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Bay Blog: Watershed Wednesday

Dec
05
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Elements (Washington, D.C.)

Autumn leaves are crumpling underfoot and winter coats are coming out of storage. It might be cold, but for one after-school enrichment provider, the onset of winter doesn’t mean we have to stay inside. In fact, their love of winter is what sets Elements apart!

Image courtesy Elements

Staff-members at Elements lead students through the Washington, D.C., wintertime woods, where a lot of layers keep kids warm on these educational afternoons. Running along trails and climbing up hills, students learn that even an hour spent outside can invigorate us.

Elements’ philosophy follows a growing body of research that points to the benefits of being outside. So what are you waiting for? Grab some gloves and get out there!

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Nov
21
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (Lewisburg, Pa.)

Imagine a stretch of water that runs from dense forests to rolling farmland, a riverside town with a rich agricultural and industrial past or a park that was once home to a working mill, but now provides paddlers and picnickers with an outdoor space to relax.

These are just some of the natural, cultural and recreational resources located along the Susquehanna River. The full list is vast, but one Pennsylvania partnership is working to tie them together.

Image courtesy Susquehanna Greenway Partnership/Flickr

A leading champion of one of the largest rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership works with individuals, governments and nonprofit organizations to improve water quality in the Susquehanna while revitalizing the economies of riverside towns.

Curbing environmental problems while curing local economies seems like an ambitious goal, but the partnership has built its forward-thinking work on the solid foundation of local history.

Image courtesy Susquehanna Greenway Partnership/Flickr

In hopes of connecting the Susquehanna with the people on its shores, the partnership has established a River Towns program that provides assistance to communities that want to revitalize and celebrate their river connection. The program ensures that small towns along the Susquehanna retain their sense of community and convenience, which can attract both residents and visitors alike. Walkable neighborhoods and nearby natural areas keep towns connected to the Susquehanna and engaged with each other.

The partnership has also worked to boost the public’s investment in the Susquehanna, increasing public access points, installing informative signs and linking parks, businesses and residential areas with wildlife habitat corridors.

More from the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership:

  • Explore the natural and cultural history of the Susquehanna River with this collection of photos from the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.
  • Watch this video of a mid-river paddle to learn just what draws boaters to the Susquehanna each summer. Then find a bike path, paddle trail or hunting area near you with the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership’s interactive map.
  • From “adopting” a section of the Susquehanna to collecting images of the towns and trails along the Greenway, volunteer opportunities abound!
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Nov
07
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition (Jefferson County, W.Va.)

In Jefferson County, W.Va., shaded streams trickle down the Blue Ridge Mountains into what will become the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers. The ridge is named “blue” for its characteristic purple-blue haze. No, this isn’t some kind of rural smog, but isoprene, which the trees on the mountain release into the atmosphere.

The sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Image courtesy Eoghann Irving/Flickr

Despite the pristine scenery found in this part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a visit to Jefferson County on a rainy day can expose a darker side. Thanks to aging infrastructure, the county has faced flooded roads and a river that carries an unknown amount of pollutants.

Residents knew they had to take action to ensure their mountain’s health. So, the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition was born. And in just over 18 months, the non-profit organization has arranged stream cleanups, showcased stormwater management practices and monitored water quality in a stretch of the Shenandoah River.

Why monitor water quality?

To monitor water quality, biologists take water samples from a stream or river and send them into a lab. There, the amount of pollutants in the water is measured. Monitoring a series of sites in a single waterway can tell us where these pollutants might be coming from.

Before the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition was formed, monitoring in the Shenandoah River was completed by a single Shenandoah University professor. Now, the college will train coalition volunteers to take water samples, as the coalition works to determine pollution sources and track the river’s long-term health.

“Our friends and neighbors on the mountain had very adamantly voiced that they wanted real facts as to what is in our lovely Shenandoah River,” explained Ronda Lehman, Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition Chair.

“We hope our river monitoring will help delineate whether our issues are born from our county’s farms, septic tanks or stormwater runoff, or a combination,” said Ronda.

Curbing runoff, preventing floods

Close to 17,000 commuters leave Jefferson County, W.Va., for Washington, D.C., each morning, and many of them travel on Route 9. But this road often floods, as it collects stormwater runoff from surrounding properties.

The Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition hopes to curb the amount of runoff coming from one of these properties—an old stone church now called the Mountain Community Center.

“A little calculating showed us that there are 1,400 gallons of water that run off the roof of the church during average rain events,” said Ronda.

The coalition will divert rainwater from the roof of the building into rain barrels and cisterns and curb the flow of sediment and stormwater with a filter installed at the end of the driveway.

BRWC members pose next to their new stormwater runoff project.

Image courtesy Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition/Facebook

“Incorporating different methods of mitigating that flow of water would give us an opportunity to showcase different practices for our neighbors to incorporate onto their own properties,” Ronda said.

River cleanups

If water quality monitoring and stormwater management seem too “scientific” for your tastes, then an old-fashioned trash cleanup could be for you! The Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition held its second annual cleanup in July.

The cleanup area is popular among the public, but has a history of being dirty.

The coalition hopes to amend this littering problem. “We will be purchasing banners to be placed at the busy ‘put ins’…to remind patrons to take their trash with them," said Ronda.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Oct
24
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Lackawanna River Corridor Association (Lackawanna County, Pa.)

Five thousand cubic yards of demolition waste and bricks are scattered around an oil truck that is lodged into a hillside. The mess was left behind long ago, and the Lackawanna River Corridor Association (LRCA) is doing everything it can to clean it up.

The mess sits on land that borders the Lackawanna River, a northeastern Pennsylvania tributary to the Susquehanna. The trash has caused the river’s water quality and wildlife habitat to deteriorate, but a Lackawanna Greenway initiative will clean up this riverside land and open it to the public, giving bikers and pedestrians a chance to enjoy their local waterway.

Trail construction is being managed by LRCA’s partner, Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority.

“We hope to provide an outlet for recreation for everybody in the community,” explained LRCA Executive Director Bernie McGurl. “It’s a way for people to walk to work, and it also increases property values.”

While two miles of the completed trail run through downtown Scranton, Bernie calls this a “lifelong project.” There is still much work to be done!

The scenic Lackawanna River bordered by trees.

Image courtesy Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority 

“Cleaning” coal

Northeastern Pennsylvania contains some of the largest anthracite coal mines in the world. While coal once contributed to the economic growth of cities like Scranton, coal mining has also left behind a number of environmental problems. Some of them, like LRCA’s recently acquired coal-dumping ground, are visible; others live out of sight, underground, in abandoned mines.

There, stormwater percolates.

“We have a huge body of water in the abandoned mines underneath Scranton,” said McGurl. “It’s about the size of Lake Wallenpaupack and holds about 100 billion gallons.”

“Imagine Manhattan’s subway system on steroids,” McGurl continued. “It’s 1,100 feet deep… and then filled with water.”

But keeping the water underground is not an option. Trapped, it would be left to flood basements and low-elevation residences in many parts of Scranton. So the mine water is released into the Lackawanna River through this borehole at a rate of 100 million gallons of water per day.

A person dips their hands into the Lackawanna River south of the borehole and shows how orange the mud is.

Image courtesy Miguel Angel de la Cueva

The water coming from the coal mines is high in iron; three to four tons are discharged into the Lackawanna River each day from this borehole. Iron robs the water of dissolved oxygen, which fish and other aquatic wildlife need to survive.

Iron forms orange, red and yellow slime on the river’s banks and rocks. Other minerals, like aluminum, are also discharged into the river through the borehole.

While the borehole is necessary to prevent flooding, LRCA and other organizations have long been discussing alternative solutions. Some have considered constructing a mineral harvesting plant downstream of the borehole. This would remove minerals from the water and allow them to be sold to electric-generation and geothermal companies.

While the demise of the coal era has left Scranton and surrounding areas with environmental and economic struggles, Bernie and his team at LRCA remain hopeful.

“I like to use the river and the water that flows through the river as a metaphor, speaking to how we relate to each other and what our values as a community are,” explained Bernie. “It tells everyone downstream what we value and the environment that we live in.”

The organization celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. From working with the Scranton Sewer Authority to revamp the city’s combined overflow system to transforming abandoned coal sites into recreation areas, Bernie and his team have accomplished a tremendous amount in just a quarter-century.

More from the Lackawanna River Corridor Association:

  • LRCA is cleaning up an abandoned mine site in Old Forge, Pa. This 30-acre Brownfields Cleanup project will remove coal waste piles, install a new stormwater drainage system and plant native plants on the site.
  • Photographer Miguel Angel de la Cueva documented the effects of coal mining in the region with photographs and stories.
  • The Lackawanna Valley Conservancy works with LRCA and property owners to preserve land in the watershed.
  • Learn more about coal mining with these rare underground mine photos.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Oct
10
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (Tilghman, Md.)

Kelley Cox knows what it takes to bring fresh seafood to the table—and to keep fisheries thriving in the Chesapeake Bay. Cox is part of a family of watermen that has worked for five generations out of Tilghman Island, Md. When Hurricane Isabelle destroyed 200 feet of their seafood buying dock in 2003, Cox did not want her heritage to be destroyed with it. She envisioned a place where she could preserve her family's legacy while teaching the public to steward the environment and the Bay. Two years later, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) was born. 

Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook

Named after Cox's father, Garland Phillips, owner and operator of Phillips Wharf Seafood, PWEC now hosts educational programs and tours of the Bay. The center also coordinates a tree planting project and oyster growing program for residents of the three-mile long Tilghman Island. A marine biologist by profession but a waterman by blood, Cox makes sure the center’s educational efforts address both Bay ecology and Bay heritage.

The fish mobile is a multi-colored school bus with an environmentally themed mural painted on it.

Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook

Mobile Marine Fun

From preschoolers to third-graders, students can hold horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins or play predator, prey and pollution games to better understand how the Bay ecosystem works—all on board a converted school bus better known as the Fishmobile. This traveling marine science center visits schools, summer camps and even birthday parties! Other educational programs at PWEC allow students to race crabs, dress up as a waterman and cruise the Choptank River and the Bay to watch watermen work.

Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook

Grow Oysters

If you have residential or commercial waterfront property or keep your boat in a marina on Tilghman Island, you can volunteer for Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO)! Participants place PWEC-provided cages of oyster spat into the water and give them a shake once every week or two. After nine or 10 months, the growing oysters are transported to a sanctuary and replaced with new spat. The program has placed 200 cages in the water, but PWEC won’t stop until every pier on the island is growing spat.

Excursions

Ecology cruises allow participants to see Tilghman Island in a new light—from the water! Excursions for local artists allow participants to paint or draw the island from an evening ride aboard the Express Royale.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Sep
26
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Irvine Nature Center (Baltimore County, Md.)

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:

  • Use this leaf hunt or PumpkinFest as your first excuse to visit Irvine! And check out the center’s calendar of events for more family-friendly programs.
  • Schedule an overnight campout at Irvine. Your friends and family will love the chance to take in the great outdoors in Baltimore County’s beautiful Caves Valley.
  • Know a teacher itching to bring nature into the classroom? Irvine staff—and their animals!—lead student programs in area schools and offer instruction to teachers on how to integrate environmental education into their lesson plans.
  • Adults love nature, too! Look into Irvine’s continuing education courses, which offer adults the chance to learn about ecology and environmental education.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Sep
12
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Wilderness Leadership and Learning (WILL), Washington, D.C.

This school year, teens from the District of Columbia's Wards 1, 6, 7 and 8 will give up their Saturdays for the Chesapeake Bay.

Instead of watching television or playing sports, they will install wetland plants along the Anacostia River and even hike the Appalachian Trail. The ninth, tenth and eleventh graders hailing from Washington's underserved neighborhoods will develop confidence and leadership skills during the 12-month experiential learning program known as WILL (Wilderness Leadership and Learning.)

WILL participants kayak, do ropes courses, and plant trees.

Image courtesy WILL

WILL takes learning out of the classroom, introducing participants to outdoor scenarios where teamwork and leadership skills are applicable and visible. It also allows participants to learn about the Bay without using a textbook; when participants spent three days at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Karen Noonan Study Center this year, they dredged an oyster bar, set crab pots and learned about Harriet Tubman, who was born just down the road.

After service days along the Anacostia, ropes courses, a scavenger hunt on the National Mall and a trip to the Newseum, students will wrap up their year-long experience with a final test: a seven-day trip along the Appalachian Trail.

For more information about WILL, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust's Blog or WILL's website.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Aug
22
2012

Watershed Wednesday: ECO (Engaged Community Offshoots) City Farms

Drivers honk at each other, passing by layers of parking lots and shopping centers; armies of workers wait for a bus; food carts occupy every corner; and pedestrians tow their children through the cement jungle, ignoring crosswalk signals and jumping in front of cars without the slightest bit of fear.

Tucked away in this impervious kingdom called Prince George’s County is a place of natural beauty, where worms dig through compost, chickens play tag and honeybees busily buzz. Here at ECO City Farms, every inch of ground is precious; a blanket of veggies and fruits is shadowed by rows of hanging pots. The completely solar and geo-thermal powered farm located in Edmonston, Md., raises chickens and ducks, keeps bees and grows enough crops for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation--all on one acre of land. 

Volunteers work in a hoop house on Eco City Farms.
Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr

Also known as Engaged Community Offshoots, ECO City Farms manages land and grows food in ways that benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed: with no chemical fertilizers, and no petro-based or non-organic treatments, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.

Impressive, but perhaps impossible? ECO City relies on natural processes to deter insects. Did you know planting marigolds next to your tomato plants will keep insects away? These simple but natural technologies define ECO City’s farming methods and ensure that the chemicals typically used in gardening operations do not end up in our food or the nearby Anacostia River and Chesapeake Bay.

ECO City implements farming methods that are healthy for the Bay watershed and its residents, but it also understands the importance of educating and engaging the local community.

The organization's tagline is "creating a just and sustainable world," a mission statement that trumps the money-making agendas of any commercial big-box farm. ECO City understands its role to exceed the agricultural industry and remains committed to connecting community members to their food.

ECO City educates and empowers local residents, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to kickstart their own urban agriculture operation. Dedicated to keeping food in the hands of the people, ECO City is not your average farm.

Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr

What's new at ECO City:

Located in the residential neighborhood of Edmonston, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb, the farm hosts volunteer Saturday work days and tours of the farm.

The New Urban/Immigrant Farmer Training program teaches interested adults the tenants of urban farming over the course of a year, and a new DIY (Do It Yourself) Green Building Series covers how to capture and reuse rain water, how to build a hoop house, how to create a green roof and more!

A new commercial kitchen will allow the farm to offer educational cooking courses and to turn produce into products (basil becomes pesto sauce, tomatoes and peppers become salsa!)

Two chickens run through Eco City Farms.

Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr

Here are some ECO City methods that you may be able to take home:

  • Put worms in your compost! Red wiggler worms consume their body weight in organic matter every single day. Their waste (called castings) acts as a natural fertilizer. Learn how to make your own worm bin, whether you live in an apartment or a farm!
  • After your worms create compost, make compost tea! This liquid can be used to prevent pests and disease on plants.
  • Build a hoop house. It may sound daunting to build a whole new “house” on your property, but ECO City has four on one acre! Hoop houses don’t cost as much as greenhouses, and plants are still sheltered from the cold and other extreme weather. Sign up for ECO City’s hoop house building class this fall.
  • Consider bees. Keeping honeybees in urban environments is gaining popularity in Europe as well as Bay cities like Baltimore. Even if you can’t keep honeybees, remember that bees of all kinds are important pollinators and will help your plants reproduce. Learn how to plant for pollinators.

 

Volunteers and staff harvest veggies growing inside of a hoop house.

Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Aug
08
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Listening to Bay residents’ diverse voices

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Chesapeake Bay?” Maybe you remember childhood summers spent mostly under water, on the shore making mud pies or even on the dock, catching crabs. Maybe you think of long days of crabbing with your grandfather, a recent kayaking adventure or something less glamorous, like the trash in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Each of the watershed’s 17 million residents has a different relationship with the Bay, and a different reason for protecting it. We rarely share these reasons in everyday conversation, but hearing why our friends and neighbors value this tremendous resource will help us realize the multiple reasons for Bay restoration.

A little boy brings a net out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Image courtesy Beth Filar Williams/Flickr

Hear what water quality in the Bay means to poultry farmers, watermen, developers and more Eastern Shore residents in a series of video interviews, part of “Let’s Be Shore,” a project recently launched by Maryland Humanities Council.

Get a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a farmer, read about the family legacy of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and learn how your county’s plan to reduce water pollution affects you.

For more information, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Blog.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jul
25
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Back River Restoration Committee (Essex, Md.)

Merry Christmas in July! If you live in Baltimore, you may remember Hampden's Annual "Miracle on 34th Street" celebration, the few weeks before Christmas when houses in the eclectic Baltimore neighborhood dress up their front yards and porches with everything and anything that is light-up, singing, or just plain funky (think kitschy singing Mickey Mouse figurines and decorative Old Bay cans).


Image courtesy sneakerdog/Flickr

The event is becoming more than a local tradition, attracting thousands of visitors this holiday season and using a lot of electricity.

But one 34th street resident found a way to still "go green" despite high energy consumption; Jim Pollock’s decorations consistent of repurposed and recycled trash. As a fine arts major-turned-environmental writer, I remained fascinated with his hubcap Christmas tree long after the holidays had passed. Pollock makes art out of discarded materials, an idea that the East Baltimore environmental organization, Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC), promotes through their annual TrashArt Auction.

This year, Pollock, along with Towson University and MICA art students and professors, collected trash from Back River and created art that was auctioned off to benefit BRRC.

This year’s $7,000 funded summer stipends for BRRC’s Civic Works summer crew members. These are students who work over the summer to clean Back River; that means dragging tires up stream banks and picking up floating diapers in the summer heat.

“When you pick up all the trash, and another rain storm comes and it's all back again, you have to do something to handle it mentally,” explains Molly Williams, Project Manager for BRRC. “You start to get creative and start to think about all the things you can do with it.”


Image courtesy Save Back River/Flickr

Some of this year’s items include a metal duck hunter made by Pollack, traffic cone jewelry, and various interpretations of tire art. These beautiful items exemplified the old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Back River may have a lot of trash, but they are making the best of it!

The event also attracted a new crowd to BRRC’s mission, says Molly. “It brought many people out who wouldn't necessarily be at a cleanup.”

