Placement of reef balls on Memorial Stadium rubble to continue for at least five more years

Although it has been more than 11 years since Memorial Stadium was demolished, much of the concrete that once made up the bygone home of the Orioles, Colts and Ravens continues to host a hotbed of activity nearly 18 miles southeast of its previous location.

In 2002, approximately 10,000 cubic yards of rubble from the stadium was deposited over a 6-acre site on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, 3 miles west of Tolchester Beach in Kent County.

Every year since then, the Perry Hall chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association has organized the construction and placement of reef balls — hollow, flat-bottomed concrete blobs with holes — on a 1-acre section of the Memorial Stadium reef. Earlier this year the Maryland Department of Natural Resources issued a new permit that will allow the MSSA to continue with its annual reef ball placement for five more years on an additional 1-acre section of the reef.

The stadium rubble and the more than 1,700 reef balls that have been deployed so far have combined to provide a haven for marine life whose natural habitat had been destroyed by human activity during the previous 200 years.

Bill Huppert, a member of the Perry Hall MSSA who also sits on the Maryland DNR Artificial Reef Committee, instigated the use of reef balls in the Chesapeake after learning of their effectiveness in rebuilding coral reef ecosystems off the coast of Florida. And though it was first hoped that the project would bolster the oyster population, Huppert said it has been mussels that have seen the greatest benefit.

"Mussels grow like crazy on there," he said. "I picked up a sample one day that had hooked on an anchor; it was a piece of the old Memorial Stadium. Well, where it was flat on the ground there was nothing, but every inch of the rest of it had these little mussels growing on it. It was only as big as my fist but there must have been 30, at least, on there."

Like oysters, mussels serve as filters for the water of the bay and make it possible for other marine life to thrive. Huppert said the quality of the fishing at the Memorial Stadium reef site over the past 10 years serves as evidence of the effectiveness of the reef ball program.

"The fishing is better every year," Huppert said. "It's quite a story. And the fact that it costs the state virtually nothing other than one supervisor is pretty great, too."

From the beginning, the program has been made possible by volunteers, donations and grants. The construction of the reef balls has been handled in recent years by volunteers at area public and private schools, Stevenson University and the Boy Scouts. But it began on a much smaller scale.

"It was a couple of us making them in a guy's backyard. That's how we started," said Joe Zinner, president of the Perry Hall MSSA. "And we goofed a couple of times, but finally we started getting them and they worked pretty good. And once we got it down to where we knew what we were doing with them, then we went to the schools."

As it has in each of the past 10 years, next year the MSSA is planning to transport a new set of reef balls to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side in May. There they will be loaded aboard the Patricia Campbell, the CBF's 60-foot restoration vessel, before making the 25-mile cruise north to their final destination.

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