Herring haven't spawned in Herring Run for at least 50 years, but yesterday volunteers from dozens of Baltimore County and Baltimore City community groups celebrated their efforts to clean up the stream and lure the fish back.
Organizers wanted everyone who attended their "Spring Migration" walk-a-thon and festival at Herring Run Park to get a taste of the fish they were helping. They served free pickled herring and herring in sour cream.
"It's got a very distinct flavor," said Dan Boward of Lauraville. "I would say this is a fishy fish."
Lynn Kramer of Perry Hall, who quit her job to work on the stream and is president-elect of the Herring Run Watershed Association (HRWA), said the herring have become an important rallying point. Volunteers are working to clean up the water for the fish, but in the process they've become connected to the stream, she said.
"A whole sense of community is developing around the stream," said Ms. Kramer, 46, founder of the 2-year-old group. People are realizing "that planet Earth is under our feet," she said.
"The major goal is to restore the water quality of the stream. We think it's attainable to bring the herring back to some portions of the stream," she said. "It's a high goal, but not impossible."
Wally Orlinsky, director of the Tree-Mendous Maryland program and co-coordinator of yesterday's event, said about 1,000 people attended the daylong festival. About 300 participated in the 5.5-mile walk along the stream banks, which raised about $5,400 that will be used to help restore the stream.
He said he hoped participants looked at the stream and the festival exhibits, including those with salamanders, crawfish and other creatures scooped from the water. In doing so, they would have realized that Herring Run "is not some hopeless, dirty thing," he said.
The 25-mile stream begins at Putty Hill Park in Baltimore County and meanders through the northeast part of the city before draining into Back River and the Chesapeake Bay. About 15 miles are in the city, Ms. Kramer said. The stream's watershed encompasses about 44 square miles, which includes 120 community associations and 80 schools, she said.
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation offered hip boots and nets to anyone who wanted to wade in the stream. Children were the main takers and came away with crawfish and salamanders.
Ms. Kramer said she has been amazed at the cooperation of volunteers from various community and government groups.
"Most people are very interested in making a difference," she said.
Volunteers have a lot of work to do, though, before the herring, which are found in some Chesapeake Bay waters, return to Herring Run.
Decades of development around the stream's banks are blamed for much of the pollution. A series of six maps displayed at a festival booth showed changes that have taken place in the area since 1850.
The area was country in the mid-1800s, said Diana Cohen, an HRWA member who researched the watershed's history. By the early 1930s, Herring Run Park in the city was on the map. As development continued, parts of the stream were filled in or put underground, she said.
Snapshots at another display showed the condition of the stream today. Old appliances have been tossed on the banks, sewer lines are exposed in spots, yard waste has been thrown over a fence and some banks are eroding.
When Ms. Kramer and others surveyed the stream in October 1992, a Maryland environmental group, Save Our Streams, recommended they look for eight pollution sources, and they found all eight, she said. City government has fixed some of the biggest problems, such as sewage leaks, but Ms. Kramer believes the community could best clean up the others.
The HRWA has 150 members. The group has worked with Tree-Mendous Maryland to plant trees along stream banks to prevent erosion and to use nutrients that contribute to the growth of algae in the water.
Lynn Hunovice, a Mount Washington resident, said she is working with HRWA to learn how to organize a similar group for the Jones Falls watershed, which flows south roughly through the middle of the city. The Gwynns Falls watershed, to the west of Baltimore, also needs cleaning, she said.
"It's great this is happening, but you've got to get all three," Ms. Hunovice said.