By Zach Sparks
The pitch was simple but convincing: follow in his footsteps. Those were the words that convinced Lynne Rockenbauch to transition from Severn River Association treasurer to president, the same role held by her father, L. Marshall Dowling, from 1970 to 1972.
Rockenbauch grew up on the Severn and moved back to the Ben Oaks neighborhood in 1982. “I remember really thick seaweed under the Route 50 bridge getting tangled in the motor,” she said. “You don’t see that anymore.”
She soon got involved with the SRA as a volunteer, later becoming a director in 2011, treasurer in 2013 and president in 2015. “I believed in bringing the river back to people, helping them understand that it’s in trouble,” Rockenbauch said.
Having attended a few SRA meetings as a youth, she was familiar with SRA’s history as perhaps the oldest organization in the country dedicated to the preservation of a river.
Formed in 1911 by 32 residents, the SRA was originally focused on protecting and promoting fish and game while also developing public water access. Today, the group monitors threats to the river and its tributaries: pollution from septic systems and runoff, development, loss of forests, and erosion.
“Our problem is the sediment, the nitrogen, phosphorus and excess nutrients from fertilizer but also the erosion we’re seeing, especially in creeks that are run through old farmland that would have been there before,” Rockenbauch said.
As president, Rockenbauch oversees SRA’s many efforts: a speaker series, a stormwater grant program, water quality monitoring, and a partnership with Marylanders Grow Oysters. Through that program, waterfront property owners grow oysters in cages suspended from private piers. They protect the oysters during their vulnerable first year of life so the oysters can later be planted on local sanctuaries where they will enrich the ecosystem.
For 2018, SRA had 400 volunteers who handled 2,000 cages with 750,000 oysters, Rockenbauch said. She’s most proud of that work and the monthly speaker series, which draws an average of 50 to 70 people at Union Jack’s of Annapolis, but she attributed the success of those and other committees to dedicated volunteers in leadership positions.
As the SRA board of directors has tried to bring more awareness to the group’s mission, they hired someone to serve as program officer and communications director. Rockenbauch called the move a major change for the SRA but an important one.
“We’re not as big as the James River [Association] or the Potomac River [Conservancy] or some of those groups,” Rockenbauch said, “but most of those started as professional groups. SRA has done most of its work as a volunteer group. We don’t have an executive director, and we hire people only for the little pieces we need.”
Being a mostly volunteer organization, SRA relies on homeowners to get involved. “We’re trying to get residents around the river to find something they are interested in and contribute,” Rockenbauch said. “In the spring, we’ll do trash pickups and tree plantings.”
She has been an example of that involvement herself. As a Master Watershed Steward since 2012, she has planted rain gardens, conservation landscapes, and living shorelines. She is also a county “weed warrior,” working with a group that removes invasive plants, mostly from public land, about six days per year.
Rockenbauch has been the treasurer of the Ben Oaks Civic Association since October 2014, and she has served as the community’s delegate to the Greater Severna Park Council since January 2015.
As for the SRA, she is proud to be just one volunteer working to preserve and restore the Severn River. “Our vision has changed to being a bigger, well-known organization,” she said.
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