Under a bridge near 41st Avenue, a group of seven high schoolers climbed down the banks of Wells Run Wednesday afternoon to collect plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, and food containers caught in a so-called "trash tap."
Built by Tom Stickles, chairman of Wells Run Stream Committee, the wire and metal stopper keeps more than 80 percent of passing garbage from flowing into Anacostia River, but helping hands are needed to remove the leaves and trash it ensnares.
Wednesday marked the second time that the students from the Service Club had come together to aid in clean-up efforts. The committee Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and church groups to ensure Wells Run and its banks remain pristine.
Standing by the stream, 15-year-old Francis Mullen asked Stickles a question that led to a 10-minute lecture on phosphates, nitrates, and the need to test the water’s pH weekly.
That’s because Wells Run, which begins underground in Hyattsville and passes through University Park and Riverdale Park, can easily become polluted—a problem Stickles and his committee are actively combatting.
Since the three communities to protect and restore Wells Run, the stream committee has been a three-town effort. But for the day-to-day matters, it’s mostly University Park residents who contribute, Stickles said, since the committee was created right after the town received its charter in 1936.
“We are the stream committee freakazoids,” he said, nodding to fellow University Park resident and co-chair Mickey Lucas. “Our mission in life is to keep it [healthy], and anyone that infringes upon that, we will talk to.”
Lucas remembers the stream when trash and pollution weren’t problems. “I played in this creek when I was a boy,” Lucas said. “I grew up in this creek when it was littered with frogs and snakes.”
In the 1980s, a series of new developments in the area polluted the stream and eventually killed off a large portion of its wildlife, Stickles said.
As 17-year-old Caroline Nugent tested the water’s toxin levels, she said she noticed fish have returned to the stream—a stark change from the recent past.
Although the stream’s health has improved, Stickles said the committee plays a vital role as its watchdog. From major incidents— and into Wells Run last March—to minor trash annoyances, the committee will hear about it.
“We monitor the stream every day,” Stickles said. “It defines our community. We will protect it.”