Forests are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay—they protect clean water and air, provide habitat to wildlife and support the region’s economy. However, since European settlement of the region in the 17th century, deforestation has taken a toll on the once thriving forests of the mid-Atlantic region. Human influences such as development and parcelization have reduced forest acreage from 95 to about 45 percent of historic coverage.
Deforestation in the Bay region may seem a problem that is too complex to tackle, but one man, dubbed the modern-day Johnny Appleseed, is proof that a little curiosity, passion and hard work can have profound effects on the environment. John Smucker, a Technology Education teacher at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, Maryland, has become a catalyst for reforestation efforts, melding his engineering experience with restoration initiatives.
Smucker recalls the moment 10 years ago that sparked his interest in forest restoration. “It all started behind my house with a reforestation effort, but all of the trees that were planted slowly died. I didn’t like that so I did a lot of research to help [the trees] out and fell in love with the process, which led me to start dropping acorns into empty tree shelters,” said Smucker.
The moment created a ripple effect that resulted in Smucker spearheading forest restoration by organizing volunteer plantings and entering into a partnership with Mount Saint Mary’s University and the Francis Scott Key Center. Both locations provide space for Smucker to grow the thousands of trees he uses for plantings.
Smucker spends about 700 hours every year in all aspects of creating riparian buffers, like meeting with landowners, auguring the holes, organizing the volunteers and also conducting the most critical part of the process Smucker says, maintenance. Plantings are held on Saturdays during April, May and October – the most opportune months for tree survivability and comfortable outdoor temperatures for volunteers to work.
When choosing planting locations, Smucker explains, “Being a grower really is a game changer for me, because I can fully understand what the trees need to survive.” Once a site is selected, he samples the soil, observes what plant species are in the area, spends time in his greenhouses flagging all of the appropriate trees for the site and rallies his volunteer base around the planting.
When it comes to tree plantings, the name of the game is fun and education. Many of his volunteers are young people who are in a mindset to learn. Each planting is preceded with an ecology lesson highlighting the importance of riparian zones, stream shading and nutrient removal. “As a middle school teacher it is important to organize the event so it’s fun and rewarding, because if they get frustrated, they will associate that frustration with tree planting. If they associate it with fun, then the environmental stewardship will perpetuate a lot better. If it’s organized right and goes smoothly then it’s a feel-good thing, just like in the classroom,“ Smucker explained.
Smucker encourages his students to work out solutions to engineering problems with the tree plantings and challenges them to think up innovative ways to overcome obstacles. “Tree planting and technology education are really the same thing. It’s problem solving and the engineering design process. What is the problem? What is the solution? Evaluate and modify,” said Smucker.
Over the years, Smucker’s volunteer base and partner organizations have expanded to the point where he has been able to launch an organization of his own, Stream Link Education, a nonprofit that organizes and leads tree plantings with local community members, organizations and businesses. “The coolest thing I think we do is Natives for Nonprofits. We grow trees for giveaways to other organizations, which is great because budgets are really tight and donations are hugely welcome. It also helps establish partnerships, not because I want something in return but because it’s neat to make connections,” said Smucker.
Smucker aims to perpetuate choices and actions by providing people with hands on educational experiences. “If you’re excited about something and value it, then demonstrate the value, they [the volunteers] will see it. The excitement can be catching,” he said. He continued to explain that in addition to educating others and improving the environment, his enthusiasm for restoration remains strong because he is still able to grow as well, “I’m going to turn 50 in January and I’m thinking, ‘if I do this right, I’ve got my 50’s and 60’s and if I can stay healthy, I can do this for a long time.’ And that’s great. There is always something to learn.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
Last month, I had the chance to attend the two-day Mid-Atlantic Volunteer Monitoring Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The conference was hosted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and brought volunteers, environmental organizations and governmental agencies together to discuss the ins and outs of water quality monitoring, from sample collection and analysis to the management, presentation, visualization and communication of data.
Water quality monitoring is at the heart of Chesapeake Bay restoration. This critical data helps us determine how well our pollution control measures are working. Chesapeake Bay Program partners collect a huge amount of water quality data from nearly 270 tidal and non-tidal monitoring stations across the watershed. The cost of this work—approximately $10 million each year—is borne by federal agencies, watershed states, local jurisdictions and organizations like the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.
While this monitoring network is extensive and the data it generates is rich, it can’t tell us what water quality is like in some of our smaller creeks and streams. But this gap has been slowly filled over the past 30 years, as non-profit organizations have grown in size and sophistication and have developed their own water quality monitoring capabilities. Some of these volunteer monitoring groups, along with a growing number of counties and municipalities, have even established sample collection and analysis procedures comparable to those used by state and federal agencies.
