Rustling Leaf Stream Stabilization


By: James Wade, PE

In Columbia, Maryland, walking paths are an essential backbone of community. The public uses the paths for many purposes: exercise, nature appreciation, and relaxation. At times, these paths cross streams.  One stream crossing, located near Rustling Leaf in Owen Brown Village, was created with an earthen embankment. A relic of Lake Elkhorn construction, the embankment experienced turbulent flows for decades. The result was a failed pipe and hazardous embankment conditions from erosive storm flows. The safety concern for public use prompted Columbia Association to close the path and solicit a solution from Straughan Environmental.

The design team established four primary goals and objectives:

  • Remove the existing failing pipe and section of embankment;
  • Provide stable surface conveyance through the embankment with a bridge crossing;
  • Preserve existing natural resources, including extensive upstream wetlands; and
  • Improve longitudinal connectivity for aquatic species.

Straughan’s design included removal of the failed embankment and installation of a 45-foot single span pedestrian bridge. Straughan designed a new stream plan and profile to maintain grade upstream and preserve the existing wetland and improve floodplain connectivity downstream of the new crossing as the stream enters Lake Elkhorn.

The project, designed and fully permitted in 2019, was constructed in Summer 2020. A full year later, the site offers a beautiful example of environmental restoration that benefits the community around it. The stream and upstream wetland is stable with regular floodplain connection, and abundant wildlife (hawks, deer, fish). The pools provide play areas and exploration for community members and the rippling water offers tranquility. As the new vegetation and trees mature and develop, the once dangerous crossing will continue to evolve into a sliver of peace nestled in a frantic world.

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