Fewer Plastic Bags and Styrofoam Pieces, Hurray!  Green Towson Alliance helps with Stream Cleanups for the 9th year in a row

by Carol Newill

Literally tons and tons of trash have been collected at sites along the Herring Run and tributaries to the Jones Falls in the 9 years that Green Towson Alliance has been recruiting and helping community leaders and volunteers.

This spring, fewer plastic bags and less styrofoam than usual were found at several of the 9 stream cleanup sites. Clearly, recent laws meant to minimize such pollution are working!

However, 136 bags of trash have been removed from 9 stream sites so far this spring. Sadly, most was plastic bottles and other plastics, as well as some cloth and metal items and 2 local street signs.

Towson University students with trash they pulled from the stream.

Where did all that trash come from? As our storms become more extreme, more of the trash from our streets and parking lots washes into the storm drains and then into the streams!

Girl Scouts pulling trash out of a tributary of the Herring Run tributary.

Volunteer participation has been terrific, as 198 adults and 33 children participated in the cleanups this spring so far. 17 Girl Scouts from Troops #1152, #04151and #02294 cleaned a long stretch of stream and its wide ravine. 78 Towson University students from Impact TU Day and many children from a variety of Towson-area schools accompanied their parents at other sites. County Councilmember Mike Ertel helped at several locations, too.

Baltimore County Councilman Mike Ertel working with neighbors to clean this Towson stream.

Teams at 4 sites removed not only trash but also invasive plants, ranging from English Ivy and Porcelainberry vines to garlic mustard and prickly multiflora rosa.

A volunteer clips invasive porcelain berry vines from a streamside tree.

We thank all the volunteers and especially their Site Leaders:  Christine Horel Accardo, Anne Estes, Adreon Hubbard, Berni Kroll, Barbara Lewis, Janice Millard, Beth Miller, Lilly Richardson, Holly Sebastian, Bob Simon, Mike Stopford, Diane Topper.

Baltimore County Council Chair Izzy Patoka with volunteers at a stream cleanup which hauled trash and a massive logjam out of the Roland Run stream in Ruxton.

Two more sites are scheduled for cleanup next month, in Wiltondale and in Fellowship Forest. To help on a weekend morning soon, contact GTA at https://greentowsonalliance.org/contact/

 Let’s Remove Vines and Save our Tree Canopy!

By Raymond Heil

With evidence mounting everywhere, we finally seem to be taking climate change seriously.  In Maryland, we are blessed with an extensive tree canopy, which helps to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, use the carbon for their growth, and release oxygen back into a cooler atmosphere.  We are experiencing a growing interest in planting trees that seems to be a worldwide movement. Some local examples: The State of Maryland, through the 2021 Tree Solutions Now Act, plans to plant 5 million trees by 2031. In Baltimore County, County Executive Olszewski has established one program to plant 1000 street trees per year, and another that has planted over 2500 trees in underserved communities.  He has also reiterated, in his FY 2023 Budget Message, the county’s goal to achieve a 50% tree canopy countywide.       

This movement is driven in part by the desire to take action against global warming, but most people also value the many ecological, social, psychological and aesthetic value of trees, to numerous to list here. To address climate change, we should all reduce our own carbon footprints, but we should also participate in this movement by looking for opportunities to plant more trees.  Fall is the best time to plant trees in this part of the country.  In Fall 2023, Green Towson Alliance volunteers worked with local community associations and Blue Water Baltimore to plant over 290 native trees in Towson neighborhoods.  Thanks to everyone who worked on this effort!

But the benefits of newly planted trees are dwarfed by the ecological benefits of mature trees. Now is the best time to see the damage being done to our mature trees throughout the Baltimore area by smothering invasive vines. Take a drive on the beltway, up I-83, or on any urban or suburban street bordered by wooded areas. You will see trees. large and small, overwhelmed by invasive vines.  The main culprits are English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet.  You may have trees in your own yard that are under stress from these vines.  This growing problem must be reversed if we want to grow our tree canopy and its benefits. 

All of us can help with the important work of invasive vine removal. Here are some actions you can take:

  1. Baltimore City, Carroll County and Montgomery County have well-organized “Weed Warrior” Programs to deploy trained volunteers to remove invasive vines on government-owned properties.  Baltimore County, with extensive county-owned natural areas, does not have such a program.  To achieve the County’s goal of a 50% tree canopy, such a program must be established.  If you are a Baltimore County resident, we ask you to contact your councilperson and request that the county establish a “Weed Warrior” Program and get to work saving the county’s mature trees.
  2. Remove invasive vines from your own trees.  All you need to do is cut the vines near to the ground.  With English Ivy, cut the vines all around the circumference of the tree and do a second cut 10 inches higher.  Remove the severed section creating a “window.”  It is not necessary to remove all the severed vines from the tree as they will die over time.  You can find many helpful how-to videos on vine removal on Youtube.
  3. Organize and support volunteer efforts in your neighborhood to inform neighbors of the invasive vine problem and remove invasive vines from trees on private properties.
  4. Support the 2024 Biodiversity and Agriculture Protection Act, which would restrict the sale of many destructive and non-native plants in Maryland.