Local citizens want to know what water quality is like in the creeks, streams and rivers that run through their own communities. Many want to know what’s going on—sometimes literally—in their own backyards. And government can’t do it all. So we have come to recognize the value of volunteer-collected local monitoring data, and we use this data to supplement our own. Last month’s volunteer monitoring conference convinced me that we must continue to encourage these local efforts if we are to succeed in restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
For the past decade, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has led Project Clean Stream--a vast network of organized annual trash cleanups along the Bay's many tributaries--to help clean up the Bay and connect residents to their local waterways.
During this year's unified day of service on Saturday, April 6, a group of 13 volunteers gathered near the small town of Marydel on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where resident Carol Sparks (not pictured) had reported an illegal dump site along a drainage ditch running adjacent to her property.
According to Sparks, residents from two nearby trailer parks often travel along the foot path adjacent to the ditch, and some have been dumping trash here for years. "I've called everybody and it seemed like nobody wanted to do anything about it. I finally contacted Debbie Rowe, the mayor of Marydel, and she's the one who organized this group, bless her heart."
"I got a call from the property owner that the ditch was in disrepair," said Rowe (below left, with volunteer Wilbur Levengood, Jr.), who had recently learned about Project Clean Stream through the Choptank Tributary Team, a volunteer watershed group from Easton, Md. "To be honest, I didn't know this was back here."
Jennifer Dindinger chairs the Choptank Trib Team, which was searching for neglected sites in neighboring Caroline County where they could make a bigger impact during this year's Project Clean Stream effort. "You don't see trash floating down the Choptank River, but there are places like this that, although it might not end up in the main stem of the Bay, negatively impact life along the tributaries to the river."
Despite the strong odor and armed with garden rakes and stainless steel dip nets, Project Clean Stream volunteers spent their Saturday morning combing through layers of algae in the stagnant drainage ditch. "It's just a nice thing to do on a sunny day," said William Ryall, a fellow Choptank Trib Team volunteer and wetland restoration engineer from Easton, Md. "All of these ditches are connected to the Bay, so it's really important to get this stuff out of here."
"We need everyone to understand how important the drainage is to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and what it will do health-wise and for the environment if we do it correctly," said Wilbur Levengood, Jr., president of the Caroline County Commissioners. "We don't need to bring huge machines in here and disturb a lot of earth to achieve the drainage, we just need to keep it clean."
According to Levengood, the many drainage ditches in Caroline County are an environmental compromise critical to this landscape. "Without these ditches, ponds and wetlands like the one next door to here would otherwise require chemical pesticides to control the mosquito population. Cleaning up the trash will lower the water level in this ditch by a few inches and get the water moving again."
While most of the trash collected from the Marydel site was of the household variety--36 bags total, including diapers, beverage containers and rotting food--a tell-tale oil slick is evidence of even more hazardous materials lying beneath the surface.
According to Levengood, non-salvageable appliances like television sets and mattresses, as well as toxic materials like motor oil and other automotive fluids that cost money to discard, are often thrown into the drainage ditches along Caroline County roads.
"It's not just necessarily that it looks bad. It's an all-around health hazard, and if we don't keep the water going it's just going to get stagnant and cause mosquitoes and more problems," said Mayor Rowe, who recruited local youth to help with the cleanup. "Now that we know it's here, we can all help as a community to help keep it clean and it'll be safe for everybody."
"My mom is friends with Ms. Debbie [Rowe], so she asked if I could come help with cleaning up trash from the ditch," said Gary Colby of Marydel (top), who in turn recruited his friend Daniel Santangelo. "I just wanted to help out Marydel," Santangelo said.
According to Rowe, part of the dumping problem stems from the challenge of cross-cultural communication. More than half of Marydel's population are Hispanic or Latino immigrants, but today's effort to reach the town's young people seems to be paying off.
"I just offered to help my buddies out," said Carlos Martinez (left), who moved to Marydel last year from Mexico City and volunteered with friends Omar Fuentes (center) and Jordy Cordova (right). "I know it's not young people littering because I know my friends."
"I think we just need to recycle more," said Cordova. Fuentes agrees. Like Mayor Rowe, he says "I never even noticed the trash in the ditch, and I've lived here for 10 years."
During a well-deserved break from the cleanup, Mayor Rowe and the other volunteers discussed the idea of posting bilingual signs to explain the ditch's importance in controlling the mosquito population, and to warn of health risks associated with litter and water pollution. Omar Fuentes and Jordy Cordova agree that signs in Spanish might help curb the littering problem, and promised to talk to their neighbors about the ditch. For first-time cleanup volunteer Wilbur Levengood, Jr., this point made the purpose of the day's effort overwhelmingly clear: "This project puts all aspects of people together working for the better, and we just need more of that."
