Michael A. Sawyers
OAKLAND — As “Outdoors Maryland” celebrates its 25th year on Maryland Public Television, the Oakland resident who launched the series in 1988 met with the Times-News Thursday to recall the early days and salute the heights to which the show has risen.
After more than 700 shows, “Outdoors Maryland” has won 37 Emmy Awards and is currently nominated for two more.
“I had watched a show called ‘Outdoors Arkansas,’ and I liked it and I knew that we could do it even better in Maryland,” said Glenn Tolbert, then employed by MPT and living in Owings Mills. “But it would be expensive and first I had to sell the idea of producing a one-hour pilot.”
Tolbert said he was somewhat surprised when Department of Natural Resources gave him and MPT an immediate green light and the necessary money.
“I got out a map, picked various regions of the state and started to choose stories and locations. I had never even been to Garrett or Allegany counties, so that took some research.”
Tolbert’s research was of the on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal variety. He had beer money and he put it to work.
“I went to restaurants and bars in the two counties and asked local people what they did in the outdoors and where they did (it). And, yes, some of the money was used to purchase liquid incentive so people would provide me with the information I needed.”
The pilot show was an unqualified success, according to Tolbert.
“It opened with a float on the Pocomoke River and closed with bears in Garrett County. The other parts of Maryland filled in the middle.”
Tolbert said the premiere of the pilot show was watched by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and lady-friend Hilda Mae Snoops. Also in attendance were various elected state officials and numerous staff from state agencies.
“When it was over there was rousing applause and we were on our way,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert produced the show for 10 years. His approach was a natural one.
“We used music if it was needed, but I’d rather let viewers hear the birds chirp or the river babble. My goal was to have viewers see and hear Maryland’s outdoors, to love it and treat it with sacred tenderness.”
Tolbert said he felt good about the fallout from the show. “People would see a show about Garrett County and say ‘Oh, wow. You mean that’s in Maryland?’”
Tolbert said he felt bad about the fallout from the show. “I have always been concerned that the show brought more people to Western Maryland and somehow lessened the quality of the outdoor experience.”
“Outdoors Maryland,” which airs on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., was originally produced by Tolbert using a film crew of three.
“Comparing the equipment from then to now is crazy,” he said. “Our recording unit was in a large, heavy box that it took one person to carry. We would hook it to the camera with a long cord.”
Tolbert said his crew was “unbelievable.”
“We couldn’t afford a helicopter so one of them would climb the highest tree to get an aerial shot. They’d cross rivers, whatever it took.”
During filming, Tolbert found himself in some difficult positions, including flat on his back in the Little Youghiogheny River after slipping and falling.
“Walking in that river was like stepping on buttered rocks,” he said.
Another time he got caught in a severe lightning storm on the Eastern Shore as a nearby tree was struck.
Tolbert said he hopes that his work and the efforts of those now producing “Outdoors Maryland” create not only an enjoyment of the state’s natural landscape, but a reverence for it. He said he always enjoyed working with employees of the Department of Natural Resources and always sought out the most enthusiastic individuals for interviews.
“Most of them love what they do,” he said.
Tolbert, originally from El Paso, Texas, said he had envisioned the East as pretty much paved over and was thrilled when he discovered its natural beauty.
“I have always been fascinated by the mystery of nature,” he said. “You know, you see the trees in the forest and the different shades of light between them off into the distance and you want to go there, to feel it, to see it, to try to understand it. I wanted that to be ‘Outdoors Maryland’ and I wanted to take the viewers with me into the different shades of light.”
Tolbert said he sees that the show’s current staff is continuing the program in that spirit.
Asked to detail the parts of Maryland and the outdoor activities he and his crew exposed to viewers during his decade with the program, Tolbert paused.
“I can’t think of anything we missed,” he said.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.