IMG 9690
This storm drain is now a work of art
Credit: Stephanie Stilluch

City residents who care about the environment have been making a difference through the College Park Committee for a Better Environment (CBE) for over 50 years. 

Established in 1972, the committee currently has 13 members, who are appointed by the mayor and city council for three-year renewable terms. While the committee originally focused on beautifying the city, today it pursues a wide variety of initiatives intended to reduce harmful impacts on the environment and improve quality of life for residents.

Storm drain murals and signs

One of the committee’s highly visible projects is a series of murals and signs to raise awareness that whatever goes down storm drains ends up in local waterways. 

Beginning in fall 2021, CBE partnered with the College Park Arts Exchange on the murals. Local artists have painted murals on 14 storm drains all around the city, with more to come this spring. Todd Larson, CBE chair, said, “This project gives local artists a chance to show their work in a place where everyone can see it, while also providing an educational message to help residents understand why it’s important not to put anything down the storm drain except water.”

CBE has also worked with Girl Scouts, and fraternities and sororities to place markers that say “Only Rain Down the Drain” on over 150 storm drains. Ultimately CBE plans to get either a marker or art on every storm drain in the city.

Native trees

In 2021, CBE member Alexa Bely led the committee’s work to launch a tree identification program to label native trees along the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail, working closely with city arborist Brenda Alexander. The goal is to raise awareness and appreciation of native trees so that more people will plant them in their own yards.

So far 29 trees from Calvert Hills through Berwyn have identification signs that give each tree’s common and scientific names and highlight the value of each species to the environment and community. The city’s sustainability webpage has an interactive map to show the locations of each identified tree and more information about each species. 

Green Awards

For over 20 years, CBE has issued awards to recognize city residents and businesses for their efforts to protect and conserve the environment. The Green Awards program is also intended to promote broader adoption of environmentally responsible practices. 

In 2023, CBE gave out four Green Awards for efforts such as planting a pollinator garden, assisting with tree giveaways, and modeling a comprehensive renewable-energy home makeover. 

Anyone may nominate a city resident, or a business or organization that is located within the city for an award – CBE makes awards twice yearly. Larson said the awards “are wonderful because we get to recognize leaders throughout the city.”

Rebates for electric mowers and more

CBE’s most recent initiative is an incentive program designed to encourage residents to purchase green alternatives to gas-powered yard equipment. The proposal was presented at the Jan. 16 city council meeting, and the program is slated to roll out this spring. 

Under this incentive program, residents could receive a $100 rebate for an electric mower or manual reel mower and $50 for each electric string trimmer (aka weedwacker), leaf blower and hedge trimmer, up to a total of $250 per calendar year. Even old-fashioned rakes will be eligible for a $20 rebate. 

Additional accomplishments

The above projects are just a few of CBE’s activities during the past few years. Other accomplishments include creating a permaculture garden, developing the proposal for the plastic bag ordinance that the city council adopted in 2023, educational events, tree plantings, cleanups, and monthly “green tips” for residents that are published in the Municipal Scene newsletter.

Larson described the group’s work as very collaborative: different committee members take the lead on the projects they care most about, and they work closely with city staff to develop and implement their ideas. “The city council has been very supportive of green initiatives,” Larson said, “and also the staff, especially Janet McCaslin and Robert Marsili in Public Works.”

All of these initiatives, and more, contribute to the city’s designation as a Sustainable Maryland Certified Community. CBE serves as the city’s Sustainable Maryland Green Team, providing advice and leadership on best practices that the city and residents can use to advance sustainability goals. “Hopefully,” said Larson, “our work will inspire other folks to adopt green actions in their life – to think, yeah, I could do that too.”