Do you know an individual or group that is working hard to help our forests stay healthy? Nominate them to be a Chesapeake Forest Champion!
The Forest Champion contest was launched by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Forest Service in 2011. Now in its second year, the contest hopes to recognize additional exemplary forest stewards in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With 100 acres of the region's forest lost to development each day, the need for local champions of trees and forests has never been greater!
The contest is open to schools and youth organizations, community groups and nonprofits, businesses and forestry professionals. If you know a professional or volunteer who is doing outstanding work for forests, you can nominate them, too!
Awards will be given for:
Nominations forms can be found at the Forestry for the Bay website and are due August 6, 2012.
Winners will be recognized at the 2012 Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in late September.
For more information about Forest Champions:
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.
(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.
(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."
(Image courtesy Restore Mass Ave)
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).
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.”
(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.
(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.”
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.”
(Image courtesy Rivanna Conservation Society)
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.
Back when I went to college, and my friends and I thought about spring break, it was mainly to figure out where we could go to have the most fun while spending the least amount of our hard-earned money. Going to school in the northeast, Florida was usually our destination of choice. Our two main challenges were to determine whose car could make the drive back and forth without breaking down and finding the cheapest one-bedroom hotel room that could fit six guys!
But a few weeks ago, I participated in an Anacostia River watershed cleanup event that changed my view of spring break forever. The Washington, D.C.-based Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) and some of its local partners hosted more than 250 college students from an organization called Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). The students spent their spring break driving across the country to do service work in various locations. They clearly had more meaningful challenges in mind than my friends and I did during our college years!
One of their last stops was in the Washington, D.C. area to partner with the ECC and other local watershed organizations to help clean up one of the Anacostia River’s tributaries – the Lower Beaverdam Creek in Cheverly, Maryland. I was fortunate to have a chance to welcome them, along with the mayors of Cheverly and nearby Bladensburg. (I openly admitted that my spring break activities were quite a bit different than theirs!) I also thanked them for their service to the residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Then, I worked with them and the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek for a few hours to try to make the Anacostia and one of its creeks cleaner.
On that day alone, the enthusiastic STLF members (in their bright orange t-shirts) and other volunteers collected 257 bags of trash, 152 tires, 30 water cooler jugs, and an endless pile of furniture, metal and wood scrap. But this was not a one-time effort for these students – in fact, it was the seventh year in a row that STLF members have worked with the ECC in the Anacostia watershed. More than 3,000 STLF members have taken part in this work over that time period.
These young people have much to be proud of for how they have spent their spring breaks. They will surely have lifelong memories of their experiences…certainly far better memories than mine!
Now it’s time for me (and you!) to make new memories this spring by volunteering for a cleanup event in your part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. There are lots of opportunities coming up over the next few weeks, such as Project Clean Stream and Earth Day activities in communities across the Bay watershed.
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).
“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.
(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)
“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.
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.
(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)
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!”
On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated. Groups fighting for the protection of wilderness lands, endangered species, regulation of pesticides, polluting power plants, raw sewage, and toxic dump sites discovered they shared the common goal of protecting our planet. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other planet-changing environmental laws soon followed.
Forty-two years later, Earth Day is recognized with a variety of activities, including volunteers that pick up trash from their local streams, artists that sell crafts made from recycled materials to benefit environmental organizations, and river float trips that allow residents to appreciate their local natural resources.
Read our list below to find more than 40 Earth Day events across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Also, be sure to check in with your local watershed group to find out what activities it has planned for this month.
Keep America Beautiful's Great American Cleanup
Various dates, times and locations
The nation's largest annual community improvement program brings the power of 3.8 million volunteers and participants to create local change. Activities include beautifying parks and recreation areas, cleaning seashores and waterways, handling recycling collections, picking up litter, planting trees and flowers, and conducting educational programs and litter-free events.
Project Clean Stream
Saturday, April 14, 2012, multiple times and locations
Project Clean Stream is an annual stream and shoreline cleanup coordinated by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Project Clean Stream engages more than 5,000 volunteers at hundreds of cleanup sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, removing hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash from our region’s streams and forests.
Clean Up Your Corner
Sunday, April 22, 2012, for one hour, location of your choice
Clean Up Your Corner is a grassroots event asking everyone around the world to donate one hour of their time on Earth Day 2012 (April 22) to clean up their area of the world. This can be accomplished through simply picking up and properly disposing trash on the street or recycling/repurposing tossed items that can be recycled or repurposed.
Rock Creek Conservancy’s 4th Annual EXTREME Rock Creek Cleanup
Saturday, April 14, 2012, various times and locations
Come join thousands of volunteers in the largest cleanup event of the year at one of multiple sites along Rock Creek.
