Eyes of Paint Branch

Conservation, Education, and Action for the Paint Branch and Its Watershed


My Backyard

Fall 2001 - Volume: 7 Issue: 2

Table of Contents

  1. Rainy Walk Reveals the Biological Diversity of the Paint Branch Mainstem
  2. Ferns Native to the Paint Branch Gorge
  3. Mills of the PaintBranch Video
  4. Good Hope Bird Walk Yields 43 Species
  5. Army Corps Begins Major Stream Restoration
  6. SHA Studying Potential Widening of Route 198
  7. DEP Retrofitting Storm Water Management in Good Hope
  8. Little Paint Branch Threatened by Golf Course Developments
  9. Twenty-second Year of Natural Trout Reproduction
  10. New CD of Anacostia Music
  11. Praisner recognized for contributions to Maydale Nature Center
  12. Eyes of Paint Branch Upcoming Events


Rainy Walk Reveals the Biological Diversity of the Paint Branch Mainstem

Tree Planting

A steady downpour revealed more than it concealed from the dozen area residents who donned their best raingear and accompanied local botanist John Parrish on a five-hour walk, sponsored by Eyes of Paint Branch, through the Mainstem section of the Paint Branch on May 26, 2001.

The group got an immediate lesson on the importance of stormwater management in the first few steps of the walk, which began behind the Paint Branch Apartments on April Lane in White Oak. The complex was built before contemporary regulations for reducing urbanization impact on our local streams were issued. When the complex was built, no provisions were made for reducing stormwater runoff velocity from the parking lots. Instead, a single pipe directs rain, debris and silt down a wooded slope behind the apartments. The water gushing from this pipe has carved a huge ravine through the slope, toppling large trees such as oaks and tulip poplars and washing away shrubs, groundcover, topsoil and subsoil, exposing layers of cobbles and sediment all the way down to the solid bedrock that underlies the entire area. It was obvious to all the participants that unless measures are taken to address the problem, this unnatural waterfall will continue to erode the slope, ultimately threatening not only the health of the stream, but the foundations of the apartment houses as well.

The hikers observed very similar problems in several other locations as they walked downstream. As the group approached the perimeter fence marking the boundary between parkland and the former Navy Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, they discovered a dramatic, winding ravine. Following it to its source, the group found the problem began in an abandoned parking lot, where a single 4-1/2” pipe diverted rainwater into the park. Bob Ferraro, Eyes of Paint Branch President, and David Dunmire, the organization’s Action Chair, noted that this was a clear opportunity where basic remediation work on the government’s property, such as the construction of a shaded, vegetated swale or containment pond with accompanying sediment traps, could easily correct the problem. It will take a long time, however, before the damage already inflicted on this section of the woods and stream will fade.

Later, below the property owned by a sand and gravel operation located off Cherry Hill Lane, runoff overwhelmed a small natural cataract. In contrast to the normally cool, clear waters of the Paint Branch, the runoff was an opaque coffee color due to the vast amounts of suspended sand it carried from the gravel works. John Parrish explained how the excessive flow, with its warmer temperatures and extra silt, was destroying the habitat the area normally provides for frogs and other amphibians.

But not everything the group observed on their rainy-day walk was negative, as many of the characteristics that make the Paint Branch a healthy and inviting stream ecosystem were also on display. Beautiful rock outcrops covered with lichen, mosses and rockcap polypody (“many footed” in Latin), a distinctive type of fern which only grows in shallow, rocky soil, line this section of the Little Paint Branch Gorge. John Parrish simplified the mysteries of fern identification for the eager group, who learned to distinguish between fourteen separate species, including two - Silvery Glade Fern and Interrupted Fern — which are rarely found in Montgomery County. The lush expanses of ferns were punctuated by what one walker described as the “tropical looking” leaves of skunk cabbages, and along the margins of the stream itself were beaches of quartz and quartzite cobbles with rich deposits of mica schist. On a sunny summer day, dozens of Tiger Swallowtail butterflies can be found there, lapping up nutrients, salts and water.

