On October 15th, alongside a mud-banked river usually empty of life, little children skip among brightly tented booths, carrying fishing lines and nature-inspired passport books. Community members watch water run clear through a root-planting demonstration or try to spot American eels in a cloudy-water tank teeming with fish. In the air, marimba music and the tantalizing smells of Latin fare mingle with the musical murmur of combined Spanish and English conversations. A few feet away, a paper mural of insects is constantly expanded as everyone tries their hand at drawing local bugs. This is the Festival del Rio Anacostia, and it’s impossible to decide whether you are at an environmental event or a cultural celebration.
That perfect fusion is certainly true for Ricardo, an English-speaking local resident who heard about the event through a Spanish-scripted Facebook post. Recognizing the word “festival,” he thought it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and enjoy some good food. Not until arriving did he realize the festival was heavy with nature awareness. “That’s good!” he exclaims. “We have to live in it. Anything we can do to make it better for me, for you, for the younger generation coming up, you know… be a participant. You learn and take it back to your own neighborhood.” He planned to take pictures and share them with people in his neighborhood that couldn’t make it that day—allowing them to witness the good food, dancing and environmental lessons alike.
Coming together and collaboration were evident in the creation of the festival as much as the event itself. It began as an idea of the Latino Outreach Subcommittee of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee. Before long, a diverse array of government bodies, citizen committees and environmental organizations offered their capacities and expertise. The space at Bladensburg Park was donated, along with the tents and chairs. Music was provided by Guate Marimba and entertainment by Despertar Maya Ma’am in conjunction with Asociacion de Guatemaltecos Sin Fronteras. Parks and Recreation Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Anacostia Watershed Society, Chispa, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Friends of Sligo Creek, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Anacostia Riverkeepers were all heavily involved in making the festival a reality.
Being aware of your environment and learning to care for it go hand in hand, and organizers do their best to highlight that intersection. Most booths have both English- and Spanish-speaking personnel; at others, roving translators are available and happy to help. For those without readily available transportation, buses run throughout the day to pick up attendees for the festival and later take them back home. “In many cases due to language and economic barriers, Latinos do not have an opportunity to recreate in the Anacostia River,” wrote Chispa Maryland Program Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo. “[This festival] open[s] the river to this environmentally underserved community.”
Indeed it does, and plans are already underway for a Festival del Rio Anacostia 2017. For more information or to get involved with next year’s festival, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a partnership, we understand that restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed cannot be achieved by one group alone. Tackling the challenges facing the Bay region requires engaging groups from government agencies and non-profits to private landowners and schools. Businesses can also play a significant role in the Bay restoration effort, and a program launched this year aims to encourage and amplify their actions.
In February, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay launched Businesses for the Bay, a membership association for businesses across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is the only business association that focuses on the Chesapeake region, and it serves as a forum for business of all sizes to connect, have their voices heard, share best practices and be recognized for their commitment to Bay restoration.
Members pledge to take at least one action annually to help protect and restore the Bay watershed. These are meaningful, measurable contributions that are directly tied to the themes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and are therefore part of a much larger, regional effort. In less than a year, Businesses for the Bay’s members are already working on 172 actions. For example, Fareva Richmond, Inc. monitors and maintains songbird next boxes, plants sunflower gardens and reduces stormwater runoff.
Created “by businesses, for businesses,” the program is designed to complement corporate sustainability goals. The program is guided by a steering committee of business members from around the region. Government agencies and non-profit organizations are also welcome to join the association as partners to encourage networking and conservation.
Those who would like to learn more about Businesses for the Bay and get a taste of what it has to offer can attend the December 7th Chesapeake Business Forum in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Open to members and nonmembers alike, the forum is an opportunity to connect and learn from local business leaders about their work, their environmental and social responsibility plans, how businesses and non-profits can work together and much more.
Jennifer Carr of the South River Federation identifies leaves with her daughter at the 2016 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on September 30, 2016.
A critical piece of Chesapeake Bay restoration is teaching individuals—young and old—about the Bay, its rivers and streams and the lands that surround them. Educational opportunities provide people of all ages with rich natural, cultural, historical and recreational experiences and can inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment. For some students, that includes climbing aboard the steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge to learn about blue crabs and marsh periwinkles. For others, it means measuring local water quality in the river than runs mere yards from their school campus in Lititz, Pennsylvania, or using microscopes to identify plankton collected in Baltimore’s Patapsco River.
With close to 18 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay region—a number that continues to grow—education and stewardship is vital to restoring and maintaining the Bay’s health. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners committed to providing each student in the watershed with at least one “meaningful watershed educational experience” in elementary, middle and high school, giving students the knowledge and skills to protect and restore their local waterways.
Learn more about the Bay Program’s efforts to promote environmental literacy.
Image by Will Parson
Mark Connolly of St. Michaels, Maryland, harvests clams on Maryland's Eastern Shore in the pre-dawn light.
When the hydraulic escalator dredge—shown above being used by Connolly—was first used to harvest soft-shell clams in Maryland in 1951, it quickly led to the harvest of millions of the bivalves each year. At its peak in 1964, the commercial fishery of soft-shell clams reached close to 680,000 bushels. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, parasites, disease and severe weather collided to contribute to a stark decline in harvests. Despite a slight recovery in the late 1980s, harvests crashed again in 1992 and have yet to recover. Once the most prolific producer of soft-shell clams in the country, commercial harvest of soft-shell clams in Maryland now measures in the hundreds of bushels.
As soft-shell clam harvests plummeted, watermen turned to harvesting the stout razor clam for use as bait for blue crabs. For nearly two decades, razor clams served as an adequate alternative—but in 2003, watermen reported observing unprecedented numbers of dead razor clams. Subsequent surveys estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the stout razor clams in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay had died, most likely from a fatal blood cancer called DN Disease.
These days, watermen looking to harvest clams in the Chesapeake Bay are focused on the hard clam. Aquaculture operations in the saltier waters of the lower Bay have been particularly successful harvesting the bivalves: Virginia shellfish farmers planted 526 million hard clams in 2015, an increase from 400 million a decade prior.
Learn more about the decline of soft shell and razor clams in the Bay.
Image by Keith Rutowski