Sci­en­tist’s ad­mir­ers want stream he loved re­named in his honor

M. Gor­don Wol­man, leader in river re­search, stud­ied Bais­man Run ex­ten­sively

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Rachael Pa­cella —UMBC pro­fes­sor Andy Miller

Friends and ad­mir­ers of M. Gor­don “Reds” Wol­man are ask­ing fed­eral of­fi­cials to re­name a stretch of Bais­man Run that runs through Ore­gon Ridge Park in his honor.

Wol­man, a Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor and a leader in the field of river sci­ence, died in 2010 at age 85. Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County pro­fes­sor Andy Miller is lead­ing a group of Wol­man’s for­mer col­leagues and stu­dents in the ef­fort to re­name the stream that Wol­man stud­ied for much of his life.

Wol­man was known in­ter­na­tion­ally for his work in river sci­ence and stud­ied many streams in the area. But Bais­man Run in Cock­eysville is a wa­ter­way he re­turned to time and time again, tak­ing with his chil­dren and stu­dents to learn about sub­jects such as wa­ter flow and sed­i­ment dis­tri­bu­tion.

The U.S. Board on Ge­o­graphic Names is the agency that would of­fi­cially change the name.

Wol­man chaired the De­part­ment of Geog­ra­phy and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing at Johns Hop­kins, served on pub­lic com­mis­sions and wrote many re­ports.

Miller said Wol­man’s 2008 re­port “Wa­ter for Mary­land’s Fu­ture: What We Must Do To­day” is cited by sci­en­tists and pol­i­cy­mak­ers alike. But he said Wol­man also de­serves credit for in­spir­ing his stu­dents.

The stream that would be re­named is the stretch of Bais­man Run north of its con­flu­ence with Pond Branch. Bais­man Run re­ceives its flow from 941 acres of forested land be­fore emp­ty­ing into Loch Raven Reser­voir.

Miller and his col­leagues con­tacted Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil­man Wade Kach, who rep­re­sents the area through which the stream runs. Kach asked Sen. Ben Cardin for a state­ment of sup­port.

Cardin wrote to the U.S. Board on Ge­o­graphic Names in June.

“The value of Dr. Wol­man’s con­tri­bu­tion to our un­der­stand­ing of how land- Wol­man sits along the Jones Falls in this photo taken shortly af­ter Hur­ri­cane Agnes struck the area in 1972. scape management, wa­ter qual­ity and eco­log­i­cal in­tegrity im­pact the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay can­not be un­der­stated and should be rec­og­nized,” Cardin wrote.

The U.S Board on Ge­o­graphic Names re­quires a show of “lo­cal sup­port” be­fore it will change a name. When look­ing at com­mem­o­ra­tive names, the board also wants to see a con­nec­tion be­tween the per­son and the fea­ture be­ing named.

Wol­man, who was known as “Reds” be­cause of his hair, was a pro­fes­sor at Johns Hop­kins for 52 years.

The son of wa­ter chlo­ri­na­tion pi­o­neer Abel Wol­man, M. Gor­don Wol­man grew up near Druid Hill Park in the city. Af­ter serv­ing in the Navy dur­ing World War II, he stud­ied at Johns Hop­kins, was cap­tain of its na­tional cham­pion lacrosse team, and grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ge­ol­ogy in 1949.

He earned a doc­tor­ate in ge­ol­ogy at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity in 1953, and re­turned to Johns Hop­kins five years later as an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor. He chaired the De­part­ment of Geog­ra­phy and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing for three decades.

He taught his last course in the fall of 2009. He died Fe­bru­ary 2010.

“He de­voted his ca­reer to de­vel­op­ing and teach­ing meth­ods for ap­ply­ing Earth sci­ence to ques­tions of en­vi­ron­men­tal management and pub­lic pol­icy,” the Na­tional Academy of Sciences said af­ter his death. “In do­ing so he cre­ated a legacy of pub­lished work, in­flu­en­tial re­ports to gov­ern­ment, and stu­dents in­cul­cated with his pro­found com­mit­ment to ap­ply­ing sci­ence as pub­lic ser­vice. His work guided pub­lic pol­icy re­lated to wa­ter management and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems through­out the world.” Miller elab­o­rated. “I have met peo­ple from all over the world who may have met him only once yet still thought of Reds as their men­tor,” he said. “He had that ef­fect on peo­ple. He was the most down-to-earth, unas­sum­ing per­son you could ever hope to meet and he de­lighted in talk­ing with peo­ple from all walks of life about any­thing at all.”

Wol­man was also known for the “Wol­man peb­ble count,” used by sci­en­tists to char­ac­ter­ize the com­po­si­tion of a stream bed. The re­searcher takes a step, picks up the peb­ble next to his or her big toe, then records the data.

At Bais­man Run, Wol­man once threw mar­bles in the wa­ter and promised a case of beer to the stu­dents who found them. The mar­bles showed how the dirt and rocks along the stream bed moved over time, Miller said.

It was Wol­man’s style to pose ques­tions, but not give an­swers, Miller said. It was not his goal to tell his stu­dents what was true, he said, but to have them ar­rive at the truth them­selves.

Elsa Katana, one of Wol­man’s four chil­dren, is pleased with the idea of re­nam­ing the stream for her fa­ther.

When Katana was a child, she said, her fa­ther would take her to a stream when it rained to watch the wa­ter rush­ing down from the land.

He would throw corks into Bais­man Run and time them as they floated down­stream, shout­ing out num­bers for his chil­dren to write down, mea­sur­ing the flow of the stream dur­ing the storm.

Stand­ing in the rain for the sake of sci­ence wasn’t al­ways ap­peal­ing to Katana as a child. But it was a chance to spend time with her fa­ther.

“Most of it was just to be with him,” she said. “He was so much fun.”

“He was the most downto-earth, unas­sum­ing per­son you could ever hope to meet.”


Andy Miller is lead­ing an ef­fort to have a sec­tion of Bais­man Run at Ore­gon Ridge Park re­named in honor of M. Gor­don “Reds” Wol­man. Wol­man, a for­mer John Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, was leader in the field of river sci­ence and stud­ied the wa­ter­way ex­ten­sively.

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