Along the upland slopes, thickets of mountain laurel, with their bell-like pinkish-white flowers, shiny leaves and twisted branches predominate. The songs of the Wood Thrush and Red-eyed vireo delighted the participants throughout the morning, and the musty, almost skunk-like scent markings left by a red fox were detected at several points along the stream. The group saw box turtles lurking amidst Virginia creeper, while Indian cucumber and even the single leaf of a young showy orchis plant were noted with interest. The human history of the Paint Branch was also in evidence; old glass bottles dating back to 1932 and a rusted license plate found amidst other debris spoke silently of the small, historically African American communities once scattered throughout this part of the watershed.

Later this Fall, Eyes of Paint Branch will be offering a repeart journey through this scenic and informative section of the Paint Branch, which like all the group's meetings and walks, are open to the general public. See the calendar of events else where in this newsletter for dates and times.

Ferns Native to the Paint Branch Gorge

Tree Planting

Mills of the PaintBranch Video

Tree Planting

Would you believe that there were four working mills along the Paint Branch between Fairland Road and Randolph Road, dating from 1723 to the 1930s?

How did the Paint Branch get its name? Where was the woolen mill located? What mill inspired an etching that hangs in the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts? What community in Montgomery County can trace its lineage to the slaves owned by mill owner Washington Duvall?

A new video produced by EOPB answers these questions and presents many more historical facts in telling the story of the mills located on the Paint Branch. This 30 minute video was produced by EOPB member Monroe Novell, with funds from the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Small Watershed Grant. Copies are available for loan from the White Oak and Fairland Libraries, and at the Montgomery County Historical Society Library. The video is also available as a premium for a $50 membership renewal or donation to EOPB. A pamphlet based on the video is also planned.

Good Hope Bird Walk Yields 43 Species

On May 5, 2001, some twenty lucky birdwatchers accompanied local birder Norm Saunders, a past-president of the Maryland Ornithological Society, on a bird walk sponsored by the Eyes of Paint Branch. Despite overcast skies, 43 different species were seen or heard by participants, who shared tips about how to identify birds by both sight and sound, the different habitats various birds frequent in the Paint Branch watershed, as well as the ways in which the presence of non-native, invasive plant species, deforestation and human efforts to reverse these injuries to the local environment have affected bird populations. Among the highlights of the trip were the sighting and subsequent study through a spotting scope of a Solitary Sandpiper along the shore of a stormwater containment pond; the aerial acrobatics of Barn Swallows and the “flying cigar” - the Chimney Swift; a fly-by of both a Green and a Great Blue Heron; the lush, flutelike song of the Wood Thrush; and the group identification of a Blue Grosbeak sitting in the top of a tall tulip poplar tree.

Species identified on the May bird walk were: Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Canada Goose, Red-shouldered Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and the European House Sparrow.

Army Corps Begins Major Stream Restoration

Tree Planting

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), in cooperation with the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), initiated a major restoration project on the Paint Branch this past June. This restoration project primarily involves streambank stabilization and aquatic habitat restoration. Specific sites range from Fairland Road down to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (just above the Route 29 crossing). This project is part of the Corps’ larger, multi-year, Anacostia Watershed Restoration effort, which includes projects in the Northwest Branch, Paint Branch, and other local streams.

EOPB and the Paint Branch Technical Team have followed the Paint Branch projects closely since they were first proposed several years ago. There was little doubt that the Corps could do a good job of streambank stabilization. However, we emphasized the importance of minimizing collateral damage to the surrounding areas, and the need for aquatic habitat to be a major component of the project.

Last year the Corps started the their first projects on the Paint Branch. This included the Gum Springs Parallel Pipe project, the Snowden’s Mill I and II projects, and some lesser projects. Unfortunately there were numerous problems with these projects, and we made our concerns known.

The Gum Springs Parallel Pipe project was eventually completed, and the resource agencies now report that the benefits from this project are already apparent. The purpose of this project was to stop stormwater from draining into the lower Gum Springs tributary by piping it underground and discharging it further downstream into the larger Main Stem. Gums Springs is a small tributary and historically responsible for an important contribution to the trout spawning and nursery functions. As a result of this project, water temperatures in the Gum Springs tributary have apparently been reduced several degrees. They also found adult trout in this section of the stream this year, which has been uncommon in recent years.

The bank failures on the Snowden’s Mill I and II ponds remain exactly as reported last fall. Fortunately there have been no bank collapses or deposition of dirt into the stream. The Corps hopes to have a replacement contractor identified soon. This work involves digging out the embankments until good conditions are confirmed, and then rebuilding the embankments properly. This will most likely be done late this summer.

