Caring for the environment is a year-round activity. But as temperatures rise, flowers bloom and the natural world springs to life, it can be easier to get outside and get involved. In the Chesapeake Bay region, there are countless opportunities to volunteer, no matter your interests or age level. April is National Volunteer Month, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting a few ways you can help protect the environment that surrounds us.
1. Pick up trash
Litter is often one of the most visible forms of pollution we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Trash cleanups collect this litter—from plastic soda bottles to old tires—from sites across the Chesapeake Bay region, often along the shores of the watershed’s rivers and streams.
One of the area’s largest cleanup initiatives is the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream. In 2016, close to 3.3 million pounds of trash were collected at more than 3,700 Project Clean Stream sites. While the bulk of events take place on the first Saturday in April, cleanups continue to be held through the beginning of June.
Another event, held on the first Saturday in June each year, is Clean the Bay Day. Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the cleanup takes place in Virginia along the shores of the Bay and its rivers and streams. Since its start in 1989, close to 6.4 million pounds of trash have been removed from almost 6,900 miles of the state’s shorelines.
2. Plant a tree
By improving air quality, trapping water pollution and providing habitat for wildlife, trees play a critical role in a healthy ecosystem. Landowners can individually plant trees along their property, but many organizations also host tree planting events, during which volunteers can assist in planting large numbers of trees on both private and public lands.
Celebrations like Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 28) are particularly popular for tree plantings, but events can be found throughout the spring and fall. In the Chesapeake region, April, May and October tend to be the best times for plantings, both for tree survivability and for the comfort level of volunteers working outside. To find a tree planting opportunity near you, you can contact your local watershed organization or check the events calendar of organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
3. Be a citizen scientist
Gathering data about the natural world helps scientists and decision-makers detect changes over time and better understand the complex workings of the Bay ecosystem. But time and resources limit the number of sites and frequency of monitoring, especially in the smaller creeks and streams that thread through the region. Networks of trained volunteers can assist in activities like measuring water quality, tracking wildlife and identifying invasive species.
Organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay region engage citizen scientists in their efforts. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s RiverTrends program, for example, provides training to water quality monitoring volunteers in the Virginia portion of the Bay watershed. Other initiatives like Project Noah use mobile apps to track sightings of wildlife. Contact your local watershed organization to learn about citizen science opportunities in your area.
4. Support wildlife
Hundreds of species depend on the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding region, whether as seasonal visitors or as permanent residents. A variety of factors affect the ability of these critters to thrive, from the availability of sufficient food and habitat to surviving in a world of unfamiliar, man-made obstacles. Wildlife organizations and refuges provide support and sanctuary to thousands of animals each year, and they rely on volunteers to help carry out their mission.
Organizations like the Wildlife Center of Virginia assist in wildlife rehabilitation, using volunteers to transport, treat and care for injured wildlife. Volunteers help City Wildlife in D.C. care for urban wildlife, track injured migratory birds and monitor duck nests in the city.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is also home to fifteen national wildlife refuges, protecting the forests, fields, wetlands and shorelines that wildlife depend on. Many of these refuges have “Friends” groups—such as Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge—that provide volunteer opportunities like leading nature walks, helping with trail maintenance and staffing information desks.
5. Educate others
More than three million students in kindergarten through 12th grade live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—and soon, they’ll be the caretakers of its well-being. Teaching these students the knowledge and skills they need to care for the natural world builds the foundation for future environmental stewardship.
That’s why groups across the region are focused on providing meaningful outdoor experiences to students, connecting them with the environment that surrounds them. Audubon Naturalist Society near D.C., for example, uses volunteer teaching assistants to help lead lessons about planting trees or stream science. And volunteers can help the Sultana Education Foundation on the Bay’s Eastern Shore by both leading environmental education programs and working aboard the organization’s replica 1768 Royal Navy schooner.
Have another favorite way you like to volunteer? Let us know in the comments! Or if you’re looking for an opportunity near you, use our Join a Group page to find watershed organizations in your area.
Images by Will Parson
It’s a gray Saturday morning in Washington, D.C. The sky is full of clouds, threatening rain, but Kenilworth Park isn’t empty. In fact, a large group of people are gathered around a tent in the park’s large, open field. But they’re not here for flag football or barbecuing; they’re here to work.
Today is the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) Earth Day Cleanup, and all of these people came out to Kenilworth Park to volunteer. As the overcast sky begins to shed its first drops of rain, they break off into smaller groups and head out to different sections of the park. Some begin scouring the field for trash, others head toward the Anacostia River—which cuts through the park—and some begin working on one of the river’s smaller tributaries.
