Bringing the shoreline to life : London Towne community focuses on its waterfront

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer Under a hot summer sun last year, members of the London Towne Property Owners Association accepted a $30,000 grant to help in shoring up the community's waterfront land. That money has been turned into giant piles of stone, massive stretches of sand and scores of tiny grass plants along a 300-foot stretch of Almshouse Creek on the South River.

"When the community was built, the idea was to bulkhead it and mow right to the water," said Stephen Hult, the association's secretary.

But green grass all the way to the water hasn't worked over the years for this waterfront community in Edgewater. In some cases, wave action has eaten away at the banks, leaving a steep drop down to the water. The erosion undermined the root structure of trees, sending them toppling into the water.

So section by section, the community association has replaced eroded banks and old bulkheads with modern shoreline techniques.

In the latest section, workers from Edgewater-based Shoreline Design placed giant rocks parallel to the shoreline of Almshouse Creek to slow wave action and eventually trap sand behind them when the tide comes in. Sand also was trucked to the shoreline, and earlier this month a crew from Cub Scout Pack 815 and Boy Scout Troop 815 planted 1,100 grasses in a steady drizzle.

The $68,880 project was paid for with the $30,000 federal grant awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $36,000 from the community's coffers and $2,880 worth of donated plants and labor.

This type of shoreline - often called a living shoreline - is designed to withstand the forces of winds, waves and weather in a more natural manner. It's also more friendly to wildlife, offering a gradual, plant-filled transition from land to water.

In some of the already-restored sections of shoreline in London Towne, residents have spotted crabs, herons, muskrats and other critters.

The completion of the latest project brings the community association's total accomplishments to half a mile of restored shoreline. That's about the equivalent of two laps around a high school track.

The community has about 3 miles of shoreline to maintain, so there's plenty of work still to do. Leaders of the community association have been aggressive in getting grants to pay for the work.

Because the 2,000-home neighborhood also is a special tax district - property owners pay extra on their county tax bills - the community has a predictable stream of money coming in. That's important because many environmental grants come with the stipulation that the recipient must come up with matching funds.

The community has an erosion committee, led by Mr. Hult, to plan projects and apply for grants.

Tom Walsh, the association's vice president and former chairman of the erosion committee, said it hasn't been difficult to get neighbors on board with the projects. Property owners even agreed to increase their own tax to pay for more projects.

"The community as a whole is very much in support of the effort," Mr. Walsh said.

South Riverkeeper Drew Koslow, who has helped with the projects, commended the residents of London Towne for taking the initiative to improve the shoreline.

"It's what it's going to take," he said. "A couple conservation groups aren't going to be able to do it. It's going to be people all around the bay taking responsibility for where they live."

Next up for London Towne is restoring a 500-foot section of Almshouse Creek.

Members of the erosion committee don't plan to stop there. They'll keep plugging away, so long as their neighbors are willing to spend part of their community tax on the shoreline, and so long as grants are available.

"We're doing about as much as we can manage," Mr. Hult said.

Published June 11, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised June 2007)