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Earth's 'Swamp Lady' Down and Dirty

September 12, 1993|THERESA HUMPHREY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

EARLEVILLE, Md. — Millie Ludwig likes to pass herself off as a befuddled, silver-haired old lady who doesn't quite understand things like erosion, land use and sludge.

But behind that facade is the formidable "Swamp Lady"--a 71-year-old one-woman clearinghouse on environmental issues who has proved herself a thorn in the side of big business, governments and the Girl Scouts.

Ludwig has successfully fought against sludge dumping. She's at odds with the Grove Point Girl Scout camp next door over how it's going to deal with beach erosion. She's among residents fighting nerve-gas incineration at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a longtime military weapons testing and research center.

"This is what I do. I make things happen," she said.

A native of Massachusetts who moved to Delaware at age 6, Ludwig has been a research chemist and science teacher. She has been active in environmental issues since she moved to the banks of the Sassafras River more than 30 years ago--focusing on Chesapeake Bay tributaries like the Sassafras, Bohemia, Susquehanna, North East and Elk rivers.

The swamp in the Girl Scout camp has been the classroom for three decades of teaching thousands about wetlands. Ludwig has collected samples from the wetland for government and environmental agencies and over the years has catalogued a variety of information about the swamps, rivers and anything else she deemed environmentally endangered in the upper reaches of the bay.

"I consider it everyone's duty on the planet Earth to do what you can do," she said. "It's a feeling and a commitment to the future."

It was in the swamp that she got her nickname "Swamp Lady." She was collecting samples in the wetland about 30 years ago when a Girl Scout saw her and said, "You must be the Swamp Lady."

She is the darling of grass-roots organizations like FLOC--Fairness to Land Owners Committee--in Cambridge, having steered them toward other organizations and attorneys who take no fee for their environmental causes.

"With Millie's credentials and her expertise in swamps, she was a very important liaison," said Peggy Reigle, FLOC chairman. "Millie's a great worker."

Ludwig and Reigle both criticize mainstream environmental organizations, decrying the big budgets and executive directors whom they claim won't get their hands dirty. They contend that such groups have become too politicized and that only grass-roots organizations are really concerned about saving the Earth.

"They've not only lost focus, but they've lost their direction, which should be pointing to the future," Ludwig said of the major groups. "To a certain degree, they have sold themselves to the devil" with the salaries and perquisites that come with staff jobs.

Rodney A. Coggin, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, had only good things to say about grass-roots workers like Ludwig.

"I would say generically we depend on the grass-roots support of many thousands of people, and she meets the profile of people who just have the instinct to be involved and the courage to be involved and the intelligence to be involved," Coggin said.

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