While the Kenilworth group is large, they’re just a small portion of the 2,400 volunteers who signed up to take part in today’s cleanup at 31 different sites around D.C. and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland. Today seems like a large-scale cleanup effort—because it is—but AWS’s day of action is part of an even larger network of cleanups called Project Clean Stream, hosted by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. For the past 13 years, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has coordinated cleanups around the Chesapeake region. This year, cleanups ran from Sandbridge, Virginia, all the way up to Westfield, Pennsylvania.
For some of the volunteers at Kenilworth Park, this is their first time participating in a cleanup. Many were drawn to the event through Broccoli City Fest, a local concert that offered tickets to people in exchange for community service at a number of designated locations. One volunteer, Hilina Kibron, remarked, “I probably wouldn’t have done it on my own time. This actually forces me to do it.”
For experts and newcomers alike, the day is a learning opportunity. After just a few hours of picking up bottle after bottle and a seemingly endless stream of Styrofoam containers, volunteers reflected on personal changes they wanted to make, and hopes they had for others. After cleaning up plastic bottles and even an oil drum, William Klein said, “I hope that it will bring more awareness about littering and trying prevent that so in the future we won’t have to have days like these because people will be more sustainable.”
Despite the trash, many saw the beauty of Kenilworth Park and the Anacostia River, and wanted others to see that as well. They expressed hope about the value that a clean natural space could bring to the community and its residents. Fajr Chestnut, volunteering with her young daughter Ryanna, summed it up best: “The river means health and sustainability and economic development, and it’s the basis for the community. Once it’s to the level where it’s supposed to be, people will be able to have recreation. It’s bettering the community; it’s making it look better, making it sound better, making it feel better. So it’s important to have a clean river.”
Text by Joan Smedinghoff
Photos by Will Parson
On a cold day in January, I found myself driving down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Unlike thousands of others, I wasn’t traveling into the District to celebrate our president on Inauguration Day, but to honor another great American: Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work we now commemorate with a national Day of Service. Because while Martin Luther King Day is a national holiday, it is also a day “on”—not a day “off.” And on that day, two conservation organizations—the Sierra Club and the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC)—were sponsoring a small stream cleanup at Pope Branch Park.
Pope Branch is a unique stream. According to Sierra Club field organizer and cleanup host Irv Sheffey, it is the only stream whose headwaters originate in the District and drain into the Anacostia River. So, local District residents have a greater incentive to clean up the waterway—and more control over what goes in it.
The first time I joined a cleanup at Pope Branch was five years ago, with my daughter, who is now in college in Florida. In 2008, we removed massive amounts of trash from the streambed—old appliances, couches, car parts and more—most of it a result of dumping. This time, there was still a fair amount of trash, but most of it was plastic bottles, soda and beer cans and food wrappings, all consequences of stormwater runoff. Local community organizers saw this reduced trash load as a positive sign of progress, and I did, too. But even as the residents who stopped to thank us for our work said they were pleased with the progress that had been made, they reminded us that there is still more work to do.
That same message resonates for both the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay: progress is being made, but there is a lot more work to do. So let’s continue to look for opportunities to help local organizations—like the Sierra Club, the ECC or the countless others across the watershed—in their ongoing restoration efforts. We can do this, but to truly succeed, we must all do our part to once again have clean streams, healthy rivers and a restored Bay.
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:
When I moved to Annapolis last August, I wanted to be located near water and close to where I work at the Bay Program’s Eastport office. I moved into an apartment adjacent to Truxtun Park on Spa Creek. I enjoy kayaking, and the park has a boat ramp. In pretty short order, I met several people from the Spa Creek Conservancy, a local volunteer group working to restore and protect the creek. The Conservancy may be small in numbers, but it is huge in heart and enthusiasm.
(Image courtesy Spa Creek Conservancy)
On Saturday, April 14, I had the opportunity to join with other Conservancy members in a Project Clean Stream cleanup. When we assembled at the Chesapeake Children’s Museum, we were joined by a troop of Daisy Scouts out for a day of learning about the environment. They were as energetic as a swarm of bumble bees buzzing around a patch of wildflowers.
Along with the water, coffee, donuts, gloves and plastic bags at the volunteer sign-in table, we also set up a great aerial photo of the Spa Creek watershed that showed our location and all the areas that drain into the creek. The world looks a lot different from that vantage point. It was interesting to see how much of the area was covered by roads, rooftops and parking lots. These hard surfaces prevent rainwater from soaking into the soil to recharge streams and groundwater supplies.
During the cleanup, there was evidence everywhere of our consumer-based economy: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, fast food wrappers, plastic shopping bags, certain unmentionables, and even an occasional tire or two. As Aldo Leopold, a noted naturalist and conservationist once said, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Those words are perhaps even more meaningful now than when he first spoke them more than 70 years ago.