Potomac Conservancy’s Potomac River Watershed Cleanup
Saturday, April 14, 9am - 12pm, Cabin John, Md., Fletcher’s Cove, D.C., Theodore Roosevelt Island, D.C.
Join the Potomac Conservancy for the 24th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup! Help do your part to keep your community clean at this annual cleanup organized by the Alice Ferguson Foundation. Since 1989, more than 60,000 volunteers have pulled more than 3 million tons of trash from the watershed's streams, rivers and bays.
Little Falls Watershed Alliance’s Trash Free Little Falls
Saturday, April 14, 2012 9:30am – 12pm, four locations
Every year, LFWA joins forces with the Alice Ferguson Foundation to help clean the entire Potomac River watershed. Hundreds of pounds of trash will be pulled out of the river and its tributaries. Also, participate in the annual Garlic Mustard Challenge, where volunteers remove this invasive plant from local parks. Last year, volunteers pulled more 1,000 pounds of garlic mustard out of the ground!
Neighbors of Northwest Branch Earth Day Cleanup
Saturday, April 21, 2012, various times, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Md.
Celebrate Earth Day 2012 by helping to clean up the Anacostia River’s Northwest Branch. Wherever you live in the Northwest Branch watershed, there's a cleanup site near you. Please be sure to bring water and wear appropriate clothes to protect from sun, thorns and insects, and wear shoes that can get muddy. Gloves and bags will be provided.
Anacostia Watershed Society: Earth Day Cleanup and Celebration
Saturday, April 21, 2012, multiple locations, cleanup: 9am - 12pm, celebration: 12pm – 2pm
Join the Anacostia Watershed Society and other local organizations to clean up the Anacostia River and its tributaries in honor of Earth Day. Last year, more than 2,000 volunteers helped us remove more than 42 tons of trash from the river! There are nearly 40 sites to choose from in Washington, D.C., and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland!
Friends of Sligo Creek Spring “Sweep the Creek”
Saturday, April 21, 2012 9am – 11am and Sunday, April 22, 1pm – 3pm, Montgomery County, Md.
Do you enjoy walking in the shade by Sligo Creek? Or chatting with a friend on a bench while listening to the creek's rustling sounds? These are just a few of the reasons to keep Sligo Creek clean. Come out and join your neighbors in helping enhance the natural beauty of the creek! Gloves and bags provided.
City of Alexandria Earth Day 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 10am – 2 pm, Ben Brenman Park, Alexandria, Va.
This year's theme is Eco-City Alexandria! The event will include green building learning sessions, educational exhibits, demonstrations, hands-on activities for children, a tree sale, and the second annual Trashion Fashion Show. The City of Alexandria will also host another Tree Sale, offering variety of trees to the public at great prices.
Friends of Dyke Marsh Earth Day Raptor Celebration
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 10am, Belle Haven Picnic Area, Alexandria, Va.
You can "visit with" raptors like owls and hawks on April 21 when FODM, the National Park Service and the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia sponsor a raptor demonstration on April 21 at the Belle Haven picnic area near the bike path. The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia will bring live raptors for close-up encounters.
The National Zoo’s Earth Day Party for the Planet
Sunday, April 22, 2012, 11am – 3pm, National Zoo
Come to the National Zoo for a free public event to celebrate Earth Day and the Zoo's commitment to green practices. Activities include eco-crafts, conservation-related games, music and more.
Earth Day on the National Mall
Sunday, April 22, 2012, 12pm - 7pm, National Mall
The centerpiece of Earth Day in the United States will be a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Tens of thousands of environmentally conscious people from all walks of life and all parts of the country will be joined by civic leaders and celebrities for this special event to galvanize the environmental movement.
Clean Water Network's Float-In Earth Day Celebration
Sunday, April 22, 2012, 3:30pm – 7pm, 1st and Potomac Avenue SE
Join people from across the region and country to protect Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River and all of our country’s waters for the First Annual Float-In Earth Day. The "Float-In" marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, one of our nation’s landmark environmental laws. Bring your boats, canoes, kayaks, rafts, yachts and even bathtubs (if they can float!) to Diamond Teague Park. Entertainment will include musical performances, boat tours of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and a screening of a new documentary on the water crisis, Last Call to the Oasis.
Clean Fairfax Council and County of Fairfax Earth and Arbor Day Celebration
Saturday, April 28, 2012, Fairfax, Va.
For more than 10 years, Clean Fairfax Council and the County of Fairfax have organized Earth Day/Arbor Day. Even though it rained last year, it was a terrific event for participants and visitors. The agenda for 2012 includes a community service stream cleanup, urban forestry workshops, Arbor Day tree planting, environmental education and games for kids, and more! And – it’s all free!
