Conserving a Space for Outdoor Education
History lives on at the Izaak Walton League's Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter, where League members are working to restore a centuries-old log cabin for use as a conservation classroom.
The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter owns 573 acres of woodlands, agricultural fields, and open space outside Washington, D.C. The chapter’s first land purchase back in 1949 included a cabin, smoke house, and spring house constructed around 1825. These historic structures are situated just down a small hill from a modern facility the chapter built for meetings and other events. The structures sit on a small pond, surrounded by meadowland that chapter members are replanting with native Maryland foliage. It’s an ideal spot to teach youth and families about conservation.
Bringing old buildings back to life is a time-intensive process. Chapter members have taken great care to remain faithful to traditional building methods while restoring the main log cabin, which project leader Josh Shaw says was in bad shape when restoration began five years ago. “Many of the logs had deteriorated to the point that they were structurally inadequate for support, and much of the chinking (filler used to close gaps between logs) had been replaced with concrete as it fell out over the years.” During the first three years of the restoration effort, volunteers focused on replacing rotten timbers. They were able to use lumber from the chapter’s conservation farm — perhaps the descendents of trees used to build the original structure — as replacement timber.
It took volunteers another two years to remove the concrete chinking and prepare the cabin for more historically appropriate materials. “The timbers were pressure washed, treated, and sealed. We are now in the process of chinking with a material recommended by the National Park Service — the same material they use to restore the cabins along the Appalachian Trail,” Shaw says. “The goal is to complete the chinking this fall to winterize the cabin so we can concentrate on the interior during the cold weather.”
The end goal for the cabin, explains Shaw, is to create a place for relaxation, inspiration, and education. ”The first floor will focus on the history of the cabin (including restoration efforts), the chapter, Poolesville, and Maryland. The second floor will focus on the native Maryland vegetation and fish and wildlife found on the property and in the area. The attic will be restored to be suitable for an overnight stay by Scout troops. The cabin will be a place for families to relax, enjoy the views, and learn a bit about the area and the environment.”