Back River’s back story

Located southeast of Baltimore City, Back River is situated between a highly populated urban center and the Chesapeake Bay. That means much of the city’s trash floats into Back River.

"Since we have been working to clean up trash in the river, we have begun to move upstream into the neighborhoods to reduce litter and dumping through campaigns, incentives, and awareness,” says Molly. 


Image courtesy Save Back River

While the local group cannot entirely control how much trash upstream residents throw into the river, they can collect it before it goes into the Chesapeake Bay! A “trash boom” is a device that sits across the river horizontally and collects debris from upstream. Volunteers then work to empty the boom as needed. In fact, this summer, BRCC is celebrating its one year anniversary of trash boom maintenance!

The largest “boom” in the “trash boom” is after a rain storm, when a high volume of water quickly enters Back River, carrying trash along with it. (The above photo was taken after a June 1 storm event.)

This video gives you a look at the trash from the water’s angle: http://www.savebackriver.org/?page_id=774

But trash isn’t the only problem; two Superfund sites along the river leak hazardous waste into Back River. The combination of Superfund pollution and incoming trash makes Back River one of the most impaired Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

Under these conditions, it is easy to see why Back River enthusiasts may get discouraged. But a growing, committed volunteer force continues to invent creative ways to keep their community’s river clean.

 “We had over 250 volunteers at our last cleanup,” says Molly. “The community is very engaged.”

According to Molly, river residents have reported seeing more wildlife along the water since Back River began cleanup efforts.

“People who live on the water and have lived there forever say they have seen a dramatic increase in that amount of life, and a decrease in amount of trash,” says Molly. “We are getting really positive feedback from all the surrounding communities.”

Image courtesy Save Back River/Flickr

More from Back River Restoration Committee:

  • Tree planting events (funded through Maryland Department of Natural Resources) engaged over 500 students in plantings this year. Storm drain markings and trash pickups are other ways teachers get their students outdoors.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jun
20
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Bull Run Mountains Conservancy (Broad Run, Va.)

In the 1930s, Smithsonian botanist Harry A. Allard walked 3,000 miles and collected 15,000 plant specimens in the Bull Run Mountains of Virginia's Eastern Piedmont region.

Eighty years later, Smithsonian scientists collect beetle specimens in the same mountains. A few miles away, volunteer naturalists explain to children and adults why beetles are central to all life; different beetle species pollinate plants (helps plants reproduce), and assist with decomposition (eats dead organisms).

A group of young campers and their parents pose at Bull Run Mountains Conservancy.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)

Such a combination of research and education is rare, says Michael Kieffer, Executive Director of the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy, a nonprofit headquartered in the southern 800 acres of the 2,500 acre Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, about 15 miles from Manassas, Middleburg, and Warrenton, Virginia.

"We have the unique opportunity to conduct both youth and adult education programs and to tie those programs to research on the mountains," says Michael.

While the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy leads research, stewardship, and education programs in the natural area, the land itself is owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

With plenty of places to search for the region's rare plants and insects, the conservancy's nine miles of trails see 10,000 visitors per year.

"It is wonderful to have public access to this state natural area, but people management is always an issue," states Michael.

Stewardship goes hand in hand with the conservancy's education programs.

A group of environmental education program participants peak into a culvert at Bull Run Mountains Conservancy.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)

Programs such as "nature preschool," "herpetology camp," and even teachers' workshops, allow participants to study the ecosystem through experience, just the way Allard did eighty years ago.

When asked to elaborate on the conservancy's immersion education philosophy, Michael explained, "Just keep them outside. They need to be outside. Yes, it’s based on the research, but no we don’t have camp counselors. It's about getting kids outside with other kids. This is vital to your life."

But as any parent knows, kids learn by example. If adults are not prone to spend time outdoors, neither will their children.

"At BRMC our education programs are equally weighed between adults and children.  If adults do not learn alongside their children, then the child’s experience on the mountains is diminished.”

The Bull Run Mountains Conservancy's summer camps begin in June. But nature lovers of all ages are invited to join their naturalist-led walks, trail clean up days, rattle snake surveys, and watershed workshops throughout the year.

A bald eagle soars near Bull Run Mountains Conservancy.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)

More from the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy:

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jun
06
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Restore Mass Ave (Washington, D.C.)

The above 1913 photograph depicts rows of American lindens planted along Washington D.C.’s Massachusetts Avenue, west of Dupont Circle. The “double rows” of trees were planted in the 1880s, but many disappeared as the street was developed, new embassies were built, and utility lines installed. As a street that has historically been an international relations hub (it is home to major embassies), the loss of trees along Massachusetts Avenue seemed to represent the worldwide preference of commercialism over nature.

historic Mass Ave photo

(Image courtesy Restore Mass Ave/Washingtoniana MLK Library)

Today, the climate has shifted, and politicians jump at the chance to get their photo taken in front of a newly planted tree; but long before the diplomats grabbed their shovels (and press staff), Deborah Shapley was walking up and down Massachusetts Avenue, knocking on her neighbors’ doors, and asking them how far their hoses could stretch to water parched trees in the sidewalk.

Washington’s D.C.'s Department of Transportation's Urban Forestry Administration has taken the important step of planting trees along streets throughout the city, but it did not have the resources to water them. For young trees, lack of water lowers their chances of survival in Washington’s hot summers. Instead of complaining, Deborah encouraged her neighbors to take on the responsibility of watering their nearest city sidewalk tree as if it were their own.

“I started Restore Mass.Ave to be a model of how to get local property owners excited about taking care of the city trees near them.”

But convincing property owners to take care of a tree that isn’t technically in their yard is not so easy.

“People tend not to care about the landscape that is more than a house or two away,” explains Deborah. “So the cry for them to take care of trees beyond a certain distance, that’s just not practical to them.”

But since Deborah began Restore Mass Ave in 2007, more and more residents and embassies along the street have come to understand that these trees are dually beautifying their community and helping to absorb stormwater runoff.

Restore Mass Ave volunteers

(Image courtesy Restore Mass Ave)

In addition to caring for the 100 sidewalk trees installed by the city, Restore Mass has worked with Casey Trees to plant 125 new trees since 2007. Most of the 225 total trees are large shade trees, which absorb stormwater and lessen pressure on the neighborhood's combined sewer system.

Like most of downtown Washington D.C., Massachusetts Avenue has a combined sewer system (css), which collects water from both stormwater runoff and household’s sanitary sewage. The CSS conveys this to treatment plants to be cleaned before it flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

But during heavy rain events, the combined sewer system often overflows; the stormwater and sanitary wastes flow directly into the Anacostia or Potomac River. This can cause an excess of bacteria and other pollutants in Washington D.C.’s tributaries, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

While it is always important to find ways to decrease the amount of stormwater runoff flowing into storm drains, it is particularly crucial in neighborhoods with combined sewer overflows (roughly one-third of the District of Columbia).

“The city is under requirements from the EPA to rebuild the underground tunnels and pipes” associated with the combined overflow system, explains Deborah. “They’re only able to do a certain amount per year of underground infrastructure. But large trees naturally conduct precipitation down into the soil and lowers the burden the underground pipes.”’

Stormwater will instead be absorbed by trees, and help to recharge the groundwater so more plants can grow.

“If you have a continuous line of shade trees alongside of a gutter, less water flows into that storm drain, and less water is barreling around in the tunnels of the combined stormwater system,” Deborah says.

While trees help to absorb stormwater during rain events, they do need to be watered when it is not raining. Droughts and heat waves make it difficult for young trees to survive on their own. Luckily, Restore Mass Ave’s volunteers, known as “Treekeepers,” make sure care is given to every sidewalk tree.

Since roughly one-third of Mass Ave properties are foreign-owned, the organization works with embassies to plant trees on their grounds.

While it was once typical for embassies’ groundskeepers to maintain flowers the colors of the nations’ flags, it is now popular for embassies to also maintain the surrounding trees. Governments relate the activity to their climate change agendas. Groundskeepers become, in effect, "Treekeepers."

“They have a sense of ownership that they didn’t have before,” says Deborah. “When you give people who care for plants the chance to grow nearby sidewalk trees, they are delighted.”

As Restore Mass Ave encourages private homeowners and embassy staffs to care for trees in public space, the sense of shared community and stewardship multiplies.

“As in many neighborhoods, we found that the embassies don’t often talk to each other, but when you point out the common trees, and you engage all the staff, it becomes their common garden,” explains Deborah.

While Restore Mass Ave may have found a way to create a sense of an international environmental stewardship, Deborah, founder and president of the all-volunteer organization, concedes that the nonprofit would like to expand its influence, but not its area.

“The idea is to not take over a bigger and bigger area, but to get other people to start their own groups, such as Restore Georgia Avenue or Restore Connecticut Avenue. Only as more people here understand the importance and fun of growing trees, will DC become the ‘City of Trees’ as it was known a century ago."

Restore Mass Ave volunteers

(Image courtesy Restore Mass Ave)

Get involved

For more information on how you can get involved with Restore Mass Ave or start your own “Restore” on your street, visit the Restore Mass Ave Volunteer page.

Restore Mass Ave is trying to spread the word, via their Tree Care Blog (http://blog.restoremassave.org) and their Facebook and Twitter (#restoremassave).