Project Clean Stream with Spa Creek Conservancy
Saturday, April 14, 2012, Chesapeake Children's Museum, Annapolis, Md.
Help the Spa Creek Conservancy clean up the shoreline at the Children's Museum in Annapolis.
Rain Garden Installations and an Earth Day Celebration
Friday, April 20, 2012, 10am – 3pm, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Annapolis, Md.
Volunteers will plant two rain gardens located along the DNR parking lot. All are invited to get their hands dirty and join in for a fun, festive Earth Day celebration! Rain date: Monday, April 23, 10 am - 3 pm.
TreeBaltimore Earth Day Planting
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 8:30am – 12pm, Frederick Douglass High School, Baltimore, Md.
Blue Water Baltimore will host its big spring tree planting on Saturday, April 21, and is looking for plenty of volunteers to help restore Baltimore’s tree canopy! Groups and families welcome. All gloves, tools and training will be provided. Volunteers should wear clothes and shoes they don’t mind getting dirty and bring a refillable water bottle. Afterwards, take a stroll down to EcoFest at Druid Hill Park and enjoy the day!
Gunpowder Valley Conservancy's Earth Day Tree Planting
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 9am – 1pm, Loch Raven Reservoir
Join the conservancy as it plants trees in the Gunpowder Valley on Saturday, April 21.
Savage River Watershed Association's Native Plant Sale
Saturday, April 28, 2012, 10am – 12pm, New Germany State Park
Native plant enthusiasts will answer your questions about native plants, conservation landscaping and backyard wildlife habitat practices. A variety of native plants (grasses, sedges, wildflowers, shrubs and trees) will be available for purchase. All proceeds will benefit the SRWA.
Easton's "Illumination: Found Art Show"
Month of April, Talbot County Visual Arts Center, Easton, Md.
In keeping with Earth Day, the Talbot County Visual Arts Center will celebrate the works of regional found object artists as a part of the "Illumination: Found Art Show.” These artists have taken ordinary objects such as hardware, industrial tubing and household items – many cast off and destined for the landfill – to create one-of-a-kind works of art.
Easton's Clean Stream Cleanup
Saturday, April 14, 9am – 12pm, Easton, Md.
Join Pickering Creek Audubon Center and the town of Easton to beautify Easton’s Rails to Trails trail. Volunteer a few hours to help make the community and its streams cleaner and safer.
Earth Day Beginners Bird Walk
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 8:30am – 12pm
Come celebrate Earth Day at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on a beginners bird walk. This program is run by the friendly, expert birders of the Kent County Bird Club. It is geared for beginners but birders of all experience levels are welcome to attend.
Pickering Creek Environmental Center's Earth Day Work Day
Saturday, April 21, 9am – 12pm, Easton, Md.
Celebrate the earth with Pickering Creek! Get your work gloves out and join staff for Earth Day Work Day. Volunteers will tackle a number of projects including invasive plant removal, trail clearing, gardening and more. The day will wrap up with a picnic lunch from Easton's new Chipotle restaurant. Pickering Creek will provide lunch and tools for the day. Just bring a water bottle and a friend!
Mutt Strut & Earth Day Festival
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 9am – 1pm, downtown Chestertown, Md.
Festivities begin in Fountain Park with the Farmer's Market, live music and dog walk registration. The walk itself starts at 10:00, winding through the historic district before ending at the county courthouse. Near the Episcopal Church and the old cannon, Memorial Row will transform into a pedestrian street fair with funnel cake, fish fry, hamburgers and hot dogs by Rose Green, crafters, eco-exhibitors, recycling displays and collections. Pet tricks and canine competitions that include a high jump, doggie limbo, musical sit, waggiest tail, longest tail, shortest tail, smallest dog, tallest dog, best slobber, look-alike and costume contest will take place on the Courthouse Lawn.
Salisbury Zoo's Earth Day Celebration
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 10am – 4pm, Salisbury, Md.
The Salisbury Zoo will hold its annual Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 21, 2012 from 10:00am until 4:00pm. This event is free to the public and promotes an appreciation for nature and an understanding of our environment. There will be fun for all ages, including educational activities, zookeeper talks, demonstrations, food and exhibits from more than 20 earth-friendly organizations!
New Roots Youth Garden Earth Day Celebration and Blessing of the Worms
April 22, 2012, Cape Charles, Va.
The New Roots Youth Garden initiative provides experiences that help local youth develop personal growth through hard work, patience and the rewards of gardening. Youth gain environmental awareness by exploring the inter-connected relationships among living and non-living things, as well as healthy lifestyles by eating what they grow and engaging in physical activity.
Earth Day Celebration & Clean-Up at Pocomoke River State Park
April 22 – 23, 2012, 3461 Worcester Highway, Snow Hill, Md.
