Rock Creek Park Pollution Clean Up

Rock Creek Park displays signs that warn of the possible $100 fine for littering on the grounds. --Adam Bensimhon
Rock Creek Park displays signs that warn of the possible $100 fine for littering on the grounds. –Adam Bensimhon

At various locations throughout Montgomery County students have the opportunity to protect local wildlife habitats during the annual Rock Creek Cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon on April 5.

Students get SSL hours for participating. “They get to be outside with their friends and they get a sense of pride at taking responsibility for their community and making a difference,” RHS PTSA President Dylan Presman said. Each year, about 150 people arrive to aid in the cleanup (about three-fourths of which are students) and about 2-3 tons of trash are collected.

Rock Creek’s watershed (the land region that drains into Rock Creek) is massive, covering 77.4 square miles from Laytonsville, Md. to the Potomac River. The further Rock Creek flows downstream, the more pollutants affect the water quality. Various litter, harmful chemicals and sewage have all been recorded as forms of contaminants found.

Poor water quality has forced the National Park Service to forbid swimming in specified locations. Runoff carries fertilizers into areas such as Rock Creek and Lake Needwood, adding excess nitrogen and phosphorus into the water, and threatening wildlife. These elements lead to algae growth and algae blooms. Lake Needwood’s algae levels resulted in rules prohibiting pets from entering the hazardous water. “I feel like we’re being very irresponsible,” sophomore Arielle Cottrell said.

The region surrounding Rock Creek is highly urbanized, which negatively affects water quality. Normally there are buffer-zones, areas (such as soil) that absorb rain water and filter out pollutants; however, urban areas are composed of many impermeable structures such as concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads. Rainwater will flow over these constructions and enter storm drains leading into local streams.

Bacteria and sediment levels are also unnaturally high. While sewer overflows contribute to bacteria levels, pet waste that is improperly disposed of also generates this effect. “Like other problems, behavior change is key,” Rock Creek preservationist Alex Sanders said.

Along with reducing impervious surfaces in Maryland, an increase in pervious surfaces such as lawns or rain gardens would benefit Rock Creek immensely.

If students want to take on an even more active role in creek conservation, Rock Creek Conservancy Stream Team activities are an option. Stream Team members have the opportunity to monitor a section of Rock Creek and promote healthy stream conditions through constant cleanups and pollution level reports.

In order to participate in the nearest local stream cleanup this year, go to Aspen Hill Local Park on Baltic Ave at Aspen Hill Rd. at 9 a.m. on April 5 and help keep Montgomery County parks and streams as clean as possible and reverse the damage done by pollutants.