Did you notice the big construction project on Falls Road just south of the Brooklandville Fire Station? Trout Unlimited and Blue Water Baltimore just completed a massive stream restoration at the site. Soon, brown trout will have a peaceful home inside the beltway. With a key section of the Jones Falls River now restored to its natural glory, Jim Gracie, a legend in the stream restoration world, says it best, “the fact that Baltimore has a stream of this high quality in an urban area is a rarity. We’re blessed.”
Turns out the Jones Falls River boasts Maryland’s highest density of brown trout. The Jones Falls River is fed by headwater springs about seven miles north of the stream restoration site. Trout thrive in cooler waters. The Jones Falls’ headwaters originate in Greenspring Valley from water sources found underground in marble and limestones beds which keep the water cool.
Before the recently completed stream restoration, brown trout swam down the Jones Falls River in a relatively clean river because the river mostly weaves its way through Greenspring Valley private properties. The river’s water quality drops after the Stevenson Village because of development and paved surfaces. It’s when trout reached the section recently restored, the fish hit about 600 feet of “cement trout hell.”
The restored section of the river once housed the Rockland Bleach and Dye Works. After Rockland moved into Baltimore City in the 1980s, the stream was paved into a 600-foot concrete channel. The channel was developed to better manage flooding but reduced the river’s height to about 2 inches. Not exactly ideal trout habitat. Also, natural stream beds help filter out the pollutants washed off our paved surfaces. Cement just funnels the muck down the river.
Enter Jim Gracie, owner of Brightwater, Inc and an expert in fluvial geomorphology – the science of understanding rivers. Gracie is an avid fisherman and a founder of Maryland’s Trout Unlimited chapter. He’s devoted his life’s work to monitoring and restoring watershed ecosystems that have been negatively impacted by development and its polluted stormwater.
After nine years of fits and starts, Gracie hit pay dirt when he partnered with Blue Water Baltimore and Environmental Quality Resources to restore the stream bed. Blue Water Baltimore is dedicated to restoring Baltimore’s rivers and improving water quality. The nonprofit employs skilled project managers and water quality scientists. The Jones Falls River $600,000 stream restoration is by far the group’s largest endeavor to date. Environmental Quality Resources, an environmental construction firm, has all the big trucks and construction know-how. Brightwater, Inc designed the stream plan, Baltimore County and Baltimore City provided support, and the project was funded by the Chesapeake and Atlantic Bays Coastal Trust Fund. This fund is a partnership between Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, and The University of Maryland.
Over the summer, 520 feet of concrete was removed and the river was rerouted to meander through a natural dirt stream bed. Deeper pools were designed to create spots where trout can find bugs to eat, shade to rest, and calmer waters to lay eggs.
“Our project team is pioneering really, and learning a lot about making this type of environmental restoration work,” said Carl Simon, Blue Water Baltimore’s Program Director. We’re learning that small-scale projects are important, but large-scale efforts like this can significantly reduce pollutants entering the waterways. Because the stream has been restored to a natural river with a forest buffer, an estimated 100 pounds per year of pollution will be eliminated, and 30,000 pounds of solids per year,” said Simon.
It’s Trout Unlimited’s next phase “green space” idea that’s really cool. The volunteer organization has plans for a public green space, fishing site and walking trail that would connect the Lake Roland recreation area with the Meadowood Regional Park. Hopefully, that phase doesn’t take nine years, but if it does, you can bet Jim Gracie will be pushing the idea to fruition.