Men at work: Recreating what nature used to do

Parkwood living shoreline sills construction 014Like so many streets in Annapolis, Parkwood Avenue terminates at a creek. But something unusual is happening where Parkway meets Back Creek. An indication of that is the sight of a Hitachi earth excavator piling up boulders just off the shore.  

The residents of Parkwood Civic Association, a community of modest homes and tree-lined streets that slope to Back Creek, have decided to build a "living shoreline"� along their waterfront. This means they are returning their shoreline to something similar to its natural state with lots of native vegetation. The man-made wetlands will do what nature used to do cheaply and effectively: prevent erosion and filter water. The boulders, or sills, will help disperse storm waves, but won't interfere with the ecological functions of the new wetlands.

Traditionally, many property owners around the Bay cut down trees along the waterfront, and then built walls of various sorts to keep stormwater off. The walls prevent erosion from the Bay for a while, but eventually they break down. Those structures also often fill in tidal wetlands and shallow water habitat in their attempt to hold the land in place. Also, the walls do nothing to slow down and filter polluted runoff, one of the major causes of the Bay's degraded condition.

Living shorelines are good at both preventing erosion from wave action and also slowing and filtering rainwater that picks up contaminants from lawns, streets, roofs, and other surfaces. So when it came time for the Parkwood residents to decide what to do about the eroding bank and deteriorating rip-rap along their 640 feet of waterfront, they opted for a living shoreline.

I visited the site Tuesday, Dec. 13. The project is well underway. The sills are nearly halfway done. The contractor, Wes Matheu, maneuvered his excavator right at creek edge, swinging the boom and bucket of the machine to carefully create the sills. Matheu is the owner of Shoreline Design L.L.C. of Edgewater, Maryland. His brother Raymon assisted. The sills will be done in about two weeks, Raymon said.

In late spring of 2012, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), which is coordinating the project, will organize Parkwood residents and other volunteers to plant a few thousand native grasses to create the wetlands. CBF also will host a workshop to teach others about living shorelines, and what it takes to build one. Stay tuned... 

Parkwood living shoreline sills construction 036Rob Schnabel, a restoration expert with CBF, said some communities assume they can't do a living shoreline because they have docks or piers. Parkwood had three different docks, but that doesn't prevent construction of a natural shoreline, Schnabel said. Click here to view Shoreline Design's planning document for the project.

To further slow and treat stormwater, the project will also include two bioretention basins at the foot of Parkwood Avenue. Such structures again use a combination of vegetation and human engineering. Schnabel said the residents of Parkwood took a serious interest in reducing the amount of pollution going into Back Creek from stormwater. The community kayak rack and docks testify to the residents' stake in clean water.

"The community led the charge on that. We just pulled together the funding,"� Schnabel said.

Stormwater is a hot topic these days because both county and state officials are considering ways to finance necessary improvements in the stormwater management systems around the state, many of them neglected and in disrepair even as Maryland tries to meet new Bay pollution limits to help save the Chesapeake.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maryland Department of Environment, Restore America's Estuaries, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources funded the Parkwood living shoreline. The Chesapeake Bay Trust funded the two bioretention basins.

And speaking of money, living shorelines, bioretention basins, and other projects installed to better manage stormwater are job creators, providing a good jobs-per-dollars-spent ratio compared to other public projects. Raymon said he is a graphic designer by trade, but business went slack over the past 10 years. His brother's work building living shorelines and stormwater retrofit projects, meanwhile, was picking up. Raymon grabbed a shovel--and a pay check.

 --Tom Zolper

This blog also appeared on the Clean Water Healthy Families site.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation



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