About a year before he died in 1991, George Olds wrote to friends “My father gave much of his time, funds, and love to education. Pickering Creek Sanctuary (PCS) is my sister’s and my recognition of such a commendable purpose, and we both hope PCS will carry on long after we are gone. …But now, PCS has progressed far beyond the purpose of carrying on some family objective. Students are involved; teachers are in the act; friends, relatives, and others are involved. PCS, twenty to forty years from now, will be a constructive meld of persons who are dedicated to a worthy purpose, one which will make our planet a place where ‘I’d like to come home to."
This year we celebrate Pickering Creek’s thirtieth birthday: “a date which is more or less correct,” muses the Center’s Director, Mark Scallion, and right in the middle of the twenty to forty years of George Olds’ prophecy. Poring through records, it becomes clear that the land was given in packets and, though the first was intended for donation in 1981 or ’82, the first 32 acres were deeded in 1983.
A letter composed in November of 1982 gives cause for our celebration of Pickering Creek’s thirtieth birthday in 2012. At that time, before the gift was finalized, George and Margaret wrote a letter to members of the Chesapeake Audubon Society, at the request of the Society’s then President, Roger Waldman.
In the letter they note that, soon after they inherited the property, they received calls from developers and others who wished to purchase it. They could imagine the 400-acre farm with its 4,400 feet of waterfront turned into building lots, as had happened with similar properties. But they heard other messages, too—ones they attributed to the land’s inhabitants:
“…the calls of the Myrtle Warbler, the Bobolink, Horned Lark and Mockingbird, among others; near sundown in the virgin woods with the 130 foot high Beech trees, hundreds of Vultures come home—gracefully gliding in from the sky and perching silently in the highest branches for the night; along the road between farm and woodland a sign reads “Drive Slow, Beware of Fox Squirrel…”
The letter continues: “And so we decided to donate this land to the Chesapeake Audubon Society…. In lieu of our own quite obvious personal powerlessness to save our small globe, Earth, from eventual ecological destruction—we want those in our immediate greater Community who love the myriad forms of life in Nature to inherit with us now what little we can make available to them, namely the Pickering Creek sample of untrampled land.”
“… Ultimately we hope this property will be made available for education programs involving our community’s school children. If this world is ever to bring mankind’s material needs into harmony with the needs of our natural environment, we must start with the education of the young people.”
In 1988, an article in the Star Democrat announced a subsequent gift. “For seven years,” it reads, “a 400 acre farm has been resting quietly on the banks of Pickering Creek, producing corn in its fields and memories in the minds of a handful of youngsters who have explored its nooks and crannies. On July 1, the luscious spread of field, woodland, and wetland will officially become Pickering Creek Sanctuary, the gift of a Talbot County man and his sister to the people of Talbot County. Under the terms of agreement with the Chesapeake Audubon Society to whom the land was donated, the property must be forever preserved in its natural state as a wildlife sanctuary and working farm, and used strictly for environmental experience and education.”
Indeed, activities by this time were in full swing. There were field trips for children and adults, often led by two Chesapeake Audubon Society Board members, Bryan MacKay (an instructor of Biology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County) and Dr. Charlie Stine (a professor of Estuarine Ecology at Johns Hopkins University). There were visitors from local schools, scouting organizations, the Neighborhood Service Center, the YMCA, and groups such as those from the Maritime Museum. For the first time, Pickering would hire a Director/Naturalist to oversee the work of the Sanctuary.
Whether or not the Pickering property officially changed hands in 1982 (our thirtieth birthday marker), seems inconsequential. The intent of the gift was certain and fortunately, George Olds was present to guide the growth of the Sanctuary for its first decade. As a member of the Board of Chesapeake Audubon Society and later, as Chair of the Pickering Board with responsibilities as assigned by Chesapeake Audubon Society, he guarded its wellbeing, established a small endowment to support its operation, and identified members of a Pickering Creek Board with necessary and diverse talents (top-notch, he called them).
George’s wife, Katie died in 1990 and nine months later, he, too, passed away. With Mattie Shafer as Chair, and with George and Margaret’s vision firmly embedded in their minds, the Board assumed the responsibility of oversight and management of the fledgling Sanctuary. We can only be grateful for the foresight of the Strahl and Olds families, and the dedication of its first Board. Thirty years after the gift was envisioned, friends and staff of Pickering do our best, in the spirit of that gift, to make this planet a place where we’d all like to come home to.