For many years, the condominiums at The Shores at Water's Edge mostly overlooked "vine-clogged expanses of invasive plants," as the condo owners explained to the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
Now, thanks to a grant from the non-profit, Annapolis-based foundation, residents of the waterfront community, developed on part of the old Bata Shoe Company property in Belcamp, can enjoy a tidy, landscaped waterfront view that also respects the Bay's critical area buffer along the Bush River.
Awarded to the condominium owners earlier this year, the grant helped pay for a wetland restoration project that featured removing turf lawn in a 3,000-square-foot, low-lying, non-tidal-wetlands area along Church Creek near where it enters Bush River.
Landscapers from the Brickman Group replaced invasive species with native plants like fragrant sumac, Virginia sweetspire, winterberry holly, switch grass, bee balm, obedient plant and Joe Pye weed.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Marc Rosensweig was out strolling the walking path with a camera.
"Since I have been here, I kind of became John Audubon," Rosensweig joked. He has been busy photographing bald eagles, herons and everything in between on the peaceful river.
As one of The Shores' original residents, Rosensweig was long been unhappy with the appearance of the waterfront.
"I was the first one to have my gripes," he said, adding he was glad the restoration offered new opportunities to check out wildlife and enjoy what life by the water has to offer.
"Because I love photography so much, I see thing all the time that others don't see," he noted.
The Chesapeake Bay critical area is officially defined as 1,000 feet of tidal waters and tidal wetlands inland from the water, according to Harford County's Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Program.
State regulations restrict the intensity of human activity in the critical area, including spelling out which resources may or may not be disturbed by development.
The project undertaken by residents of The Shores strikes a balance between protecting the Bay-area buffer and giving condo owners a chance to enjoy the waterfront.
Roughly 250 people live in the 132 condo units at The Shores, Carol Sutton, a resident and head of the landscaping committee, said. They stepped up to match the $5,000 grant received from CBT.
The condo buildings were laid out in 2000, along 30 acres on the site of the former shoe factory near the junction of Routes 40 and 543. They are next to the Water's Edge office and retail complex, also developed on the former Bata Property by Water's Edge master developer Clark Turner, who has his offices there.
Sutton said the plants put in from the restoration project are good for insect pollinators like bees and help keep the required buffer for the bay.
"It's sometimes a challenge to balance the need of people and the environment, and I think with this project, we definitely accomplished that," she said.
The area features a walking path that starts from between the condo buildings and weaves itself along the waterfront, interspersed with garden patches, neat lawns, benches and plenty of spots to stop and enjoy the water.
The project is not a "one and done" deal, as Sutton pointed out. It is a multi-year restoration project that aims to restore "the shoreline to provide habitat for wildlife, add a native plant buffer to filter harmful runoff of chemicals into the Bush River, reduce erosion, and educate residents about the benefits of native plants," according to information presented to the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The condominium's had to sign off on the project, Sutton said, and once they did, the community's grant request was sent to the Trust's Mini-Grant Program for Community Engagement and Restoration.
Sutton said getting the state funding meant an extensive write-up of the community's plans and meeting several requirements.
One of the grant's conditions was an educational component, which the residents met by bringing in speakers from the nearby Anita C. Leight Estuary Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
A second condition was community involvement, which was met with volunteer labor to clean, water the plantings and do weed control in the area.
Sutton said the residents worked with Harford County government and Brickman to find low-lying plants that would achieve the balance between what the residents were looking for and what the Bay area needed.
The state's requirements of the critical area have "evolved," county critical area planner Bryan Lightner said.
Regarding places like The Shores, "that has always been kind of an issue, is water views versus a well-functioning natural environment," Lightner said.
He worked with the residents regarding their buffer, which he said includes tidal wetlands as well as non-tidal wetlands. Nevertheless, with their new restoration project, they are addressing "the low-hanging fruit," he said.
Lightner noted one of the "unintended consequences" of keeping out human activity before was the rise of invasive plants. He said invasives pose a problem because indigenous insects and birds, for example, cannot eat or make other use of them.
And, he said, the project shows how a waterfront community can use restoration to enhance its views.
"We can do both, and that's what I try to educate as an environmental planner," Lightner said. "We can coexist [with nature] a lot better by learning, hey, here's what we can put in terms of indigenous plants."
"What we have come up with at Water's Edge is sort of a win-win situation," he said. "We need more concerned citizen groups to kind of fill those niches of getting grants and do good environmental restoration work."
The Aegis: Top stories
The gardens are also "designed so different things bloom with each season," Sutton said.
"Now it's going to be monitoring, and each year we have a lot of invasive vines that come back every year," she explained. The community also will not touch anything in the habitat during its resting season, from April through September, she said.
Sutton, who is also one of the original residents at The Shores, moved in 15 years ago.
She said everyone who lives in the condos seems to get inspired by the wildlife around them, particularly now with the restoration project if they weren't before.
"Even if you didn't know much about nature before, you fell in love with it," she said about moving to The Shores.
Originally from the Midwest, she said she has been an environmentalist all her life and thinks The Shores project can inspire others.
"If everybody tried to live responsibly, we could clean up the Chesapeake Bay," she said.