Maryland Town is turning the flood zone into a tourist attraction

Carroll Creek passes through the heart of Frederick, Md. (Photos by David Kidd)

The flood-prone Carroll Creek flows into Frederick (Md.) Toward the Monocacy River, which flows into the Potomac River. Fifty years ago, a huge storm left the streets of the historic city several meters under water. When it was repeated only four years later, officials began looking for a solution.

An early proposal was built around an open cement trough that would cut through the city. It would have solved the problem of flooding, but it would also have left a nasty scar in the city, which was dominated by federal and Greek rebirth in the early 19th century, primarily of brick. The plan finally adopted was much more ambitious: rainwater was moved underground through two pairs of concrete pipes more than a mile long, each large enough to drive through a bus. The pipelines together can hold up to 5.7 million cubic feet of water. Embankments, flood walls and four pumping stations are also part of the system.

Above and between the pairs of pipes, a shallow 40-foot-wide canal serves a new version of Carroll Creek, lined with wide brick roads, landscaping, fountains, several pedestrian bridges and a 350-seat amphitheater. Construction of the $ 60 million flood protection project began in 1985 and lasted eight years. The $ 15 million linear park at the top of the underground pipelines was dedicated in the summer of 2006, 28 years ago in the 1970s.


As the flood is no longer threatened, more than 400 buildings in the area have been declared flood-free, prompting millions of dollars in private investment. The once declining industrial area has been transformed into an office, retail, residential and community gathering space as well as a major tourist attraction, with a central element in Carroll Creek Linear Park. However, despite the time and money spent on the public works project, it took an army of volunteers to make the park and its surroundings as successful as it was.

Unexpected circumstance

While the water moved as intended under the wide sidewalks of the new park, the ornamental canal above was an unforeseen problem. The low flow rate, shallow depth, and abundance of nutrients from the upstream flow resulted in a stream full of algae blooms and unpleasant odors. The problem persisted for years, despite repeated attempts by the city to purify the water.Dr. Peter Kremers, a member of the local Men’s Garden Club, has been an avid water gardener for some time, building a garden pond next to his home. “I kept reading in the newspaper about all the problems with algae,” he says. “I was wondering why we’re not making this a water garden?”

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Volunteers prepare the creek for another season.

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An experienced water gardener, Pete Kremers, came up with the idea to fill the creek with vegetation.

In 2012, he visited the city with the idea of ​​a floating canopy that would block out the sunlight needed to grow algae. After Kremers was allowed to continue, he and his friend Lisa Collins placed 20 potted aquatic plants in the stream as an experiment.

“They spent $ 300,000 on all sorts of nonsense to try to curb algae growth, but to no avail,” Kremers explains. “I don’t think they really thought so [my idea] would work. But at least we tried something. ”

“No one wanted to be here because it was rude,” Lisa says.

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Tropical plants are kept in a local greenhouse until the stream reaches the right temperature.

The experiment was successful. That fall, “Color on the Creek” was formed as a non-profit organization tasked with beautifying the creek while getting rid of algae. The next step was scaling, replacing the slag blocks used to support the experimental plants. Kremers designed metal racks that were strong enough to hold pots and could be easily moved in a rocky bed dotted with rocks. “Most plant materials are depth-sensitive,” he says. “Some plants need three inches. Other things want to be two feet lower. The following spring, with the help of the Garden Club and the Frederick Rotary Club, more than 1,000 plants were established in 380 herds along the creek. Last summer, there were more than 5,000 plants in 450 containers that covered 30,000 square feet of water and stretched for more than a quarter of a mile.

After three years, testing by students at a local college has shown that the water garden is effective in reducing the number of algae. “Visually, that was pretty obvious,” Peter says.

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Color on the Creek was a blessing in Frederick’s tourism.

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In order to maintain the appearance, the plants need to be cared for from time to time during the summer months.

All aspects of Color on the Creek’s operations are done by volunteers and paid for by donations. Days dedicated to spring cleaning and planting will find 60 or more volunteers at the creek. During the year, usually 250 people come out to help, many of them teenagers. “I’m one of the youngest guys in the garden club,” Peter says. “Most of them just can’t do the physical things. So it’s great to see the kids out there. ”

“Once the plants start in the summer, there’s not much to do,” Lisa says. “There are some guys who get in and pick up the trash, cut off the dead things, and they’re beautiful. But once you get in and go, it’s not that bad. ”

Setting up a sail on the creek

The plants continue to bloom on Carroll Creek until mid-October, when water temperatures reach 65 degrees. Since there were no flowers on the canal, Kremers saw that something else was needed to draw attention to the park during the colder months of the year. In 2016, he applied for permission to launch an ornate boat in hopes of attracting visitors. City lawyers initially rejected the proposal, but soon put up with it. Kremers built a boat in his garage with the help of a set-making friend. “We stayed up every night until two in the morning and we built the first ship in two weeks,” he says. They named their work Astronomer.

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Armed with cranes and forklifts, an army of volunteers launch boats into the water one Saturday in November.

Astronomer it stirred a great storm. A day later, it overturned due to too strong winds and little ballast. “So we learned how to keep them straight,” Peter says. – And how to prevent water from getting through the hull and the top. They’re out for three months. No sane sailor will be released in November, the worst of the winter. ”

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A 17th-century Swedish warship is released into the creek.

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It weighs 1,000 pounds. and 23 feet long, the Black Pearl appears for the second time on the creek.

The following year, six more ships joined Astronomer. Since then, new ships have been added to the armada every year. This winter, at least two dozen scaled-down boats will anchor on the park’s waterways, including a three-masted schooner, a frigate, a tugboat, an aircraft carrier, a pirate boat, and a buckthorn rowing boat. The flotilla attracts crowds, especially at night when their lights come on. Carroll Creek’s eclectic ship collection is known today as “Sailing Through the Winter Solstice” and attracts crowds to downtown Frederick even in the worst of times.

Before the boats leave in March, we encourage everyone to vote for their favorite boat online. Each vote costs one dollar and the money raised will go to a charity designated by the ship’s sponsor. “You can vote as many times as you want, for your favorite boat, your favorite charity,” says Lisa Collins. “I think we raised about $ 50,000 last year.”

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The sequential lights of the USS Andrew Lee simulate an impeller swirling in water.

A month later, the volunteers are back in the water, straightening up the crop flown by the boats, and getting ready for another summer at Color on the Creek. “The happiest thing for me in this whole project was how willing people were to perform and have fun,” Peter says. “When I ask someone for help, he says yes in 90 percent of the time.” Aside from a brief legal opposition to putting the boats in the creek, the city was a willing partner for Color on the Creek. “It’s not that they just got out of the way,” he says. “They’re actually very helpful. They give us a lot of support. ”

Frederick has benefited in many ways from the efforts of Dr. Kremers and his team of volunteers, not just beautifying the latest park. “People come into town, we always see. I would be in the water. I’ve talked to people and a lot of people come to see the boats or the lily garden. Then they shop and eat at restaurants. ”

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The design of Starry Night was inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

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A parade of eclectic and electric boats attracts visitors day and night to Carroll Creek Park.

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