Back Creek park becoming regional stormwater model

The Capital, June 12, 2008

Paul W. Gillespie - The Capital Back Creek Nature Park guru Mel Wilkins speaks about the new Stormwater Education Experience at Back Creek Nature Park as Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer listens.

Back Creek Nature Park is a nearly forgotten gem, but a group of boosters and city officials plan to spend nearly $1 million to install a series of educational exhibits that not only will breathe more life into the park, but also help the environment.

Backers hope a new Stormwater Education Experience will draw school children and environmentalists from near and far to learn about stormwater. A ceremony was held yesterday to kick off construction of the next phase of the project, which will include a faux beaver dam, various types of porous pavers, rain gardens and other eco-friendly stormwater controls.

"Back Creek Nature Park is now bracing itself to be a regional, if not national, model for environmental education," said LeeAnn Plumer, the director of recreation and parks for Annapolis.

The stormwater-education project has been in the works for at least four years. Scores of volunteers, landscape architects, city employees and other experts have been involved in moving the project from a vision to reality.

"We started with a concept on a piece of paper. We started with a park that looked more like a jungle," said Mel Wilkins, an environmental advocate from Gambrills who has been one of the driving forces behind Back Creek's transformation.

Stormwater management is a major concern when it comes to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

When it rains, the water rushes over parking lots and down streets, picking up pollutants and dirt. When the stormwater isn't controlled well, it sends all the pollution into streams and creeks, where it clouds the water and chokes wildlife.

In some parts of the bay, urban and suburban runoff is a greater pollution problem than farms, sewage plants and other sources.

The Stormwater Education Experience aims to help reduce that pollution and serve as an educational site.

It will include theme park-style misters that allow park visitors to cool off on hot days. The misters will be placed over permeable pavers that offer a hard surface, but still allow water to drip through to the ground. Seven styles of permeable pavers will be used.

Interactive stations with hand pumps will show visitors how water moves and how it picks up sediments and pollutants as it rushes to creeks and streams.

In a new parking area for buses, pavement made from recycled glass will be used.

There will be more rain gardens planted, and the most unique feature - a fake beaver dam - will be installed near a new park entrance.

Mr. Wilkins hopes to attract students and others interested in stormwater techniques.

"Come out, see it, kick it, dig it - whatever you want," he said.

The construction cost for the project is about $980,000, with the city government and the Maryland Department of the Environment splitting the cost.

This project is on top of about $750,000 in mostly grant money that's been poured into the park already.

Back Creek Nature Park already has several stormwater and erosion controls. They include rain gardens (which trap and filter stormwater), living shorelines (which prevent erosion but are friendly to wildlife), natural stabilization to a cliff, a "green roof" covered in plants (which absorb stormwater) and more.

Those features are highlighted on a series of display boards set up along a wooded pathway and near a circle of stone benches overlooking a small cove off of Back Creek.

The Back Creek boosters aren't done yet. They have their eyes set on an aging brick building that used to be part of the old sewage plant.

They'd like to remodel the building and use it for even more educational exhibits. They won't be related to stormwater, rather, they'd focus on another often-overlooked environmental topic: sewage.

(Revised June 2008)