We have expressed our concerns about problems throughout the first round of projects. It appears as though the Corps has responded with corrective actions in many cases, and different procedures are being used for the next phase of activities in the Paint Branch.

In June the Paint Branch Technical Team met with the COE and their new contractor, Environmental Quality Resources (EQR), to review their final plans and schedule for the Main Stem projects. The Corps used a new strategy for selecting their contractor, and is managing their work closely. EQR is experienced in this type of work and has special purpose low-impact equipment.

Their work to date appears to be top notch. In some places you actually have to look to find their access points. One of the habitat improvements involved open box frame structures called “lunkers” that extend three feet below the streambed. In some places huge boulders were placed as deep as four feet below the streambed. The point is that this is major construction work, particularly on a small stream like Paint Branch, and they have done it with minimal damage.

The viability of the aquatic habitat improvements is something that will only be known years from now. Their work was designed in anticipation of changes that will occur in the stream in the future. The trout will be the ultimate judge of the suitability of this habitat restoration.

It is important to express our appreciation to the Corps for this work throughout the Anacostia. This is a significant contribution to the long-term vitality of these resources that is well beyond what could have possibly been accomplished without them. The Corps has agreed to lead a stream walk to highlight their work on the Paint Branch, most likely in early October. See our calendar of events for more information.

SHA Studying Potential Widening of Route 198

The State Highway Administration (SHA) has started studying how to widen Rt. 198 between Rt. 29 and Rt.28. While this widening has been envisioned by the Cloverly and Fairland Master Plans, both plans recommended limited right-of-way for the widening to retain the rural character of the road and the surrounding communities.

Many members of the citizen focus group for this study, however, point out that the study seems to be biased in the direction of a much more substantial road than envisioned in the Master Plans. The Fairland Master Plan Citizen Advisory Committee has written to the SHA and Federal agencies that the current Purpose and Need Statement envisions a road that would become part of a regional East-West connector and therefore an illegal segmentation of the ICC.

Eyes of Paint Branch shares these concerns and has written to the SHA and Federal agencies pointing out the very sensitive nature of the wetlands in the headwaters areas of the Right and Left Forks of Paint Branch that lie just south of Rt. 198 along this corridor. Our last public walk in July visited one of these wetlands, the Thompson Seeps, which harbors a significant population of the State threatened plant, Featherbells. We will be following this study very closely as it proceeds.

DEP Retrofitting Storm Water Management in Good Hope

In May the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) initiated construction of a stormwater management pond to control the runoff from approximately 70 acres of developed area in the upper Good Hope watershed. This is a particularly difficult project because it involves in-stream construction, water, sewer power, and phone lines, and must be shoe-horned in among existing homes on three sides. This area drains to the primary wild trout spawning and nursery area, the Good Hope tributary, which is degrading due to increased storm flows.

Some time later DEP will be doing in-stream restoration in the Gum Springs tributary, as well as constructing a stormwater pond in the lower Gum Springs sub-watershed.

Little Paint Branch Threatened by Golf Course Developments

Tree Planting

The headwaters area of the Little Paint Branch, the largest tributary of the Paint Branch, is being seriously threatened by two golf course community developments.

Cross Creek, presently under construction near Briggs Chaney Road. & Old Gunpowder Road. has been issued a stop work order by Prince Georges County because of almost 50 violations of forest protection, stream protection and sediment and erosion control regulations. EOPB is opposing their request for permits to withdraw water from the stream to irrigate the golf course.

Fairland Golf Community is a proposal for a new development that would rebuild the old Gunpowder Golf Course north of Fairland Regional Park in a new configuration with housing throughout. The development would straddle the Montgomery and Prince Georges County border and stretch from the Park north to Rt. 198. Part of this development would occur on existing parkland in exchange for donating new parkland to the east. While not necessarily opposing this development in concept, EOPB has serious concerns about the streams running through this area and the potential of great loss of forest.

The pre-preliminary land presented to Park & Planning was the subject of heated opposition at a public informational meeting before the full Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission in Riverdale in July. Almost all testimony by the public was against the proposal, especially the present users of the very affordable Gunpowder Golf Course.