Come out and do your part for Earth Day! Help clean up the park and afterwards enjoy a live animal program featuring some of Maryland's most common birds of prey and reptiles. Meet at the Shad Landing Marina Area.
Occoquan River Clean Up Day
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 9am – 12pm, Five locations in northern Va.
Come meet your neighbors and other citizen-based organizations to help clean up the Occoquan River. Bring your boat/kayak/canoe if you own one. Refreshments will be provided.
Earth Day on the Rappahannock
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 11am – 3pm, Old Mill Park, Fredericksburg, Va.
Come celebrate the Earth! Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation is collaborating with the Virginia Cooperative Extension — Stafford, Master Gardeners and the Rappahannock Group of the Sierra Club for festivities in honor of Earth Day. Activities include live music, great food, guided walks, and dozens of vendors and exhibitors. There will be lots of hands-on activities for adults and children alike! Rain date is April 21st.
Earth Day Celebration in Old Town Manassas
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 10am – 3pm, Harris Pavilion
It’s an Old Town with a “green” attitude when Historic Manassas Inc. hosts this spring cleaning day, which includes exhibitors from nonprofit and civic organizations providing recycling and environmental information. The Manassas Trash and Recycling Department will be coordinating a “shred it” truck for residents to securely dispose of personal documents for free. At the Pavilion, several organizations will accept various items that are usually sent to the landfill, such as gently used clothing and household items, eye glasses and hearing aids. The Manassas Art Guild will be featuring its “eARTH” exhibit with artists working in several mediums and displaying their work relating to themes of recycling, natural materials and the environment.
Fauquier County's Earthfest 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 12pm – 6pm, C. M. Crockett Park
This event will showcase live music from popular local and high school bands. Featured will be an eclectic mix of punk, funk, alternative rock and other music styles. Fun for all ages! Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome. In the event of inclement weather, the rain date will be April 22.
Family Fun Day on Smith Creek with Friends of North Fork of Shenandoah River
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 12pm – 3pm, Bill Gallucci’s Farm, 7677 Smith Creek Road New Market, Va.
Tour a water-friendly farm, see fish and wildlife, learn how to fish, hunt for river bugs, learn how to compost, help make a rain barrel, and learn how to keep your well during these exciting, hands-on activities!
Richmond Earth Day Festival
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 12pm – 7pm, Old Manchester at Hull Street and East 1st, Richmond
Join Richmond residents for this Earth Day festival and an earth-friendly 5K.
Fauquier County's Acts of Green Earth Day e-Waste Recycling and Workshops
Sunday, April 22, 2012, various times, Warrenton Community Center
Learn how to keep your planet clean, healthy and happy. Fauquier County’s workshops are designed to educate, enlighten and encourage people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyles. Pre-registration required for workshops. Workshops include recycling, rain barrels and e-materials recycling.
Loudoun Family Festival and Earth Day
Sunday, April 22nd, 2012, 11am – 4pm, 42920 Broadlands Boulevard, Ashburn
The mission of EarthDay@Loudoun is to promote and celebrate environmental stewardship among county residents and businesses. This is accomplished through entertainment, exhibits, workshops and activities that engage and inspire the entire community, especially the next generation of environmental stewards. The event also creates an opportunity for local environmental organization(s) to connect with Loudouners.
The Great American Cleanup
April 27 – 28, 2012, Hampton Roads, Va.
Grab your work gloves and get ready, Hampton Roads! The Great American Cleanup is coming to a community near you! Through the partnership of askHRgreen.org and Keep Virginia Beautiful, Hampton Roads has been selected as one of 10 national locations for Keep America Beautiful’s 2012 Great American Cleanup National Action Days. The Great American Cleanup is the largest grassroots community involvement program in the United States. The launch of the Hampton Roads cleanup events on April 27-28 will involve hundreds of volunteers transforming local parks, waterways and recreational areas into cleaner, greener environments.
Little Conestoga Watershed Alliance Earth Day Tree Planting Event
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 9am – 12pm, Conestoga Country Club, Lancaster
Watershed group members will team up with local volunteers to plant hundreds of trees along the banks of the Little Conestoga Creek on the country club grounds. Volunteers are asked to dress for planting conditions: gloves, boots, and long pants and sleeves.
Wildwood Park Earth Day Cleanup
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 10am – 1pm, Wildwood Park's Olewine Nature Center, Harrisburg
You are invited to help clean up Wildwood Park’s lake, streams and trails. Volunteers will plant trees, spearhead litter pick-ups and remove invasive plants throughout the park. As Earth Day and Arbor Day approach, this event is a great opportunity to give something back. Dress for the weather. Snack, tools, and work gloves will be provided.
