Minnows may return to stream Volunteers given credit for pushing Arundel cleanup

December 11, 1992|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Rick MacDonald tugged gently at a tricycle wheel jammed i the bank of a tributary to Sawmill Creek during a community cleanup one recent Saturday, then decided to leave well enough alone.

"You've got to be careful that you don't change the channel," he explained.

But changes are going on in the 8.5-square mile watershed of Sawmill Creek, and more are in the offing, as volunteers with more energy than money and a coalition of more than a dozen government agencies set about restoring the stream.

Volunteers have pulled everything from a soggy green chair to building supplies from the waters where anglers once got minnows by the bucketful for bait. They also are helping with stream monitoring projects.

Meanwhile, the State Highway Administration is planning to restore washed-out stream beds and stabilize the banks as part of a highway extension.

"The biggest difference so far is the citizens," said Larry (P Lubbers, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in charge of implementing the many projects it will take to restore Sawmill Creek.

"Most of these things wouldn't happen if the people weren't interested in having them happen," he said.

For years, the creek, which rises near Danza Park in Severn and meanders east to Furnace Creek, was a dumping ground, polluted at will in the rapid development after World War II before environmental concerns led to stream protection laws.

In some places the banks have been eroded by storm-water runoff channeled there from developments. The silt was deposited downstream -- which is why much of Wagner's Pond has turned into Wagner's marsh.

Some stream beds are dry, others run in concrete channels.

The streams are not polluted beyond salvation, but these days only eels and other pollution-tolerant species can survive.

The watershed is one of four the state targeted in 1988 to be examples of how to correct environmental damage in areas of rapid urbanization.

The help of volunteers is critical to the cleanup, state officials say.

And volunteers have vowed to continue, despite losing much of their financial support.

"You do the best you can," said Linda Russell, who chairs the 30-member Sawmill Creek Recovery Team.

Mrs. Russell's group, which was organized under Maryland Save Our Streams, used a $150 minigrant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for three projects this fall.

As the money runs out, the group may seek another grant or turn to local businesses to provide trash bags and other supplies, Mrs. Russell said. However, she said that members prefer pulling old tires from streams to coaxing donations from store owners.

Mrs. Russell said that her group would have liked to maintain its affiliation with SOS, but will merge with the Sawmill Creek Watershed Association, Mr. MacDonald's group.

That group sponsors volunteer monitoring of waterways with a $760 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust that pays for supplies. Five people check stream flow, oxygen levels and turbidity of the water at nine sites each week -- work that state agencies cannot do so regularly. The volunteers turn their information over to DNR, which is evaluating it along with other data as part of the Targeted Watershed Project.

Other projects to improve the watershed are under study.

The Glen Burnie Improvement Association plans to join the watershed association in building a boardwalk-style bridge to link the improvement association's Third Avenue Park with Sawmill Creek Park, said Muriel Carter, GBIA president.

tTC The parks are separated by the creek, but youths often stretch old boards and rotted logs across the waterway. But the makeshift bridges frequently cave in, bottling up that section of the creek.

The GBIA also is considering adding a nature trail to its park.

But neither project can be started without grant money, officials of both groups said.

Stuart Lehman, SHA's administrator for the project, said that a team of scientists would study the condition of the watershed over the winter.

The SHA also has surveyors working at two tributaries.

As part of its extension of Route 100 from Interstate 97 to Interstate 95, the highway agency must repair stream beds and banks, replace wetlands and re-create, as much as possible, the stream that existed 40 years ago.

Charles Adams, SHA's director of environmental design, said that he hopes work will begin next year.

Natural materials -- the most environmentally sound method, which has been developed in recent years -- will be used, he said.

At Muddy Bridge Branch, which originates on the grounds of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the SHA plans to remove existing fish blockages.

It also will put a new culvert under Route 162 and improve holding ponds, restore bends in the stream and install a fish ladder near Crain Highway.

Officials plan similar work on another tributary upstream from the Glen Burnie Industrial Park.

Once the areas are stabilized, insect populations are likely to increase, providing a food supply for fish. DNR will consider taking fish from Wagner's Pond, mostly minnow varieties, and moving them into the streams, Mr. Lubbers said.

Maybe, once again, fisherman will take buckets full of minnows from Sawmill Creek.

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