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



May
09
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Rivanna Conservation Society (Charlottesville, Virginia)

When Robbi Savage’s 10-year-old grandson Seth saw a car battery submerged in the Rivanna River near Charlottesville, Virginia, he knew enough not to pick it up. Instead, he asked his dad for help, and with more frustration than curiosity, exclaimed to Robbi, “What are these people thinking, grandma?!”

“Even a 10-year-old knows that throwing car parts into the river is dangerous,” says Robbi, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS), a non-profit watershed group based out of Charlottesville. “And yet some folks still think of a river as a trash dump.”

paddling on Rivanna

(Image courtesy Rivanna Conservation Society)

Robbi and RCS’s volunteers are dedicated to cleaning up the Rivanna, a 42-mile-long James River tributary that flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains through the foothills and Piedmont region of central Virginia. It was the first river in Virginia to be designated a “Scenic River.” Although the Rivanna may be “scenic,” RCS understands that maintaining its beauty and enhancing its degrading health requires citizen participation, education and local government involvement.

 “One would think that being at the headwaters, we would have close to pristine waterways, but such is not the case,” Robbi explains.  “We certainly have our challenges.”  

One of the Rivanna’s biggest problems is stream bank erosion, which pollutes the water with too much sediment. Bacteria from pet waste and agricultural manure also threaten swimming areas and drinking water resources; this occurs when residents don’t pick up after their pets, or when farmers allow cattle to enter streams.

RCS’s education and outreach programs have been building awareness of these issues since the group was founded in 1990. But RCS doesn’t forget to have some fun along the way. River paddles, survival workshops and geocaching are just a few outdoor activities the group sponsors.

A river classroom

volunteer planting

(Image courtesy Rivanna Conservation Society)

When Robbi moved from Washington to central Virginia in 2006, she brought with her an environmental initiative she conceived while working on national water policy in Washington. The international citizen-led water quality monitoring effort World Water Monitoring Day involved 340,000 people in 77 countries in 2011. When Robbi left the Hill to become RCS’s executive director, she created a local version of the program, “Water Health for the Commonwealth.”

The program allows middle and high schools along the Rivanna and James Rivers to monitor their local water quality and connect with one another to share their results. RCS is in the process of extending this hands-on-learning opportunity to all schools along the James, from the Rivanna watershed to the Chesapeake Bay.

This “in the river” approach not only educates, but creates an appreciation for the “River Anna,” named after Queen Anne of England.

In addition to education initiatives, recreational opportunities such as river paddles and geocaching (a treasure hunt-like activity) allow area residents of all ages to get outside and appreciate the scenic Rivanna.

 “Recreation is an important part of what this river is used for,” explains Robbi. “But the more people you bring to the river, which is of course part of our mission, the more attention needs to be paid to keeping it clean. We have a beautiful river here, so people want to paddle, and they want to be on the water.”

From the Hill to the foothills

For Robbi, RCS represents community collaboration.

Robbi gained experience in environmental issues at the national and international level in her 35 years of working for EPA Office of Water, the League of Women Voters, and the State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (now Association of Clean Water Administrators).

But when she moved to central Virginia and became involved with RCS, she experienced the challenges and successes of converting Washington’s laws and regulations into local action.

“When you work in Washington, you may come to believe that it is the center of the universe,” explains Robbi. “But when you move to a location like Charlottesville and see what it takes in terms of voter support, local government coordination, and funding decisions, it’s eye-opening. We all know that water quality is important and essential to all living things, but when you actually see the demands for scarce community resources to play out, especially in this zero-based budget economy, you understand that tough choices are being made.”

Although coordinating community leaders, landowners, citizen volunteers, lawmakers and environmentalists is no easy task, Robbi describes it as rewarding. “I would never have said this as a young pup in DC, but I think the real action is at the local level. We are turning words into action.”

poster

(Image courtesy Rivanna Conservation Society)

More from the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS):

  • “Drink Up” posters make the connection between pollution in the Rivanna River and the community’s drinking water supply.
  • The Scheier Natural Area, a 100-acre parcel of land with eight ponds and more than 3 miles of trails, was given to the Rivanna Conservation Society by Howard and Neva Scheier in 1997.
  • RCS removed the historic (177-year-old) Woolen Milles dam to allow migratory fish such as shad, herring and American eel to navigate through the Rivanna.
  • Participants in the “Flexing our Mussels” program on June 23 will go into the Rivanna to look for and identify mussels. Lucky mussel hunters may even come across the James River spiny mussel, an endangered species!
  • Experience the Rivanna throughout all four seasons in this photo slideshow.
  • Visit RCS’s website regularly for upcoming events, internship opportunities and ways to get involved.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Apr
25
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Upper Susquehanna Coalition (New York and Pennsylvania)

Once bustling with flour mills, furniture factories and dye shops, Towanda, Pennsylvania’s industrial feel differs from the quaint, historic atmosphere of Annapolis, Maryland. And with 246 miles between the two cities, it’s easy to forget they’re both part of the same Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Towanda, Pennsylvania

(Image courtesy Slideshow Bruce/Flickr)

Towanda, located in northeastern Pennsylvania, is considered the southernmost point of the upper Susquehanna watershed, an area that drains into the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. The 7,500-square-mile region between Towanda and Morrisville, New York, contains more miles of streams than roads.

This is the region where the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) works to enhance water quality and protect natural resources. The 19 soil and conservation districts that make up USC understand that enhancing the Susquehanna’s headwaters (where a stream or river begins) is critical to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. If the water flowing into the Susquehanna River is not clean from the start, it certainly won’t get cleaner as it passes through riverside towns including Binghamton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg and Havre de Grace.

What does USC do?

Agriculture

USC is developing environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture projects that empower family farmers while implementing conservation practices such as agricultural fencing that prevents animal waste from entering streams.

Stream corridor rehabilitation

Stream rehabilitation projects improve a stream’s health and habitat potential. Forest buffer plantings along stream banks hold soil in place, keep streams cool and reduce flooding. Stream bank erosion prevention measures reduce the amount of sediment that flows into a stream and eventually the Bay.

Wetland restoration

Because wetland plants can retain water during heavy rainstorms, restoring and enhancing wetlands is an important step to reduce flooding. Wetlands also provide wildlife habitat and reduce pollution by absorbing and filtering out harmful sediment and nutrients.

Upper Susquehanna watershed

(Image courtesy AllianceForTheBay/Flickr)

More from the upper Susquehanna basin:

  • The Finger Lakes Land Trust owns the Sweedler Preserve, a 128-acre property thick with eastern hemlocks and white pines. The Finger Lakes/North Country trail crosses through the Sweedler Preserve, transversing scenic waterfalls.
  • Graze NY helps farm families adopt grazing management systems that enhance financial, environmental and social well-being.
  • The Susquehanna Sojourn is a four-day, 60-mile paddling and camping trip from Cooperstown, New York to Sidney, Pennsylvania.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Apr
11
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Savage River Watershed Association (Garrett County, Maryland)

Growing up, Carol McDaniel spent a summer or two playing in northeast Ohio’s streams. Catching salamanders and crayfish helped her develop affection for the outdoors. After working 30 years as a nurse in Baltimore, McDaniel is now reliving her childhood in western Maryland, where she monitors streams, searches for macroinvertebrates and mobilizes volunteers with the Savage River Watershed Association (SRWA).

Savage River creek

“We were always into the outdoors even though we didn’t work outdoors,” McDaniel says. Her husband, Joe, is a retired scientific computer programmer.  “When it got to the point where we were trying to retire, we wanted to pick a place that our kids would want to visit.”

The place they chose was a home on top of a ridge in the Youghiogheny River watershed. The Youghiogheny is not part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (the “Yough” – pronounced yah-k – flows to the Mississippi River), but it borders the Savage River watershed, one of the most pristine corners of the Chesapeake region.

The Savage River watershed is the largest natural remaining native brook trout habitat in the Mid-Atlantic. Brook trout are able to live in the majority of the 30-mile-long Savage River and its tributaries because the water is highly oxygenated and stays cool (below 68 degrees) year-round. Because brook trout have such steep habitat requirements, they are used as an indicator species. More brook trout in a stream tells scientists that the water is healthy.

But the watershedmay not be healthy much longer.  What McDaniel describes as the “inevitable” Marcellus Shale drilling poses a threat to the region. One spill, she says, and the brook trout would be gone.

Another constant issue is landowner habits, such as allowing cows to defecate in steams. Such actions spread beyond private property and into the river system. This problem is particularly serious in rural areas such as Garrett County, where residents may own large parcels of land.

Fortunately, residents involved with SRWA are working together to mitigate and monitor the river system. Since the organization first began (in 2006, with an ad in the local paper calling for “stream monitoring volunteers”), members have grown to include trout fishermen, professors and students at nearby Frostburg State University, part-time residents who vacation in the region, farm landowners, and interested streamside property owners. These diverse perspectives are a tremendous benefit to the organization, as input from every one of watershed's 1,500 residents is essential if the Savage River is to remain healthy.

“We're trying as an organization to walk a delicate line, and not be perceived as a radical tree hugging group,” explains Annie Bristow, SRWA treasurer.  “We really want landowners to be on board and for us to be perceived as an organization that can help them.”

Most recently, a couple came to a SRWA meeting asking for the group’s assistance. Their property along the Savage River had begun to rapidly erode due the massive snowmelt during the winter of 2010. SWRA received a grant, and restoration is to begin in spring of 2013.