Planting young trees and protecting our existing mature trees are two of the most effective steps every person can take to counteract the harmful impacts of climate change.  When we take action against climate change, we begin to see that it is possible to create a livable future for our children and our planet.

A volunteer removes honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.
A volunteer removing invasive honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.

Raymond Heil is on the Executive Committees of Green Towson Alliance and the Baltimore County Green Alliance.

Removing Invasive Vines at Loyola Blakefield

by Ray Heil

As a practicing landscape architect, I’ve planted thousands of trees in my career.  Planting a tree is always a hopeful experience; we’ve always understood that if we can assure that the new tree is established after the first 3 years, the odds are good that it will continue to grow successfully and confer multiple benefits on the community.  But this is no longer true, due to the proliferation of aggressive invasive vines in the urban and suburban areas of Maryland.  We’re all familiar with stories about kudzu, “the vine that ate the South,” which is not a major problem in central Maryland, but what about English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet, which are “devouring” our local trees?  You can see these invasive vines everywhere along local roads covering our trees and inhibiting their growth.  Depending on the size and vigor of the tree, these aggressive vines can be fatal.     

Volunteers removing invasive vines from trees
An example of invasive vines on mature trees. These vines were removed by Green Towson Alliance volunteers at Blakehurst Retirement Community in 2019.


Towson’s Loyola Blakefield High School, despite its continual growth, still enjoys stands of native tree species along the peripheries of its campus, and in protected stream buffer areas. As a member of Green Towson Alliance, I have been actively removing invasive vines from native trees in parks and private properties for a number of years.  For three years, Loyola Blakefield has invited me to talk about invasive vine removal and to lead field work with its students.

In August, I worked with 45 sophomores and their teachers during orientation week.  My in-class presentation included two short videos: on the importance of native plants with Doug Tallamy, and how to remove invasive vines from trees. (You can access these videos on Youtube.)

After introducing myself and the Green Towson Alliance, I tried to engage the students with questions, like which county do you live in? (Most were from Baltimore County, some from the city, but 4 other counties were represented.)  I told them that I am concerned about the world they will inherit, and about how emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are forming a “blanket” in the earth’s atmosphere that is holding in the sun’s heat and warming the planet.

I provided a simplified description of how a tree takes in carbon dioxide, combines it with water and sunshine to create energy for the tree to grow, and gives off oxygen, making it possible for us to breathe.  I discussed the important role plants play in providing oxygen to support other life forms, pointing out that during the very early years of the earth’s evolution, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support animal life, until plants appeared.

I described the particular importance of plants native to central Maryland in supporting the native insects and birds with which they co-evolved, and ultimately, in supporting us.  So, removing invasive vines from native trees is something we can all do to mitigate climate change and address the decline of native insect and bird species.

I asked if any of them want to be engineers. A few students raised their hands, and I asked if any of them had ever thought about the possibility of creating a machine that would take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmosphere?  Some thought that was possible.  Then I pointed out that we already have a “machine” that does just that: the tree. 

I asked why they think it is 5 degrees cooler on the Loyola campus than it is in downtown Baltimore. This led to a brief discussion of the heat island effect in cities and the benefits of trees in cooling the atmosphere.

Finally, I pointed out that my generation has made major mistakes in the way we have treated the natural world because we don’t understand it very well. As students, they have a great opportunity now to learn about the natural world in depth, so they can preserve their home planet for themselves and future generations. 

After a brief review of the tools we would use in the field, and of what vine species we would be removing (mostly English Ivy this year) and which to avoid (poison ivy), we trooped out to the stream buffer on campus, which is “protected” from cutting but not from invasive vines.  Fortunately, I had cut English Ivy that covered a large white oak there last year, so I used that tree to demonstrate what we hoped to accomplish, and to point out that the ivy, while dead on the tree’s trunk, had started growing again at the base and would have to be removed from the roots.

Quiet but attentive in the classroom, the students were active in the field, and worked almost 2 hours removing ivy vines from trees.  I worked along with them but was exhausted after 60 minutes.  Their teachers kept the process going. 

I hope to be invited again next year to work with Loyola students.  They seem to be increasingly receptive to our message.  They are the future, and they are inheriting a world in profound need of ecological restoration.   

Ray Heil is a Professional Landscape Architect, and a Certified Maryland Master Naturalist. He is on the Executive Committee for the Green Towson Alliance, and is a Lead for the Homegrown National Park Workgroup.