Warped Tour bands volunteer at Hampden school

Coming off a grueling schedule of playing six concerts in as many days during a heat wave, rock bands in the Vans Warped Tour had one day off on Monday, July 25, before they would play another 13 shows in a row, beginning at Merriwether Post Pavilion on Tuesday night.

But many of the bands chose to spend that free Monday at the Academy for College & Career Exploration, in Hampden, where they dug up the back lot and replaced it with conservation landscaping to help save the Chesapeake Bay. They also dug a rain garden and painted a mural behind the public, privately run school.

"It's an opportunity to get out and do something good," said Jon Cooke, 26, of Orange County, Calif., who is lead singer in Winds of Plague, one of about 75 young, mostly punk bands handpicked for this year's Vans Warped Tour by the promoter.

"We have such an opportunity to be in this band, we can give back while we're doing it," Cooke said.

An estimated 300 volunteers, more than half of them musicians, roadies, promoters and representatives of tour sponsors, toiled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 36th Street and Falls Road. Using wheelbarrows, pick axes, shovels and brute strength, they dug up the rocky surface and spread new soil and mulch, about one week after contractors had ripped up nearly one acre of asphalt at the site.

The event, dubbed the Pavement to Prairie Project and co-sponsored by Blue Water Baltimore with $75,000 in grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, was designed to prevent 830,000 gallons of stormwater runoff and pollutants from streaming into the Jones Falls, the Inner Habor and the Chesapeake Bay each year.

That's a common problem with asphalt surfaces, said Ashley Trout, the senior manager of stormwater and community outreach for Blue Water Baltimore, which merged several area environmental groups, including the former Jones Falls Watershed Association in north Baltimore.

Trout said Blue Water Baltimore is also applying for a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant to dig up the lower lot of Bolton Street Synagogue off West Cold Spring Lane in Keswick, and to replace the asphalt with a "pervious" pavement that would allow stormwater runoff to soak into the ground.

For the rockers and stagehands, their day at the school continued "Warped Give Back Day." a tradition for the past six or seven years of the Vans Warped Tour devoting one day each year to community service of an environmental nature.

"A lot of bands want to do it," said David McWane, 34, of Boston, Mass. All six members of his band, Big D and the Kids' Stable, were out there working as temperatures reached into the 90s.

Kevin Lyman, founder of the 17-year-old tour, said he encourages participation in the volunteer day because, "I come from a hippie background. But punks are hippies too. We're a pretty strong force of nature anyway."

The rockers were by no means the only volunteers for the Pavement to Prairie Party. Seven staff members and supporters of the Johns Hopkins University Office of Sustainability, located on the Homewood campus, were hard at work, wearing their green "Sustainable Hopkins" T-shirts.

"It's a really good workout, and for us it's really nice to do some tactile work. We sit at desks a lot and use computers," said Joanna Calabrese, 23, an outreach consultant for the Office of Sustainability.

Also working hard were ACCE School students in Baltimore City's YouthWorks summer jobs program. The Mayor's Office of Employment Development and the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies are co-sponsors of ACCE, which is located in the former Robert Poole Middle School complex.

"I feel like I'm helping a lot," said Taliyah McNeill, 16, of southwest Baltimore.

"I'm hot, but it's worth it," said recent ACCE graduate Devin Anderson, 17, of Ashburton, who plans to major in Finance at Baltimore City Community College starting this fall

"We're helping the environment and the community," Anderson said.

For the students, the project is like "a living classroom," said retired businessman Marty Sitnick, of Owings Mills, whose wife, Karen, is co-operator of ACCE.

Supervising the students was Jean Mellott, 54, of Roland Park, a former social worker and Friends School teacher, who is now a landscape architect.

The project will help not only the students but the school and the environment, Mellott said.

"It's a big space," she said. "Everything from here runs down to the Jones Falls, unfiltered and quickly, and adds to the flooding" in the area. Now (runoff) will have a chance to go into the ground, which will clean (the water), and slowly seep into the Jones Falls, whih is the way it's supposed to be."

Also extolling the virtues of the project was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, paying her second visit to the site since last week, when she came and planted trees in the front of the building with Gov. Martin O'Malley and City Council President Bernard C. 'Jack' Young.

"Getting pollution off of our streets and out of our waterways is critical to the long-term health of our city, our harbor and our bay," she told the workers. "Where we can, we need to eliminate hard surfaces and allow the ground to do its job and absorb rain water and filter pollutants before they get to our waterways."

Sarah Baer, of the company 4Fine, which produces the Vans Warped Tour, was impressed as she surveyed the crowd.

"It's a city," she said.

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