On a brisk Saturday in October, 160 volunteers collect 3.5 tons of discarded children’s toys, plastic bottles, crushed automobiles, and various other kinds of trash from their local Chesapeake Bay tributary, the Rappahannock River.
The volunteers, many of them students at the University of Mary Washington and Mountain View High School, are participants in a clean-up hosted by Friends of the Rappahannock, a non-profit advocacy, restoration and education organization based in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Friends of the Rappahannock – also known as “River Friends” or “FOR” – hosts fall and spring clean-ups each year. But its environmental efforts span the entire year. From engaging at-risk youth in streamside restoration activities to helping residents construct rain gardens in their yards, FOR’s volunteers are saving the Chesapeake Bay in a number of ways.
“We give people the chance to make a difference, to go home feeling that whatever they’ve done, they’ve made some type of positive impact,” says John Tippett, FOR’s executive director. “Providing a range of these fulfilling opportunities is what keeps our volunteers coming back.”
FOR’s diverse collection of volunteer programs are critical for a river so geographically expansive: the Rappahannock travels from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, transecting landscapes that range from agricultural (in the headwaters and tidewaters) to urban (near Fredericksburg).
Along the its course, the river experiences nearly every type of pollution pressure that can be found in Virginia: from livestock manure on farm fields to fertilizer from suburban lawns.
How does FOR help reduce these pollution pressures? The group’s strategy varies from community to community. FOR takes into account the pollution source (anything from animal waste to fertilized lawns), but also considers the interests of residents, the involvement of local governments, and the availability of staff and volunteers.
“We strive to develop a variety of activities and volunteer opportunities to engage our members and other community members,” explains Sarah Hagan, volunteer coordinator at FOR.
Here are a few of our favorite ways you can get involved with FOR:
Contact FOR to get involved today! And if you don’t live near the Rappahannock, don’t worry; there are plenty of small, volunteer-based watershed organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay region that you can get involved with!
MORE from FOR:
Images courtesy Friends of the Rappahannock
A new study analyzing 60 years of water quality data shows that efforts to reduce pollution from fertilizer, animal waste and other sources appear to be helping the Chesapeake Bay’s health improve.
The study, published in the Nov. 2011 issue of Estuaries and Coasts, was conducted by researchers from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).
The research team found that the size of mid- to late-summer low oxygen areas, called “dead zones,” leveled off in the Bay’s deep channels during the 1980s and has been declining ever since. This is the same time that the Bay Program formed and federal and state agencies set the Bay’s first numeric pollution reduction goals.
“This study shows that our regional efforts to limit nutrient pollution may be producing results,” said Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Continuing nutrient reduction remains critically important for achieving bay restoration goals.”
The study also found that the duration of the dead zone – how long it persists each summer – is closely linked to the amount of nutrient pollution entering the Bay each year.
For more information about the dead zone study, visit UMCES’s website.
Just a scenic two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., the 38-mile-long Passage Creek weaves in and out of Fort Valley, Virginia, a part of the Shenandoahs so sheltered that it has been called "a valley within a valley."
In the 1800s, Passage Creek was home to five- and six-pound trout. Today, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stocks the creek with trout three times each summer. Fisherman, local residents and conservationists are working together to protect habitat for trout and other important species.
Although there aren’t any gigantic trout (yet!), stepping onto the banks of Passage Creek is, in many ways, like taking a step back in time.
Passage Creek is considered to be a relatively healthy stream compared to other Virginia waterways, many of which have degraded habitats due to agriculture, urbanization and logging, according to the Potomac Conservancy, which has launched a restoration campaign in the area.
In addition to fishing its waters, visitors to Passage Creek cancamp in the adjacent George Washington National Forest, view the nation's first Civilian Conservation Corps camp or hike around the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, one of many iron ore furnaces constructed in Shenandoah Valley during the 1800s.
Visiting? Look for freshwater mussels (a sign of good stream health), salamanders, black bears, coyotes, wild turkeys and luna moths!
And if you're thirsty, look around! The area's freshwater springs first came to the public's attention in the 1850s, when a man named E.H. Munch built a "Seven Fountains" resort that treated guests to each of the seven kinds of mineral waters found in the area. Although the resort closed after the Civil War, many friendly area residents can lead you to a spring or two.
The federal government is looking for feedback on the first set of short-term water quality goals, or “milestones,” as part of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order.
The “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” calls upon the federal government to join the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – in establishing two-year milestones: short-term restoration goals set every two years that lead up to a long-term cleanup deadline.
The draft water quality milestones were selected because they represent activities that can result in large environmental improvements, need significant resources or directly support the states in meeting their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs).
You can provide feedback on the draft water quality milestones at the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website by Nov. 30, 2011.
The final federal water quality two-year milestones will be announced by Jan. 7, 2012, along with the Bay jurisdictions’ 2012-2013 milestones and the federal milestones for the other four goal areas (habitat, fish and wildlife, land conservation and public access, and supporting strategies).
Visit the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website to learn more about the federal strategy to protect and restore the Bay.