The Chesapeake Bay Trust will pitch in $115,000 toward studying improvements desired by Towson’s Knollwood-Donnybrook Improvement Association along a tributary of Herring Run, a 31-square-mile watershed with headwaters in eastern Towson.
The decision comes in response to the community association’s request for money to figure out how to shore up eroded portions of the Western Branch of Herring Run in the communities of Knollwood and Overbrook. The vision of residents is to eventually create an environmentally sound trail that joins neighborhood parks in Towson along the stream, from Burke Avenue to Stevenson Lane.
To that aim, the group applied to the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Watershed Assistance Two-Year Milestone Support grant program in September, which announced a decision to award $115,571 in a Dec. 22 letter to Knollwood-Donnybrook Improvement Association president Dave Riley.
“It’s a great thing,” Riley said of the news. “Now it really becomes a reality in the fact that a great organization like the Chesapeake Bay Trust has shown faith in the project.”
The trust takes applications from local government representatives, nonprofits and other local groups to help with the earliest phases of restoration projects that promote local engagement in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and other local waterways, according to executive director Jana Davis.
Davis said the association’s vision falls in line with the trust’s mission.
"We love to see when community organizations like this take ownership of an environmental issue and really work hard to learn how to solve it and take the initiative,” Davis said. “For us, it’s music to our ears.”
According to its application, the association’s plans include designing a plan to restore a tributary that causes flooding in the area, installing wetlands to capture runoff, adding native plants and creating a “passive park” for education and recreation on a parcel of county-owned land, she said.The grant, to be distributed in three phases starting in 2018, requires the money be used to fund restoration projects, including design assistance, watershed planning, or program development, according to the letter.
The plans will be submitted to Baltimore County officials for their consideration, said Baltimore County Councilman David Marks Marks, who represents Towson.
Riley said the goal is the eventual creation of a local trail system connecting the future Radebaugh Neighborhood Park, on Burke Avenue, along the Western Branch of Herring Run, to an open space created at Stevenson Lane where, in 2016, Baltimore County razed six flood-prone homes in Overbrook.
The land along Stevenson Lane often floods because Herring Run moves through the neighborhood in two directions and converges at a narrow culvert under Stevenson Lane at the Country Club of Maryland. Flash flooding occurs during heavy rains because the culvert is too small to handle the rush of water, causing backups.
Baltimore County purchased homes on the plot and tore them down in 2016 to help mitigate chronic flooding issues and the land is now vacant.
However, nothing can be built on the property, including a public park, without first controlling the flooding along Stevenson Lane, Riley said. Additionally, plans for the trail cannot move forward without first shoring up parts of the stream that have washed away over time.
Riley, who worked with residents to submit the grant request this summer, also chaired a related task force Marks appointed that looked at improvements to the green space east of Towson High School and along the Western Branch.
The Six Bridge Trail task force, named for six bridges along the existing stream-side trail, presented its findings at a community input meeting in October and suggested the community seek funding in Baltimore County’s long-term capital budget to design and implement improvements to the Western Branch, including flood mitigation along Stevenson Lane. It also seeks funding from Baltimore County or the Maryland Department of Transportation to replace existing bridges along the Western Branch near Towson High School.
Established paths behind Wiltondale's Greenwood Park, owned by the community association, already provide a connection to Towson High School's track and eventually the stream's headwaters at Aigburth Road.
Marks, a Republican, said the community also requested a county-funded engineering study of improvements to the Western Branch in October.
The full cost to establish the trail and mitigate flooding in Overbrook has not been established, but Marks said he expects a county engineering study could cost more than $1 million. If approved, the improvements could ideally be done in conjunction with planning for the reconstruction of the new Towson High School, he said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced in September that he would include county planning funds for a new Towson High School in the his proposed fiscal 2019 budget.
“It’s terrific news for eastern Towson and advances our goal of eventually redesigning the Herring Run and eliminating the flooding that’s created the problems in that area,” Marks said. “It’s a small part of the puzzle.”
Riley said the grant is “tremendous motivation” to everyone who supports the trail system.
“It’s been a great great victory for us,” Riley said. “When someone gives you $115,000 they’re definitely taking you seriously.”
Baltimore County officials could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
County officials already are working on the restoration of 4,340 feet of Herring Run in the greater Towson area. That project is expected to be completed in April.
A representative from the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability said in June that the department would not encourage or construct any type of a trail when doing restoration because “the purpose of the buffer is to protect the stream, not for recreation.”