A quest to label nameless waters

Project: A biologist seeks a $6,000 grant to give an official name to every unnamed waterway in Anne Arundel County.

April 28, 2001|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The way Peter Bergstrom sees it, names mean a lot, whether they're labels for people, places or things.

That's why he has undertaken a mission to name Anne Arundel creeks, coves, streams and lakes that for years have gone nameless, been misidentified on maps or are known by two names.

"We tend to care more about things that have names," said Bergstrom, a biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Annapolis.

Bergstrom and the Severn River Association are seeking a $6,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to carry out the naming project.

"You can't teach people about streams if they don't have names," he said. "They're almost invisible."

Naming the waterways will help secure more protection and restoration, said Bergstrom.

Mapping nameless creeks and steams also benefits navigation, he said, especially in a county where many people use the waterways for recreation.

"I know a fellow who keeps a boat on the Severn, and he went to get gas but got lost coming back because he turned in the wrong creek," Bergstrom said. "They all look pretty much alike."

The proposed pilot project would include all county rivers draining directly into the Chesapeake Bay, from the south shore of the Patapsco River to the West River. The work involves identifying unnamed bodies of water-and finding discrepancies and duplications - mainly by studying maps and books and talking to residents.

The grant would pay for a geographic information systems technician to help with identification, naming and mapmaking.

Although he's unsure how many nameless water features exist, Bergstrom said he's aware of 14 unnamed tributaries on the Magothy and Severn rivers.

"Some groups just give streams names and don't make them official," Bergstrom said. "We want the names to start showing up on maps and give them an official presence.

"Often there are documented names, they just never got put on a map."

"Gems of the Severn," a book published in 1988 by the Severn River Commission, identifies commonly used names for creeks, branches and streams, many of which are not included on official maps or databases.

Once the unnamed, twice-named and wrongly named waters are identified, Bergstrom plans to plot them on large maps that will be displayed at public meetings where area residents will be able to have a say in giving them names.

The hope is to get the bodies of water added to federal databases, but Bergstrom said individual map publishers decide what to include on maps.

He said federal guidelines suggest names that are based on geographic identifying features, rather than on people. "But a lot of the older creeks are named after people who owned a lot of land within the watershed," he said.

In some cases, Bergstrom said, communities have come to know a body of water by one name, although it may be identified by another name on a map or in a database.

People in the Sherwood Forest area, for example, have referred to the Idle River for decades, but Bergstrom said a federal database lists the Severn River tributary as Brewer's Creek.

"I asked them, `Did you mean Idyll?' and they said, `No, it's spelled Idle,'" he said. "They were thrilled to hear it was in a database; they thought nobody else knew about it."

Sherwood Forest resident William Moulden, 46, grew up saying "Idle River" and remembers seeing the name on maps when he was a boy.

"Apparently, in the late 1970s, some bureaucrat decided it was Brewer's Creek, and the maps and charts started to reflect that," Moulden said. "I know it was always a source of confusion when people outside of the community would call it Brewer's Creek, and nobody would know what they were talking about."

Bergstrom also knows of two coves on the Magothy River that are both called Swan Cove by residents.

Resolving the duplication could be a problem. "If you officially name one side or the other Swan Cove, someone's going to be unhappy," Bergstrom said. "I wouldn't want to make that call. We're not looking for trouble."

Anyone with information about unnamed tributaries can call Bergstrom at 410-573-4554.

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