Baltimore, Maryland

A Classic Bay Port Battles for Clean Water


I could feel the tears welling up as I stood—hand on heart—for the Star Spangled Banner. My daughter Helen and I were watching the feature movie at Fort McHenry's new visitor center. A convincing reenactment of the culmination of the Battle of 1812—fought on the grounds where we stood—had ended. Francis Scott Key, aboard a British ship in Baltimore's Harbor, was straining to see whose flag was flying above the fort. When our stars and stripes were finally visible: magic! Behind the movie screen, a window was slowly revealed, perfectly framing the fort and flag flying outside. Our anthem played in victory.

Baltimore's Battle for Clean Water

Baltimore fights another battle today—a battle for clean water. Leading the army with a goal of a fishable and swimmable harbor by the year 2020 is the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

The partnership, which includes Blue Water Baltimore, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has gained substantial support from the businesses surrounding the harbor since forming in 2005. Founding member and Chair Michael Hankin is also President and CEO of Brown Advisory, an investment firm that set up waterfront offices in Fells Point in 2002. Hankin remembers the trash, the lack of green, and the ugly water. He now expects a triathlon in Baltimore's future and promises to be the first entry.

The Waterfront Partnership's plan to reach its goal will be finalized this fall. Components of the plan will include increasing the city's ability to correct sewer leaks, establishing standards for stormwater outfalls, stabilizing eroding stream channels, piloting innovative pollution control practices like floating wetlands, and tracking progress with regular water-quality monitoring. In the meantime, "Green Teams" that concentrate on removing trash, planting green spaces, keeping visitors safe, and informing the public are already making a difference.

Baltimore's battle is part of a war for clean water that requires reducing pollution across the Bay watershed. On this front, Baltimore is fortunate to have clean water champions at the federal level: Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski in the Senate; and Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes in Congress.

Locally, the partnership's 2020 goal is impressive, especially given that Baltimore Harbor has been polluted for a very long time.

A History of Reinvention

Baltimore Harbor became a point of entry for Maryland's tobacco industry in 1706, 23 years before the town was officially founded. Population growth and a desire for self governance led to the city's incorporation in 1796.

At that time, the Port of Baltimore was a center for commerce and local tradesmen led the nation's shipbuilding industry. The Baltimore-built USS Constellation—the first Navy ship ever launched—rests at the Inner Harbor in tribute.

In the 1800s, Baltimore became a hub for oyster canning, peaking with more than 100 packing houses by 1870.

In 1893, an even more powerful economic engine arrived when Pennsylvania Steel built a mill at nearby Sparrows Point. Acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, the mill attracted workers from rural Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the South looking for decent pay and housing in the company town.

Industrial Baltimore's steel mills, shipyards, and factories reached extraordinary output during World War II. Fueled by jobs and immigration, the population peaked at just under one million in 1950.

After World War II, with better transportation and suburbanization, many Baltimore residents spread into the surrounding counties causing economic decline in the city.

By the 1970s, the Inner Harbor area had become a neglected tangle of empty warehouses. But, in 1976, a bicentennial celebration featuring visiting tall ships helped kick off a renewed Inner Harbor. The first major attraction to come was the Convention Center in 1979. In 1980, Harborplace opened restaurants and retail shops. Maryland's largest tourist destination—the National Aquarium—followed, opening in 1981. Baltimore's Inner Harbor quickly became a center of tourism and model for waterfront revitalization.

CBF started laying a green foundation in Baltimore in 1979, expanding its environmental education program into the harbor with a 44-foot work boat (Osprey) as a classroom. To this day, CBF educators take school, community, and other groups into the Port of Baltimore and Patapsco River to study an environment "under stress." The message focuses on pollution and pollution controls in an intensively used environment.

Thanks to teachers like Myrtha Allen, who spent decades teaching science to inner city kids, that message made its way back to Baltimore's classrooms. Ms. Allen became interested in environmentalism at the beginning of her career when she attended CBF teacher trips to Meredith Creek and Fox Island. Ms. Allen started getting her students outside studying the environment and giving some their first glimpse of the Bay. She returned to CBF programs several times before she retired and later served on CBF's Board.

Baltimore Today

Recent revitalization has brought mixed-use development to downtown waterfront neighborhoods like Fell's Point and Canton, attracting new residents and prominent national and regional employers like Hankin's Brown Advisory. Today, tourism is a top employer, and the Inner Harbor is one of the most visited areas of the city.

Baltimore's most popular landmark, the National Aquarium, is a mesmerizing facility that features more than 16,000 creatures, from sharks to jellyfish, in naturalistic exhibits that include a walkthrough rain forest.

Across the harbor, the Maryland Science Center stimulates the senses with curious exhibits, hands-on activities, and IMAX theater presentations.

Baltimore abounds with quality restaurants. To the northeast on Canton's waterfront, indulge in the iconic Baltimore tradition of picking steamed crabs at Bo Brooks Restaurant. Environmentally conscious owner Chris Hannan has actively supported crab regulations and legislation to upgrade all Bay-area sewage treatment plants.

To the south on Locust Point, Fort McHenry, a national park since 1925, is accessible by car or water taxi. The visitor center, fort, and grounds will inspire you today as they inspired Francis Scott Key almost 200 years ago.

Baltimore Tomorrow

Moving forward, Baltimore's reliance on tourism will require continued revitalization by local government and groups like the Waterfront Partnership.

In addition to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, others are also fostering the environmental movement. Living Classrooms Foundation provides students opportunities to "learn by doing" through activities like hands-on environmental experiences.

The Green School, a public-charter elementary school formed in 2003, follows an educational approach that uses the environment, the school's surroundings, and the community as the context for reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.

Green Street Academy is a new public middle-high school in Baltimore that embraces the green movement and inspires students to succeed in new career paths.

Success for the Waterfront Partnership is Baltimore Harbor becoming a venue for even more outdoor opportunities: bike paths along the waterfront promenade, sailing regattas, and fishing from boats and piers.

The Partnership's battle is part of a war for clean water across the Bay watershed. Reaching the goal of a fishable, swimmable harbor would position Baltimore as a symbol of victory and pride, much like our flag.

Take pride in Baltimore and your own backyard, and join the army that achieves victory here and across the watershed.

Loren Anne Barnett

Decades of Success: The 1970s

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Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

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