University of Maryland Extension

A Community Reclaims Its Waterfront Heritage

Wetland grasses next to river
A newly constructed wetland was once a patch of turf grass at Choptank River Park. Where stormwater once flowed directly into the river, now it has a chance to filter through the wetlands, which trap excess nutrients before they pollute water downstream.
Image Credit: 
Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

For years, the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Company hosted the town’s annual carnival at a waterfront park along a bend in the Choptank River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The venue, located at the town’s picturesque gateway, was the perfect place for the town of Greensboro, Md., to celebrate its longstanding community, history and riverfront heritage.

However, years of heavy foot and vehicle traffic took its toll on the park. With sparse vegetation and densely compacted soil, the park experienced frequent flooding and provided an opportunity for stormwater runoff to flow freely into the Choptank River. In 2015, the flooding grew so extreme that the fire company was forced to relocate the carnival, seeking out higher ground.

Greensboro’s waterfront park became neglected, reduced to a barren, flood-prone lot at the entrance to town.

“For a long time, the park was a really beloved gathering point for the community,” said Leslie Grunden, assistant director of planning with Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes. “Everyone who has grown up [in Greensboro] for generations has memories of hanging out with their friends and families at that park—fishing, going to concerts, just being together.”

So, when Grunden began drafting an implementation plan for an extensive green infrastructure project in the park, she knew that it would be about more than just protecting a waterway; it would help preserve the identity of the community.

A green solution to community problems

The Choptank River Park project was the result of a partnership between the Town of Greensboro, Caroline County and the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, with funding provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The goal of the project, which began in 2017, was to enhance community access to the water and decrease stormwater runoff from the park to improve water quality in the Choptank River and Chesapeake Bay.

Grunden began the planning process by setting up meetings with the town’s residents, business owners and commissioners to discuss the community’s needs. “We weren’t interested in going into a community and implementing a project that didn’t directly improve the lives of the people living across the street,” said Grunden.

Grunden worked alongside Eric Buehl, watershed restoration specialist with the Mid and Upper Eastern Shore University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, and David Kibler, director of the Greensboro Public Works Department. Together, the team brainstormed stormwater management practices that would not only improve water quality in the Choptank, but also beautify the park and revitalize the community’s connection to its waterway.

In the end, the team settled on a mixed bag of green installations, each strategically placed throughout the park to maximize use of the space and showcase a wide variety of stormwater best management practices.

Today, lush meadows of native grasses and wildflowers line the perimeter of the park, absorbing excess rainwater and trapping pollutants before they can enter the waterway. Native trees planted throughout the park help hold sediment in place, while providing much-needed shade to park visitors during the town’s witheringly hot summer months.

A constructed wetland serves as an additional buffer between the land and the river, significantly slowing down the deluge of floodwater while providing valuable habitat for local wildlife. The team also installed two submerged gravel wetlands, a natural underground water-filtering system that effectively traps pollutants before they can make their way into the river.

Going beyond green benefits

In addition to meeting its environmental and water quality goals, the project has gone a long way towards enhancing community access to the Choptank River.

“There’s a shrinking number of water access points in the area and Greensboro is one of the few areas where there is substantial potential for public access to the Choptank River in Caroline County,” said Grunden. “We want the community to have meaningful contact with the Choptank; people have a right to their waterway.”

Indeed, research shows that access to a public green space has been linked to increased physical activity, psychological well-being and a positive sense of community. To help encourage community members to get out on the water, the planning teams installed a boat launch in the park. The team also installed reinforced turf pavers in the parking lot, a permeable surface designed to allow water to infiltrate and withstand the park’s increased vehicle traffic.

Additionally, the park offers an educational focus. Interpretive signage installed throughout the park provides background information on native grasses, trees and plants that community members can plant in their own backyard. The planning team also hopes that by demonstrating such a wide variety of stormwater management practices in the park, homeowners will be inspired to install their own.

The green enhancements have had a strong economic impact on Greensboro. By investing in a sustainable green space, the town has lowered maintenance costs with a reduced need for mowing and weeding. Additionally, by mitigating flooding from the Choptank, the town has reduced water damage to private property throughout the town.

“That’s why the Choptank River Park project was so exciting to us,” said Grunden. “For every dollar spent, there was a real value for the community in creating a beautiful and welcoming public space.”

A vision for the future

Today, the town of Greensboro has reclaimed its identity as a proud, waterfront community. Its park—once a browning, derelict lot of compacted soil—is now a thoughtfully orchestrated community gathering space, lush with native plants and greenery. The park now hosts soccer games, picnics and community concerts, as well as an annual kids’ fishing derby.

Despite the large steps already taken, the work in Greensboro is far from over. Grunden says that creating a greener, more accessible park is just the first step in a long-term, three-phase restoration plan in Greensboro. In the future, the team looks forward to constructing navigable hiking paths through restored wetland habitat and installing 800 feet of living shoreline to defend against erosion.

“This project has been a great example of how improving water quality can also be a way of investing in the lives of people who live in a community,” said Grunden. “Greensboro is a special place, and we’re really proud of the work we’ve been able to do there.”

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