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Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, we bring you a sampling of green success stories: local residents and businesses, nonprofits and municipal agencies, all of whom are trying to make the Baltimore area a little greener, a bit more livable.

What: Parks & People Foundation (Guy W. Hager of Parks & People Foundation pictured left, with Kim Burgess of EA Engineering and Bill Stack of Baltimore's storm water management division. Photo by The Baltimore Sun.)
Where: Northeast Baltimore
Earth Philosophy: Great parks, clean streams and green communities

You might say Parks & People has deep roots in Baltimore: Working with partners, they plant upward of 2,500 trees annually.

"We plant lots of different kinds," says Jean DuBose, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, founded in 1984. "Mostly shade trees: oaks, maples, sycamore. And ornamental trees: Eastern redbud, dogwoods."

Besides community greening activities and youth programs, the organization also provides career education and green jobs. And thanks to $1 million in funds from President Obama's stimulus package, P&P recently added about 20 young staffers who comprise so-called "Green Up, Clean Up" teams. Working in neighborhoods, school yards, watersheds and public housing, the five teams are tackling projects from community forestry and landscaping to trash removal across the city. Their projects will also aid in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.  

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What: Teresa Stephens and Gardens of Hope
Where: West Baltimore
Earth Philosophy: A vacant land mass can become a food source

When Teresa Stephens left her West Baltimore neighborhood to attend college, she knew she'd return to this sometimes-tough yet proud African-American community. Hence her volunteer work managing "Gardens of Hope," situated on a once-vacant lot in Upton.

"We've grown collards, spinach, tomatoes, okra, string beans, peas, corn, and I just planted Yukon gold potatoes," says Stephens, a master gardener. The garden has 10 gardeners now and is open to anyone. Gardeners are encouraged to grow organically, participate in "Plant a Row for the Hungry" and help keep nearby sidewalks and alleys free of debris — not always an easy task because of items dumped by contractors and stripped from vacant homes. But illegal dumping has slowed, she adds, leaving more time for gardening and a bit of promotion.

"It's fun, it's spiritual and eventually it's going to become a showcase and green-space oasis," she says.
For information on adopting a lot for a garden, contact adoptalot@baltimorecity.gov.

What: Northwest Honda
Where: Owings Mills 
Earth Philosophy: A car dealership with an eco-friendly vibe

If you coax him, you might get Ed Dreiband to climb a narrow ladder, open a steel hatch and stand on the roof of his dealership. From this vantage point 25 feet above busy Reisterstown Road, Dreiband can survey 29,000 square feet of roof — and its 57,000 living, growing plants.

The green roof is the centerpiece of Northwest Honda's eco-friendly auto facility, which opened in 2006. Its features include insulated glass panels, automatic sensors that control lights, and carwash bays that recycle upward of 3,000 gallons of water daily.

"The roof is beautiful, especially in May when everything's blooming," Dreiband says of the tiny, drought-tolerant plants (most are a hardy species known as sedum).

Green roofs can help reduce, filter and cool stormwater runoff. That in turn can protect sewer systems and watersheds.

The roof makes Dreiband happy. "I have kids and grandkids, and I am thinking of them. We have one earth, and we all have to share it."

What: Bike to Work Day
Where: Citywide and regional
Earth Philosophy: Biking equals less driving and a cleaner, greener commute

For more than a decade, riders from across the region have made their commute cleaner, thanks to Bike to Work Day. The 13th annual event, sponsored by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, PNC and others, will be held this year on May 21. Organizers expect crowds.

"Participation has increased every year," says Stephanie Yanovitz, a senior transportation planner with the council, whose mission includes educating the public on the link between air quality and transportation.  "We've gone from [dozens] of cyclists in the first year to hundreds."

Bike rallies will be held citywide and regionally, including at Hopkins' Homewood campus, Morgan State University, Notre Dame and the Aberdeen Proving Ground, one of the first Army bases in the country to participate. So check your tire pressure, map a route and get biking! 

For more information, go to Bike2WorkCentralMD.com.

What: The Charm City Circulator (right, photo by The Baltimore Sun)
Where: Downtown Baltimore
Earth Philosophy: Transit goes green

Months after its January launch, the free hybrid bus service is apparently living up to the hype.

"We recently celebrated our 100,000th passenger," says Barry Robinson, a transit chief with the city's Department of Transportation. "Ridership has averaged more than 1,200 passengers per day."

The Circulator is a fleet of three buses that travel downtown. While only the Orange Line along Lombard and Pratt streets is operating now, officials say the others should be ready to roll by early summer.

The shuttles aim to reduce traffic and greenhouse gases, while offering convenient transportation for locals and tourists. Robinson estimates they could save 400,000 car trips annually.

What: Car Sharing
Where: Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus
Earth Philosophy: Fewer cars = greener Earth

Why own a car when you can share and help save the planet? That's the idea behind the Zip Car program. You simply register, reserve a car, use it for up to three days, then return it.

"It's been a wonderful success," says Davis Bookhart, aka the "Green Guy," who heads the university's Office of Sustainability and points to studies that show the environmental benefits of car-sharing. "We started with four cars; now we're up to 16."

Besides students, the broader community is also welcome to use the service. Most of the vehicles are hybrids, and all are fuel-efficient.

University officials recently announced plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half or more by 2025.

What: Jones Falls Trail
Where: Baltimore City
Earth Philosophy: Making the city more friendly to pedestrians and bikers

Baltimore recently got props from the state for completing a section of the trail, connecting residents with Druid Hill Park, as well as light rail, Metro and regional train service.

"It makes the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who recently accepted the Governor's Smart, Green and Growing Award. "It reduces energy use and provides recreational space."

The trail is among a series of environmental efforts outlined in the Baltimore Sustainability Plan, adopted in March 2009. While experts say results are mixed in some areas — such as green-job creation — they're promising in others, such as reducing home energy use.

"There's a lot going in the city from a green perspective, from stream restoration to the annual spring cleanup that was just held," says Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher. "The main thing is for citizens to understand what they can do. ... Making sure your trash is swept up, so that it doesn't eventually go into storm drains and into the Harbor and Bay, can help."

What: Children's Guild
Where: Northeast Baltimore 
Earth Philosophy: Helping young people become stewards of nature

He goes by "Diddey," but Dan Diddlemeyer is a teacher, not a hip-hop mogul. And his lesson plan at the Children's Guild campus on McClean Boulevard incorporates the outdoors.

"It's experiential learning," says Diddey, 26, who has a master's in outdoor education and teaches high school students. "In the classroom we're growing baby oak trees, and outside we're planting things like watermelon, corn and peppers."

The students Children's Guild serves range from youths who have been traumatized to those with disabilities. At CG campuses and group homes in Maryland, students have planted edible gardens. Diddey says kids learn skills such as weeding and tilling soil, but much more.

"We go outside to explore nature, and it's a way to give them lessons about life."

Who: Baltimore Green Works
Where: Baltimore City
Earth Philosophy: Promoting environmental awareness and sustainability

What started as Baltimore Green Week seven years ago has morphed into a full-fledged nonprofit that works year-round to keep the city in the green.

And whether they're planting trees, hosting environmental forums or supporting sustainable community development projects with college students, BGW is trying to engage Baltimore in conversations about green living. Last weekend, the group hosted its seventh annual EcoFest, a festival of food, "green" businesses, artists and musicians at Druid Hill Park. Thousands of people flowed through, says program manager Christina Nutile.

"I just looked out over the reservoir, with the sun shining and people biking and Hula-hooping, and thought, what a great day." DONNA M. OWENS, SPECIAL TO B

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