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Chesapeake Bay News: Chesapeake Bay Program

Jun
16
2015

Bernie Fowler measures a sneaker index of 44.5 inches at annual wade-in

Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his sneakers through 44.5 inches of water at this year’s 28th annual Patuxent River Wade-In on June 14. This marks the deepest measurement of the “sneaker index”—the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his shoes as he wades into the water—since 1997.

Bernie Fowler, center, looks down at his great-grandson Carter Dailey, 5, while holding hands with his grandaughter Lauren Fowler at the 28th annual Patuxent River Wade-In at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard, Md., on June 14, 2015. A former Maryland state senator and long-time advocate for a healthy Patuxent River, Fowler draws attention to the health of the river by wading into the water and measuring the depth at which he can longer see the top of his white sneakers. This year the official measurement was 44.5 inches.

Fowler holds the wade-in each year on the second Sunday in June to bring attention to the polluted waters of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. After decades on Broomes Island, the event moved to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in 2010.

In his youth, Fowler could wade into the Patuxent up to his chest and still see fish, shellfish and underwater grasses. But nutrient and sediment pollution in the river have led to degraded water clarity and fueled algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the river bottom. The 1960s sneaker index of 57 inches now serves as the benchmark for a restored Patuxent River. While still well below this target, this year’s measurement is close to double last year’s depth of 23 inches.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.



Jun
09
2015

Going green at the Gunston School

On a verdant spring morning, tie-dye clad students of the Gunston School, a private high school of about 160 students in Centreville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gather on the dew-covered front lawn to participate in a team-building exercise. Giggling teens in conga line formations scramble around in an attempt to follow directions shouted through a megaphone by Emily Beck, the sustainability coordinator for the school. It’s Earth Day; there’s an electric energy in the air.

A one-mile access road offers the tranquility of hundreds of lush acres of farm fields, all placed under permanent conservation easement, leading up to 32 acres of campus that are nestled into the nape of the Corsica River. The rural expansiveness sets the tone for a core message that is threaded throughout everything the Gunston School does: sustainability.

Out of the 2,220 schools in Maryland, only 20 percent—or 450—of them, including the Gunston School, are certified through the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education (MAEOE) as Green Schools. Certified schools must meet a stringent set of criteria that includes benchmarks such as school-wide environmental behavior changes, water conservation, pollution reduction, instruction on environmental issues and many more.

Gunston teacher and sustainability coordinator Emily Beck, center, directs students during a seining workshop that was part of the school's Earth Day celebration on April 22, 2015. Gunston was recently certified as a 2015 Green School by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Certified green schools are also required to hold an annual celebration of green practices; for the Gunston School, that materializes in the form of a daylong Earth Day celebration planned and organized by the students. Instead of attending class, students participate in a morning of workshops conducted by students, faculty and outside presenters and an afternoon film session and green fair. This year’s celebration focused on the intersection of land, livestock and wildlife and offered programs such as poetry in nature; oyster restoration through the Chesapeake Environmental Center; community supported, organic and sustainable farming practices; and a number of road, campus and shoreline cleanups.

Students write from the perspective of animals during a poetry workshop that was part of Gunston's Earth Day celebration.

Being a green school is embedded in the core of the Gunston School’s identity. “The Gunston School has embraced being a green school; we first applied in 2011 and we reapplied this year,” said Beck. “That has really helped to inform the students, teachers, faculty and administration about what a school can be in terms of a role model in the community.” 

The Gunston School’s overarching mission is to help students grow and thrive in a way that way that will prepare them for not only college, but also to be lifelong leaders. The curriculum takes a personalized approach, with instructors working closely with each student to help them develop their leadership skills and academic strengths with a special emphasis on global awareness and sustainable living. In that focus, the school is able to harness their location and pair it with lessons through their Chesapeake Bay Studies program, an integral part of the curriculum that has been in existence for more than 20 years.