Savage River Watershed Association

(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)

Marcellus Shale: Preparing for the “inevitable”

“I try to have hope, but everyone keeps telling me that this is going to happen.” Bristow is referring to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale region in western Maryland. “I guess it is inevitable.”

The Marcellus Shale is a sedimentary rock formation in the Appalachian province that contains deep underground deposits of natural gas. Its use is fairly widespread; according to USGS, in 2009, 25 percent of the energy consumed for electricity, cooking and heating the United States came from natural gas.

As the demand for affordable energy sources increases, energy companies have begun to drill through the rock to extract natural gas. Widespread concern about the environmental effects of this “fracking” process has led to regulations against it in Maryland. Although this protects Maryland's water resources, the bordering states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia have fewer natural gas drilling regulations.

“There are sections of Garrett County where there are only nine miles between Pennsylvania and West Virginia, so Maryland (in between) is still affected greatly,” explains Bristow. “There's drilling sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that affect our tributaries, and those streams are already being monitored.”

SRWA seeks to monitor the health of streams before drilling occurs to develop a “baseline” for post-drilling comparison. After undergoing rigorous training by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Bristow and McDaniel trained SRWA volunteers to measure water quality indicators such as temperature, pH and conductivity on 13 sites along the Savage River and its tributaries.

While SRWA and Maryland DNR have been monitoring streams long before the Marcellus Shale debate began, the potential effects of natural gas drilling serve as a new incentive to keep an eye on the Savage River.

“I think when they do begin drilling, we are going to see people concerned about the watershed coming out of the woodwork,” says McDaniel.

Reforesting streamsides

One reason the Savage River's water temperature is cool enough for brook trout is the shade provided by eastern hemlock trees along its banks. But these dense hemlock forests may not survive much longer; a tiny insect known as the hemlock woolly adelgid is sucking sap from hemlock trees and killing them.  Just as SRWA is preparing for the inevitable Marcellus Shale development, volunteers are also expecting streamside hemlocks to disappear due to this invasive sap-sucker.

To avoid eroding soil, increased water temperatures and other perils that come with bare stream banks, SRWA has planted 4,000 red spruce trees along the Savage River’s shoreline. This spring, they plan to plant 500 more.

volunteers planting a tree

(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)

Rerouting farm ponds

If you drive on Interstate 68 into Garrett County, you'll see a number of farms, each with its own accompanying man-made pond.

“When this area was turned into farmland after it was logged at the turn of the last century, every farmer dug a pond,” explains McDaniel.

Ponds and other unshaded, open areas quickly heat up in warmer months. When these ponds are attached to the Savage River and its tributaries, they dump warm water into the system. This affects water quality, water temperature, and consequently, brook trout.

“One of the things we would like to start doing is to take these ponds off the stream at no expense to the farmer or landowner,” explains McDaniel.

SWRA supported a project that rerouted a pond belonging to the City of Frostburg. “We turned the pond into a three or four acre wetland and re-routed the stream,” says McDaniel. “Within two or three months, there were baby trout in the stream!”

 More from the Savage River watershed:

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Mar
28
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Clean Bread and Cheese Creek (Dundalk, Maryland)

When a tornado hit John Long's home in June 2009, the last thing on his mind was the Chesapeake Bay. He lost the entire back half of his home, as well as ten trees on his property. After a few weeks of waiting for insurance proceedings, Long was permitted to pick up the debris scattered across his backyard, which just so happened to border Bread and Cheese Creek, a tributary of the Back River in Dundalk, Maryland.

When Long ventured down to the creek to gather the pieces of his broken home, he found more than he was expecting.

"Beneath my shingles and siding was several years of shopping carts, fast food trash, and just about anything else you can imagine," Long explains.

trash in Bread and Cheese Creek

(Image courtesy Michael Wuyek/Flickr)

The trash wasn’t limited to Long’s property. "As I walked through more of the stream, I discovered it was the same everywhere. I was saddened because the beautiful little stream I remembered from my childhood was gone."

Long transformed his devastation into action. He contacted Baltimore County officials, who repeatedly told him that there was no money for a cleanup operation. But he didn't let that stop him. Eventually, the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability loaned him a dumpster, trash bags and a small crew. Clean Bread and Cheese Creek was born.

At the group’s first-ever cleanup, Long and 40 volunteers roamed a small portion of the creek, using their own tools to clear brush and their own bags to collect trash. Long’s parents grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for the hungry workers.

"Since then we have grown to generally draw about 140 people each cleanup, but we are still entirely funded through donations and staffed entirely by volunteers," explains Long.

Clean Bread and Cheese Creek's goal is as simple as its name states. However, funding the cleanups and enforcing illegal dumping policies isn’t quite as easy.

"Garbage bags, tools, first aid kits, flyers, posters, gloves, bottle water, food and other supplies are all from donations," Long explains. "We have the volunteers and the will, but the resources keep becoming more difficult to come by."

The group’s biggest source of funding is bake sales, courtesy of Michelle Barth, the group’s treasure and an acclaimed baker. Gold’s Gym has also been the group’s biggest sponsor, donating bottled water and advertising for cleanups.

While bottled water and bake sale profits may seem insufficient, Long explains that his “Type A thriftiness” allows a little go a long way.

“If I’m not at a cleanup, I’m at a flea market or yard sale, picking up supplies. You can buy shovels for five bucks, instead of thirty at the Home Depot.”

Through brush and briars

One may think that witnessing the overwhelming amount of trash in Bread and Cheese Creek (and often hauling it up stream banks) would change Long's view of his neighbors. But he does not speak of Dundalk residents as inconsiderate, lazy or lacking in environmental stewardship. Rather, he says that his volunteers' hard work outweighs the illegal dumping activities of others.

volunteers cleaning up Bread and Cheese Creek

(Image courtesy Thomas Schwab/Flickr)

"I have volunteered at other cleanups throughout the state and you will never find people more dedicated and proud of their community," Long says. "I have worked with these people in the heat, the cold, and in the rain and they continue to laugh and joke while digging out shopping carts or pulling plastic bags from briars."

Of course, there’s only so much volunteers can do by themselves. A challenge occurs when the group hauls tires and shopping carts out of a section of the creek on Saturday, only to find a washer and dryer in their place on Sunday.

In addition to cleaning up after dumping events, Clean Bread and Cheese Creek is working to prevent them.  "The illegal dumping we encounter seems to be from contractors and businesses more than individuals," Long says. "This dumping occurs primarily at night and behind business bordering the creek. We are currently working with businesses to have cameras installed in areas where the dumping occurs."

trash in Bread and Cheese Creek

(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)

Another challenge to Bread and Cheese Creek is Dundalk’s stormwater management system. When rain falls on lawns, parking lots, shopping centers and other paved surfaces, it carries trash and toxins (such as oil, gas, antifreeze, pesticides and fertilizer) directly into Bread and Cheese Creek.

"The only way to stop this from occurring is for there to be a complete overhaul of the stormwater managements systems in the Dundalk area so we can meet modern standards," Long says. Sustainable stormwater management techniques such as rain gardens allow stormwater to soak into the soil, rather than running off into streams.

"Unfortunately, every time this problem is addressed with Baltimore County, we are told there is no money for this. However, how much will this cost everyone in our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?”

Honoring the past to save our future

The Bread and Cheese Creek of Long's childhood was rarely affected by litter; but its pristine condition in the early 1800s is unimaginable today. British and American troops camped along the creek's banks during the War of 1812's Battle of North Point. The creek got its unusual name from these soldiers, who would sit by the stream as they ate their rations of bread and cheese.

The creek is perhaps best known for the heroic sacrifice of two young American soldiers. In 1814, Daniel Wells (age 19) and Henry McComas (age 18) waded through the stream to sneak up on British General Robert Ross. They shot and killed the general, but were killed with the British's return fire.

"American soldiers died along this creek defending our county in our nation’s second war for independence," explains Long. "This important part of our history should not be left the eyesore it currently is."

Long sees honoring the creek’s past as one way to create hope for the future. To commemorate the stream's significance in the War of 1812, Long and volunteers are attempting to clean the entire length of Bread and Cheese Creek by 2014, just in time for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration.

Because the creek played such a significant role shaping America's history, it will be added to the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.

Making progress

Since Long organized the first cleanup in 2009, 608 volunteers have removed a total of 52 tons of trash, including some odd and "vintage" items like bathtubs, part of a tombstone and an unopened bottle of Pepsi from the 1980s.

volunteers cleaning Bread and Cheese Creek

(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)

From these numbers, it may seem like Long and his team must work 40 hours a week collecting trash. But like all Clean Bread and Cheese Creek members, Long has a day job.

Clean Bread and Cheese Creek understands that other commitments may prevent residents from thinking they can offer any help.

"Everything makes a difference, no matter how small," Long says. "We have volunteers who call on the phone and say 'I can only volunteer for an hour, is that okay?’ We are happy to have their help for fifteen minutes! During those fifteen minutes they are picking up trash someone else would need to clean up!"

The smallest efforts add up; over the last three years, streamside residents have noticed a significant improvement in Break and Cheese Creek.

"Minnows, crayfish and frogs which were once abundant in the stream are coming back – at night we can hear the bullfrogs singing again," Long testifies.

