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Piney Branch & Rock Creek Songbirds

The Challenge

The Piney Branch stream is probably the most compromised of all the major tributaries to Rock Creek in the Washington, DC section of the waterway. The Piney Branch watershed covers approximately 2,500 acres, 95 percent of which is impervious surface. The presence of a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system magnifies the pollution of the tributary. The 67-acre Piney Branch section of Rock Creek is largely wooded, but the tree canopy is aging and regeneration of the forests has been limited by deer browse and invasive plants. 

Chestnut and white oak, beech, and tulip poplar are among the dominant tree species of the stream valley, and persimmon, sassafras and elderberry can be found under the forest canopy. 

Ribbon Cutting:

On October 28, 2017 we celebrated the work we've done with Rock Creek Park and Rock Creek Songbirds with a ribbon cutting. The ribbon cutting was in honor of the installation of the protective fence, the new interpretive signage, and the useful new grill and coal disposal bin! You can see photos from the event below. 

Piney Branch Ribbon Cutting

Where are we now? 

It's been two years since Piney Branch Tributary and Picnic Grove 29 were designated by Rock Creek Park (National Park Service) as Rock Creek Conservancy's Sustaining Our Lands with Volunteer Energy (SOLVE) site, and since then things are looking up for this underserved section of Rock Creek Park. 

Together, Rock Creek Park, Rock creek Songbirds, and Rock Creek Conservancy have cleaned 408 bags of trash from the site, removed 100 bags of invasive species, installed a grill and coal disposal bin at the picnic pavilion, planted 550 trees, moved trash bins closer to te site, and installed a fence to protect the unique wetlands. Rock Creek Songbirds has even installed an educational sign to teach people who use the picnic pavillion about the environment they are visiting. 

Major Milestones:

There is still a lot of work to be done, but we're already starting to see the results of our work! 

1) Installed the first grill at the Picnic Grove 29.
2) Rehabilitated wetlands near the picnic grove. 

3) Built a fence surrounding the wetlands to limit human impact. 

4) Planted trees on both sides of Piney Branch Parkway. 

5) Cleaned up trash around picnic grove and in surrounding forest. 

6) Removed many invasive plants.

7) Moved trash bins closer to the picnic area for convenience and to help limit litter. 

What's Next? 

An old, unusable slab of basketball court asphalt is taking up space that could be better use for habitat restoratio. Removing it will be the next big Piney Branch project. 

Invasive plants still threaten large portions of the tributary. But, with the continued efforts from out volunteers, the native ecosystem is already bouncing back. 

Piney Branch and SOLVE

Piney Branch Graphic
Image: Summary of all Rock Creek Conservancy restoration work in the Piney Branch Tributary.  

Rock Creek Conservancy has a formal agreement with Rock Creek Park designating Piney Branch as a SOLVE site. Launched in September 2015 as part of Rock Creek Park's 125th birthday, SOLVE is a program that enables interested individuals and groups to adopt, care for, and look after a part of the Park. In Piney Branch, volunteer tasks include trash pickup and invasive exotic plant removal. 

Rock Creek Songbirds


Rock Creek Conservancy is proud to be a partner of the Rock Creek Songbirds habitat restoration project. Steve Dryden, a founding RCC board member, created the Songbirds initiative to improve the Piney Branch section of the Park for nature and people. Since 2013, the initiative has planted or protected close to 500 native trees, assisted by RCC volunteers who have cleared invasive plants and cleaned up trash. Tree plantings in this area are intended to thicken the tree canopy and understory to make the habitat more attractive to birds.

The mission of Rock Creek Songbirds is to restore habitat for migratory birds in the Park and engage the nearby Latino community. Using the migratory story, presentations are made in local schools to students whose families often are from the many Latin countries where the birds spend the winter months. Students have helped to plant trees and protect native species near their school grounds. Art projects include the creation of "Welcome Back Songbirds" banners that are hung in the school's foyer when birds return in the spring. So far, more than 350 students and youth have participated in programs about the migratory phenomenon.

More Photos of Piney Branch: 

Piney Branch