Brian Schilpp, who has spent his life along Back River, said he was never more proud of that heritage than on Wednesday, when he was overlooking a trash boom filled with waterlogged garbage.
Baltimore County installed the heavy-duty vinyl boom last month at a cost of $80,000. The 700-foot-long entrapment device, held in place by seven anchors, has been stationed at the headwaters of the Back River, a waterway often reviled for its foul smells and trash-lined banks.
While the boom halts the flow of debris downstream, it also shows how much trash is dumped into area waterways.
"We used to dread rainfalls," said Schilpp, a county high school teacher. "We have spent countless hours cleaning the shore and the river bottom. This boom is the county's commitment to our shared concerns."
On Wednesday, officials invited residents and reporters to see the boom in action. A few days after a downpour, the device was filled with bottles, balls, a propane tank, tires and a large chunk of metal.
"It boils your blood when you see this trash, and this is just from one weekend," said Jonas A. Jacobson, the county director of environmental protection. "Without the boom, this trash would go downriver to the bay."
Crews in boats will remove the debris and return after the next storm, officials said. Maintenance and removal will cost the county about $4,000 a month.
Environmental officials see the quality of Back River as important to efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Jacobson said the boom is a good start, but it is not enough.
"We have to keep trash out of our watersheds," he said. "We all have to stop putting trash on the ground."
The crowd on the bank saw dozens of large green bags filled with plastic bottles, tires, branches and assorted pieces of wood retrieved from the boom.
"It will take a little while to tweak it right, but the boom is doing its job," said Jerry Ziemski, president of the Back River Restoration Committee.
Ziemski, who lives about 2 1/2 miles downriver from the boom, has organized several cleanups, including three last winter. At one, volunteers collected more than 11,000 bottles, many of which had likely been tossed into storm drains, he said.
"We are fighting a losing battle unless we can change people's minds," he said.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. called the residents "heroes whose momentum got the project off the ground." Smith praised the interest and enthusiasm residents have shown for restoration efforts and singled out Ziemski as the most persistent advocate.
"You are all proof that getting involved can make a community better and make the natural environment better," Smith said.
The county will soon mark storm drains with "no dumping" signs and is planning a "cleaner, greener" environmental campaign that will show how discarded trash can harm waterways.
"These bottles don't make it here on their own," Schilpp said. "These trash problems start in our neighborhoods. … We all have to take care of this environment we call home."