Jeff Feaga, Frederick County Community Restoration Coordinator
This summer, it seems that it is either intensely raining or incredibly hot and humid. As a result of all this rain, the creeks and rivers are flowing higher than average. Much of the water is also brown and full of sediment. You don’t have to be a trout fisherman to understand that sediment and polluted stormwater can negatively affect fish and other aquatic organisms. You don’t even need to be a trout fisherman (but it helps!) to realize that the Catoctin Mountains of Frederick County are one of the few places in Maryland, besides Garrett County, where brook trout are successfully reproducing. The presence of brook trout in the Catoctin region and the obvious beauty of Frederick County inspire many residents to make efforts to conserve the area’s creeks and natural resources.
Residential-scale practices such as tree plantings, rain gardens, rain barrels, and conservation landscaping help conserve our creeks and natural resources. But, how do you learn about and/or pay for these projects? Fortunately, Frederick County’s Neighborhood Green program gives many area homeowners a clear path to do so. Neighborhood Green is a county-managed conservation program that is funded through grants originating outside of the county. The focus of the program is to help homeowners complete and afford small-scale Best Management Practices (BMPs) around the exterior of their homes. The term BMP refers to structural, engineered, or management changes that are designed to treat polluted stormwater.
The Neighborhood Green program is currently available to any homeowner in the Owens, Hunting, Fishing, Tuscarora, and Middle (Upper Catoctin) Creek watersheds (see map). Although outside of The Catoctin Banner readership area, a similar program is also available in southern Frederick County in the Bush Creek watershed and the Point of Rocks area. As opposed to some of the larger BMPs such as stormwater retention ponds that you may already know, Neighborhood Green concentrates on residential-scale practices such as tree plantings, rain gardens, rain barrels, and conservation landscaping.
A rain garden is an excavated depression in the soil that is planted with vegetation. It allows rainwater runoff from impervious areas like roofs, driveways, and compacted lawn areas to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens should not allow water to pond in them for longer than 24 hours. Some people mistakenly believe that a rain garden will attract mosquitoes, but they actually drain too quickly. One of the most important things to remember about a rain garden is that conditions are going to range from very dry between storm events to saturated during and following storms. There are many different species of plants that can grow well in a rain garden, but the range of wetness and the well-drained sandy soils that are used to create the garden mandate that species need to be carefully considered when choosing optimal species for success.
Conservation landscaping benefits the environment by improving water quality, preserving native species, and providing wildlife habitat. One of the simplest conservation landscaping projects is when people replace fertilizer-hungry turf grass with more vigorous flowering plants. Other conservation landscaping projects target areas of the yard that are at a high risk of erosion, such as steep banks or the tops of waterways where concentrated flow can wash away soil. Sometimes well-placed rocks are used in conservation landscaping to help combat erosion issues.
Rain barrels are self-explanatory, but not everyone has thought about the details of their design and the best ways to use them. The 58-gallon barrels used in the Neighborhood Green program are constructed by hard workers at the local Scott Key Center and are made from recycled food transport containers. These barrels have mosquito screens on top to keep unwanted things out, an overflow hose that directs water away from the barrel when it is full, and a threaded spigot to attach a regular garden hose. It is best to place a rain barrel at a location that has a higher elevation than the place where you would like to use the water. Elevating the barrel on some rocks or blocks is also a good way to make sure that gravity is in your favor.
Paul and Hillary Rothrock live in a rural area of Thurmont and already participated in Neighborhood Green. They took advantage of the most-popular practice in the program: tree planting. The Rothrocks had not been living at their rural, historic home for very long before they started making plans to improve their property. One side of the property tended to become overly wet following storms. There, the Rothrocks decided to plant some river birch trees that are tolerant of wet conditions and should help the area dry after rainfall. On another side of the property, a weedy slope with good sunshine beckoned to be partially cleared and planted with two fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs. Two rain barrels were installed to help water the new trees and divert water away from the house’s foundation.
Paul noted that, “I’m going to try to be patient while the new plants grow, but I’m excited to get a lot of fruit and berries off of them.” For the Rothrocks, the improvements made through the Neighborhood Green program are just another way that their new house is becoming a home.
All interested homeowners are encouraged to visit www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/ngreen to find more information or to complete an application. Or, they can contact Jeff Feaga at email@example.com or 301-988-0443. Once an application is received, their contact information will be passed along to the contractor, which for most people in the Catoctin area is the company Patriot Land and Wildlife Management. An enthusiastic project manager named Matt Dye from Patriot will contact the homeowner within a week or two of receiving the application. Matt will arrange a date to visit each site, where he will talk with the homeowner about their priorities, observe the layout of the land, and take a soil sample. Based on the findings from the visit, Patriot will prepare a brief stormwater management plan. Patriot will then discuss the plan with the landowner and recommend which practices could be implemented on the site. The site visit, soil sample, and management plan are entirely free, and the homeowner is not required to implement any of the practices recommended by the contractor.
If homeowners choose to implement any of the recommended practices, they must pay the first $200 of project costs. Once the initial homeowner cost share has been paid, an additional $800 of grant funding is available to complete the project. Prices for the BMPs have already been set by the contractors, so the process is transparent. Homeowners will be surprised how far the $1,000 of project money ($200 from homeowner and $800 from the grant) will stretch to purchase a rain garden, multiple large caliper trees and a rain barrel, or even several hundred seedlings. All practices are completely installed by the contractor, so all that the homeowner needs to do is look out the window and appreciate them!