This regular feature introduces Montgomery County non-profit organizations that are making a difference with their work in sustainability spaces across a variety of industry sectors. This segment details the efforts of the Bethesda-based Rock Creek Conservancy.
Beginning near Laytonsville, Rock Creek winds its way for 33 miles through Montgomery County and the metropolitan D.C. area before emptying into the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Surrounded by both state and federal parklands, it traverses through beautiful spaces that many area residents enjoy.
The creek is also important to the local ecosystem, providing a home to many different species of fish as well as the flora and fauna that rely on it for survival. But litter, pollution, development and natural occurrences like storm water run-off and erosion threaten the health and beauty of the creek and its surrounding environs.
In 2005, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded a grant to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin to create an organization focusing on the creek’s threats. By 2011, it had grown to become a fully staffed and was then named the Rock Creek Conservancy – the only organization dedicated to the creek and its surrounding 80-sq miles of land.
“Water is life,” says executive director Jeanne Braha. “Rock Creek is just such a part of the area. Nobody doesn’t like Rock Creek.”
In order to truly protect the creek, Braha says our way of doing everyday things has to be rethought and made sustainable. Things like remembering bags to scoop pet waste, paying attention to the plants we put in the ground and avoiding single-use products – are small changes everyone can make.
“Sustainability is sort of part and parcel to that,” she adds. “Plus the cooling effect of having more green space makes us happier and healthier human beings.”
The Conservancy’s efforts include projects that focus on stormwater management, trash cleanup, removal of invasive plants and installing a greener infrastructure through projects with local communities that restore key sites within Rock Creek Park the conservancy refers to a “mini-oases.”
“[They] help show that people-powered restoration can really restore forest to buffer, which helps keep creeks and waterways cleaner,” Braha says.
Currently, a Conservancy partnership program with DC Water called “Drain the Rain” focuses on storm water management by offering incentives to eligible homeowners to disconnect their home’s waterspouts and redirect the water to lawns and gardens. Now in its third year, program enrollees are given free assessments for downspout disconnection feasibility, a free rain barrel and discounts on water bills to encourage better stormwater management.
In the program’s first two years, 252 downspouts were disconnected and 140 rain barrels were installed at 186 homes within the Rock Creek watershed area, which kept about 26,000 gallons of stormwater out of DC’s the combined sewer system – and out of Rock Creek.
Much of Rock Creek winds its way through county hiking and biking areas and parks, which means that many of the Conservancy’s events programs happen within the county. Here, Braha says the organization is “doing some great things” – including a conservation partnership installation with Chesapeake Bay Trust in a Derwood subdivision.
“Draining storm water from about an acre of land, it has become a pocket park oasis and keeps a ton of stormwater out of where it shouldn’t be,” she says.
Thanks the 5000+ volunteers the conservancy sees each year, organizational efforts like Stream Teams – where neighborhood residents adopt a section of the creek or one of its tributaries near their homes for regular checks and at least two trash cleanups and one community outreach event each year – also thrive in Montgomery County and give almost everyone a chance to get involved.
Each April, the Conservancy organizes the Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup with trash pick-ups at over 70 locations along the creek. A part of the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, it is an area push to get rid of as much litter dumped around the creek by wind, rain and humans as possible.
Water bottle filling stations installed around the creek’s trails and parks help to remind visitors and volunteers to limit single-use plastic bottles and keep them out of the creek.
The Conservancy will hold its premier event – The Rock Creek Gala – on October 5 at the Embassy of New Zealand. All proceeds will be used to support the Conservancy’s mission to restore the creek and its parklands.
“We can’t do good for the world if we aren’t stewarding resources people give us to make that possible,” Braha says.
For more information about the Conservancy, the Rock Creek Gala or volunteer opportunities, log onto https://rockcreekconservancy.org.