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Wetlands to preserve wildlife and protect waterways from nutrient pollution

Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteers Jennifer Herzog, left, and her son Robbie Herzog, 5, plant native shrubs along Little Pipe Creek near Taneytown Sunday, Sept. 21.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteers Jennifer Herzog, left, and her son Robbie Herzog, 5, plant native shrubs along Little Pipe Creek near Taneytown Sunday, Sept. 21. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

TANEYTOWN — Gail Wagner, of Pleasant Valley, said her two sons wanted to participate in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Create a Wetland Project for two very different reasons.

Tristan,11, can earn up to six hours of community service by helping, but 8-year-old Josh just wanted to pitch in.

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"Josh wanted to come and help his brother plant trees," Gail Wagner said.

It wasn't so much trees they and the 30 other volunteers were planting on Sunday, said Rob Schnabel, a restoration scientist at the foundation. The Wagners and the other volunteers, along with a handful of employees from the foundation planted 3,350 shrubs and bushes, including 3,000 blue flag irises, and 350 switch grasses, smooth alders, arrowwood viburnums, sweet pepper bushes and joe-pye weeds combined.

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The field in which these shrubs and bushes were planted is located on farm land, Schnabel said. The owner of the land, David Crouse, approached the Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District to say he was interested in doing a conservation project on a flood plain that leads directly into Little Pipe Creek. District managers then informed the foundation of Crouse's intentions.

The creek is a tributary of the larger and aptly named Big Pipe Creek, which in turn feeds the Monocacy River, said Carmera Thomas, outreach coordinator at the foundation. The Monocacy River then runs into the Potomac River, which is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Wetlands provide a number of benefits to the environment, Schnabel said. Perhaps the most crucial advantage they provide is they protect the quality of the water that eventually reaches the Chesapeake and eventually, the open Atlantic Ocean, he said.

When harvesting season ends, loose sediment and the nutrients from fertilizers, including phosphorus and nitrogen, are swept into these rivers and streams by rain. Once there, it causes algae to bloom at a rapid rate. When bacteria begin to consume the algae, this drastically reduces the oxygen levels in the water, which can lead to sudden kills of fish and other aquatic wildlife in the area.

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The bushes and shrubs planted will act as a filter, absorbing excess nutrients and holding loose sediment in place, Thomas said.

"This project is part of our work with the upper Potomac region," she said. "It's a hot spot for these nutrients entering the water."

Other benefits of the wetland include habitat preservation, soil stabilization, reduction in flooding and the recharging of aquifers that are tapped for well water.

"Wetlands are like the Earth's kidneys," Schnabel said.

The process to create the wetland began three years ago, he said. The last year has been dedicated to designing the wetland and gaining permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment to work so near to the creek.

Initially, the wetland was to be constructed in the spring, but inclement weather prevented grading and landscaping from taking place until the summer. Grading was completed last month, Thomas said.

The project will cost $35,000, Schnabel said, which was gained from a grant from the Department of Natural Resources' Landowner's Incentive program in the amount of $25,000 and a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for $10,000.

A large part of the funding was used to purchase the plants, but much of it has been used for design and landscaping, Schnabel said. Part of the project was the construction of a berm, a man-made ridge separating the wetland from the creek. Also constructed was a spillway near one end of the berm which will act as valve to alleviate flooding in case of heavy precipitation.

A call for volunteers went out to reduce the cost of the project, Thomas said, but the number was limited because of the fragile nature of the plants.

"We didn't want people accidentally stepping on these plants," she said.

Many of the volunteers were members of Cub Scout Pack 169 from Frederick County. Nathan Miller, the cub master and a Mount Airy resident, brought his 9-year-old son Aiden because he is required to work on service projects during his time as a cub.

Aiden also participated in another venture of the foundation, which included planting 1,000 trees, and Nathan said his son really wanted to help protect the Monocacy Watershed.

Two volunteers who arrived together were Veronica Goston and Marianna Peplinski, of Germantown in Montgomery County. The pair said they wanted to do something to help.

Peplinski said just a few hours of work can have a huge impact on the environment. She said she had volunteered for a prior project planned by the foundation and talked Goston into coming along this time. Goston said since she retired, she is always looking for things to do during her free time and was thoroughly enjoying herself.

"Years from now, we'll be able to come back here and see the impact we've had," Goston said.

Schnabel said though the wetland will help protect the Monocacy Watershed and other tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, contaminants reach water from various sources, not the least of which is from impervious surfaces like concrete. The State of Maryland deemed that 10 counties were required to improve their stormwater management practices this year, Carroll County being one of them. Unfortunately, he said, the county decided not to charge a fee to fund stormwater solutions. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is concerned that Carroll County won't have the resources to help in future endeavors to protect the state's waterways, Schnabel said.

Rather than spending millions on bridge improvements, sewer systems and roadway maintenance, the county could spend a fraction of that by eliminating contaminants where they flow into local streams and rivers, he said.

"Let's protect the water at its source instead of putting Band-aids over bridges and roads," Schnabel said.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

For More Information:

For information about upcoming projects, contact the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at 1-888-728-3229 or visit the foundation's website at http://www.cbf.org.

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