June 23, 2022

Howard County Extension’s Watershed Stewardship Academy (HoCo WSA) and the Community Ecosystem Institute (CEI) have been awarded a prestigious Cornerstone Award at the recent University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) annual awards ceremony in College Park, Md. recognizing the Freetown Walkable Watershed project for its achievements in Optimizing Urban Environments.

The nonprofit Community Ecology Institute (CEI), purchased the last working farm in the city of Columbia, Md. in 2019 to protect it from development and create a Community Ecology Center. This 6.4 acre organic Freetown farm is located in a historic African-American community and is less than a quarter of a mile from the Middle Patuxent River. Freetown Farm includes a variety of ecosystems, including fields, meadows, woods, wetlands, and two small streams.

Stormwater from neighboring Atholton High School flows onto the farm creating flooding and erosion for the farm and residential neighbors. In 2020 upon assessing the community at the request of CEI, University of Maryland Extension's Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA) documented CEI and Atholton High School to be in a unique position to support the health of the Middle Patuxent watershed through treatment of a significant volume of stormwater runoff, as well as model how homeowners and commercial properties can address stormwater issues in a socio-ecologically beneficial manner.

Through the Freetown Walkable Watershed initiative, WSA and CEI came to recognize the opportunity to advance watershed restoration goals and improve local stewardship by implementing this community-driven watershed planning effort. The project would bring key stakeholders together to identify near-term green infrastructure improvements and build capacity to implement green infrastructure projects to improve water quality in the Middle Patuxent River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

For more information about the award or the Freetown Walkable Watershed, please contact Terry Mathews, Howard County Extension at trmatt@umd.edu.  For more information about University of Extension environmental, natural resources and Sea Grant programs, please contact Bill Hubbard at whubbard@umd.edu.