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Friends of Sligo Creek

Newsletter      December 2015


Stream wide semi-compressed
Ellen X. Silverberg photo
LEED Platinum Building Approved for Wheaton

Artist's rendition of county's LEED Platinum building
approved for Wheaton (Image from county website)
Downtown Wheaton will be the site of the first public building in Maryland likely to meet the strict environmental standards of "LEED Platinum," following the county's recent approval of a geothermal energy system in the building's design.

The County Council voted unanimously in October to add more than $2.8 million to the building's budget to allow for geothermal installation. On this basis, Mike Riley, Director of Montgomery Parks, says that a LEEDS Platinum rating is "very likely." When it's completed in 2019, the building will house the county departments of Park and Planning, Environmental Protection, and Permitting Services.

Environmental advocates such as GreenWheaton and the Stormwater Partners Network began lobbying the county in 2013 for high environmental standards on the development. The recent move to add geothermal to the budget was cosponsored by council members Floreen, Katz, Leventhal, Navarro, and Riemer.

Artist's conception of the county's new building in Wheaton (image from county website) 

"Platinum" is the highest of four levels certified by the nonprofit U.S. Green Business Council for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

The building will sit at the headwaters of Wheaton Branch, which flows into Sligo Creek below Dennis Avenue. Construction begins in late 2016, with the open-air "civic plaza" being completed in 2018 and the office building scheduled to open in early 2019. 

In addition to the geothermal heating/cooling facility, the building will also boast a rooftop photo-voltaic system and stormwater management practices to help protect Wheaton Branch and Sligo Creek. According to Diane Cameron of Stormwater Partners, LEED standards are not especially focused on stormwater, but the building plans do call for bio-retention gardens, green roofs, and tree plantings. These green features help demonstrate that the county is "walking the walk" as it gets these types of sustainability practices implemented throughout the county. 

-- Ed Murtagh and Michael Wilpers
WSSC Requests Deadline Extension on Sewer Work in Sligo

One of the temporary boardwalk roadways built in Sligo 
for sewer-line repairs (Wilpers photo, Wheaton Branch)

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has filed a notice in the Federal Register to seek a seven-year extension on the consent decree it signed in 2005 with the federal government, the State of Maryland, and several environmental groups, including Friends of Sligo Creek.

WSSC requests an extension on the original ten-year deadline of 2015 for completing 152 projects in the Sligo Creek watershed. These are among the total of 3,216 projects for which WSSC is requesting extensions in numerous watersheds across Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Of WSSC's total 301 "sewer miles," they have completed repairs on more than half (169), leaving the rest (132) to finish before the new deadline. 

If the request for delay is finalized by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, WSSC must complete all the delayed projects by February 2022 and would face daily fines for failure to complete certain percentages of these projects by interim dates.

Many of the repairs involve the relining of sewer pipes between manholes, some of which require the laying down of substantial, temporary boardwalk roadways to permit access by heavy equipment. A minority of projects involve restructuring of the stream bed to bury exposed pipe and prevent future exposures.
WSSC's request has been agreed to by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of Maryland. The environmental groups involved in the original lawsuit and consent decree have 30 days to approve, oppose, or comment on the extension request. In addition to Sligo Friends, these groups are the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Anacostia Watershed Society, the National Resources Defense Council, and Patuxent Riverkeeper.

The board of Sligo Friends will discuss this issue to decide how best to proceed.
-- Kit Gage, President

Remember Friends of Sligo in End-of-Year Giving

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Don't forget the Friends of Sligo Creek as you make your end-of-year charitable giving. Or consider making a contribution to FOSC as one of your holiday gifts to a friend or relative who cares about the environment.

Either way, it's easy to support us: Just click donate here, or go to our website,, and click the purple "Donate Now" button on the lower-left of the home page, or write a check out to "Friends of Sligo Creek" and mail it to us at Friends of Sligo Creek, PO Box 11572, Takoma Park, MD 20913.

Your support helps cover the costs of Sweep the Creek clean-up supplies, invasives removal tools, website hosting fees, e-newsletter costs, database management, stormwater control efforts, water quality monitoring devices, and kiosk postings. 

Make a contribution to support our efforts to improve the ecological health of Sligo Creek!

First Water WatchDog Class Teaches Pollution Reporting

An enthusiastic group of twenty area residents gathered in the living room of Jim and Deanna Anderson on November 14 to kick off the first Water WatchDog Pollution ID and Reporting Workshop. The workshop taught registrants how to identify and report pollution to county officials as part of their routine visits to Sligo Creek Park. (Easy instructions on how to use the Water Watchdog system are on our website here.)

The day's keynote speaker was water-quality expert Lori Lilly, who explained how to identify the basic types of pollution and described certain hotspots (such as leaking dumpsters). She pointed out that pollution in the creek can originate nearby or far away, depending the drainage area.

Anne Vorce, co-head of Water WatchDogs, and Kathleen Samiy discussed how citizens can help by reporting pollution to county agencies using the Water WatchDog system. If you spot pollution, send an email and photo to, which automatically forwards the report to the smart phones of staff with the county's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). They will investigate and, if necessary, stop and fine polluters. Anne also encouraged the class to add their observations to the Water WatchDog Action Log (here), which will document the pollution, alert others, and perhaps reveal troubling patterns.

