'This is not a creek like any of the other creeks'

Attention focuses on College Creek

October 27, 2007
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer


Eric Salzberg — The Capital
The Naval Academy crew team practices on College Creek in Annapolis. Though the creek belongs to the people of Maryland, the shoreline is dominated by institutions. St. John’s College owns the land to the left, with buildings and a restored shoreline. The academy owns the wooded area to the right.

It may seem as though no one has been looking out for College Creek.

There's no watershed group, no big civic association pushing for cleanups and projects along the creek — one of four that flows through the city of Annapolis.

Still, College Creek has been getting plenty of attention, though it's been in a somewhat fragmented way. Now the various people and groups and governments that care about College Creek are joining forces for the first time in a decade.

They've revived the Friends of College Creek group and will hold a workshop next Saturday to share what they've been doing.

'We've gotten as many people together from 10 years ago and we resurrected a process to do a watershed assessment of the creek,' said Claudia Donegan, who coordinates some of the state's 'tributary teams' for the Department of Natural Resources.

Members of the friends spent their summer paddling the creek to test water quality and look for underwater grasses. They've walked through surrounding neighborhoods, taking photos and looking for problem areas.

The creek is surrounded by institutions: St. John's College, the Naval Academy, Calvary United Methodist Church, the Adams Academy alternative school and other city, county and state government lands.

There are only a handful private homes directly on the creek.

That setup has both pros and cons — there are few private citizens who have direct access to the creek, and therefore, few have a vested interest in the creek.

But the colleges and government agencies have experts who can work on creek issues as part of their day jobs. Members of the Friends hope to engage the thousands of people who live on 1.14 square miles of land that drain into the creek, called a watershed.

They want to build on the enthusiasm generated by the institutions that already are involved in the creek.

St. John's College, for example, ripped out hundreds of feet of rotting bulkhead and replaced it with a natural, 'living shoreline.'

Naval Academy midshipmen row along the creek and oceanography students conduct studies in the creek.

Calvary United Methodist Church has added plants along its creek-front property, and members hope to install a rain garden in the spring.

'Part of being a good neighbor is being a good neighbor with the creek,' said Elizabeth Ley, a church trustee who volunteers with the Friends of College Creek.

To get more neighbors involved, the Friends group sent postcards to residents in the Clay Street, Germantown and Homewood communities, which all drain into the creek. Fliers have been posted, too.

Zora Lathan, who is director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Ecology Center on Clay Street, said many local residents don't have a connection with the creek.

'This is not a creek like any of the other creeks,' she said. Few people use the creek, and there's not good public access to it. Some have the misconception that the Naval Academy owns the creek, since midshipman rowers are often the people most frequently seen on the creek.

'Since the waterfront is owned primarily by institutions, I don't know that people have as much of an ownership of it, a sense of being part of this College Creek watershed.' she said. 'They don't realize their upland impacts and how that affects College Creek.'

Ms. Lathan and members of the Friends of College Creek hope their workshop will be the first step toward raising awareness of the state of the creek.

Like most waterways in the Chesapeake Bay system, College Creek has some problems, but also has some good things going for it.

About 57 percent of the creek's watershed is covered with impervious surfaces, such as pavement, sidewalks and rooftops.

But, in a way, that's also good because it can't really get much worse. Pretty much all of the land that could be developed already has been developed.

That means the focus now can move to reducing the amount of impervious surfaces through retrofits, such as ripping up driveways and replacing them with porous pavers that allow water to filter into the ground, or adding rain barrels to catch water that runs off rooftops.

Despite the 57 percent impervious cover, there are large, wooded stretches along the shoreline. Since those areas largely belong to institutions, they aren't likely to be removed and replaced with McMansions and manicured lawns any time soon.

There's also not much boating or fishing activity along the creek. If you ever see people on the creek, it's likely to be rowers or kayakers.

As a result, the creek itself is relatively undisturbed so a variety of wildlife is attracted.

Ms. Donegan of the DNR said that during one recent short trip to the creek, she saw yellow-crowned night herons, muskrats, ducks and even a few baby foxes trotting along the shoreline.

'It's amazing how much stuff lives down there,' she said.

CREEK'S HEALTH

In the past decade, there have been many projects aimed at improving the health of College Creek in Annapolis. Recent projects include:


Eric Salzberg — The Capital
A marsh thrives along the shore of College Creek at St. John’s College, where wooden bulkheads once stood. The college’s shoreline restoration is one of several projects aimed at protecting the creek, one of four that flows through the city of Annapolis.
  • St. John's College ripped out nearly 1,000 feet of wooden bulkhead, replacing it with natural, 'living' shorelines.
  • The nonprofit Chesapeake Ecology Center, with acres of native plant gardens, was established on the grounds of the Adams Academy school.
  • Anne Arundel County recently removed invasive plants on county and city land along the creek's headwaters and replaced them with nearly 1,000 native trees and shrubs.
  • The new Severn Savings Bank building on Westgate Circle has a 12,500-square-foot 'green' roof covered in plants to absorb stormwater.
  • The new Park Place development on Westgate Circle includes a man-made wetland to help drain stormwater runoff.
  • Renovations at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium included planting scores of trees.
  • Calvary United Methodist Church expanded its creekfront plant buffer.

To coordinate more efforts, a group called Friends of College Creek is being revived.

The group will hold a workshop next weekend to focus on the creek. It will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 3 at the Adams Academy, 245 Clay St. in Annapolis.

There will be formal presentations, as well as a poster session, when participants can visit manned displays about various College Creek restoration efforts. The workshop is free and open to anyone interested in the creek.

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pwood@capitalgazette.com

(Revised Oct 2007)