Musicians, volunteers dig up school parking lot to help bay

Kyle Scheren and other members of the punk band So Long Arletta work up a sweat when they perform, but nothing like what they got Monday wielding picks and shovels to turn an old school parking lot in Hampden into a garden and outdoor education space.

About 175 members of the Vans Warped Tour traveling music and extreme-sports festival donated part of their only day off in nearly three weeks to toil under the blazing sun digging up nearly an acre behind the Academy for College and Career Exploration in the 1300 block of W. 36th St.

Joined by about 50 students and other local volunteers, they hoped the green space they were preparing would capture nearly 1 million gallons of storm water a year that otherwise would wash pollution into the nearby Jones Falls, then into Baltimore's harbor and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

The project was organized by Blue Water Baltimore, the local waterway advocacy group, with about $65,000 in combined funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Baltimore City.

Halle Van der Gaag, the group's deputy director, said it hopes to do smaller greening projects on five more city school lots. But what made the Hampden work unusual, she noted, was the participation of so many teenagers and young adults who aren't normally associated with environmental causes.

"The water's really important to us," said Kevin Lyman, founder of the long-running tour, which performs Tuesday at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. Tour members donate their time to one charitable effort each year, he explained. The environmental theme of this project fit with the tour's green emphasis, he added, noting that the group fuels its buses with biodiesel and stages a recycling contest for youthful fans.

Plans are to convert the school's little-used former parking lot into a rain garden, a basketball court, a grassy meadow and a grove of trees. School officials said the green space would offer recreation, learning and even career training opportunities for students.

Jhaimal Johnson, 16, a rising 10th-grader, said he and other students have already researched a variety of trees and are maintaining over the summer a garden and other plantings in front of the school.

The asphalt had already been removed from the lot when the music tour group arrived Monday morning. A Bobcat excavator from another local business, Stormwater Maintenance, helped loosen up the soil for the tool-wielding volunteers.

"They told us there's treasure out here, so we're looking for it," said Scheren, 25, vocalist for So Long Arletta, whose members hail mainly from Maryland and Virginia. The ground was still hard, but Scheren, who grew up in Ellicott City, added: "I think we're making a dent."

The work begun Monday was expected to continue for another day or two, relying more on equipment than hand labor. The soil will be stabilized with grass for now, with trees and garden plantings waiting for cooler weather in the fall and next spring, according to Blue Water Baltimore's Ashley Traut.

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