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Catonsville volunteers make Thistle Run Stream more green

Though the temperature hovered no more than a few degrees above freezing the morning of Nov. 5, the ground was still soft enough for more than 100 volunteers to plant native vegetation along Thistle Run in western Catonsville.

The effort, organized by the Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, resulted in 70 trees and 10 bushes planted along the stream off the 2500 block of Frederick Road.

The trees improved the stream's health in a number of ways, according to a release from the group.

In addition to tree roots anchoring the soil and preventing it from being blown or washed away, trees also filter out air pollution, provide habitat for wildlife, prevent pollutants in the soil from entering the waterway and provide a canopy that prevents flooding, the release stated.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources did a tree planting in the same area about a year ago, but the trees they planted "didn't take," said Betsy McMillion, executive director of the Friends.

McMillion noted only 50 of the hundreds of trees planted survived from the DNR project.

Saturday, volunteers planted 40 sycamore, 10 black gum, 10 willow oak, and 10 pin oak trees as well as 10 red osier dogwood bushes, all native species, she said.

"With all the tree plantings we have done in the past, sycamores seem to have the best success rate," McMillion said of the popular large, hearty trees.

"We plant 5-foot trees," she said. "They have about a 90 percent (survival) rate over a three-year period."

McMillion's group planted 20 more trees than they usually do at plantings and added 10 bushes, McMillion said.

"This is an area that our organization for about five years was very concerned about," she said. "At least once a year, we'll come back and do tree maintenance.".

One reason the organization has such great concern for the stream is its location.

Flowing through a horse farm, the stream can become polluted by horse waste seeping into the water, McMillion said.

As part of the DNR project, a fence to keep the horses away was constructed about 100 feet away from the stream, which was as narrow as a foot in some spots, McMillion said.

The farm is not at fault, McMillion said, noting any type of waste or fertilizer could cause a problem.

"Horse waste is full of nitrogen, and two of the main problems in the Chesapeake Bay are phosphates and nitrates," McMillion said, also noting fertilizer as a potential pollutant.

A nitrate is a nitrogen atom surrounded by three oxygen atoms.

Jeff Klein, 31, a Catonsville resident who works as the stream watch coordinator for the Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, said projects such as Saturday's impact the environmental health of the entire area.

He pointed out that the stream trickles into the Patapsco River, which in turn empties into the Chesapeake Bay

"(The stream's) caked with algae, so even having trees here to shade the stream is going to prevent some of the algae from growing," said.

When algae dies, Klein noted, it floats to the bottom and decomposers break it down and strip oxygen from the water.

"(With no oxygen in the water,) all of the insects and macro invertebrate larvae can't survive," added Klein, a junior in the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's environmental science program.

About a half-dozen Scouts and several parents from Cub Scout Pack 65 of Catonsville took part in Saturday morning's planting.

"We thought it would be a good experience for them to do some community service, take care of some trees and teach them a little about the food chain," said Jennifer Wilhelm, a co-leader of the pack, whose jeans were caked in mud.

As her husband, Harry, hammered a stake into the ground next to a freshly planted willow oak, she said her group had planted eight or nine trees.

Catonsville resident Ben Stauffer, 11, of Boy Scout Troop 307, helped plant two trees and said he hopes to help out at more tree plantings in the future.

"Just being outside with all the nature was pretty fun," Stauffer said.

When asked if the work was hard, Stauffer replied, "Kind of. The digging the hole at first (was) because when we first got here the ground was like frozen."

In addition to the Scouts and local residents, the group included several students from the local colleges.

Ellicott City residents Mark Pomponi and his daughter, Rachel, a student at Howard Community College, planted three trees and a bush, they said.

Rachel said she has done projects with Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway four times in order to accumulate service hours for her environmental science class.

The pair said they had a good time at the event, and the cold weather was hardly noticeable after they started planting.

"You do a little bit of work, and it's not so cold," Mark said. "It's actually not too bad once you get moving."

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