Kids work to keep the Bay clean, safe

Cleanup: Ten Baltimore youngsters make their mark on area storm drains in an attempt to prevent the illegal dumping of waste.

August 18, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,SUN STAFF

Courtney Barrett says he became interested in cleaning up his west Baltimore neighborhood after watching a news report about the large amounts of trash that end up in the Chesapeake Bay because people illegally throw waste into storm drains.

"That's messing up some of our food; we get some of our crabs and fish from the Chesapeake Bay," says Courtney, 12. "We might get something [a disease] if there's trash in the water." He adds, "I wanted to make sure my food was safe."

So Courtney and nine other youngsters -- ages 9 to 14, all members of the St. Joseph's Improvement Association -- went to work. With help from the Adopt-A-Stream program and the leadership of Helen Quill, 73, they embarked on a mission last month to give their neighborhood a much overdue cleaning.

"We cleaned up vacant lots, cut grass," Courtney says. "We painted storm drains."

The group, aided by a $1,050 Governor's Crime Control and Prevention Grant, marked the storm drains with the slogan, "Do not disturb the Chesapeake," hoping to dissuade potential litterers from dumping.

In meetings before the group's cleaning skirmish, representatives of Adopt-A-Stream stressed the importance of maintaining a clean water supply.

Adopt-A-Stream, sponsored by Save Our Streams and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, works to protect water quality by cleaning streams, painting storm drains, planting trees and doing stream and watershed surveys and water quality assessments. The program relies on the participation of residents.

"People in Baltimore City have realized for a long time how important water quality is, not only to the [Chesapeake] Bay, but to the quality of their life," says Terry Lehr, Adopt-A-Stream's project manager. Lehr, 47, says that there has been an enthusiastic response from Baltimore residents and that the program has been "quite successful."

The day the children began the cleaning, Quill says, "I noticed the [Inner] Harbor was filthy." Closer to home, she says, illegal storm-drain dumping and the fact that many residents put their garbage out on the street well before collection day are "what keep our neighborhood filthy."

Quill says she wanted the children to see that they can have a safe, clean place to play and above all, learn an important lesson: "take pride in your community."

As for Courtney Barrett, he says he did a little bargaining in exchange for help in safeguarding his future crab feasts.

He wagered the promise of pizza -- paid for with his 12-year-old assets -- to any of the nine other youngsters whose enthusiasm he couldn't spark by making the cleanup as amusing as possible.

"I made it as fun as I could," he said. "I didn't want to be doing something boring for the summer."

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