What I’ve witnessed working with the incredible members of the Spa Creek Conservancy, the Watershed Stewards Academy, the South River Federation and other local, civic-minded environmental groups throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a strong desire to re-establish that sense of community where we live, work, play and pray – to think about how nature functions and why we need to find ways to live in harmony with it. We get lost in our own sense of self-importance as we travel at 60 miles per hour (or more) trying to get from one place to another. Often, we don’t allow ourselves to spend a few hours a week seeking to understand nature. To paraphrase another great thinker, “We don't value what we don't know; we don't protect what we don't value."
The Spa Creek cleanup was a good way to reconnect with nature and see firsthand how, perhaps unintentionally or unconsciously, we abuse it. Once we understand that, we will all be motivated to do something about it.
Once a year a holiday comes around that is all about giving back and celebrating what we have been given. Trees are often an integral part of this celebration, which involves families coming together to celebrate and volunteer. It is Earth Day, of course! (What were you thinking it was?)
Earth Day began in 1970 as a nationwide rally for the environment. Since then it has evolved into a day of education and service. Local and national organizations around the country hold events and celebrations. Attending an Earth Day event is the perfect way to get your family outdoors and learn what you can do to help the environment.
Here are 21 Earth Day celebrations happening this month around the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Anacostia Tree Planting
April 16, Riverdale
Help plant 200 native trees and shrubs along the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River with the Maryland-National Capital Parkand Planning Commission and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. This is a great opportunity for students to gain community service credit hours while helping the environment. Get some exercise and learn about the Anacostia River at the same time.
April 16-23, Baltimore
Baltimore Green Week (BGWeek), now in its eighth year, is a week-long series of educational workshops, lectures and events. During BGWeek, members of the public can learn about, voice their concerns and take action on issues such as climate change, sustainable food and agriculture, water conservation and home efficiency. BGWeek kicks off with the EcoFest, an outdoor festival with music, yoga classes, bike rides and more than 100 local, sustainable vendors and exhibitors.
Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum Earth Day Celebration
April 23, Baltimore
The Banneker Park & Museum’s Earth Day Celebration is sure to be filled with environmental fun! Activities will include arts and crafts, guided nature hikes, a planting workshop, climate change lecture and presentation, astronomy presentation by a NASA scientist, Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society presentation, and a composting display and Q&A session with a Baltimore County Master Gardener.
Earth Day at the Salisbury Zoo
April 23, Salisbury
Come and celebrate Mother Earth during the Salisbury Zoo’s annual Earth Day celebration! The event will feature more than 20 earth-friendly exhibitors that will teach attendees how to help the environment. There will be green demonstrations on the Zoo stage, recycled craft activities, educational activities, zookeeper talks, food and more!
Pacers' Third Annual Earth Day 5K
April 30, Silver Spring
Want to help the Chesapeake Bay while also getting your morning workout? Register for the Pacers’ Third Annual Earth Day 5K! Proceeds from the race go to the Nature Conservancy’s Bay restoration work. Last year, the event sold out. Each of the 1,200 runners who participated helped seed the Chesapeake with 5 million baby oysters (called “spat”), a critical part of restoring the Bay. Don’t feel like running? No problem! You can still make an online donation.
Earth Day at the Izaak Walton League
May 7, Gaithersburg
The Izaak Walton League will host a free Earth Day Celebration for people of all ages. Participate in a rain garden planting, build a nest box, talk with Master Gardeners, or hike along a new environmental education trail. Students will have the opportunity to receive their Student Service Learning hours. The first 100 attendees will also receive a free tree seedling!
Earth Day Staunton
April 16, Staunton
What better way to spend Earth Day than educating yourself about environmental issues in your community! If you live in the Staunton area, take the whole family to the 5th Annual Earth Day Staunton event. Earth-friendly organizations like Wild Virginia and the Virginia Native Plant Society will host interactive educational booths, while kids can take part in activities like face painting, live music and a 3-D “Planet Earth” art demonstration. Get an up-close look at some live native wildlife from the Wildlife Center of Virginia, and then learn how you can protect these animals. There will also be a native plant sale with Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Earth Day Celebration
April 23, Chantilly
Celebrate Earth Day by getting dirty! Volunteer to plant native trees and shrubs during the Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Earth Day Celebration. You can also help prevent erosion in the park by mulching and repairing park trails. End the celebration by recycling your household materials into new items.
Earth Day Festival
April 23, Richmond
More than 5,000 people attended last year’s Earth Day Festival in Richmond, and you can be one of them this year! Enjoy local food and music while participating in environmental workshops, speaking with local vendors and helping your kids learn about the environment.
Alexandria Earth Day
April 30, Alexandria
Come to Ben Brenman Park on April 30 to celebrate Earth Day with a Trashion Fashion Show! To raise awareness about the importance of recycling, local residents and students were asked to design an outfit made of recycled items. The event will also include exhibits from the Audubon Society, Sierra Club and more!