The future of Bread and Cheese Creek

As wildlife reappears along the creek and eyesore trash is removed, Dundalk residents have come to appreciate the group that tramples through their backyard creek on Saturday mornings. This community support has led Long to transform what was initially a simple cleanup effort into an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Long is completing the process in the next few months, and is eager to acquire a label that will enable him to apply for grants.

a clean Bread and Cheese Creek

(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)

With this potential for additional funding, Long will expand the group’s effort beyond trash pickup. Invasive plant removal and native planting projects are at the top of his list. Such projects will help enhance wildlife habitat and protect water quality along Bread and Cheese Creek.

Get involved with Clean Bread and Cheese Creek

If you live in the Dundalk area, you’ve probably already seen signs along Merritt Boulevard advertising Clean Bread and Cheese Creek’s April 14th cleanup. If you can’t make that event, the group has several other upcoming cleanups and fundraising events listed on its website.

Don’t want to get dirty? Don’t sweat it. There’s plenty of ways businesses, schools, groups and individuals can help.

If you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into, be sure to check out Long’s extensive photo library of volunteers, trash and the creek.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Mar
14
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Friends of Dyke Marsh (Alexandria, Virginia)

Every Sunday morning at 8, a handful of bird enthusiasts flock to Dyke Marsh, the only freshwater marsh along the upper tidal Potomac River. The Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, located south of Alexandria, Va., is home to almost 300 species of birds. The marsh is classified as a “globally rare” habitat, one that’s particularly unique in this dense, urban area just outside the nation’s capital.

Friends of Dyke Marsh volunteers

(Image courtesy of Friends of Dyke Marsh)

Since 1975, the nonprofit volunteer group Friends of Dyke Marsh (FODM) has helped preserve, restore and celebrate this rare ecosystem. In addition to arranging weekly bird watching trips, FODM sponsors scientific surveys, leads school groups, removes invasive plants, organizes cleanups and builds public appreciation for the marsh. 

Understanding and protecting natural resources

FODM supports scientific surveys that illustrate the marsh’s irreplaceable habitat. Freshwater tidal marshes are flooded with fresh water with each incoming high tide, and include a variety of rare emergent grasses and sedges rather than shrubs.

“Dyke Marsh is a remnant of the extensive tidal wetlands that used to line the Potomac River,” explains FODM president Glenda Booth. “It provides buffering during storms. It absorbs flood waters. It’s a nursery for fish. It’s a rich biodiverse area in a large metropolitan area. We think it’s important to preserve what little is left.”

With the support of FODM, a Virginia Natural Heritage Program employee completed a survey of dragonflies and damselflies on the preserve in spring 2011. In addition, members conduct a breeding bird survey every spring. Last year, FODM recorded 78 species. The highlight? A confirmed breeding eastern screech-owl, the first documented in 20 years.

paddling along Dyke Marsh

(Image courtesy of Friends of Dyke Marsh)

Is it too late for Dyke Marsh?

Dyke Marsh faces significant threats from climate change and sea level rise. The marsh is disappearing at a rate of 6-8 feet per year, according to a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey study.

“Our biggest challenge is to stop that erosion and restore Dyke Marsh,” says Booth.

Dyke Marsh was already destabilized in 1959, when Congress added it to the U.S. National Park system. USGS scientists largely attributed this to human impacts: sand and gravel mining that gouged out substantial parts of the marsh and removed a promontory that protected the wetland from storms, leaving Dyke Marsh exposed and vulnerable.

FODM works with the National Park Service to enhance wetland habitat and slow erosion of the marsh’s shoreline.

Spreading the word

Educating neighbors about their connection to Dyke Marsh and fostering appreciation of this scenic area are also essential components of FODM’s preservation goals.

Friends of Dyke Marsh education program

(Image courtesy of Friends of Dyke Marsh)

Like most other parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, invasive plants are a problem in Dyke Marsh. “A lot of people plant things that are aggressive and not native, and these plants end up in the marsh.” And pollution that flows into streams throughout Fairfax County eventually empties into Dyke Marsh, threatening its wildlife and habitat.

Preserving Dyke Marsh is a goal that extends beyond the marsh itself, according to Booth. “We have to make sure that activities on our boundaries are compatible with preservation goals.” That means advocating for regulations that prohibit jet skiing, which disturbs the marsh’s nesting birds in spring.

Visit FODM’s website to learn more about upcoming outreach and educational opportunities and to find out other ways you can enjoy Dyke Marsh.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Feb
28
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Corsica River Conservancy (Centreville, Maryland)

Just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, residents in Centreville, Md., spent Saturdays building rain gardens, installing native plants and talking to their neighbors about improving the health of the Corsica River, a tributary of the Chester River.

Corsica River display

(Image courtesy Corsica River Conservancy)

Volunteers with the Corsica River Conservancy (CRC) are seeking to remove the Corsica from the official list of impaired waterways. This goal requires major pollution reduction and habitat enhancement projects.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for Corsica River area residents to help. All watershed residents are eligible to apply for a free rain garden valued at up to $2,000. Volunteers can also get involved with CRC’s oyster gardening and shoreline restoration projects.  Take a look at this interactive map to find a project near you.

Check out this blog post from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to learn more about the Corsica River Conservancy.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Feb
15
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Friends of Accotink Creek (Fairfax County, Virginia)

From old box springs to blown-out tires, we’ve all had “problem waste” that’s too big and bulky for curbside disposal. The next option is usually to borrow a friends’ pickup truck and drop off your awkward, heavy or disgusting objects at the local dump. But if you live in Fairfax County, Va., there are only two places where you can legally dump your trash (4618 West Ox Road, Fairfax, and 9850 Furnace Road, Lorton).

trash in woods near Accotink Creek

(Image courtesy Let’s Do It, Virginia)

Maybe it’s the inconvenience of driving across the county to get rid of “problem waste,” or maybe it’s the fee residents must pay to properly dispose of their trash ($6 for five 32-gallon bags, $9 for six to 10). Whatever the case, some residents are illegally dumping their unwanted appliances, shoes, baby clothes and car parts along Accotink Creek, a 25-mile-long Potomac River tributary.

Friends of Accotink Creek is a Fairfax-based volunteer group dedicated to battling illegal dumping. On weekends from March 31 to April 28, Friends of Accotink Creek will be cleaning different sections of the creek as a part of the greater Potomac Watershed Cleanup. The cleanups are much needed: since April 2007, there have been 166 reported illegal dumping acts in the county, and countless others remain unreported. Students, community members, religious organizations, neighbors and nature lovers will come together to drag abandoned dryers up hills and pull embedded tires out of streams. Interested in helping out? Be sure to bring your muscles!

Who knows – someone else’s trash may become your treasure. Volunteer Olivier Giron is building his master’s thesis around taking photographs of the trash – not because he thinks it’s beautiful, but because he believes the dismal juxtaposition of greenery and rusted metal will help influence people’s dumping behaviors. His website, Let’s Do It, Virginia, shows photos of the discarded trash and encourages other organizations to get involved in World Clean Up 2012.

volunteers cleaning up Accotink Creek

(Image courtesy Friends of Accotink Creek)

Illegal dumping is one of the largest problems that Friends of Accotink Creek tackles. But the group also has its hands in a variety of environmental projects to restore and protect Accotink Creek.

Invasive weed removal

Klub Kudzu is Friends of Accotink Creek’s invasive weed removal project. On Wednesdays, volunteers help remove kudzu, a climbing and coiling vine native to Asia. Kudzu has no predators to control its spread in the United States; as a result, it grows quickly, climbing over trees and shrubs and killing them by blocking out sunlight. If you’re free, join Friends of Accotink Creek to help save the creek’s native plants from this invader!

Critter counting (aka stream monitoring)

Volunteers monitor Accotink Creek for macroinvertebrates: worms, clams and other small creatures that live at the bottom of streams. Macroinvertebrate populations indicate the health of streams like Accotink Creek. Join other critter counters at Lake Accotink Park on the second Saturday of March, June, September and December.

volunteers with Friends of Accotink Creek

(Image courtesy Friends of Accotink Creek)

Friends of Accotink Creek relies on volunteers like you to keep these restoration activities running. So contact the organization today and volunteer your time to a good cause. You can also stay in touch with Friends of Accotink Creek on Facebook.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Feb
01
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Conodoguinet Creek Watershed Association (Cumberland County, Pennsylvania)

If you think “Conodoguinet” is difficult to pronounce, try “Guiniipduckhanet.” That’s the name Native Americans used for this 90-mile-long tributary of the Susquehanna River. The creek’s 524-square-mile watershed in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, was home to Native Americans as early as 1,000 B.C. These early inhabitants depended on the creek’s freshwater mussels and fish.

Conodoguinet Creek

(Image courtesy Steve Cavrich/Flickr)

Today, residents of the area may not associate their dinner plans with casting a line in the Conodoguinet, but the creek’s natural resources are nevertheless vital to a healthy community and functioning ecosystem.

To preserve the history of the creek, enhance its fishing potential and protect its unique geological formations, a group of local citizens formed the Conodoguinet Creek Watershed Association (CCWA). CCWA volunteers work with school groups, streamside residents, local governments and non-profits to clean up the creek and remove invasive plants.