Although the Bay Studies program is weaved into lesson plans throughout the year, it culminates in an annual weeklong series of experiential seminars designed to get the students in and on the Bay. By partnering with organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Outward Bound and the Sultana Project, students are directly exposed to and informed about the ecological problems surrounding the Bay and its watershed.

Maryland Parks Service volunteers show two eastern screech owls to Gunston students during a workshop on Earth Day. Green schools such as Gunston are required to hold an annual celebration of green practices.

“Students learn in many different ways; we have students who are classic book learners for whom getting into the Bay helps to bring that book learning alive, and we have students who are more hands on learners and they transfer that knowledge that they got during their hands on experience back into the classroom,” said John Lewis, Headmaster of the Gunston School.  “I think that if the students aren’t ever really in the Bay or immersed in the watershed, they’re sort of just abstract environmentalists—they’re not actually seeing the impacts and the dynamics of the Bay system and that goes for not just kids, but also the teachers.”

Patience and adaptation are the name of the game when it comes to taking students outdoors for lessons. “The biggest fear [for teachers] of taking students outside is that they will run wild, and it’s a downside of our current education system is that the only time that kids get to go outside is for recess. So, the times that you take them outside, their mentality is recess,” said Beck.

At the Gunston School, pairing lessons with the natural world means students have learned over the years that being outside means learning, and they remain engaged. If a distraction happens, like an eagle flying by, teachers are content with taking a moment to appreciate the sighting and even adapting their lesson to their surroundings if need be, because, like many things in life, it’s important to expect the unexpected and go with the flow.

Gunston’s 32-acre campus in Centerville, Md., offers students direct access to the Corsica River.

Although outdoors learning is an ideal opportunity for both teachers and students, some challenges can come along with it. Not all schools have the ample space and natural resources that the Gunston School is fortunate enough to have access to. “There are opportunities to create teaching environments in the barest amount of space or make use of your indoor environment if it is not possible to get out of doors,” said Beck. “The natural world is all around us, it’s just changing your focus a little bit to see the learning opportunities.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.

Images by Will Parson

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna is the Communications Office Staffer for the Chesapeake Bay Program. She developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and being raised in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of the University of Maine's Communication program, she loves any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of conserving the environment.



Jun
04
2015

Photo Essay: Student water sampling in Lititz Run

Each spring and fall, a stream gushing from a spring in the middle of Lititz, Pa., becomes the center of attention for a group of Warwick High School chemistry students. Lititz Run starts flowing in Lititz Springs Park, mere yards from the students’ campus, where they begin a biannual field trip to measure their local water quality.

The students get a hands-on learning experience that builds their environmental literacy and also provides meaningful data to the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance (LRWA) and Warwick Township. That data helps them assess completed restoration projects and decide what they want to do in the future to improve Lititz Run, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lists as an impaired stream. It takes just a few miles for Lititz Run to join the Conestoga River, but along the way it picks up pollution from urban runoff, storm sewers, wastewater discharge and agriculture.

Student Luke Mariano takes measurements with a Vernier pH probe in the headwaters of Lititz Run at Lititz Springs Park in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. Chemistry students from Warwick High School sampled Lititz Run during a biannual field trip that visited eight sites along the stream, which has been listed as impaired by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Student Josh Cascarella, right, measures dissolved oxygen at Lititz Springs Park.

It is up to Warwick teachers Diana Griffiths and Doug Balmer to navigate the logistics of funding, paperwork, and tight curricula needed to pull off the field trips.

“We don’t have a whole lot of time or flexibility to give lots of units on applications of chemistry,” Griffiths said. “So this gives some kids a chance to see some of that chemistry put to use out in the field, even though it’s just a day.”

Warwick teacher Doug Balmer demonstrates a sampling technique for chemistry students on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa. "I've fallen into the stream several times," Balmer said.

Chance Berger, right, looks at a water sample with fellow student Jenny Beznoska on Lititz Run.

Warwick teacher Diana Griffiths shows students Christina Shelley, right, and Kate Martin, how to measure pH.

