Dundalk man leads cleanup of Bread and Cheese Creek

  • Margaret DeRoose of Edgewater gives Matt Gephardt of Butchers Hill a hand as he removes a tire from a stream that feeds in Back River. In the background is her son, Daniel.
Margaret DeRoose of Edgewater gives Matt Gephardt of Butchers… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
April 11, 2010|By Susan Reimer

When John Long was a child, there were minnows in Bread and Cheese Creek, a stream that wandered by his grandfather's house in Dundalk.

Long lives in that house now, and the stream named for the rations consumed by British and American troops on its shores during the War of 1812 is now clogged with debris - everything from shopping carts to refrigerators, tires and automobile doors.

Long, his wife, Erin, and 11-year-old daughter Tamsyn, plus nearly 100 volunteers, cleared out about a mile of the creek Saturday.

With support from Baltimore County - officials delivered a trash bin and lent the volunteers hip-waders and an amphibious vehicle to drag the heavy stuff out - the volunteers cleared out an astonishing assortment of junk that has been accumulating, Long thinks, since the 1970s.

"I want this creek to run clear again," said Long, 41, whose day job is being a contract administrator for Johns Hopkins Hospital at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

An Eagle Scout and a tireless volunteer for a number of nonprofits, Long began the cleanup last year. A tornado had earlier blown the back of his house into the creek, and state officials threatened to fine him for "dumping."

"I walked down the creek and I was appalled," he said.

He started making calls, and Baltimore County told him it would lend him the tools for the job. He and 54 volunteers cleared three-quarters of a mile of the creek bed last year - three bins full.

This year's haul? A bathtub, two sinks, a generator, tires and about 30 shopping carts. All manner of twisted metal and broken plastic. Clothing, mattresses, part of a couch, a swing set and about four bikes.

Bread and Cheese Creek feeds Back River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay. "You have to get the stuff here," Long said, "or it ends up in the bay."

On Friday, Long and friends used chain saws to cut away tree branches that were trapping debris at seven spots in the section of creek they hoped to clear the next day. "It was like cutting away beaver dams," he said.

Saturday, the youngest volunteers - clearly gleeful to be playing in the sunshine and the water - picked up the smallest bits of garbage: plastic bags, clothing, smaller pieces of twisted metal and plastic, fast-food garbage and bottles, much of which had washed into the stream from the streets above.

Teens, racking up the service hours required by high schools, did the heavier jobs, carrying garbage bags loaded with brick, tiles and junk that was beyond recognition.

Other volunteers, led by a well-known Ravens fan and volunteer Wes Hensen, aka "Captain Dee-fense," rigged ropes over the side of the tiny Plainfield Street Bridge to haul the debris up to the bins.

Matthew Wadsworth, a member of the ROTC at Patapsco High, used a hatchet to clear branches from a path volunteers were using to traverse the length of the creek. He said he had found what he thought to be a shelter built by a homeless person, and it upset him to clear away the soaking cardboard, mattress and clothes.

"It sounds mean, but it wasn't a place a person could have come back to," he said. "We took away the bottles and the bad stuff."

At one point, Long discovered what he thought might have been someone's workshop, complete with tools, motors, a fan and a generator. Another resident wondered why people dump debris.

"How can you do that with a clean conscience, when you live in a county that lets you into the dump for free and everybody on your street has a pickup truck?" asked Jennifer Bedell, who was working with her 13-year-old daughter, Jenna.

Cambridge Iron and Metal delivered a bid to collect the scrap metal and promised Long it would contribute any salvage money to his efforts. Most of the $1,500 he spent on everything from food to portable toilet rental came out of his pocket. He even corralled his mother, Kathy, and his father, John, to help organize the volunteers and keep them fed.

Still left to be done next year? Another couple of miles of stream.

"It's 3.71 miles long," said Long, who has waded through just about all of it by now. "It's going to be pristine again someday."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.