Galestown Pond is being refilled almost two years

By Ann Wilmer

Galestown residents, who have been keeping a close eye on the project's progress, watched as water from Gales Creek began to backfill the millpond on Tuesday. Until the water started accumulating in the 30-acre pond bed, it was mostly dry and covered with vegetation, most of which does not belong there. Soon it will be submerged. Residents are almost sure that, by the second anniversary of the deluge that swept away the dam in 2006, things will be getting back to normal. Although the roadway that connects the two sides of the little town of Galestown will not be open to vehicular traffic until August, residents have been eager to see water flowing again. For now, neither farmers, emergency workers, nor town residents can use the "temporary" road, although Linda Roy Walls, president of the Galestown Millpond Association, said she saw a kid ride across it on his bicycle last weekend and found it heartwarming. From the onset of project planning, the deadline for completion has continually advanced making the time needed to restore the dam, pond and roadway take longer and longer. Frustration has frayed the edges of the most persistent goodwill at times, but residents have been very, very patient and while no one can claim that the project has kept to any kind of schedule, it has kept moving forward. "Every delay has been accompanied by rumors," Walls said, "some of which are outrageous." But some of the delays have been understandable, she added. Although area residents have fished and swam in the pond for decades, property owners whose land is adjacent to the pond became concerned about liability issues. "Not surprising considering the litigious society we live in," she said. She praised the county for stepping up to the plate with $11,000 to purchase 7.4 acres of pond bottom owned by neighbors living around the pond who were afraid to sign off on a permanent easement. And the county has stipulated that the dedicated walkway that traverses the pond will allow fishing. Two problems solved. Fishing will be allowed and anglers will not be trespassing on private property to enjoy the sport. Association member Ed Skibicki likes to go fishing, so he's eager for the day that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will deliver 10,000 bass fingerlings. Timing is everything because the baby fish need to become established in their new home before the water gets too warm. "It looks like we'll be able to receive the fish. Rick Schaefer - with DNR fisheries - has really worked with us to stock the bass," Walls said. "And they will stock bluegills in the fall - a fish that the bass feed on." There was a hold up even now at one end of the pond because, although the Dorchester County Board of Public Works were supposed to have secured all the easements before construction began. Someone dropped the ball and one holdout had not signed the paperwork - another delay in a long chain of delays. But with all the activity, association members remained optimistic and their faith was rewarded. Lately, the weather has been pretty cooperative according to Michael Delp, project manager for George and Lynch. He said that the last of the sheet piling and vinyl sheeting will be installed this week and then a couple days of concrete work remain on the cap. Hand railing being manufactured now will be installed within next couple weeks. Then all that remains is grading the road in preparation for hot mix (paving) but the dam will be operational. How quickly the pond will fill is dependant on several factors. Delp said the county had notified him that, once the sheeting is in, property owners want two weeks notice before they start to fill the pond. "And we have to coordinate the pond filling with DNR," he said. As late as last Monday, he anticipated 2-3 weeks before the pond began to fill.

Delp said that when the pond begins to fill up that lots of "little critters who have made homes in the grass" along the dry creek bottom are going to be scurrying to higher ground. He's also seen quite a few snakes in the course of the construction project that don't appear to be pond dwellers. One of the things Delp and others involved in the project have enjoyed is to watch a bird of prey - the workers think it is peregrine falcon - dive bomb the creek and come up with a fish in it's mouth that is four or five inches long. Although the pond has been a popular swimming hole for rural youngsters throughout its history, the former swimming platform will become an observation platform and no swimming will be allowed. It's unfortunate that concerns about safety and liability have robbed us of many of the innocent delights of summers long past. At a public meeting in May 2007, residents expressed concern about what would happen if warm weather and a dry pond bed encouraged the growth of plants that would be standing when the water was returned. By summer's end, the robust growth almost hid the fact that there ever was a pond. Most died down over the winter but now the dry pond bed is full of new spring growth that includes sturdy 2-year-old maple saplings and phragmites, an invasive species that often defies control efforts. The pond is also home to many aquatic species of plants, some of which are rare or endangered, that naturalists fully expect to see rebound when their watery environment is restored. Non-aquatic vegetation that has sprung up in the dry pond bed will die off once it is submerged. Ace Adkins, of Maryland Department of the Environment, described the process as displacement. "Emergent vegetation, most of which will not survive, will decompose and become a food source once the pond is at pond is full pool." The vegetation that dies off in the water will feed the fish, turtles, etc. Woody shrubs that have rooted in the dry pond bed will be slower to decompose and may actually help to hold the substrates in place as the pond rebounds. "The rooted aquatic plants that were there before and the fringe wetland vegetation will rebound. Cattails, hibiscus and other plants that that are in the seed source will return but they might not be located where they were before," he explained. Debris and sediment that swept away the dam during the deluge of 2006 may have caused some permanent topographical changes to the pond bottom. If any of the elevations have changed - making the pond floor deeper or more shallow in places - that could change the location of where the aquatic vegetation reappears. Phragmites grew in the area before the flood of 2006, but not a large amount of it. One of the reasons it is so difficult to control is that is spreads in the same manner as wire grass. But it will only tolerate so much water and once the plants roots are completely submerged it will die off unless it has already established a lateral root system that will allow it to spring up on shore. Adkins said that several residents had expressed concerns about the potential for an algae problem. "The [pond] system is only as good as what goes into it. Algae growth is a sign of a high nutrient run-off up stream. It wasn't a significant issue before the flood," he said, and he doesn't expect it to become a problem when the pond is restored. Once the installation is complete the pond will start to refill slowly as water from Galestown Creek backs up behind the dam. "The more rain we have the quicker it will fill," said Walls. And the millpond dam will be a better, stronger structure as a result of neighbors getting to know one another and work together through the aftermath of a natural disaster. It took a healthy dose of town spirit and many levels of government working together to accomplish the restoration. Neighbors, who knew each other only slightly, became friends and worked together so well that they even got a bond bill passed in the Maryland Senate to renovate the Galestown Community Center. As the project nears completion, Walls said that people are taking more pride in their homes/yards. The rebirth of the pond had inspired people to spruce up their houses and yards. Walls said that a couple has bought one of two an old stores within the boundary of the town and are slowly renovating it. Town residents are now looking forward to celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Gales family first acquiring land along the creek that still carries their name. Although 2014 is a few years away, they are already beginning to talk about how they will celebrate.

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