Little Tonoloway streambank work near midpoint at Kirkwood Park

by Kate Shunney

A streambank restoration project at Kirkwood Park in Hancock is part of an effort by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration to reduce sediment and nutrients in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

The work on stabilizing the banks and adjusting the water channel of Little Tonoloway Creek is being done by Pennsylvania contractor Meadville Land Services, Inc. and has reached nearly the midway point, state officials said last week.

Ryan Cole, Assistant Division Chief of the Water Programs Division in the Office of Environmental Design, told The Hancock News the $1.8 million project is 40 percent complete.

Orange fencing sections off areas of Little Tonoloway Creek at Kirkwood Park that are part of a state streambank restoration project. Wooden planks around tree trunks protect them from damage.

Roughly 2,000 feet of Little Tonoloway Creek are included in the project, which aims to keep streambanks stable along the waterway. Erosion from banks collapsing or being washed away puts more dirt and rocks in the creek, and eventually into the Potomac River. The creek itself was classified as an impaired waterway several years ago, due to high levels of sediment and water quality issues.

Cole said the Hancock project is part of the State Highway Administration’s program that offsets new paving projects in other parts of the region.

“This is a little different than the restoration we usually do,” he said. Normally, the program would restore streams that had been damaged or negatively affected by roadway construction. That’s not the case at Kirkwood Park. Instead, the local project lets the State Highway Administration reduce their overall impact in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Cole said the SHA was looking for projects to make a positive impact in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Washington County Division of Environmental Management put SHA officials in touch with Town Manager David Smith, who took them on a tour of possible projects in the Hancock area. Little Tonoloway Creek fit the bill.

“We jumped at this opportunity,” said Cole.

The SHA drew up an agreement with Hancock officials, got a restoration plan designed and put the job out for contractor bids in December 2017, with bids opened in January 2018.

Meadville started work last year, but heavy rains kept creek levels too high for some of the water pumping required to clear construction areas.

Work is expected to continue into this coming fall.

Cole said Meadville will likely have to suspend construction from March 1 through June 15. Little Tonoloway’s stream classification means no work can disrupt the waterway during the spawning periods for local fish species.

The project’s goals are to stabilize eroding stream banks, improve the floodplain for more frequent storms, improve the streambank buffer with tree and shrub plantings, and create better habitat for aquatic life, said state officials.

“The general plan or pattern of the stream will remain the same,” Cole said. “They will reconfigure the channel a little to improve fish habitat.”

Those changes will include making “resting areas” where water slows down. Those provide pools for bugs and invertebrate stream creatures to grow.

Highway official

Charlie Gishlar said stream banks have eroded because the creek is moving too fast in many places. Contractors will add “revetments” – rock or wood features in the stream to slow down or absorb the impact of water movement.

Slowing the creek water down will help reduce lateral erosion – where the creek banks fall in at the sides – and improve fish habitat.

Cole said visitors to Kirkwood Park will see lots of heavy equipment as work continues this summer. Contractors are using pumps to redirect creek water out of areas they are redesigning. The work area extends from the bridge over Little Tonoloway around the ends of the Little League fields and to the edge of the park woods.