A Tale to Tell
C on st r uc t ion b ega n 17 ye a r s ago and won’t stop until the island reaches about 3 square miles, close to what John Smith sailed by in 1608. We paddled in through a curious landscape: lush wetlands, barren uplands where a forest will eventually grow, giant cranes adding massive boulders to the dikes, construction equipment rumbling pa s t e c olog i s t s me a s u r i ng t he success of this summer’s nesting of diamondback terrapins (hugely successful). Poplar’s past is interesting enough, a thriving community, even a retreat for U.S. presidents. Around 1847, it was the site of a black cat farm destined to supply the Chinese fur demand. That didn’t work out. The Bay froze and the cats, cut off from their supply of fish from the mainland, scampered off across the ice. But it is the island’s future that is truly remarkable: I call it “creation” biology, as opposed to more conventional restoration or conservation biology. We’re starting with a clean slate, choosing what landscapes to
Salisbury University and I choose every year to cap our monthlong summer kayak class by paddling and camping with students through Bay islands from Poplar, in sight of the Bay Bridge, to Tangier, across the Virginia line. Being islands, they all have their unique stories. Lessons attached to an island are more memorable. Just getting to islands is an attainment. Monday was Poplar, a pleasant 3-mile paddle from the Talbot county mainland. By the 1990s, Poplar had eroded to 5 acres ~ from nearly 2,000 in the early 1600s. Reclaiming it was unthinkable, some said, and would have cost a billion bucks. And then, Maryland banned the dumping of the silt removed constantly from shipping channels to the Port of Baltimore back into the Bay. What to do with mountains of dredged spoil? Poplar beckoned ~ a massive spoil containment dike and a federal-state project to restore it for wildlife have resulted.