a towering black vulture from the rehabilitation aviary at Soldiers Delight. Throngs of costumed children, bundled against the chill, pressed close to see the animals.

On another side of our table, a variety of invasive plant cuttings were propped up in buckets, accompanied by a chalkboard message asking onlookers to guess what was “wrong with these plants”. Happily, a number of adults and teens answered correctly – that these specimens are a dangerous threat to native flora and especially to the delicate ecosystem at Soldiers Delight.

Baltimore cousins Jayda Meale, 7, in fuschia gown and Kennedy Scatterfield, 6, as Antman, shoot water at faux flames in a simulated control burn activity
Just beyond our invasive plant display, a collection of genuine Nomex coats and helmets, shovels, rakes and other firefighting gear was arrayed across the grass. Laura, accompanied by Maryland Wildlife and Heritage ecologist Dr. Wayne Tyndall, spent the balance of the day helping youngsters into the protective clothing, then hoisted heavy “bladder packs” full of water onto their backs. Once decked out in their gear, the children took turns shooting water through hand-pumped nozzles toward painted “flames” a few feet away, simulating the actions taken twice a year by volunteers and a burn crew at Soldiers Delight, weather permitting. These “controlled burns” are instrumental in holding back the invasive vegetation threatening to overrun the globally rare and endangered wildflowers and grasses which normally thrive on the serpentine barrens at the heart of Soldiers Delight. The burns also mimic historically frequent wildfires which were caused by lightning strikes and Native American hunting parties for centuries before civilization encroached.

SDCI vice president Lynell Tobler took her first-ever ride in one of Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Department's big trucks. She even got to blow the horn!
There were lots of activities for children at the festival, including a bounce house and free trips around the block in one of the department’s big firefighting rigs. During a lull in the crowd, Lynell treated herself to a first-time-ever ride in a fire engine. Because she was seated in front, Lynell was enlisted to briefly sound the horn, siren and bells, activated by pressing pedals on the floor, as the fire truck rounded the last corner on its return to the station, a thrill Lynell said she won’t soon forget.

Akeerah Jackson, 7, of Owings Mills, with help from state ecologist Wayne Tyndall, donned firefighting gear over her cowgirl costume to shoot down "flames" in the controlled burn activity
Despite the excitement of the fire-engine rides and other activities, there was no doubt which pursuit the children enjoyed most at the Randallstown Fire Department festival on Halloween day. Youngsters were lined up three deep for a chance to don yellow Nomex suits and simulate shooting streams of water during a controlled burn.

SDCI was thrilled to have a new avenue for our ongoing efforts to educate the public about Soldiers Delight and to talk about the conservation and restoration of its rare and endangered ecosystem for future generations. That’s the core of our mission statement, and as for our stint at the Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Department fall festival, we can happily say: mission accomplished.

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