This spotlight article is part of a short series featuring some of our past Best Urban BMP in the Bay Award (BUBBA) winners. In this installment, CSN intern Caroline Spiccioli travels to Severna Park, MD, to visit a restored floodplain and speak to some of the project’s main citizen advocates. The spotlight dives deeper into the story of Cattail Creek and Berrywood Marina, and highlights the restoration’s unique approach to stormwater management.
Once-vibrant habitat turned murky drainage ditch, Cattail Creek is now on the road to recovery, thanks to the hard work and collaboration of local partners. This humble creek in Severna Park, MD is an artery of the Magothy River, one of the largest sub-watersheds in the Chesapeake. A visit to Berrywood Marina just a few years ago would have found a heavily eroded creek, flanked closely by an aging parking lot, turf-grass field, and bulkheaded shoreline. To a stranger walking along the transformed living shoreline today, the marina’s past would be difficult to believe. Although the BUBBAs Habitat Creation category was not accepting stream restoration submissions, jurors were so impressed with the project’s “exceptional habitat creation and diversity of restoration approaches”, that they chose to recognize it with an honorable mention.
The story of Cattail Creek is a familiar one. As watersheds are developed, new impervious surfaces create an influx of runoff, putting more pressure on local streams. Intense development in Severna Park, beginning in the 1980s, stressed and incised the streambed so extensively that it became a stranger to its own floodplain. During storm events, turbid water rushed through the channel untreated. The Magothy River Association (MRA), an all-volunteer non-profit devoted to supporting projects that steward the Magothy River, worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR), as a facilitator of the restoration project. Bob Royer is a member of the MRA’s water quality monitoring team and was an assistant project leader for the restoration. He says that DNR investigations showed that no matter how much rainfall the stream got, “every bit of that water was still contained in that stream. Not a single bit got up to connect into the floodplain where it should be”.
Molly LaChapelle, a Master Watershed Steward and Cattail Creek project leader, is a long-time resident of the Berrywood community. She had raised her children on the banks of Cattail Creek years ago and dreamed of restoring it to its former beauty. However, fulfilling this dream would be a challenge, and two prior attempts to secure restoration funds had not gotten the necessary traction. LaChappelle realized that past plans had overlooked a classic barrier to success: including the community in the decision-making process.
Royer gestures to an expanse of grass beyond the marina parking lot, “That field is the community’s greenspace, and the initial project would’ve completely inundated it”. Though ecologically degraded before restoration, the site had still been home to several valued community amenities. Berrywooders didn’t want to sacrifice their neighborhood recreation spot for the creek restoration; a balance needed to be struck. Taking the restoration on as her Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA) capstone project, LaChappelle worked together with the designers (Underwood and Associates), the project managers (the WSA), and the funders (Maryland DNR, Anne Arundel County, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust). By prioritizing community outreach and engagement, she created a collaborative environment that facilitated agreement on a design to balance the neighborhood’s needs with those of the stream. The results were so successful that she won the WSA’s “Watershed Steward of the Year” award.
The project is unique for its combination of upland and lowland BMPs that work together for maximum impact. Cattail Creek hosts a Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance (RSC) channel, upland bioretention, and a living shoreline: three BMPs usually found in separate levels of a watershed. Making up the main body of the stream corridor, the RSC is a series of weirs built from natural materials and placed at descending elevations to create step-pools. These pools slow the stormwater, giving it time to be treated, and encourage the stream to fill the floodplain during storm events so that the habitat can be maintained and naturally irrigated. Further seepage and infiltration is promoted by subsurface cobble beneath the parking lot pavement, and a lilypad-adorned bioretention pool, which also serves as prime bog habitat. Where an aging bulkhead once stood, a living shoreline supported by saplings and native tidal grasses now meets the river, and exfiltration occurs along the slope down to the shoreline.
Cattail Creek now acts as a nursery for many species, providing space for vernal spawning and hosting heron roosts, turtle and fish nests alike. As Royer tells stories and points out the site’s noteworthy characteristics, Paul Spadaro, the president of the MRA, walks around nearby, collecting samples for water quality testing. Spadaro remarks that before it deteriorated, the stream was a vibrant and well-documented yellow perch spawning site. “One of the best in the county, actually”, Royer adds, joining Spadaro to paint a nostalgic picture of cars lined up along the roadside to go fishing.
Royer and Spadaro describe the creek as a “little miracle strip”, a small corridor of BMPs with a big impact. Between the initial culvert that passes under Asbury Drive, and the marina, there have been considerable improvements in water quality. “Sometimes our expectations are too high”, Spadaro cautions. “You know, in my mind, what would be a total success here is if the perch came back. They may or may not. But we’re seeing incremental changes in habitat. To justify the spending, all the money and effort… What are the results? Well, the results are not as obvious”, he admits. He lifts his sack of water samples, “but they’re obvious in this bag: They are showing an improvement”.
The Cattail Creek restoration has meant a great deal to Berrywooders and local area residents, who now enjoy the  site on a regular basis as a peaceful refuge in their own backyards. “We reconnected the stream to its floodplain, but what’s probably more important is we reconnected the stream to the community. Now, they come down here all the time. They call this Berrywood Beach”, Royer laughs. Another devoted MRA member and Bob Royer’s wife, Karen Royer, adds, “Last year the lifeguards were saying, ‘Oh, the kids don’t come to the pool at the end of August anymore. They all go to the creek and hang out’”.
Royer understands that the restoration project was not a panacea for the creek’s issues, that success will only come when each homeowner is a good steward of their own property. Fortunately, he feels that the restoration, and especially the community’s involvement, has created a heightened awareness among community members of the important part that they play in their local watershed’s health. Responsible neighbors have now been working to limit or completely eliminate their fertilizer, mosquito spray, and herbicide use, while preserving their mature native tree canopy and planting new native trees.
Royer’s pride in Berrywood and the WSA’s accomplishments shines, “We’re really very excited about the future, just watching this place grow”. He explains that for some at the MRA, the completion of the Cattail Creek project is seen not as an endpoint, but a starting point, to continually improve and create greater social awareness of stormwater management. “Cattail Creek goes another two and a half miles that way”, Spadaro gestures beyond the culvert, “through some of the most developed areas in Severna Park. So we’re trying to get restoration funds to do something similar, but all the way up the watershed.” Spadaro muses, “I’m more proud of it because it’s a beginning.” He points upstream, “My eyes are looking two and a half miles that way.”