ZooAmerica Party for the Planet
Saturday, April 21 –22, 2012, ZooAmerica, Hershey
Join ZooAmerica in celebrating our planet! Learn about plant and animal conservation and how you can help maintain the beauty of the earth. Enjoy fun activities and animal demonstrations, and learn helpful tips from ZooAmerica naturalists and volunteers.
Watershed Cleanup 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 8am – 12pm, various locations in Centre County
Each year, ClearWater Conservancy recognizes Earth Day by organizing a Watershed Cleanup Day to eliminate illegal waste plaguing Centre County’s watersheds. Since 1997, the group has removed and properly disposed of 2,787 tons of trash from the Spring Creek, Bald Eagle Creek, Beech Creek, Penns Creek and Little Fishing Creek watersheds. A picnic for volunteers will follow at noon at Spring Creek Park in State College.
Earth Day Removal of Invasive Plant Species with the Sierra Club
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 8:30am, Neffsville, Pa.
Please join the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania as we commemorate Earth Day by removing invasive plant species from beautiful Landis Woods Park in the Neffsville area, just off Route 501. No prior experience is necessary.
Green Living Fair
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 9am– 1:30pm, HACC's Midtown Center
On April 21, the day before Earth Day, there will be a green living fair at HACC’s Midtown Center. Many different companies throughout the region will exhibit their green or sustainable services.
Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival
Saturday, April 21, 2012, 9am –2pm, Main Street, Mechanicsburg
Come one and all to the Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival! Festival activities will include live music, exhibitors, kids world and more! Join us for a fun-filled day caring for our planet.
Chiques Creek Watershed Alliance Spring Cleanup Event
Saturday, April 28, 2012, 9am – 11am, Mummau Park & Logan Park (Route 772), Manheim
Join members of the Chiques Creek group for this annual spring cleaning event. Volunteers will clean up Rife Run, which flows through both parks, planting trees, and removing invasive tree and shrub species from the parks. Volunteers should dress for outdoor working conditions with long pants and long sleeves, work gloves and boots.
Did we miss an Earth Day event happening near you? Let us know about it in the comments!
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.
(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.”
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.
(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."
(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?”
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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
(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.
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).
(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.
(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.
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!
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.
(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.
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.
(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:
(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:
(Image courtesy Jason Trommetter/Flickr)
For more information about the association and Conodoguinet Creek, visit CCWA’s website.
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.
(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.
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.
(Image courtesy Paxton Creek Watershed and Education Association)
Contact PCWEA for more information on how you can help Paxton Creek.
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.
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.
Here are a few of our favorite ways you can get involved with FOR:
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
The Potomac Conservancy is looking for individuals, educators and community groups to help collect native tree seeds during the annual Growing Native season, which begins Sept. 17.
Volunteers participate in Growing Native by collecting native tree seeds across the Potomac River region. The seeds are donated to state nurseries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, where they are planted and used to restore streamside forests throughout the 15,000-square-mile Potomac River watershed.
Since Growing Native’s inception in 2001, nearly 56,000 volunteers have collected more than 164,000 pounds of acorns, walnuts and other hardwood tree and shrub seeds. In addition to providing native tree stock, Growing Native builds public awareness of the important connection between healthy, forested lands and clean waters, and what individuals can do to protect them.
Visit growingnative.org to learn more about how you can get involved with Growing Native.
Image courtesy Jennifer Bradford/Flickr.
Twenty-one young people will volunteer with watershed organizations, county governments and other non-profits throughout Maryland as part of the second class of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, an environmental career and leadership training program led by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The Chesapeake Conservation Corps was established by the Maryland Legislature in 2010. The program matches young people ages 18-25 with organizations throughout the state for paid, one-year terms of service. Participants gain valuable work experience and partner with local communities to advance conservation initiatives in Maryland.
“In today’s challenging economic times, it is important that we invest in our young people and provide them with the skills and training necessary for jobs that create a smarter, greener future for Maryland,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the lead sponsor of the legislation that created this initiative.
Visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website to learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.
The Chesapeake Bay Program’s staff is on a mission to restore the Bay and its rivers. Whether they work on water quality, education or oysters, everyone here is dedicated to helping the Chesapeake. But do they keep the Bay in mind when they aren’t behind their desk?
A few months ago, we sent our staff a quick survey asking them about the types of positive activities they do for the Bay when they’re not at work. Some results were typical, while others were very interesting! The following eight activities were the most popular:
Is anyone surprised that recycling ranked as the number one thing Bay Program staff do to help the Bay? Recycling is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment.
One of the most common reasons why people don’t recycle is because their location does not offer recycling services. If you’re having trouble finding recycling services in your, enter your area code at Earth911 for a listing of drop-off locations near you.
