Dirt Mountain: How One Resident Stopped Polluters in Their Tracks
For the past 12 years, Chris Schulze has lived in the Gwynns Falls watershed one block away from the Maiden Choice Run, a critical waterway. This waterway runs along Southwest Baltimore, feeding into the Gwynns Falls stream. Along the way it passes Chris’ neighborhood, creating a small pocket of wildlife in an otherwise bustling part of the city. With few green spaces in the area this waterway became a special place for residents. Unfortunately, in 2019 this space was drastically changed by illegal dumping.
Chris started to notice suspicious activity taking place in his neighborhood. Their quiet street was suddenly overrun with hundreds of industrial dump trucks, hauling in dirt down Frederick Avenue day and night. In a matter of weeks a 15 foot ‘Dirt Mountain’ amassed at the end of their street, near an informal trail residents often used to access their neighborhood stream. Every time Chris called the city to report the issue, they sent inspectors to view the area but no action was taken to stop the illegal dumping.
“When we called Alice Volpitta at Blue Water Baltimore, she came out here and everything was stopped in two days”
Through our pollution reporting hotline, Chris was able to inform Blue Water Baltimore and recruit help. Our Waterkeeper team moved quickly to get to the bottom of this pollution report. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the source of the dumping was a contractor working on the Druid Hill Lake excavation project.
Dirt Mountain still towers over the Maiden Choice Run today. It has buried trails, tree trunks, and fox dens. Now the waterway has no choice but to live in its shadow, and be subjected to its erosion every time it rains. Dirt Mountain not only threatens the water quality of this watershed, it also chips away at the quality of life for Gwynns Falls residents. Chris and his neighbors are physically disconnected from a vital community green space and waterway. “The most frustrating part was knowing that if something like this had happened in a more affluent neighborhood, it would’ve been stopped immediately and there would’ve been major penalties and repercussions”, says Chris.
“I think they just assumed that since we were a low-income neighborhood they could just come in and do whatever they want and we wouldn’t have the connections to get it stopped”
Two years have passed and Dirt Mountain still sits at the end of Wellesley St. “It’s frustrating that we are left with this mess” says Chris, but he hopes that this greenspace will be restored and embedded into a larger chain of reinvigorated spaces along the Maidens Choice Run. With the Irvington & Stillmeadow Peace Parks upstream he sees a lot of potential for urban forest rejuvenation here.
We are hopeful about the future of this waterway because of individuals like Chris Schulze. Despite the odds, Chris has been fighting to make his neighborhood a safe space for all. He’s proof that it only takes one person to speak out when a community has been wronged by polluters.
By collaborating with community leaders, Blue Water Baltimore was able to stop a polluter right in their tracks. This Giving Tuesday there are many ways to give.
You can help us protect the water you love by donating, funding a need, or reporting pollution in your own neighborhood.
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Chris Schulze is the President of the Gwynns Falls Community Association (GFCA).
Chris is leading an effort to create a community-owned greenspace on a series of vacant lots on Stafford St. GFCA is under contract to purchase this space on behalf of the neighborhood, but they need additional support to create a pathway for community ownership. GFCA has empowered the youth to design their own playground. “We know what it’s going to look like and we know where it’s going to go, we just need to secure the funding for it” says Chris Schulze.
The Gwynns Falls neighborhood has big dreams for this space. Help make this neighborhood’s dream a reality!