Run for the River
April 30, Louisa
Join the second annual Run for the River and enjoy beautiful, historic farm views while helping to protect the South Anna River. The race will feature both 5K and 10K routes along gravel roads through the pastoral Green Springs National Historic Landmark District. Stick around after the race for an environmental fair, where you can learn some simple ways to protect the river and the Chesapeake Bay.
Earth Day 2011 Mount Trashmore Park
May 1, Virginia Beach
Help make our world a healthier place by discovering and exploring ways to green your lifestyle at this Virginia Beach Earth Day event. Enjoy live music, delicious food and fun children’s activities at this former landfill-turned-beautiful park. Bring your old computers, hard drives and waste paper to be recycled safely and confidentially, and pick up a rain barrel or composter!
American University Earth Week 2011: Green Campus, Green Communities
Join the students and faculty of American University for EarthWeek 2011. Each day of the week has a different theme, such as transportation, food and water, and a day of service. All of the week’s activities lead up to an Earth Day celebration on the 22nd! The public is invited to participate in all activities, from tree plantings to workshops.
National Zoo Earth Day Celebration
Celebrate Earth Day at the National Zoo! The event will feature crafts made from recycled materials and information about the Zoo’s sustainable practices. Be sure to bring old electronics like cell phones, batteries and accessories, which will be recycled to help raise money for the Zoo’s environmental activities!
The Great American Cleanup of PA
Various dates and locations
The Great American Cleanup of PA provides listings of restoration events throughout Pennsylvania to help citizens get involved in their local community. Events are organized by county. The Great American Cleanup of PA website lists many events ranging from tree plantings to roadside trash pickups. Celebrate Earth Day by picking an event that suits you in your area!
Earth Day 2011 at Penn State University (Harrisburg Campus)
April 21, Harrisburg
Come to Penn State Harrisburg’s annual Earth Day Event and tree planting for activities such as tie dying, container gardening and a mechanical bull! The event will also feature food, music, presentations on environmental issues and more.
Earth Day 2011
May 1, Reading
Come to Riverfront Park for a fun, day-long event dedicated to learning about the health and wellness of people and the earth. Enjoy music from local bands while stopping by eco booths and participating in workshops. Local eateries will serve food while your kids participate in free Earth Day-related activities!
2011 Art and Earth Celebration
April 16, Martinsburg
Bring the whole family to War Memorial Park on April 16 for a day full of fun and environmental education. There will be free Earth Day activities for kids including a recycled costume contest. Fill your free recyclable shopping bag with crafts from local artists while you enjoy music by local bands.
Panhandle Earth Day Celebration
April 23, Shepherdstown
The 3rd Annual Panhandle Earth Day Celebration will be held at Morgan's Grove Park, just outside of Shepherdstown. This family-friendly, community-oriented event will include music, art, crafts, food, kids’ activities, demonstrations, environmental and conservation groups, activists, vendors, a farmers market and more!
DSWA Earth Day Festival
April 16, Felton
The Delaware Solid Waste Authority's annual Earth Day Festival is the largest such celebration in southern Delaware. The event will feature fun and exciting "EcoStations" complete with hands-on displays that teach visitors about soil, forestry and wildlife issues. There will also be crafts and games for the children daring enough to venture through "Trash Can Dan's EcoWorld."
Earth Fest 2011
April 30, Binghamton
Earth Fest 2011 will be held at MacArthur Park and School in Binghamton. Sponsored by Earth Day Southern Tier, Earth Fest is one of the longest-running continuous Earth Day celebrations in the nation.
Still looking for an Earth Day event in your area? Visit the Earth Day Network. And if you know of an upcoming Earth Day event that we haven't listed here, let us know about it in the comments!
On Saturday, Nov. 6, 107 volunteers showed up to Bread and Cheese Creek in Baltimore County, Maryland, to clean up the historic War of 1812 site. Through this hands-on restoration event, the “Clean Bread and Cheese Creek” group helped to bring the local community together and teach people about the effect humans can have on the environment.
The 3.5 tons of trash that were collected at the creek included 2.5 tons of metal, 21 tires and 14 shopping carts. Other notable items found in the creek include three bicycles, two boogie boards, a washing machine, a pool table, an industrial warehouse fan, a playpen, a seesaw and a bowling ball.
The group's founder, John Long, planned to recycle all of the metal removed from the creek to raise money to fund the next cleanup, scheduled for April 2, 2011. “I hope that helping to instill pride in the stream and its important past will foster an attitude of stewardship rather than indifference,” Long wrote in an e-mail to volunteers and supporters of the cleanup.
The extent of the trash and debris found in the creek shows that polluted stormwater runoff and dumping of large objects are major problems in the Chesapeake Bay's local creeks and streams. Trash can seriously damage the habitat and wildlife in and around waterways.
To learn more about Clean Bread and Cheese Creek and the fall cleanup, check out the links below:
Shopping cart image courtesy Clean Bread and Cheese Creek.