Burying trees and building walls. These are the types of solutions that could save the Rocks.
As unlikely as those options may seem, a combination of forcibly sinking big-rooted trees deep into the streambank and erecting natural stone walls in strategic spots along the shoreline could be enough to stabilize the eroding banks of Deer Creek without the need to blast, cut, carve, or otherwise disturb the historic and culturally significant outcroppings that line Route 24 through Rocks State Park.
Following a night of workshopping potential slope stabilization, erosion control, and stormwater management techniques, a group of Rocks stakeholders agreed in principle Wednesday night to pursue a combination of proven solutions that would have the least amount of impact on the environment.
Led by a coach employed by the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, about 22 individuals from the Maryland State Highway Administration, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Natural Resources, Harford County Council, and Maryland General Assembly, along with Rocks area residents, divided into groups Wednesday evening at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air to discuss streambank stabilization techniques that had been presented about a month ago by state and federal agencies.
The group, known as the MD 24 Advisory Committee, was established about four months ago to bring together members of the community with state officials following community opposition to the SHA plan to blast rocks along MD 24 in Rocks State Park as part of a plan to move the road as much as 20 feet into the hillside, and away from the stream.
Members of the citizens group Save The Rocks, who led the effort to oppose the SHA plan that has attracted more than 9,000 fans on a Facebook site, led the three separate discussion groups. Each group was given ground rules and a set of large aerial photos and maps of two sections of MD 24 that were slated for work that had been scheduled to begin earlier this spring.
Deborah Bowers, one of the Save The Rocks leaders, led a group that included Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, several SHA employees, a DNR regional park manager, and community member Todd Holden. SHA officials moved among the three groups to answer questions.
Bowers first focused on the SHA-designated Section A, which is a 2,900-foot length of road between the bridge that carries MD 24 over Deer Creek and the park’s Rapids Area Parking Lot. Bowers said she believed the section should be divided into smaller sections and that it was possible that more than one technique could be used. She said she favored a method called root wad revetment, which uses natural materials including logs with roots attached and boulders to build up the streambank. She also said she and members of Save The Rocks had discovered 19th-century stone retaining walls along the creek that had been built as part of railroad and highway construction, and showed a photo of one of those walls. She said she would like to see SHA consider constructing such walls in small sections where the streambank is too narrow for other techniques. Bowers also said that some sections the SHA had designated for treatment should be considered for a “no-build option.”
Lisanti said she would like SHA to study the possible use of the technique called floodplain adjustment, which involves cutting away the other side the stream to alleviate pressure along the roadway side. Bowers said she would not favor the use of that technique in Section A because it would affect Rocks Station Road and Gladden Branch. The group however agreed that the technique could be examined for Section A, with Bowers’ concerns addressed, and for Section G, which is immediately south of the park’s south boundary. That section of streambank would affect private property.
Save The Rocks member Brian Goodman (led a group that included Del. Wayne Norman, Sen. Barry Glassman, a few interested citizens, and representatives from SHA and DNR. This group desired to protect the rock outcroppings, nearly at all costs – even if it meant disturbing Deer Creek.
Norman, who sits on the Environmental Matters Committee in the Maryland General Assembly, said he was a “history buff” and wanted to pick whatever options limited disturbance of the rocks on the west side of the creek.
After quickly coming to a consensus on the root wad revetment and imbricated stone wall methods of streambank stabilization, which would mimic the fallen trees and old, natural stone walls already in existence along Deer Creek, Goodman’s group had trouble discerning the most preferable of the drainage improvement techniques. Either an open channel or closed system is needed to collect standing water off MD 24 and pipe it into Deer Creek, but each has drawbacks. An open channel is basically a grassy ditch, yet would require the rocky outcrops be carved away to accommodate the depression. A closed system doesn’t need as much room, but does require a concrete or asphalt gutter along the roadway. Neither seem ideal for Rocks State Park. An outside-the-box idea came from Glassman, who pointed to the drainage systems of large bridges and suggested some type of in-road, grated drain be used to collect water from the roadway itself, which would eliminate the need to cut away at rock or encroach on the creek to fit in a stormwater management on the side of the road.
Deborah Coomes, also a member of Save the Rocks, headed a group consisting of Councilman Chad Shrodes and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Harford County government.
Coomes’ group floated the idea of a “no-build” option, which SHA would simply keep up with its current maintenance on MD 24 without any improvements implemented. Her group also called for a full hydrologic and hydraulic study and analysis into the causes of the erosion (ice, scouring, foot traffic, upstream development).
Following the work session the three groups presented their ideas to the whole committee. Root wad revetment and stone walls, referred to as imbricated stone, were discussed. All three groups agreed that certain techniques including rock riprap, in which loose and irregular stone is dumped along the streambank, should not be used because it creates an unnatural appearance. The technique has been used extensively due to its low cost and easy application.
During the next month, the preferred stabilization and drainage solutions will be studied and considered by SHA engineers to determine which are feasible. The group will meet again in mid-June, at which time the SHA will present the results of the hydrologic and hydraulic study and its examination of the techniques favored during the work session.
Deborah Bowers contributed to this article.