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Shoreline restorationBy Mary Maushard

The shoreline along the Severn River will be lush with native grasses, welcoming to small fish and able to withstand waves that could erode it. When completed, the “living shoreline” at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville will also be a model for shoreline protection.

Arlington Echo is the Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ 24-acre environmental education center in Millersville. Its three-year shoreline renewal project developed into a collaboration of the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA), the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

A living shoreline, sometimes called a soft shoreline, is an alternative method of preventing and correcting shoreline erosion using environmentally friendly engineering methods to create areas where marsh grasses can grow and aquatic creatures thrive.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust kicked off the project by awarding AACPS grants for design and construction. MES was engaged for the construction, but after initial cost estimates, the project proved more costly than the available funds.

AACPS was able to contribute some funds toward the project, but they were not enough. With the help of MES, the center contacted MDOT MPA, recognizing that it could be a good partner to help complete the project. In exchange, MDOT MPA will receive stormwater “credits” to help meet its environmental goals. This was a great partnership that made this project come to fruition, said Melanie Parker, Coordinator of Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education for AACPS.

“Because of the support of all our partners, the Severn River has more than 400 feet of restored shoreline that will provide habitat, reduce erosion and serve as a learning opportunity for the community and our students,“ said Parker.

The living shoreline consists of a sill constructed of small stones approximately 30 feet off the existing shoreline. The area between this sill and the shoreline was filled with sand, creating a “marsh,” explained Lawrence Walsh, Senior Engineer for MES. Small openings in the sill allow small fish and other marine organisms to move in and out of the shoreline.

“The top of the stone sill is at the estimated mean high-water level and the bottom of the marsh area is at the estimated mean low-water level. As the tide changes, the marsh fluctuates between dry and fully inundated.” At least 5,000 plants of grasses native to Maryland and the Mid Atlantic are being planted to complete the marsh, Walsh said.

“This was a great opportunity for MDOT MPA to work together with Arlington Echo in Anne Arundel County to help establish a living shoreline,” said Bill Richardson, General Manager of MDOT MPA’s office of Safety, Environment and Risk Management, “and it’s even better that it can serve as a living classroom for the students who visit.”

Some of this summer’s campers at the education center helped plant the new shoreline, putting the small plants in the watery sand, as part of their camp experience, said Parker, who manages Arlington Echo. The county’s fourth-graders will complete the planting this fall.

As the county’s environmental education center, Arlington Echo hosts more than 8,000 students a year, including all of the county’s fourth-graders, who spend a day or an overnight as part of their curriculum, Parker said. The center is the main site for the AACPS Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Office, which conducts environmental programs at other sites for more than 25,000 students a year and provides curriculum for all county students in grades K-12.