By Jo Dickison
April 12th was a perfect day for a creek cleanup event. The morning air was crisp and the Little Falls Branch Creek in suburban Maryland was sparkling in the warm spring sun.
The stream cleanup is an annual event hosted by the Westmoreland Hills Garden Club, Montgomery County Parks M-NCPPC (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission), and the Alice Ferguson Foundation. The spring cleanup was first started in 1979 by the Westmoreland Hills Garden Club and has been an annual event ever since, attracting many students, families, and scout troops for a few hours of “gloves-on” work to improve the water quality and ecosystem of the creek area.
This year the cleanup had 45 volunteers working along the stream and surrounding area.
“This annual cleanup has really brought the community together with a common sense of purpose,” noted Westmoreland Garden Club member Diane August. She added that the cleanup helps the community become more sensitive to the litter issue and sets an example for children about the importance of a litter-free environment, both from a water quality perspective as well as an aesthetic one.
Little Falls Branch is a five-mile long tributary stream of the Potomac River that winds through Montgomery County near the Capital Crescent Trail and empties into the Potomac at Little Falls Rapids at the upper end of the tidal Potomac. According to the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, the Little Falls creek “drains portions of Bethesda, Somerset, Friendship Heights, and the District of Columbia. It passes the Dalecarlia Reservoir, flows under the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and empties into the Potomac.”
Although the Little Falls Branch is a fairly small creek, it is part of the larger Potomac watershed and flows through a densely populated area of Montgomery County. The Potomac watershed eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so all the water systems are connected and water quality in one branch affects the larger system.
With the late, wet spring this year the stream is fairly high and the surrounding banks muddy from recent rain, but the birds were singing enthusiastically and the area is blossoming with spring flowers and mallards exploring the creek. The trees growing along the stream are just beginning to leaf out and a carpet of yellow flowers (an invasive species called Lesser celandine) blankets the banks of the stream in many places, successfully crowding out native species such as Virginia bluebells and wild violets.
Because the Little Falls Branch is in a populated suburban area near a very popular trail and major roads, there is always litter to clean up. The group picked up 33 bags of trash and 380 pounds of bulk items in three hours, everything from an old tractor tire and a shopping cart to the usual profusion of plastic bottles and plastic bags. The volunteers cheerfully bagged and hauled the waste to the appropriate pick-up points for the M-NCPPC truck, which was tasked with disposal.
It was a satisfying sight to see the beautiful creek look even more beautiful with the collection of trash no longer in the stream but on the way to a proper disposal site.