The Conodoguinet Creek Watershed Association offers a number of volunteer opportunities, including:

  • Mapping invasive plants: Invasive plants spread aggressively, out-competing the native vegetation that wildlife need to survive. If you’re out exploring this spring and happen to come across Japanese knotweed, make sure to call CCWA and let them know where you found it.
  • Summer creek clean-ups: CCWA holds a “creek sweep” each month in summer. During the most recent clean-up, volunteers removed two tons of trash! CCWA is currently looking for a boat to assist in its clean-ups next season.
  • Monitoring the water: Volunteers keep track of water quality by measuring the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the creek. Monitoring water quality is one of the first steps in figuring out how to improve it. CCWA is always looking for volunteers to help monitor the Conodoguinet.

volunteers on Conodoguinet Creek

(Image courtesy Conodoguinet Creek Watershed Association)

Another part of CCWA’s mission is to promote and preserve the recreational quality of Conodoguinet Creek and its connecting streams. If you live in the area, get outside and enjoy all the creek has to offer with one of these great recreational opportunities:

  • Get out on the water: Conodoguinet Creek flows through at least six parks and a handful of natural areas. Boaters, rafters and floaters can download this interpretative guide and map from the Cumberland County Planning Commission to learn more about the creek’s water trails.
  • Catch ‘em and eat ‘em: A traditional German carp recipe is rumored to please. You can use nearly anything – worms, corn, even dough – to catch these tasty fish.
  • Calling all history geeks: A detailed account of the Conodoguinet Creek watershed’s geology and history provides the context for CCWA’s cleanups and restoration work.

homes on Conodoguinet Creek

(Image courtesy Jason Trommetter/Flickr)

For more information about the association and Conodoguinet Creek, visit CCWA’s website.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jan
18
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Elizabeth River Project (Portsmouth, Virginia)

The Elizabeth River, a 6-mile-long tributary of the James River in southeastern Virginia, was named after Princess Elizabeth Stuart. She was the daughter of England's King James I, Jamestown's namesake.

Today, Princess Elizabeth is still around – yes, you heard us right! She often speaks to students in the Hampton Roads community about how people can help restore her river to the way it looked when Captain John Smith first explored it in 1607. The princess's public speaking appointments are arranged by the Elizabeth River Project, a non-profit committed to improving the health of the Elizabeth River through restoration efforts and education programs that celebrate the river's history and natural resources.

sunrise over the Elizabeth River

(Image courtesy beachgirlvb/Flickr)

Royal advocacy is one of many ways the Elizabeth River Project is achieving its goal of making the river safe for swimming and eating oysters by 2020. Here are some of the Elizabeth River Project's other inspiring programs.

Learning by doing: The Learning Barge

You may have heard that saying, "Those that can't do, teach." But like the many excellent teachers out there, the Elizabeth River Project proves this old adage wrong with its wind-powered, solar-powered, floating environmental classroom, The Learning Barge.

The objective of The Learning Barge is not only to teach visitors how they can help restore the Elizabeth River, but to exemplify these actions on the barge itself. Live floating wetlands demonstrate how these habitats absorb polluted stormwater runoff, composting toilets offer an alternative to flushing, and a rainwater system collects water to reuse. Visitors to this “green barge” can see firsthand how these actions help improve the Elizabeth River’s health.

The Learning Barge's innovation has earned it the 2011 Sea World & Busch Gardens Environmental Excellence Award, which is presented to outstanding grassroots environmental education programs across the country.

boy volunteers on Learning Barge

(Image courtesy Elizabeth River Project/Facebook)

Since 2009, more than 10,000 students have visited the floating classroom. This year, up to 60 students can set to sea at once on the barge. Three new stations (sun, wind and rain) focus on renewable energy technology.

The barge's field trip education programs were designed by local educators to meet Virginia standards for most subjects (not just science). The Elizabeth River Project even provides pre-and post-field trip activities, including art projects (sending a message in a bottle), journaling exercises (writing a letter to Princess Elizabeth) and more.

Baby, you're a star! (A River Star, that is!)

The Elizabeth River Project also gets adults involved in stewardship efforts through its River Star brand, a certification that home and business owners can earn after they take seven easy river-friendly steps. Some of the steps are so easy that they actually require you not to do something (such as not feeding geese, not flushing medicines and not dumping grease down the sink). Take a peek at this short video to see some River Stars in action.

The River Star certification is also applied to schools. There are already 128 River Star schools – more than half of the total 200 public and private schools in the Elizabeth River watershed. Students at River Star schools create herb and butterfly gardens, plant marsh grasses, learn how to compost and more.

students at trash cleanup

(Image courtesy Elizabeth River Project/Facebook)

Although the River Star certification is available only to Hampton Roads area residents, the seven easy steps are a great idea for anyone to try.

The Elizabeth River Project offers even more creative ways to help and enjoy the river:

  • Adopt a wetland or simply participate in a one-day cleanup. Many sites in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake are in need of weeding, planting and litter cleanup. These visits also provide a great service-learning opportunity.
  • Visit Paradise Creek Park, slated to open later this year. The area surrounding Paradise Creek – an Elizabeth River tributary – was once nicknamed "Paradise Lost" because of its close proximity to the former New Gosport landfill, a Superfund site. Now the creek has become a model for urban waterway restoration. The park will provide the public with access to the Elizabeth River for boating, hiking and other outdoor activities.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jan
04
2012

Watershed Wednesday: Cacapon Institute (High View, West Virginia)

West Virginia may be far from the sailboats and blue crabs that we normally associate with the Chesapeake Bay. But folks at the Cacapon Institute in the state’s eastern panhandle are helping students install rain gardens, speaking with local farmers about reducing pollution, and spearheading community education initiatives – all in the name of helping the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Potomac River

(Image courtesy mdmarkus66/Flickr)

Founded by a husband and wife team in 1985, the Cacapon Institute was originally known as the Pine Cabin Run Ecological Laboratory. PCREL was established to research and teach Appalachian natural history and water quality issues around the Cacapon River, an 80-mile-long Potomac tributary that is designated by the EPA as an American Heritage River.

The Cacapon Institute’s dual mission of scientific research and education makes it stand out from organizations that emphasize one over the other. Today, the Cacapon Institute continues to balance community education and outreach with science “experiments” such as deer fencing and trout restoration.

Be a Stream Cleaner

Ever get sick of all this environmental talk? Do you think you could stop pollution if you were a county land manager or decision maker? The Cacapon Institute gives K-12 students that opportunity through its interactive Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum.

Stream Cleaner allows users to decide how land is used and see the effects of those decisions on natural resources. It’s an interactive, engaging way for students to learn about water and pollution issues.

The program is part of the greater Potomac Highlands Water School, a website that provides resources for teachers and students seeking to learn about their local environment. Slideshows, interactive games and vocabulary lists make it a hybrid of “old school” and digital learning. No matter what generation you belong to, it's worth a visit.

Training the next generation in real-world collaboration

The Cacapon Institute isn’t just teaching students vocabulary words; it’s challenging them to collaborate on water quality projects.

Students along a stream

(Image courtesy Cacapon Institute/Facebook)

Each spring, Cacapon sponsors the Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum, a program in which classes work together to develop solutions to specific, real-world pressures on the Potomac and the Bay.

Participating students learn from the best; collaborators range from local farmers and businesses to state and federal agencies. Projects such as Farmers as Producers of Clean Water hinge on input from local farmers about which best management practices they’d most likely adopt. By understanding the needs of different stakeholders and working with them to develop mutually beneficial solutions, Cacapon is creating a community that’s strengthened by cooperation, rather than oppressed by regulation.

Students first

The Cacapon Institute hopes that by starting with the younger generation, it can engage the wider community. This statement on its website says it all:

As educators, we work to create a future where a stream without a buffer looks as out of place as a smoker in a conference room looks today. To foster that vision, our environmental education efforts focus on students first and, through them, the larger community.

Student volunteers

(Image courtesy Cacapon Institute/Facebook)

Other highlights from the Cacapon Institute:

  • CommuniTree: Cacapon partners with the West Virginia Conservation Agency and West Virginia Potomac Tributary Team on this all-volunteer run forestry initiative.
  • An aerial slideshow of the Cacapon River in 1990 and 2005. Notice a difference?
  • The “Oh Deer!” Forum allows students to explore social and environmental consequences of deer overpopulation.
Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Dec
21
2011

Watershed Wednesday: Friends of Sligo Creek (Takoma Park, Maryland)

Spend a Saturday morning walking along the Sligo Creek Trail in Takoma Park, Maryland, and you'll likely see at least one family trekking through the brush with a trash bag, picking up discarded aluminum cans and plastic grocery bags. These are the members of Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC), a community volunteer organization that has worked since 2001 to clean up this tributary of the Anacostia River. The organization has now swelled to more than 500 members – an impressive figure for a nine-mile-long creek, even in this densely populated Washington, D.C., suburb.

Sligo Creek in fall

(Image courtesy Mark Ames/Flickr)

Sligo Creek’s watershed is ethnically and economically diverse, encompassing everything from million dollar homes to public housing. This diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for FOSC, which aims to be an environmental organization that genuinely reflects the interests and values of its eclectic community.

Stormwater Committee Leader Ed Murtagh reveals that although Sligo Creek's watershed is home to a varied population, a number of residents are professional environmental experts. "We have EPA employees, natural history experts, Smithsonian workers living in this area. There's a lot of folks who care about these things."

