Stony Run cleanup honors stream's late champion

Efforts to clean up Stony Run “never stopped… Something is better than nothing.”

It was Sunday afternoon, not Monday morning, when Dr. Michael Beer usually went to the river, but no matter: The work to stop invasive plants from gaining a stranglehold on the trees along Stony Run continued.

About 30 volunteers gathered at the North Baltimore stream Sunday to yank English Ivy and uproot alien porcelain berry plants at a cleanup organized in memory of Beer, a former chairman of the Johns Hopkins University department of biophysics and a dedicated champion of the waterway and its park, which ran just past his longtime Wilmslow Road home.

"I stopped everything and came down," said Ramsey Mihavetz, one of several volunteers who used to meet Beer at the stream for Monday morning weeding sessions, an appointment Beer kept — if he wasn't out of town— until his death in August at the age of 88.

"He was very quiet and very slow, so it was hard to tell if you were making any difference," Mihavetz said. "But it never stopped, so you knew it was. Something is better than nothing."

Beer, who was born in Hungary and immigrated to North America after the rise of Nazism, started his cleanup and planting efforts at Stony Run, but the movement soon spread beyond that source, friends said.

"Michael remained close to home, but we set our sights on the whole of the Jones Falls," said Sandy Sparks, who with Beer helped found the Jones Falls Watershed Association in the 1990s and is an adviser to today's Friends of Stony Run group.

The Jones Falls Watershed Association pushed for the bike path and annual closing of the expressway for the Jones Falls Valley celebration, intended to build support for environmental efforts along the watershed.

A partnership with the Greater Homewood Community Corp. allowed the once all-volunteer Jones Falls Watershed Association to grow. In 2012, the group merged with four others to become Blue Water Baltimore, which organized Sunday's cleanup.

"The focus to do that was to grow our impact," said Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore.

In the mid-2000s, Beer helped persuade the city to perform an at-the-time controversial re-engineering of Stony Run, designed to slow the rush of water to the bay, reducing erosion and the flood of polluted sediment.

Van der Gaag said Beer, who spoke at area schools, helped organize a community of park-keepers, many of whom turned out on Sunday.

"I think he saw this was a place worth saving," she said. "It's the classic example where one person can make a difference."

Blue Water Baltimore staff said they expected Sunday's group to clear more than 300 pounds of plant waste, including logs and invasive vines. The weeding is intended to prevent non-native species from crowding out smaller saplings and acting as weights on branches, increasing the chances the trees will fall.

Having large trees along the riverbank also helps keep the water cool, making it a better environment for fish and other life, they said.

"We're trying to alleviate the eyesores but also protect the forested area and give it a chance to grow and thrive," said Katie Dix, volunteer coordinator of Blue Water Baltimore.

Beer's daughter, Suzanne C. Beer, did not participate in Sunday's cleanup because of illness but said her father — an outdoorsman fond of skiing and hiking — would have appreciated the tribute.

"It's outside, pulling weeds. That's right up his alley," she said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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