Broad Branch stream daylighting project wraps up

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Interested community members tour the daylighted stream near Broad Branch Road and Linnean Avenue NW. (Grace Bird/The Current/July 2017)

Unencumbered by much in the way of regulations, early-20th-century developers buried scores of D.C. waterways beneath office blocks and apartment buildings. Although the adjacent land wasn’t developed, a stream in the vicinity of Broad Branch Road NW in Chevy Chase was one such casualty — hiding for decades in a pipe buried under layers of dirt and grass.

The unnamed stream that feeds into Broad Branch made its last appearance on a map in 1917 until it was uncovered in a $2.2 million “daylighting” project commissioned by the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment. The basic work of bringing the stream to the surface wrapped up in 2015, but the project wasn’t quite finished. The area around the intersection of Broad Branch Road and Linnean Avenue NW was infested with invasive plants and lacked amenities like trash cans and picnic tables.

Katrina Weinig, who had purchased a Chevy Chase home in 2014 partially due to her affection for the nearby stream, took it upon herself to finish what the agency had started.

“It is so lucky to have a 12-acre space in a city,” Weinig told The Current. “It immediately grabbed me.”

Weinig enlisted ecologically focused landscape designer Darlene Robbins and Rock Creek Conservancy program manager John Maleri to help restore and beautify the stream and its surroundings. A healthy stream, Weinig said, could serve as a home for animals as well as a refuge for residents.

“[The city] did a wonderful job doing the actual stream reconstruction,” Robbins told The Current. “But they mainly worked on the stream. So there was an opportunity to expand that work into the surrounding area and to turn it into more of a community amenity.”

The team received a $19,650 “innovation grant” from the environment department in May 2016. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F (Forest Hills, North Cleveland Park, Van Ness) added $3,000 to that amount, to pay for a summer intern to help maintain the site. Casey Trees, a D.C.-based nonprofit, donated 100 trees to the project, a gift Weinig valued at $45,000.

After an October kickoff with pizza, a site tour and an appearance by Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, the team got to work. Across two days in November 2016 and April 2017, volunteers planted more than 150 native flowering perennials, grasses, sedges and ferns, all approved by the National Park Service.

Through the efforts of Weinig and her collaborators, a host of amenities were installed on-site — including an entryway along Linnean Avenue framed by boulders and plant beds, pet waste stations, walking trails, picnic tables and a circular tree stump seating area built by a Boy Scout troop.

A city project restored this tributary to Broad Branch stream. (Grace Bird/The Current/July 2017)

However, a number of recurring issues pose a constant threat to the site’s sustainability. Deer, invasive plants, new development, sewerage overflows and native tree seeds encroaching on open land are obstacles that require constant attention, according to Robbins.

“It’s the challenge for any of these kinds of projects,” Robbins said. “But if you don’t have maintenance as part of it, it’s going to struggle and certainly not meet its full potential.”

When the team’s second grant application was rejected this year, Weinig and Robbins’ efforts ground to a halt. However, while funding has dried up, Robbins is hopeful that “ready made” community groups, like churches and schools, will continue tending to the stream.

“It’s not just up to any individual or the government to maintain,” Robbins said. “It would be really nice if the community is invested enough in the site to keep it up.”

Going forward, the Rock Creek Conservancy plans to visit the site “every two to three months,” according to Maleri. The conservancy also hosts volunteer groups, including offices, schools and churches. Real estate company Middleburg spent a Friday morning plucking weeds and clearing trash from the park.

Additionally, site tours are readily available for any interested residents. Steve Saari, restoration branch chief at the Department of Energy & Environment, has worked on the site for many years and is “always willing” to show residents around, he said in an interview. Saari held a public tour July 21 that drew a handful of people despite steamy weather.

Founding conservancy board member Steve Dryden was invested in the project from its conception, and while he is proud of the newly recovered stream, he isn’t satisfied yet. Next, he hopes to convince the D.C. Department of Transportation to “finally” repair run-down bridges in the area.

“You nag endlessly about it but nothing gets done,” Dryden told The Current. “It’s not a very visible part of the park, so people kind of ignore it. It’s embarrassing.”