Running a Trail of Restoration

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaThe contamination of our freshwater supply is a critical issue for the health of our environment and population. Although the recent stormwater fees are creating a greater focus, there is great need for proactive community involvement to create the changes that are needed for these vital improvements.

Three years ago, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin called me to discuss creating organizational and institutional partnerships in hopes of spawning a watershed — if you will — of conservation and restoration projects. Through decades of passionate work, Nina has forged the connection between environmental issues and faith communities who embrace stewardship and responsible living. And water was high on the list of environmental concerns.

We identified Bolton Street Synagogue’s lower parking lot, adjacent to the Stony Run tributary of the Jones Falls, as a perfect location to pilot a project. In partnership with Blue Water Baltimore and Roland Park Community Foundation, and with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the synagogue readily agreed. Ripping out asphalt and invasive species, we completed a path with a pervious surface and native plants, reducing impact to the stream by almost 300,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

The success of the project captured the attention of the governor, who supported the funding to finish improvements along the rest of the Stony Run last year. A few weeks ago when heading out for my daily run, I realized I had not been on the Stony Run path for almost a year. Curious about how our project was holding up and the rest of the restoration work, I set out on a trail run of discovery.

Starting below the Gilman school, on a meticulously maintained mulch path along a babbling creek, the majestic bird calls and strumming frog bellows makes it easy to forget you are in the middle of urban Baltimore.  It’s beautiful and serene. The path winds through quaint neighborhoods of Roland Park, turning to a mix of dirt and gravel, and joins other paths below Johns Hopkins University.

I almost ran right past Bolton Street Synagogue, not recognizing it with all of the invasive ivy and plants removed. The native species we planted along the restored path as a stream buffer to control erosion and absorb runoff were bountiful and healthy.  A kiosk explaining our project stands prominently at the trail entrance by Cold Spring Lane.

The Jones Falls and its tributaries once had a prominent role in Baltimore; they were an integral component of development, especially commerce and recreation. As the city grew, more neighborhoods were built and streets paved, creating more impervious surfaces incapable of absorbing water. During storms, water “runoff” carries toxins and debris straight into the streams. Years of this water abuse has created an extremely unhealthy situation, impacting the entire ecosystem of the Bay, including people.  Signs posted along many of the streams cite that the water is dangerous even for contact.

Projects such as the path along Stony Run create a necessary buffer to capture and filter runoff. It is also a socioeconomic booster by increasing pedestrian traffic through interconnected neighborhoods, providing easy and safe access to the outdoors, which decreases crime and increases property values. Not only is this now one of my favorite running trails, it is part of the restoration of our city and the Bay.

Aleeza Oshry is a local geologist, educator and sustainability consultant.

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