Creek getting aid on 3 fronts Agencies enlist students, volunteers to help Little Pipe

May 03, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Little Pipe Creek got sick slowly over many decades.

Farmers felled trees to plant crops or pasture cows, which led to increased erosion and more algae-stimulating nitrogen entering the creek. Cattle urinated in the creek. Three towns discharged effluent into it from their sewage treatment plants.

A clean, healthy Little Pipe Creek "is important economically and socially for this area, but also environmentally for downstream areas, because it's putting a lot of sediment and nutrients in the water," said Jill Reichert, a project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Little Pipe is an unappealing muddy brown, sunk between steep banks and shaded by few trees as it meanders through the 4-mile-long plain between New Windsor and Union Bridge. Now, three projects to help the creek become healthy again are in progress:

Students from New Windsor Middle School and Westminster High School are working with DNR to expand a natural wetland, reducing runoff into nearby Dickerson Run, a Little Pipe Creek tributary.

Francis Scott Key High School students and volunteers are helping to stabilize eroded stream banks and create a wetland park on Little Pipe Creek in Union Bridge.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide $41,000 to plant trees to help reduce erosion along the banks of Dickerson Run as it flows through a New Windsor subdivision.

The three projects are linked by a common goal, to improve the water quality of Little Pipe Creek, said Kevin Smith, chief of wetland restoration for DNR.

A 1990 report by the federally financed Rural Clean Water Program said the creek had a high fecal coliform bacteria count, an indicator that disease-causing bacteria might be present.

"Nobody drinks that water. There are probably fish in it, but I've never known anyone to fish in it," said Maggie Rhodes, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

She said the water poses no danger to animals. Water quality has probably improved since the 1990 report because some farmers have installed water troughs rather than let livestock drink from the creek, she said.

Smith said the government agencies involved are taking a moderate approach, working with the community instead of "coming in with both guns blasting."

The New Windsor Middle School project, supported by a $30,000 grant from the Maryland Department of the Environment, grew out of the interest of science teachers who wanted a wetland for environmental studies.

Students need to understand the "why" of each step, Smith said. "We don't want, 'I got it done. I have no idea what it means, but I got it done,' " he said at the start of the project.

Smith, Union Bridge project manager Reichert and Sandy Watkins of the Carroll County Forestry Board responded with a plan that had students from Jim Gilford's Westminster High science research class tramping through mud and grass last fTC month to find the natural wetlands in the field.

They were accompanied by middle school students, who will help decide issues such as whether boxes for ducks should be installed in the expanded wetland.

Gilford's science research class will work on outlining the natural wetland. Then his engineering class at Carroll County Career and Technology Center will design a grading plan for the area. "I'm always looking for something real world," Gilford said, noting his preference for projects outside the classroom.

The students spent two hours walking through the field behind the school, checking soil characteristics and looking for what Watkins called "plants with wet feet," to determine what areas of the 3-acre site are natural wetlands.

The wetland identification work is the first step in obtaining grading permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and MDE. The site will have to be graded to create the ponds that will be part of a permanent, expanded wetland, Watkins said.

Some students shrank from handling the dirt, but Reichert urged them on: "If you want to find a soil profile, you've got to dig."

Meredith Boyle, 17, a senior at Westminster High, didn't hesitate to get her hands muddy. She sank a probe into the wet ground to obtain a piece of mud to match against a color chart, finding that it had the dull, dark soils characteristic of wetlands.

"This interests me a lot," Meredith said. "My family has always done a lot outdoors."

Adam Fisher, 17, a junior at Westminster High who plans to major in science or engineering in college, welcomed the chance to work on the New Windsor project.

"This is a real hands-on class. That's what drew me," he said.

Reichert has been working with New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. for three years to obtain a grant to plant trees along the banks of Dickerson Run as it coils through a flood plain.

Town volunteers have planted some trees, but their efforts will be supplemented with the $41,000 EPA grant, to be available July 1.

The land, which divides old New Windsor from the new Atlee Ridge subdivision, was deeded to the town by the developer.

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