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One Shell of a Party

South River on the Half Shell ­celebrates South River Federation’s 17 years of success — and helps fund many more

      Chesapeake Country has no shortage of Bay champions. We have conservation organizations and nonprofits from mega-sized to tiny, from those that tackle the entire Bay to those that work locally on its rivers and streams.
South River Federation is a small but mighty hero of the Chesapeake.
      Organized 17 years ago by John Flood with support from Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the all-volunteer team quickly hired its first employee, the South Riverkeeper. The Federation has nearly doubled in staff, now at seven full-time and two part-time employees.
     There is a lot to keep them all busy, according to volunteer coordinator Nancy Merrill Sullivan. “The South River is 10 miles long,” she says. “We have installed over 75 restoration projects across the watershed, from rain gardens to multi-million-dollar stream restoration projects.”
     The Federation also supports its river by actively monitoring water quality, advocating for environmental legislation and enforcement and educating the community in watershed protection.
     “The South River is very much like hundreds of other rivers along the eastern seaboard. We have some very polluted creeks feeding into our river,” Sullivan says. “The difference is that we are one of the few groups doing restoration work at this scale and intensity. We hope to be the blueprint showing other watersheds they can do this type of work, too.”
     Over the years, the Federation has seen success in many forms. Through its efforts, one of the state’s largest tire dumps — nearly 250,000 tires — was cleared through legal action. Other restoration projects have helped clean and filter water before it gets to the South River, improving growth for flora and fauna.
     “It is absolutely amazing to see these sites grow so lush and gorgeous,” says Sullivan. “And to see all the frogs and fish come back. In the first year of our Impossible Stream Project two years ago, we saw a 1,100 percent rise in the fish population.”
      That Impossible Stream Project succeeded against the odds.
     “Our peers told us not to try to restore it, that it was dead and nothing could be done. It was gushing pollution into our most important creek,” Sullivan told Bay Weekly. “Now we believe that we can get a functioning food chain established there. It may never be pristine, but it now looks like a stream and acts like a stream again.” 
     Sullivan sees the South River Federation at the crosshairs of a national environmental policy debate on what support restoration should get from the federal government. “Some agencies want to prove that it works, and some don’t want it to work,” she says.
     Even 17 years in, the Federation meets challenges at the ground level, too.
      “We are now on the leading edge of the restoration movement,” she says. “So many people are unfamiliar with what stream restoration is. So we have to explain that, yes, we have bulldozers in the streams causing some damage, but when we leave, we will have cleaner, cooler water heading downstream into the river, and into the Bay.”
      In celebration of its successes and to raise money for more, join the Federation for the gala, South River on the Half Shell Saturday March 24.
      “It is a fabulous night,” Sullivan says. “We have oysters served by local watermen, live music and great food and a ton of amazing items to bid on. There are really fun boat trips, kayaks, sports gear, and a lot of great nature art. You can enter a raffle for a one-week trip to Puerto Vallarta. It’s just a wonderful vibe at the party.”
 
 
March 24 at the Byzantium Event Center at SS Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Annapolis. Place your bids in both live and silent auctions, listen to live music by the Rob Levit Trio and dine on all-you-can-eat oysters. 6-10pm, $160 couple/$90 single w/advance discounts, rsvp: https://tinyurl.com/SRF-halfshell.