Last Friday, two men met at Broad Branch Stream. One was Tony Donaldson, Jr., a Ward 3 representative from the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services. The other was John Burwell, who has been leading with teams of volunteers clearing invasive plants from the daylighted stream.
Burwell is a certified Weed Warrior and a veteran of many such cleanups at the Pinehurst Stream near Barnaby Woods. He and his band of faithful “weed whackers” (as I like to call them) have been spending two to three hours at Broad Branch every weekend since early December, and the result of their efforts is a massive pile of brush along the alley that abuts the stream west of Linnean Avenue. Donaldson’s services were called upon to figure out how to get the brush pile removed.
Both Burwell and Donaldson are native Washingtonians. John grew up near the Pinehurst tributary and forged many fond memories as a child.
“It was a place for me and buddies to explore and enjoy nature as a child. It was our ‘backyard’ playground,” he told me.
Donaldson grew up in Pleasant Plains in Ward 1, graduated from Duke Ellington School and lives in the Cathedral Heights area. He was thrilled to find this hidden treasure in our neighborhood, and at Friday’s meeting he couldn’t wait to return in the spring, when the stream is in its full glory.
He didn’t wait that long.
“I couldn’t stop talking about how calming and beautiful the streams were and on Sunday I took my fiancée, nephew, and dog Lucky,” Donaldson told me in an email.
Took in the sights of the Linnean stream in the Forest Hills neighborhood of #Ward3 with the family. Neighbors have volunteered to help maintain some of the trails in the area and the natural beauty is AMAZING! #WeAreDC pic.twitter.com/ZufmxrD3Bg
— Tony Donaldson Jr. (@TonyDonaldsonJr) January 18, 2021
Donaldson said he would reach out to the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (the agency that led the 2014 stream daylighting), Urban Forestry and Department of Public Works to see about getting the brush pile removed.
“I look forward to working with our government partners to support the work of neighbors to maintain these areas for other to come enjoy!” Donaldson wrote.
The pile might grow in the meantime. Burwell and his volunteers plan to come out on weekends as long as the current temperatures persist.
At one recent cleanup, they removed wineberry, bush honeysuckle and ivy, and pulled vines off trees planted when the stream was daylighted. They cleared out vines and growth that were choking some volunteer junipers. And they caged two magnolia trees to protect the trees from “buck rub” and deer browsing.
And there is still work to be done. Easily identifiable patches of wineberry abut Nevada Avenue between the alley behind Nebraska and Linnean Avenue. He is saving that for an Eagle Scout Troop removal event coming up soon. A real challenge will be tacking a significant stand of bamboo regrowing on the east side Broad Branch Stream. This will take more time and effort.
We’ve met Burwell before. Last year, Forest Hills neighbor David Cohen collaborated with him on a bird identification flyer posted at the Pinehurst trail. I asked Burwell why he is expanding his efforts to include Broad Branch Stream. He wrote in an email:
I visited the ‘daylighted’ areas of Broad Branch and Linnean Park in 2014 when it officially opened and thought it was quite remarkable. My interest was also driven by the fact that Pinehurst Branch is slated to be renovated and I imagine techniques employed in Broad Branch to control stormwater and create wildlife environment will be engaged. When I next visited the area in the spring of 2020, I was pleased to see how the area had evolved into a very lovely natural environment with pools, serpentine streams and environment teeming with amphibian life. Simultaneously, I was saddened to see that fencing of tree and shrub plantings installed years before in the area east of Linnean Ave. were missing, or offset. Cages and plants that survived were in desperate need of attention. Since last spring, I’ve re-fenced surviving native plantings, removed invasives and lead volunteers to do the same.
When the weather is warmer, Burwell wants to organize an invasive removal at the stream for our community. (The event will be listed on the Rock Creek Conservancy calendar and on Forest Hills Connection.) This may have to be a series of events – the groups are limited to ten people. And, of course, Donaldson will get a special invitation, and may get to hear the frogs as well.