Bayscapes support Clear Creeks

MIDDLE RIVER — Born the eldest of 11 children in Middle River, Norm Brady remembers clear creeks.

“I used to swim in the river as a kid,” said Brady, a retired medical social worker for the developmentally disabled. But, having returned to Hawthorne five years ago to live on the water again, Brady laments the change in the clarity of his hometown creeks.

“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t been in yet. Look at it,” Brady said. “Would you swim in it?”

Confronted with excess sedimentation and debris from a nearby storm drain, which creates what Brady describes as “a crescent of silt” right beside his boat pier, Brady is determined to prevent any erosion from his own property from entering Middle River.

And so, in the spirit of taking care of his own backyard, Brady and his partner, Karen Gordon, installed 100 square feet of Bayscape buffer gardens as part of the Clear Creeks Project, a grant-funded, citizen-based initiative that seeks to address a community desire for improved water clarity in the creeks and rivers of Middle River and the Tidal Gunpowder watersheds.

A Bayscape, according to Clear Creeks Landscape Architect Jack Leonard, “is a garden with a purpose” and that purpose is “to mimic nature.”

“We have created infrastructure that makes storm water go away, so we don’t see it as a problem,” Leonard said.

But polluted storm water that runs off of urban surfaces, like roads, roofs, parking lots and lawns, is causing both decreased clarity and impaired quality to local waterways.

According to Leonard, the typical American lawn may only be slightly more bay-friendly than a parking lot in terms of contributing to runoff pollution, because of fertilizer and pesticide use as well as compacted soils from construction, mowing and general use.

Bayscapes create a more natural landscape by replacing lawn with beds of plants native to the region. No matter where Bayscapes are planted, along a water’s edge, like Brady and Gordon’s Bayscape buffer, or anywhere else in a yard or landscape, they help protect the water system.

Bayscapes capture, absorb and filter runoff by taking up nutrients into native plants. These hardy varieties of flowers, shrubs and trees are more capable of toughing out Baltimore’s freezing winters and sweltering summers.

Native plants require less watering, fertilizing, and maintenance while also supporting local wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees, crucial to the health of the Bay and our entire food supply.

“Unless we just want to eat corn, we need pollinators,” Leonard said.

Supporting local wildlife is good news to Gordon, who in addition to boating and crabbing, enjoys kayaking on the creeks, where she makes what she calls “garbage runs” each summer to remove trash from the water.

“I love my critters,” Gordon said.

Leonard sums up the collective benefits of individual actions like Gordon and Brady’s by asserting that if every household improved their own preservation efforts and gardening practices, even by just ten percent, substantial improvement would be possible.

“My yard won’t solve the problem, but I can solve my contribution to the problem,” Leonard said.

Clear Creeks: Our Water, Our Heritage, Our Pride is funded through grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, and the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy.

If you would like to learn how you can make a clear creeks difference in your own yard, visit the project website at