Teacher Doug Balmer shows, from left, students Ben Hershey, David Heckel, and Josh Cascarella from Warwick High School how to conduct a colorimetric nitrate test.

Student Jenny Beznoska from Warwick High School titrates a sample to measure dissolved oxygen at Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015.

The trips are a partnership between Warwick High School and the LRWA. Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with the Lancaster County Conservation District, has been assisting with the trips almost since they began in 1997. He describes the relationship as symbiotic.

“I’m just very thankful that they continue to be active partners in this, because you see very few communities and watershed groups working together like that,” Kofroth said.

He said it is hard to tease out the effects of restoration, an upgrade to Lititz Wastewater Treatment Plant, tree plantings and public education, but their cumulative positive impact is not surprising.

“It might seem early, but there is a slight decrease in the nutrients [in Lititz Run] over time,” Kofroth said.

Teacher Doug Balmer attempts to remove a piece of trash from Lititz Run.

A night heron perches on a rock in Lititz Run.

From left, students Kate Martin, Kyla McClune, Christina Shelley, Josh Miller, Mitchel Hess, Luke Mariano, and Kelly Hossler measure dissolved oxygen with teacher Diana Griffiths.

From left, Kelly Hossler, Kate Martin, Christina Shelley, Josh Cascarella, and Destiny Butler carry sampling equipment to a site on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. "The bus got stuck one year," said Doug Balmer, who leads the trip with fellow teacher Diana Griffiths. The teachers also cited a flat tire, dead battery, faulty brakes and other mishaps that have occurred on past field trips.

Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with Lancaster County Conservation District, samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa., with students Jenny Beznoska, left, and Chance Berger.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a northern dusky salamander collected along with macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth stirs up stream sediment while student Jenny Beznoska samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a sample of macroinvertebrates collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Student Chance Berger holds a clam specimen collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Luke Mariano measures dissolved oxygen on Lititz Run in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Connor Pierce carries boxes of Vernier probes back to the schoolbus after sampling finished at a farm in Manheim Township, Pa., the last site of the day along Lititz Run.

Another piece of evidence for the stream’s recovery is the return of brown trout, which need cold, oxygenated waters to reproduce. Kofroth likens them to a canary in a coal mine.

And for the students, especially those who may have never seen a freshwater macroinvertebrate before, the opportunity to learn outside is a memorable one.

“I’ve had one parent contact me one time and say this is the best field trip their child has ever been on, ever, in their whole school experience. Now I’m not saying that is true for every kid, but for that kid it was just eye opening,” Griffiths said.

“I think just the fact that it’s literally in their town, in their backyard, makes a difference.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images, captions and text by Will Parson



Jun
03
2015

Mid-shore rivers earn higher grades on latest report card

Several waterways on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore saw improvements in water clarity over the past year, helping them earn higher grades in the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy’s fifth annual report card.

Watermen hand tong for oysters on the Choptank River, which was upgraded from a "C" to a "B-" in the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy's latest report card.

Of the sixteen rivers and streams tracked by the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, grades for ten of the waterways improved from the previous year. This includes Tuckahoe Creek, a tributary of the Choptank and historically one of the area’s most polluted rivers, which was upgraded from a “D+” to a “C.” Increased water clarity and a rebound in underwater grass abundance helped the Choptank overall earn a “B-,” up from a “C” last year. Eastern Bay and the surrounding creeks showed modest improvement, all scoring “B” grades or higher.

Runoff from agriculture is the primary factor slowing the recovery of water quality in the area, according to the report. The Miles and Wye Rivers continue to struggle—earning “C” grades overall—due in part to increases in nitrogen pollution and low dissolved oxygen levels. Excess nutrients can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms, blocking sunlight and creating low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate aquatic life.

Grades are based on data from more than 100 sampling sites, where volunteers test for water clarity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients and chloropyll a. The Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy also tracks water temperature, pH, salinity and bacteria levels.

For more information on nutrient and sediment loads in the Bay’s major rivers— including the Choptank—see the Bay Program's latest pollution load indicators.

Learn more.



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