Also unique to Sligo Creek is its urban setting. Flowing through the D.C. suburbs of Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, the creek faces challenges specific to high-density areas, where human impacts are everywhere. Polluted stormwater runoff, land development, and the spread of invasive weeds are some specific challenges Sligo faces.

Stormwater runoff

"It’s pretty common now to see rain barrels and rain gardens," Murtagh says. But when he started volunteering with FOSC in 2002, stormwater infrastructure wasn't so cool. "We try to make it a social thing," he explains, holding education and outreach activities for the community to learn more about beneficial landscaping.

For example, FOSC has sponsored sustainable gardening tours to showcase rain gardens and native plants that homeowners have planted along the creek. According to Murtagh, it's an excellent opportunity to reach out to friends and neighbors interested in gardening.

Additionally, FOSC’s website provides an excellent description of stormwater basics to explain "what happens when it rains" to those who can’t make an event.

Land development

When a developer proposed building a cell phone tower on Sligo’s oak-hickory uplands, FOSC knew the project would not only destroy woodlands, but increase erosion and sediment pollution in the creek. Working with neighbors, FOSC members organized successful protests that led to the project being abandoned in early 2011.

Additionally, the cell phone tower proposal would have contradicted Takoma Park’s interest in increasing wildlife habitat in the community. This year, the city became the first in Maryland to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a Community Wildlife Habitat.

NWF’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat certifications are popping up across the country (look for these yard signs). A Community Wildlife Habitat certification, however, is a larger undertaking. Food-bearing plants and water sources must be installed throughout the community so critters can travel throughout different neighborhoods, rather than being isolated to small areas.

In Takoma Park, the certification required that four schools, four public spaces and 150 backyards provide native wildlife with food, water, shelter and a place to rear young. FOSC’s Bruce Sidwell worked with the Takoma Horticulture Club and the Takoma Foundation to garner community support and provide technical assistance to participating neighbors.

Invasive weeds

volunteers removing invasive weeds

(Image courtesy Friends of Sligo Creek)

Invasive weeds grow at much higher rates in urban areas (like the Sligo Creek watershed) than in rural areas. That’s because of us: humans spread seeds and disturb soil when we hike and bike through natural areas, allowing harmful weeds to invade new areas.

How is FOSC battling the somewhat overwhelming invasive weed problem? By splitting up the job. The group has designated a "Sligo Steward" for each of the creek’s 15 stream tracts. Sligo Stewards organize invasive weed removal days, as well as litter pickups. It’s each Sligo Steward’s job to make sure his or her section of the creek is in good health. The Sligo Steward program helps build community, gives neighbors a common goal and fosters a sense of ownership of the creek.

But FOSC volunteers know the fight against invasive weeds reaches beyond their organization. That’s why FOSC has joined forces with the Montgomery County Parks Weed Warriors program, which trains volunteers how to properly remove invasive weeds and sponsors group work days in natural areas.

The partnership between FOSC and the Weed Warriors has been successful at teaching members about invasive weeds and increasing participation in weed removals in the community. This November, a record number of volunteers participated in a Weed Warrior work day at Sligo Creek.

What else is special about Friends of Sligo Creek?

With separate committees for stormwater, invasive plants, water quality, litter, outreach and even natural history, Friends of Sligo Creek is structured in a way that covers all "environmental bases."

In addition to its many neighborhood events, FOSC holds a "Sweep the Creek" trash cleanup twice a year. During last fall’s Sweep the Creek, 222 FOSC volunteers collected 167 bags of trash. According to Murtagh, the amount of trash that volunteers have picked up at each event has decreased significantly over the past 10 years, even as the region’s population has grown.

It seems like all the great work FOSC volunteers are doing is making a difference toward a cleaner Sligo Creek, Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.

a FOSC volunteer

(Image courtesy Friends of Sligo Creek)

More from Friends of Sligo Creek:

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Dec
07
2011

Watershed Wednesday: Howard County Conservancy (Maryland)

Owl handler, goat walker, Monarch butterfly tagger…these are just a few of the roles volunteers take on with the Howard County Conservancy. The conservancy is headquartered in a 300-year-old farm house on a 232-acre property near Woodstock, Maryland, making it an ideal location for Howard County residents to escape from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives.

HCC volunteers

Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust

The Howard County Conservancy’s mission is two-fold. Like most conservancies, it is dedicated to preserving natural areas. But the Howard County Conservancy is also committed to educating and engaging the public. The property’s historic buildings, four miles of trails and 140 species of birds make it a must-see for any Marylander. Who knows – you may enjoy it so much that you decide to become a volunteer!

For more information about the Howard County Conservancy, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog to read how one man became an “accidental” conservancy volunteer.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Nov
23
2011

Watershed Wednesday: Paxton Creek Watershed and Education Association (Dauphin County, Pennsylvania)

Every summer of my childhood, I dug for crayfish, collected rocks and even searched for treasure in Paxton Creek, a stream that ran through my neighborhood park in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Little did I know that this stream flowed into the Susquehanna River, a tributary of the nation’s largest estuary. Reflecting on these childhood experiences, I realize that Paxton Creek may have been where I first cultivated my affection for the natural world.

Paxton Creek

(Image courtesy Artman1122/Flickr)

Soon after beginning at the Bay Program, I discovered the Paxton Creek Watershed and Education Association (PCWEA), a volunteer organization that’s working to restore this stream and cultivate a new generation of environmentalists as they comb its waters for crayfish.

As its name suggests, PCWEA’s mission is more than “science”; the organization places just as much emphasis on creating environmental education opportunities and fostering community relationships.

PWCEA’s projects range from a community-wide Crayfish Crawl to control the invasive rusty crayfish to a tour of stormwater best management practices that neighborhoods, schools and localities have adopted to help reduce pollution.  Because Paxton Creek flows from rural areas in the headwaters (near Blue Mountain) to the city of Harrisburg, PCWEA volunteers have the opportunity to work at the interface of urban, suburban and rural environments.

Paxton Creek’s biggest threat is pressures from development, which has inundated the upper portion of the watershed since PCWEA was established in 2001. The creek’s upland portions flow through Harrisburg’s suburbs – areas that were once farms and woodlands. Even since I left the area in 2005, abandoned fields and wooded lots have been converted into gas stations, housing developments and shopping centers. Sure, this means that many of the secret hideouts of my childhood have disappeared, but it also means that there are more roads, parking lots and buildings. These paved, or impervious, surfaces do not allow stormwater to soak into the ground; instead, it flows into storm drains, carrying oil, pet waste and other pollutants along with it.

But just because PCWEA doesn’t like impervious surfaces doesn’t mean that the group is against development. Instead, it views the changing land use patterns and rapidly increasing population as an opportunity to promote sustainable growth and influence new residents to install beneficial landscaping techniques.

“There are modes of development that can achieve satisfactory runoff infiltration with less impervious surface,” E. Drannon Buskirk writes in PCWEA’s latest newsletter.

PCWEA has partnered with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to showcase best management practices already implemented in the creek’s 27-square-mile watershed. Residents can view rain gardens, rain barrels and conservation landscaping examples, or they can take an online tour of the sites.

In case you’d rather see the other end of the spectrum, PCWEA has compiled a driving and online tour of “hot spots”: streamside areas that are eroding and contributing sediment pollution to the creek.

PCWEA seeks to reduce impervious surfaces and sediment pollution, but it is also interested in involving the community’s 60,000 stakeholders in community greening projects.

My favorite PCWEA project: A streamside tree nursery

PCWEA has a streamside tree nursery in my old neighborhood park, Shutt Mill Park. Community members work together to maintain the nursery.

Paxton Creek tree nursery

These trees keep the soil in place, preventing sediment pollution from clouding the creek. Also, their roots absorb rainwater, which reduces flooding and stormwater runoff. And as these trees mature, they will provide habitat for wildlife and shade the creek, keeping water temperatures cool.

Do you live near Paxton Creek? Get involved today!

There are plenty of opportunities for people to help restore and protect Paxton Creek, such as tabling at the Dauphin County Wetlands Festival, leading youngsters in creek explorations, and implementing sustainable landscaping practices on your own property.

Paxton Creek volunteers

(Image courtesy Paxton Creek Watershed and Education Association)

Contact PCWEA for more information on how you can help Paxton Creek.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Nov
09
2011

Watershed Wednesday: Friends of the Rappahannock (Fredericksburg, Virginia)

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.

Volunteers with Friends of the Rappahannock (image courtesy Friends of the Rappahannock)

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.

Kayak trip (image courtesy Friends of the Rappahannock)

Here are a few of our favorite ways you can get involved with FOR:

  • Livable Neighborhood volunteers work to improve water quality in their community by introducing their neighbors to simple, sustainable lifestyle changes.
  • Get the Dirt Out volunteers identify erosion and sediment problems on lands that have been disturbed by development or construction. They work with FOR to implement policy and restoration tactics to mitigate these pollution problems.
  • AmeriCorps volunteers organize river trips, install rain barrels on residential properties, and conduct environmental education programs.
  • Weed Warrior volunteers remove invasive plants: aggressive, non-native vegetation that threaten native plants and wildlife.
  • Environmental educators lead students from preschool through 12th grade in hands-on riverside lessons.
  • FOR’s annual fundraiser, Riverfest, and other special events

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

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



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