EOPB President, Robert Ferraro, testified that the pre-preliminary plan was unacceptable because high quality forest stands on existing parkland would be destroyed and insufficient protection was afforded to the headwater tributaries flowing through the development. The most important threatened forest stand is the upland area above the magnificent Little Paint Branch Gorge. This is the highest quality forest in the Park and protects the most diverse and pristine area of the Little Paint Branch, the Silverwood tributary stream valley. Extensive wetlands just south of Route. 198, forest adjacent to McKnew Local Park and in-stream ponds are the other major areas of concern.

The developer is presently discussing the proposal with Park & Planning staff and will be presenting a revised preliminary plan in September. There will be a formal public hearing sometime in late September or October. EOPB will be closely reviewing the new plans and will argue for the strongest protection possible for this unique natural area that encompasses both the Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

Twenty-second Year of Natural Trout Reproduction

Tree Planting

Once again the Paint Branch wild brown trout have successfully reproduced, according to Charlie Gougeon, a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Gougeon summarized the results at a meeting of the Paint Branch Technical Team on August 10 from an annual survey of the trout population recently conducted. The trout have successfully reproduced every year since the population has been monitored. Given the extreme drought conditions of the last few years, this is nothing less than incredible, once again illustrating the resiliency of nature.

New CD of Anacostia Music

The nonprofit project, CHESTORY, the Center for the Chesapeake Story, is distributing CDs featuring songs and celebrations of the Mid-Atlantic Rivers. Information on all the songs and ordering the CD is available on the web at: www.CHESTORY.org.

Praisner recognized for contributions to Maydale Nature Center

Tree Planting

Councilmember Marilyn Praisner presenting certificate of appreciation from Montgomery County Council in recognition of ongoing interest in and contributions to Maydale Nature Center, and in particular for the community information kiosk at the entrance to the park, April 22, 2001, to David Dunmire (left), and Robert Ferraro with daughter Gabrielle.

Eyes of Paint Branch Upcoming Events

September 29
Burtonsville Day • 10 a.m.
Join us in the Parade that starts at 10 a.m. at Paint Branch H.S. or at our display in Columbia Park

October 6
Lower Paint Branch Bike Ride (College Park Area) • 10 a.m.
We’ll follow the bike path along the Paint Branch to the confluence with Indian Creek & Lake Artemisia. Meet at Cherry Hill Road Community Park, just east of Route 1.

October 20
Paint Branch Mainstem Restoration Project Walk • 10 a.m.
Led by Army Corps of Engineers & Montgomery County DEP. Meet at Valley Mill Park on Randolph Road.

October 27
Paint Branch Gorge Walk • 10 a.m.
A reprise of our great rainy Spring walk. Meet at the very end of April Lane in White Oak. From Route 29, turn onto Stewart Lane and then left onto April Lane. Follow to end (2 speed bumps).

November 3
Community Tree Planting • 9 a.m. - 12 Noon
EOPB needs lots of volunteers for this joint tree planting project. Participants include Trout Unlimited, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Spend an hour or the entire morning. Holes bored in advanced, so the hard work is already done. Bring gloves and a shovel if possible. Follow the gravel road at the end of Gladbeck Drive to the planting site. Contact David Dunmire at 301-989-0331 to register. Great for public service hours. Groups welcome.

November 10
Bird Walk for Beginners • 7 a.m.
enjoy a leisurely hike through the Good Hope watershed with knowledgeable guides to help identify native birds. Meet at the corner of Cavendish Drive and Gladbeck Drive. Bring binoculars.

December 1
Trout Nest (Redd) Count Stream Walk • 9 a.m.
Walk the primary spawning and nursery areas and help us identify nesting sites for the wild brown trout. Meet at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School. Terrain may be rough or muddy and appropriate footwear should be worn.


This newsleter was published with funding from the Environmental Proection Agency's Chesapeak Bay Small Watershed Grant Program, administered ny the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Eyes of Paint Branch Officers

Bob Ferraro

Action Chair/Watershed Watch
David Dunmire

Martha Lanigan

Lewis Koslosky

Newsletter Editor
Roseanne Price

Designed and produced by
Andrew Dunmire

Copyright 2001. All rights reserved Eyes of Paint Branch