Back River cleanup yields 2,000 tires, 170 tons of debris

Volunteers, minimum-wage college students worked through the summer

August 24, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

After a yearlong, mostly volunteer restoration effort, Back River in eastern Baltimore County is rid of more than 170 tons of debris, 2,000 tires and just last week, eight huge conduit pipes from a construction site.

The river, long considered one of Maryland's most degraded waterways, is showing signs of life. Volunteers are finding crayfish, turtles and even a few crabs.

"People are actually stopping and seeing how much work we have done," said Brian Schilpp, a county teacher who coordinates the cleanup. "But there is more to do, like education, recycling and management of trash."

The hefty pipes, 4 feet in diameter and weighing hundreds of pounds each, washed down the river within a day of a torrential downpour last week and were stuck on the mud flats near the Interstate 695 overpass. County workers removed the pipes and traced them to a bridge project on Herring Run more than three miles upriver.

"For people who think a tire can't float, think about the water power that pushed 20-foot-long pipes downstream," Schilpp said.

County officials on Tuesday honored Schilpp, several other volunteers and the four college students who spent this summer on cleanup duty for minimum wage. They worked in the smelly mud, in searing heat and hip-high boots.

"I definitely felt good every day and never frustrated," said Robby Feehley, a Jacksonville resident who will soon start his sophomore year at University of Maryland, College Park.

Joyce and Clark Testerman, who live along the river and allowed the students to use their home to wash up and eat lunch, found themselves amazed when the young workers showed up for a second day, much less the entire summer.

"Of course we showed up," said Molly Williams, 21, of Cockeysville. "There was work to be done. Everyone was motivated."

The job taught the University of Vermont senior lots about grassroots community activism, but not much about how to get mud out of her clothes, she said.

Ben Boor, 21 and a rising senior at Knox College in Illinois, said, "I learned about what needs to be done in the classroom. But now I have been part of the work."

Robert Sandler, 19, a Mount Washington resident who leaves soon for his sophomore year at Brown University, said the summer job has made him consider a major in biology.

"We pulled out a lot of stuff and made a difference," he said.

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