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Ellicott City - Soak It Up – Part 1 - By, Lori Lilly

posted May 26, 2019, 8:15 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated May 28, 2019, 6:22 AM ]
On 5/18/2019, EcoWorks and friends descended on St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to hold EcoWorks’ first public event, the Ellicott City Soak It Up Community Gathering.  I had been planning the event for what seemed like forever and was nervous and stressed as all get out.  The goals were: 1) To educate as many people as possible about watersheds, stormwater, Ellicott City flooding and Soak It Up solutions; 2) to showcase an innovative solution to environmental problems – biochar; and 3) to bring the community together in a positive way to celebrate the watershed because, frankly, it has been a really rough year. 

The May 27, 2018 flood was devastating not just to infrastructure, business, economy and livelihoods, but to overall morale and unity – the proposed flood mitigation options that were to come tore the community apart with divisiveness.  My personal experiences working in the watershed span multiple capacities as a professional and volunteer since prior to the 2011 flood.  As the Executive Director of Howard EcoWorks, we remain non-partisan and apolitical on the larger flood mitigation planning; our focus is on doing anything that we can to support both the County and the community in proactive solutions that includes debris management, community outreach and education and small-scale in-ground projects to encourage the folks in the hills to slow it down, spread it out and sink it in…hence, our event.

This blog is lengthy, and it may end up in multiple parts by the time I am done (it has!); my intent is to share the story of our event – which is mixed with the story of Ellicott City as I know it since 2009, the community, and the personal connections and friendships that I have made over the years…mixed with my technical and professional study of the watershed that have morphed and evolved, and I’m sure will continue to do so.   Inter-mixed with this blog will be hyperlinks to resources and further information that you may be interested in checking out at your leisure.

So the initial photos included in this blog come from Pam Long Photography.  Pam is…frankly, incredible…even just a meager attempt at trying to sum up her contributions to the town, particularly through flood recovery, leave me rather speechless.  She is THERE for new business openings, older business re-opening, documenting, always smiling, a voice of reason and hope.  I know I am not the only one ever grateful for Pam Long.  All of Pam's photos can be viewed on the EcoWorks facebook page for this event.

…we lit the biochar fire prior to the start of the event so that it would be going when the event started.  This was our fifth Burn and probably our greatest success with starting the fire because we learned at Burn #4 that old Christmas trees really go up in flames fast, and that’s no joke!  When I say “we” here, I’m referring to myself, my husband Dave, my Ellicott City friends, Dave’s family, and Paul Sturm and his Ridge to Reefs staff.  Paul is the one that really turned me on to the benefits of biochar (more to come later) and producing small amounts on our own was really appealing.  I personally invested in a kiln last fall – it was made by Bill Knapp in Ellicott City from a design that Paul and his employee Phal Mantha had directed me to that is available online HERE.  Having backyard burns and beers has been a great deal of fun and burn #4 is when bagpipes were introduced.  Wendy Baird, a friend and owner of Insight 180, has a partner Jared Denhard, who brought his bagpipes to our Burn – at our party, he processed up our driveway followed by Dave’s cousin Neal (carrying a ham) and joined by Neal’s two kids, Livy and Hendrix.  It was memorable, to say the least…and led to Jared with his bagpipes opening our event. 

After Jared’s procession, I welcomed the crowd of 80+ people…addressing large groups is not my specialty.  I have gotten much better with presentations in general in something like a lecture format, but I am unfortunately too much of a recluse to ever really be a charismatic speaker 😊

I asked Anjel Scarborough, priest in charge at St. Peter’s Episcopal, to say a few words, which she graciously did.  St Peter’s was the base of emergency recovery operations after both the 2016 and 2018 floods and has since opened their doors countless times with every heavy rain.  To say that St. Peter’s is an asset to the community is an under-statement, the church is an integral part like no other.  Which is why Beth Woodruff, community leader extraordinaire, then presented Anjel with a beautiful plaque and booklet with 56 pages of thanks from members of the community.  

The Educational Part

After the opening ceremony, began the series of watershed tours, biochar briefs, streaming flood videos and interaction with the tables at the event.  Let’s start with the tours.

The Tours

I learned an incredible thing from community member Frank Durantaye, long time resident and outspoken advocate for retention, and that was the value of taking people on tours of the streams and watershed.  Frank invited our elected leaders and those in office out for tours and included me along to help with the technical pieces.  Our first tours were with Jon Weinstein and Allan Kittleman, who both were running for office at the time and Delegate Bob Flanagan.  We also brought out County staff like Jim Caldwell and County Council representatives, such as Terry Chaconas from Courtney Watson’s then District 1 office.  Frank brought walking sticks and flashlights and away we went into the stream channel.  Since that time, I have brought countless numbers of folks on tours, including past and present elected officials - Calvin Ball, Jen Terassa, Christiana Rigby, Courtney Watson, David Yungmann and Opel Jones - and groups/organization representatives.  I don’t make everyone walk in the stream like Frank did, but the tour has been turning into a 3 hour driving and walking adventure and, many times, I have been accompanied by some stalwart companions, notably Ron Peters and Dave Myers, my colleagues and friends from the Flood Workgroup and Angie Tersiguel, my colleague and friend from the Community Advisory Group.

So with the tours, again, the goal is education- education through seeing up-close, seeing through a different lens.  There are so many things to talk about, and I realized how much we could talk about within a pretty short walking distance of St. Peter’s; I arranged for three different tours with separate themes – 1) a review of the flood mitigation options from community member perspective, 2) assessment of flood mitigation and historic preservation from professional perspectives in each respective field, and 3) review of solutions that every homeowner can take to mitigate runoff problems.  It was a bit difficult for me to give the tour leader role away but I thought I needed to remain at the event, and of course it was a good call because the appointed fearless leaders did great 😊  Not being on the tours themselves, but having assisgned the leaders, determined their routes and assisted with talking points for each group, here is a summary of what, I believe, happened on each of the tours that educated more than 50 people in 45 minute time slots...


Stay tuned for Part 2 about The Tours!