Jim Long loved Mattawoman Creek from the moment he set eyes on it. "The freshwater tidal marshes are just bursting with life," he says. As Long describes, southern Maryland's Mattawoman Creek is known for its abundance of wildlife, including 28 species of plants and animals that are considered rare, threatened, or endangered. State scientists have singled it out for its pristine condition, describing it as "What a restored Chesapeake Bay would look like."
This summer, Long, CBF, and a coalition of community advocates scored a major victory for Mattawoman Creek when the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of a smart future growth plan. Environmentally friendly growth offers hope for Mattawoman and the county's other natural resources—the future of which had been called into question.
The battle over the county's wild places stretches back over a decade. When Charles County moved ahead with plans to plow a four-lane highway through the creek in the mid-2000s, the community banded together. The project would have destroyed the fragile waterway and set the stage for sprawling development that would have drastically changed the rural character of the county forever. CBF pitched in to help organize residents and promote a more sustainable vision for growth. "CBF was a charter member and one of the pistons that started the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County. That organization was instrumental in herding all of the organizations and performing very admirable public outreach with postcards, mailings, and social media. And with CBF's leadership, it also uncovered important facts about the highway's adverse effects," says Long.
Those efforts paid off: State and federal agencies denied key permits and the county scrapped plans for the highway. As the county assembled its future growth plan, the alliance of advocates evaluated proposed policies, met with decision makers and filled the room at public hearings. CBF's partner, 1,000 Friends of Maryland, coordinated the campaign, and CBF mobilized its members, provided resources, and contributed technical expertise. "It was just incredible persistence on the part of many people," says Long.
Adopted in July 2016, the county's new future growth plan is a critical step toward protecting treasured Mattawoman Creek and directing development to areas with existing infrastructure. By limiting the amount of paved surface, the plan will prevent tens of thousands of pounds of pollution from fouling local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. The plan also establishes a new 30,000-acre Watershed Conservation District to protect the Mattawoman Creek watershed and nearby waterways.
Work remains to ensure Mattawoman Creek is protected, including a lengthy rezoning process. However, the success of these advocates gives one of the most pristine and productive tributaries in the Bay a chance to stay that way. "There aren't a lot of examples of citizens and local leaders successfully standing up to the development lobby and putting plans in place that could ultimately save a river," says Erik Fisher, CBF Maryland Land Use Planner, who worked with Charles County advocates for many years. "If the county sticks with it, the results will be far-reaching for future generations."
Photo Credits: 1. Jennifer Herzog/CBF Staff, 2. Michael Holmes, , 3. Jay Fleming.