Just miles from bustling downtown Baltimore City, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship sits on 10 acres of serene, undisturbed forest land. The land serves as a community peace park—with open trails and thousands of healthy trees. In the Fellowship’s parking lot and back areas, rain barrels and cisterns collect rainwater, repurposing it to water trees and plants in the park. And, together with their community partners, Stillmeadow hosts free tree giveaways on their campus. Over 400 saplings found new homes with community members at two tree giveaway events in May and September. Atop a hill in West Baltimore, Stillmeadow shines as an example of community investment in the health of our waterways.
But for Stillmeadow, investment in stormwater infrastructure projects is a deeply personal mission. For years, much of Stillmeadow’s surrounding West Baltimore community on Frederick Avenue had inadequate public infrastructure to mitigate flooding. Despite its central location in a FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Area, leaves piled up in gutters and relief gullies filled with refuse. Originally purchased with the intent to expand the Church’s grounds, Stillmeadow’s 10 acres sat empty for years after being deemed unfit for construction. Debris and overgrown plants took over the land, filling key stormwater culverts and preventing water flow through the forested area.
On a particularly rainy Sunday in May of 2018, years of neglect came to a head when a 7-foot wall of water coursed down Frederick Avenue. In minutes, floods damaged over 150 homes—some irreparably. Sewage backed up through toilets and sinks, basement apartments flooded, and residents evacuated to higher ground. Though it was referred to as a “once in 100-year flood,” said Yorell Tuck, Director of Operations at Stillmeadow Community Projects, two more instances of severe flooding ravaged the Frederick Avenue community later that summer. “These hundred-year floods don’t happen every hundred years. They happen more often,” said Tuck. And for many, the high costs of flood insurance were too much to bear. As the waters retreated, they were left alone to pick up the pieces. [See note below.]
“These hundred-year floods don’t happen every hundred years. They happen more often” – Yorell Tuck
Community leaders now meet with Baltimore’s Department of Public Works (DPW) quarterly to assess changing conditions and track progress on the City’s investment in new flooding mitigation infrastructure. But significant progress has yet to be made. “The city has been helping… but it’s just slow moving. Here we are four years later, and we haven’t really gotten anywhere,” said Tuck.
Where the city’s investment stops, Stillmeadow’s starts. Under the leadership of Pastor Michael S. Martin and the talented team at Stillmeadow Community Projects, the Church’s new social impact arm, Stillmeadow stands as a true pillar of the community—undertaking a very personal mission to ensure this tragedy never happens again. By maintaining their peace park, facilitating neighborhood-wide tree giveaways with Blue Water Baltimore and Tree Baltimore, and creating plans for a parking lot rain garden, Stillmeadow is placing green stormwater infrastructure at the center of their efforts. “I think Blue Water Baltimore was instrumental in realizing what our role is in helping our neighborhood,” said Tuck. Blue Water Baltimore is proud to partner with and support Stillmeadow Community Projects in their efforts to reduce community flooding impacts and better the waterways.
“…Blue Water Baltimore was instrumental in realizing what our role is in helping our neighborhood,” – Yorell Tuck
NOTE: The City, along with FEMA and many other jurisdictions across the country, is trying to move away from the “100-year flood…” terminology because it is confusing to residents and does not communicate correctly the meaning of the term. Instead, they are using “1% annual chance of flood” to communicate the risk associated with this flood event. A 1% annual chance flood has, as its name convey, a 1 in 100 chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year.
Thank you to community member and Director of Operations at Stillmeadow Community Projects, Yorell Tuck, for meeting with us to make this blog post possible. Learn more about Stillmeadow Community Projects