Tree stumps to step over and drum circles to join. Slate easels to draw on and animals to meet. Hollow logs to climb through and dirt to dig in.
What kid wouldn’t love it here?
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Md., has joined a growing list of nature-inspired organizations that encourage kids to explore, respect and protect the environment. Thanks to a growing body of research that supports the benefits of unstructured play and child-nature interaction, places like the Irvine Center—with its trails, garden and outdoor classroom—are popping up all over, getting kids to play in fields and forests instead of on plastic and asphalt.
The idea? When given the chance to roam and run in natural places, kids will learn about and come to love the outdoors, becoming curious environmentalists and new stewards of our watershed.
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Center’s exhibit hall, green building and 116 acres of woods and meadows are open to the public; the Irvine Center’s outdoor classroom is open to members and to those who participate in the organization’s programs.
More from Irvine:
Three Delaware towns have received grant funding and technical assistance to create habitat and improve water quality in Delaware's tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.
The towns of Greenwood, Laurel and Bethel, located along the Route 13 corridor in Sussex County, have set their sights on curbing stormwater runoff to reduce the flow of nutrients and sediment into the Nanticoke River and Broad Creek.
When rainfall runs across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, it can pick up pollutants before washing down storm drains and into local waterways. By using best management practices—think rain barrels, green roofs or forested buffers along the shores of streams and rivers—to target the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay, these Delaware towns can help position the state to meet its pollution reduction goals.
The Town of Greenwood, for instance, will restore a buffer of native vegetation along a tax ditch that drains into the Nanticoke River, establishing habitat and reducing stormwater runoff from two industrial buildings in the heart of the community.
The neighboring towns of Laurel and Bethel will develop plans to bring green infrastructure to Broad Creek, stabilizing stream banks, reducing stormwater discharge and eliminating local flooding. Bethel might even implement innovative practices in the oldest part of town, bringing permeable pavement and living shorelines to the town's historic district.
"The projects in Greenwood, Laurel and Bethel will improve the water quality of our local streams and rivers, reduce flooding and enhance the quality of life for local communities," said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Collin O'Mara. "By ... working together, we are securing resources necessary to ensure that our waterways are safe, swimmable and fishable for current and future generations."
Funding for the Greenwood project, totaling $35,000, was awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.Technical assistance for the initiatives in Laurel and Bethel, valued at $100,000, was awarded through NFWF's Local Government Capacity Building Initiative. To learn more about the projects, visit the DNREC website.
The University of Maryland has received close to $700,000 in federal funding to help communities reduce stormwater runoff.
Using a software program to pinpoint pollution hot spots and an innovative brand of social marketing to boost citizen engagement, the university will embark on a multi-year project to increase the adoption of conservation practices in two watershed communities: the Wilde Lake watershed in Howard County, Md., and the Watts Branch watershed in Washington, D.C., whose waters flow into the Patuxent and Anacostia rivers, respectively.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. Best management practices can reduce the flow of stormwater into creeks, streams and rivers, from the green roofs that trap and filter stormwater to the permeable pavement that allows stormwater to trickle underground rather than rush into storm drains.
But best management practices cannot work without the citizens who put them into action.
"We need to work with communities, rather than take a top-down approach [to stormwater management]," said project lead and assistant professor Paul Leisnham. "For the long-term successful implementation of these practices ... we need communities to be involved."
The university has partnered with local schools, religious organizations and grassroots associations (among them the Maryland Sea Grant, the Anacostia Watershed Society and Groundwork Anacostia) in hopes of breaking down barriers to the adoption of best management practices and increasing community involvement—and thus, investment—in local, long-term environmental conservation.
From left, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, University of Maryland assistant professor Paul Leisnham and U.S. EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn M. Garvin
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin commended the project at a Bladensburg Waterfront Park event as a creative and results-driven way to reduce stormwater runoff.
"It's going to allow us to make a difference in our [local] watershed, which will make a difference in the Chesapeake Bay," Cardin said.
The funding, which totaled $691,674, was awarded through the Sustainable Chesapeake Grant program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the Chesapeake Bay, the river meets the sea. Freshwater and saltwater mix. Countless fish, birds and mammals find a home, a rest stop or a place to raise their young. All in one of the most productive ecosystems on earth—and the largest estuary in the United States!
Celebrate National Estuaries Week with this list of eight reasons the Chesapeake Bay is exceptional.
Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey Landsat/Flickr
8. Its size. The Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is about 200 miles long and holds more than 18 trillion gallons of water, some from the Atlantic Ocean and some from the 150 streams, creeks and rivers that drain into its watershed. This fresh and saltwater mix supports more than 2,700 species of plants and animals.
7. Its shorelines. The Bay and its tidal tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline—more than the entire U.S. west coast! Shorelines support a number of unique critters, like the diamondback terrapins that dig shallow nests in the sand, the horseshoe crabs that spawn on Bay beaches or the shorebirds that have long legs and an appetite for fish, clams and other aquatic snacks. Shorelines also allow people to reach the water to swim, fish and walk on the sand. There are close to 800 existing access sites along the shorelines of the Bay and its tributaries, and groups like the National Park Service are working to add more.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region/Flickr
6. Its geology. While the Bay itself lies within the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the watershed spans two more geologic regions: the Piedmont Plateau and the Appalachian Province. This means watershed residents don’t have to travel far to spot plants, insects and animals that inhabit different landscapes, whether it is the Delmarva fox squirrel that favors the flat lowlands of the Delmarva Peninsula or the black bear that prefers the mountains and valleys of the Appalachian foothills.
5. Its wetlands. About 284,000 acres of tidal wetlands grow in the Bay region. These wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and shellfish, who use the protected areas as nurseries or spawning grounds, and for birds, who use wetlands to find food, cover and, in the case of migrating waterfowl, a winter home. Wetlands also slow the flow of pollutants into the Bay and its tributaries, stabilize shorelines and protect properties from flooding.
4. Its forests. Forests cover 55 percent of the Bay watershed and provide critters on land and in the water with food and shelter. Bald eagles, for instance, build two-ton treetop nests near the water, while brook trout depend on the shade of streamside trees to cool their underwater habitat. Forests also support the economies of watershed states. Forestry is the second largest industry in the Pennsylvania and Virginia and the fifth largest in Maryland.
Image courtesy Becky Gregory/Flickr
3. Its waterfowl. Close to one million ducks, geese and swans spend their winters on the Bay. The birds, which make up about one-third of the Atlantic coast’s migratory population, stop here to feed and rest during their annual migration along the Atlantic Flyway.
2. Its seafood. The Bay produces about 500 million pounds of seafood each year. The watershed’s well-known catches include the blue crab, which is popular steamed or picked and turned into a crab-cake, and the eastern oyster, which is harvested in colder months and eaten raw, fried or even baked with spinach and bacon. Striped bass and Atlantic menhaden are also important catches for commercial markets.
1. Its people. The Bay watershed is home to more than 17 million people, with 150,000 moving into the watershed each year. There are watermen, fishermen and farmers. There are hikers, bikers and boaters. There are teachers, beach-goers and seafood-eaters. And many of them work to restore the natural resources in the watershed. Whether you take a tip from us to make Bay-friendly changes at home or attend an event to clean up your local waterway, you, too, can help restore the Bay—and celebrate National Estuaries Week!