By Kathy Bryant

Biohabitats Inc., a Baltimore-based company that specializes in ecological restoration, has completed an initial survey of the Sentinel Swamp Sanctuary, which is located behind Columbia Avenue in Old Town College Park. “We’re still in the very early stages of this project,” said Erik Valentine, community development planner for the City of College Park. “It’s just concept design and ideas. We don’t have concrete next steps because it’s still in the very early stages, but we can see that there is a lot of potential there. This one is unique because of all its history.

“Biohabitats is really excited about the work and provided basic concept designs ,” Valentine added. Biohabitats identified not one but two nontidal wetlands in their assessment. The first is an area of slightly over 1,000 square feet and is not technically part of the Sentinel Swamp Sanctuary, but lies a bit to the west of the sanctuary, Valentine said. The second wetland area covers close to a half-acre and is within the sanctuary. American elms,  and buttonbush and Japanese honeysuckle shrubs are dominant species in the sanctuary. A long row of Callery pear trees, a non-native classed as invasive in many areas, runs along the east side of the sanctuary, adjacent to railroad tracks.

“There are still 13 invasive species that still have to be removed,” Valentine noted.

An important aspect of conducting the evaluation was to determine for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that any plans would not be in danger of affecting the northern long-eared bat and the monarch butterfly. They found that neither species has critical habitat in the sanctuary. But they will have to check back every 90 days to make sure there are no “refuge lands or fish hatcheries.”

Because the property is within the Old Town Historic District, Biohabitats coordinated their work with the Maryland Historical Trust. The trust indicated that the restoration project will have no adverse effects on historic properties.

Biohabitats offered three recommendations as part of their report to the city, two of which included a raised boardwalk through portions of the sanctuary. The third recommendation called for a viewing platform in the adjacent playground. Plans also call for clearing vegetation to make the sanctuary more inviting. Valentine suggested that interpretive signage, paths and native plants could be included in the restoration, as well.

The city allocated $150,000, which was covered by Program Open Space funds. This funding is funneled from the state to Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning and then to the city. The city allocated an additional $50,000 for the project, as well to cover expenses as the project moves forward. According to Valentine, funding for the project will be ongoing. “Additional money from the city will be available every year through Program Open Space,” he said.

A new playground is slated to replace the current playground next to the sanctuary. Valentine said that the playground will feature a frog element and suggested that the playground and surrounding area would likely be called Frog Park.

 “It’s nice that the playground specialists included a frog piece as a nod to the Sentinel Swamp Sanctuary,” he added.