Pat Ratkowski, chair of FOSC's Water Quality Committee, described his ongoing water-quality tests at four problem "outfalls" in Sligo (where stormwater pipes drain into the creek). He documents his findings on the FOSC website and keeps DEP informed of the data. His outfall testing builds upon prior field work in Sligo that Lori Lilly oversaw through the Center for Watershed Protection.
Water quality expert Lori Lilly leads the first class of Water WatchDog training in 
Sligo Creek on November 14. (Kathleen Samiy photo)
The class then headed out to the creek, where participants noticed a smell that Lori identified as sewage. Several group members sent emails to report the odor to DEP using the Water WatchDog system. Nasty-looking discharge was noticed at one outfall. Based on the experience of some participants and a prior survey of the area, this outfall seems to drain from a parking lot in a nearby townhouse complex. The group was encouraged to monitor this site and report future problems. As one participant wrote:  "The stream visit was interesting  . . .  with the waft of scent in the air."    

While this workshop focused on Sligo Creek between Wayne Avenue and Piney Branch Road, participants were encouraged to learn about their own neighborhood's "drainage area" so they can help figure out where pollution is coming from. Workshop students learned that the section they studied that day drains an area roughly bound by Wayne and Georgia Avenues, Manchester Road, and possibly Flower Avenue. The area includes schools, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, parking lots, and homes, all of which can send improper fluids into storm drains. The goal, as DEP notes, is that "Nothing but rain should go into our storm drains."

Each workshop in this series will focus on a different section of Sligo Creek, although the lessons learned can be applied anywhere. More workshops will be held in early 2016. They are funded by a grant to the Friends of Sligo Creek by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, through the Water Quality Protection Charge Program of Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection.

-- Anne Vorce
Melanie Choukas-Bradley Shares Rock Creek with Sligo
Local naturalist and author Melanie Choukas-Bradley treated an audience of 50 to a poetic tour of Rock Creek Park at an event on November 18. 

The audience saw gorgeous photos and heard tales of a single trail in Rock Creek Park as it changes with the seasons over a full year. Melanie read from her new book, A Year in Rock Creek. published to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the park.

Sligo Friends president Kit Gage (right) introduces author Melanie Chukas-Bradley at 
the event on November 14. (Ed Murtagh photo).

Jointly sponsored by FOSC and the Takoma Horticultural Club, her appearance engaged listeners in observations and discussions of plant and animal life seen over twelve months.  As Melanie teaches, speaks, and writes widely in the area about trees in DC, plants of Sugar Loaf, and now Rock Creek, she is a regional treasure both in documenting what can be seen and in sharing her love and encouragement to learn more. 

-- Kit Gage
Spiraling Tree Bark in Sligo
Red Maple with right-handed spiral bark between
Dennis and University (Wilpers photo)
Winter is an excellent time to appreciate the bark of our many tree species and compare bark patterns among them.

A fascinating feature of tree bark is the occasional spiraling pattern that stands out from the vertical arrangement most typically seen. 

An informal survey suggests that the spiral pattern is most common in Sligo on mature Red Maples growing along the creek banks (photo at right) and on the lower trunks of Tuliptrees (see below). It appears occasionally on White Oaks (e.g., along the northern-most edge of the park, near Arcola Elementary) and on at least one mature American Elm (just below the Beltway).

Speculation on the causes of spiraling bark (and on the spiraling wood grain beneath) dates back at least to Darwin. Research since the 1980s suggests that spiraling trunks occur most often in stressed environments, such as steep slopes, rocky sites, or high wind exposures. 

By twisting its vascular tissue, a tree can distribute water and nutrients from roots more evenly to all its branches, an important adaptation if water is much more abundant on one side of the tree trunk. Spiraled wood-grain is also more flexible, which enables the tree trunk to bend more easily -- and makes it less likely to snap -- under high wind or heavy snow cover. 

Mechanical engineers have shown that a twist up to 37 degrees from vertical is beneficial, while beyond that a twist compromises the tree's strength. 

Tuliptree with left-handed spiral bark between 
Forest Glen and Dennis Avenue (Wilpers photo)

Foresters refer to the twists as either left-handed (point to upper left, as in the Tuliptree at left) or right-handed (as in the Red Maple above). In conifers (which have been researched the most thoroughly), the spiral is consistently twisted one way in some species and the opposite way in others. Complicating things, some adult conifers twist in both directions, alternating at different stages of growth and at different depths within the trunk. 

Lumber people and wood workers pay close attention to spiraling grain because it creates weaker lumber for building than straight-grained wood. In the construction of a log cabin, for instance, logs with twisted grain are useful only for certain segments of the walls. 

So look for spiraling bark as you enjoy the excellent view of our tree trunks this winter. 

Need to Reach Us? 


President (Kit Gage):
Invasive Plants (Jim Anderson): 
Litter (Patton Stephens): 
Advocacy (Bruce Sidwell):
Natural History (Michael Wilpers):
Stormwater (Elaine Lamirande):
Water Quality (Pat Ratkowski):
Outreach (Sarah Jane Marcus):
Treasurer (Dee Clarkin; asstnt treasurer Sherrill Goggin):
Newsletter Editor (Michael Wilpers):
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Friends of Sligo Creek is a nonprofit community organization dedicated to protecting, improving, and appreciating the ecological health of Sligo Creek Park and its surrounding watershed.