Park's lessons may save bay

June 11, 2008|By Karen Shih | Karen Shih,SUN REPORTER

A little-known Annapolis park will take the next step in forging an identity as an environmental education center with the groundbreaking today for a new exhibit.

The $1 million Stormwater Education Experience will feature 19 learning stations to help teach the community more about the effects of pollutants rushing into the Chesapeake Bay.

"You can learn about the environment without having to go into a rural area of the county," said LeeAnn Plumer, director of the Annapolis Department of Recreation and Parks. "Back Creek has always been a park that's been in the background," she said. It's "an undiscovered gem. The folks who know about it love it."

The 12-acre Back Creek Nature Park, which was established in 1990 and sits just off Edgewood Road, has been restored with living shorelines, which help prevent erosion; rain gardens, which help rainwater soak into the ground; and a "green roof" of sedum plants growing on a garage. The new project, which will be completed by October, will have interactive stations to illustrate successful storm-water management.

"People are very ignorant about the storm-water issues that are facing the bay," said Mel Wilkins, who has been highly involved with the project. "They don't want to hear about the fact that the water running off their roofs and driveways is heading into these storm-drain systems.

Storm water is the No. 1 polluter of tributaries to the bay, Wilkins said. Pollutants include metals, petroleum products, and nitrogen and phosphorous from lawns and streets that wash into the bay during a rainstorm.

At the park, the new learning stations will include water pumps that will show how various water velocities erode different surfaces; a beaver dam, to show how storm water can be slowed to prevent erosion; and porous pavers, to demonstrate how certain types of pavement help water seep into the ground, instead of flowing into the nearest drain.

"It's kind of like the Baltimore zoo, where you walk around [with] hands-on sort of things," Wilkins said.

The stations were designed around Anne Arundel County's second- to eighth-grade curricula to allow schools to incorporate field trips to the park into their courses.

The park has offered nature hikes for the past 10 years, as well as some educational programs for children on weekends. In 2004, the park added a one-week summer camp. This latest project should make it easier for more programs to be added, said Carrie Capuco, whose consulting company helped develop the learning stations

She was careful to point out that even a casual visitor can learn something from the stations, which aren't meant to overwhelm.

"It's not just geared at children, it's geared at all ages," Capuco said. "It should be instructional for homeowners as well as renters, anyone who's in the bay watershed."

The state is picking up three-quarters of the tab for building the project; Annapolis is paying for the rest.

The SEE is part of a larger plan to expand the park's mission. Plumer hopes to see a nature center in the old wastewater treatment plant, the addition of volunteer park rangers and more programs for kids. But the park needs more parking and restrooms to make it more visitor-friendly, she said.

All additions will be as environmentally friendly as possible. The nature center would use solar panels, and the parking lots would be paved with recycled-glass asphalt.

"I don't know of anything in the country like [Stormwater Education Experience]," Wilkins said. "I would hope it would be a showcase and a model for doing things in other places. We have such a serious problem, particularly in urban communities, it's very difficult to mitigate. We have to try to convince [the community] that it's not rocket science."

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