Once a month over twelve years, a fleet of environmental protectors have fanned out along Little Falls Parkway between River Road and Massachusetts Avenue, plastic bags in hand. Weaving between the creek and the parkway, volunteers exceeding 1,700 in number have worked to clear the creek and parkway of trash--39,000 pounds of trash!--left to hamper the creek’s natural growth and beauty.
These, and other similar clean-ups around the watershed, are hosted by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA), a local non-profit organization started in 2008 by a group of concerned neighbors and nature-lovers. LFWA’s structure was driven by the interests of the founders. Richard Yates had a personal mission to reduce trash in the area; Lynnwood Andrews was busy removing invasive weeds from the park; Sarah Morse was interested in stormwater management and the effect that too much rainwater was having on the creek; Dan Dozier wanted to be involved in advocacy, holding developers accountable to the strictest environmental standards; and Suzanne Richman wanted to make sure that the parks and natural areas had concerned citizens looking out for them.
The work of LFWA has evolved to focus on four principal areas: trash, invasive plants and habitat restoration, stormwater, and advocacy. Their weekend events have expanded to twice-annual “whole watershed” clean-ups in the fall and spring. In addition, LFWA helped work on the Montgomery County plastic bag tax and testified at the County Council hearings in favor of the bill.
They host community workdays to remove invasive plants from park land with five supervisors who are authorized by the Montgomery Parks Weed Warrior Program. They have also restored and planted three meadows--one in Norwood Park, one by Westbrook Elementary School and one in Green Acres.
One of the early focuses of LFWA was to label storm drains to remind people that everything that goes down the drain ends up in the creeks. Over the past twelve years, they have labeled 2,000 drains in Maryland and DC. Recently, LFWA has also been working with homeowners’ associations to do stormwater management. They have received grants to do projects in Overlook in Bethesda, and Sumner Village.
The LFWA board is most proud of their work to support Montgomery Parks in their vision to create a new stream valley park for the Willett Branch. The concrete-lined creek will be replaced by a natural stream bed, and the park will run through the Westbard area, creating a ribbon of green in an area that is almost entirely buildings and parking lots. They have been working on this project since 2015 and are happy to report that Montgomery County has acquired the first parcels of land for the park. Sarah Morse, LFWA’s executive director, recently testified in Annapolis in support of a bond for the park, and Montgomery Parks received $350,000 from the State of Maryland to fund the effort.
Finally, LFWA also has a stream monitoring team, a salt monitoring team, and they host a fun family workshop hunting for critters in the creek. Morse tells us, “We are really proud of our stewardship. Never before has it been so important.”
Many of LFWA’s annual activities have been put on hold due to the current pandemic, but one upside is that people have the time to get outside and enjoy our area. Little Falls Parkway has been bustling with bikers, walkers and runners, and more people are spending time in nature. Not to mention, LFWA’s weed warriors continue to pull the non-native, invasive Garlic Mustard--each with 5,000 seeds. They’ve pulled over 700 pounds so far this year.