Holding on with one hand, Tieshe Morgan gripped a thicket of bare branches overhanging Herring Run yesterday morning as she gingerly stretched her other arm to fetch a piece of plastic that had washed ashore.
"There's not really a way you can stop people from littering, but I'm going to do whatever I can do to keep the area clean," said Morgan, 19, a Morgan State University sophomore from Tulare, Calif.
So she and fellow Morgan State ROTC members -- who frequently use the park for training because it's so close to campus -- signed up to spend the morning picking up trash along a portion of the stream at Herring Run Park at Hall Springs, near Harford Road and Argonne Drive in Northeast Baltimore.
They were among dozens of other volunteers at the Herring Run Watershed as part of a statewide event called Project Clean Stream, an annual effort to remove trash and other debris from area waterways, shorelines and nearby roadsides.
Darin Crew, watershed restoration manager at Herring Run, estimated at least 100 volunteers would be pitching in during the three-hour event.
More than 2,500 volunteers were expected to cover at least 100 miles of streams in Baltimore City, as well as about a dozen counties around Central Maryland and the Eastern Shore, said Kate Dowling, program coordinator for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which organizes the event.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust supports the cleanup with a grant, according to the alliance's Web site.
At Herring Run, Morgan and her friends from school started at a spot near Hoopers Field as they made their way south along the shoreline. They climbed down a rocky embankment to get to clumps of debris that included chunks of Styrofoam, bubble wrap, liquor bottles, plastic grocery bags, athletic gear and broken glass.
Morgan said she and a few others plan to return to campus and organize monthly cleanups at the stream and park.
"This is a chance for us to get involved," she said. "We can show our school spirit and help make the park look nice."
Randall Richardson, 18, a freshman ROTC member at Morgan State, said he volunteered to help clean at Herring Run because he wants it to be as clean as the parks that he frequents near his hometown outside Richmond, Va.
"I live here now, so I want to clean this up, too," he said.
Brian Sentz, 15, a 10th-grader at Patapsco High School, said he came along with his Boy Scout troop from St. Francis of Assisi School because he likes to see the park clean.
"Not only do you get to see the park clean, you get to talk to all your friends and have a good time," said Sentz, adding that this was his sixth year of participating in the cleanup event.
Project Clean Stream is an outgrowth of a similar effort undertaken about 40 years ago at the Irvine Nature Center in Stevenson, Dowling said.
"It expanded from there and now includes about 120 cleanup sites," she said.
Last year's effort drew more than 2,500 volunteers, who collected more than 90,000 pounds of trash.
Dowling said the goal is to get people connected with their surrounding natural resources, such as the waterways.
"A lot of people still don't understand how that litter gets into our streams," she said. "It's a real eye-opener to them to see the trash and learn that much of it comes from street drains."
Project Clean Stream seems to be paying off, Dowling said.
"From what we've seen, there is less trash at the streams where we have cleanup sites," she said. "I think it's people seeing that these are spaces people care about."
At Herring Run, some veteran project volunteers said there seemed to be less debris to pick up. Organizers said it's hard to know the reason for that. They said the recent rains might have washed a lot of the trash farther downstream. Perhaps a fall cleanup effort, and more recent smaller pickups, have helped, too.
And maybe, just maybe, their efforts have raised awareness about the value of clean streams -- and the negative impact of trash heading into the bay.
"Hopefully, we are making a difference," said Bob Mayes, a member of the Friends of Herring Run Parks. "We're definitely seeing an improvement."