Carroll Creek bridge in Frederick, Maryland. Photo by Andrew Murdock

Situated along 1.3 miles through a charming historic downtown, Carroll Creek Park (South Market Street) is the heart of Frederick, Md. A peaceful stream and brick walkways beg passersby to take a stroll. Public art projects decorate the footbridges that cross the water. Some of the city's best dining destinations flank the park, and outdoor seating areas fill up when the sun is shining. It's idyllic. But it wasn't always this way.

In 1972 and 1976, floods devastated downtown Frederick. The 1976 flood - which caused millions of dollars in damage to the city, its shops and businesses - sent locals on a search for a solution to the flooding problem, according to Richard Griffin, Frederick's director of economic development.

The mayor and business leaders created an ambitious $65 million plan to transform downtown into a safer, more productive place by preventing it from flooding again.


Carroll Creek Park. Photo by C. Kurt Holder/Courtesy of Visit Frederick

Today, while visitors meander through the park or sit down for a picnic in its grassy amphitheater, they might not know about the engineering marvel in action 20 feet below them. The city's project took the natural stream channel and put it below ground in four 20-by-20-foot concrete conduits, through which storm runoff flows. "Each conduit is big enough to drive a Greyhound bus through," Griffin said.

Over the course of six city administrations, Frederick has not only tamed the flood beast, it built an attraction for residents and more than 1.5 million annual visitors to enjoy.

When Carroll Creek Park opened in 2006, instead of cutting a ribbon, city leaders and dignitaries released fish into the stream. Today the stream is full of aquatic life, including crawfish. "Some of the fish are enormous - longer than my arm," Griffin said. Hundreds of waterlilies cover the stream's surface. Keeping with the project's theme, this serves dual purposes: to beautify the park and to keep the water cool, which deters algae growth.

Dining options along the park include the Wine Kitchen on the Creek, Hinode Japanese, Döner Bistro and Sweeties (ice cream, chocolate and candy).


Frederick Alive @ 5 concert series. Photo by Douglas Via

In autumn, the city's In the Street festival stretches from the park through downtown. Summer brings the Festival of the Arts to the banks of the stream. Two concert series, including Alive @ Five, will be held at the amphitheater when the weather is warm. Occasionally, the stream is used for boat parades and paddleboating.

The city is at work on a second phase to create new and wider paths, add landscape planters, lighting and water features. Up next: a 207-room hotel with 24,000 square feet of meeting space along the park. It's expected to open in 2017.

In retrospect, the flood ushered in something unexpected and beneficial. "Had the city not recovered from the flood and invested in flood control," Griffin said, "Frederick might not be experiencing this national and regional attention as a great place to live, work, play and visit."

Bring a padlock

Some couples have started clipping locks to one of the footbridges that crosses the creek to profess their love, a tradition that is popular in Paris.

Look here

The three-dimensional art on the Community Bridge that crosses the creek was designed with input from residents.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.

E-mail us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.