You know you work with environmentalists when fertilizer use ranks near the top of the list! The average person may not realize that yard runoff containing fertilizer can be harmful to local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Fertilizer is full of nutrients, which fuel the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching bay grasses and rob the water of oxygen.
To learn more about Bay-friendly fertilizer use, visit Chesapeake Club.
A little more than half of respondents said they composted at home on a regular basis. Composting is a great way to save time, money and the Bay! When you compost things like kitchen scraps and leaves, you are not only creating your own free fertilizer, but you are reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills. Old composters used to require a pitchfork to turn over the pile, but these have been replaced with easy-to-use bins with hand cranks.
To help you get started with composting, visit How to Compost.
If you live in or have driven through Maryland, you have probably noticed the iconic blue Chesapeake Bay license plate. What many people don’t know is that the proceeds from this “vanity plate” go to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a non-profit that conducts restoration, education and community engagement activities throughout the Bay watershed. To date, the Trust has planted 220,648 native plants and trees, restored 65 acres of wetlands, oyster reefs and streamside buffers, and engaged 86,717 students.
If you live in Maryland, buying a Bay plate is one of the easiest things you can do to help the Chesapeake Bay. Visit the Bay Plate website to learn more.
All the funding in the world for restoration projects will not help if there is no one to do the work! There are an overwhelming amount of opportunities to get involved with environmental organizations in our region. From planting trees to removing invasive species to building oyster reefs, there are activities for every interest. Volunteering is also a great way to get your kids outside and help them appreciate nature.
If you are interested in getting your family involved, the Baltimore Aquarium offers regular restoration events. You can also contact your local watershed organization for more information about opportunities near you.
Rain barrels and rain gardens are important because they collect water from roofs, yards and paved surfaces that would otherwise flow into storm drains. Rain gardens and rain barrels are so important that some counties actually offer funding and tax breaks for implementing them. Check with your city environmental office to see if your area has a program.
To learn more about rain barrels and rain gardens, visit Rainscaping.org.
It is common misconception that it’s safe to leave pet waste on the ground because some consider it a “natural fertilizer.” However, pet waste actually contains harmful nutrients and bacteria that can run off into local waterways. Some areas can be closed off to swimmers in summertime due to high bacteria levels from pet waste. Dog waste should be thrown away, flushed or put in a pet waste composter.
For more information about pet waste pollution, visit the Stormwater Center Pollution Prevention website.
People tend not to carpool because they do not know if anyone else who works with them lives nearby. People also enjoy the freedom of being able to come and go as they please without having to worry about altering their schedule because of another carpool rider. However, carpooling can actually save you time and money. You will spend less on gas and vehicle maintenance, and you can take advantage of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
The best solution is to create a way for colleagues who are interested in carpooling to list where they live. Put it in a well-traveled place, such as a kitchen, front desk or break room.
After seeing what the “average environmentalist” does for the Chesapeake Bay, do you think you do the same? Or more? What activities do you do that help the Chesapeake?
You could say the weather was against me that day. I woke up in the morning to pouring rain and a temperature in the 50s. Not exactly the best conditions for planting wetland grasses on an island in the Chesapeake Bay. But nonetheless, the Baltimore Aquarium volunteer packet did say RAIN or shine.
So I hopped in the car with some fellow co-workers and began the hour-and-a-half drive from Annapolis to the planting site at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. I had never been to Eastern Neck before, but I will surely return, preferably on a warm, sunny day! The refuge, located at the mouth of the Chester River on the Eastern Shore, is one of the top five waterfowl habitats in Maryland.
I arrived at the parking lot to find the hardy Aquarium staff ready to load us onto a boat and shuttle us to the planting site. So I suited up in layers and raingear and prepared for an interesting boat ride. The river was a bit choppy, so the ride was a cross between white water rafting and riding a rollercoaster with a bucket of water dumped over your head every five minutes. Taking a ride in a washing machine might be a similar experience.
Thoroughly drenched, I arrived at the planting site ready to get to work. My mission that day was to plant two species of grass on the eroding sandbar separating Hail Creek from the Chester River. We broke into teams and started planting. My team had a diviler, a feeder and a tucker. The diviler dug the hole, the feeder put fertilizer in the hole, and the tucker planted the plug of grass.
We repeated the process over and over and over until half of the sandbar was planted with new grass. The other half would be planted by more volunteers the next day.
After a long day of planting, we boarded the boat back to the mainland. Soaked to the bone, the Aquarium staff was nice enough to give us some trash bags to sit on or in, depending on our preferences. I went home knowing that through the wind and the driving rain, my blades of grass will remain.
Are you doing your part to help the Bay or your local river? Have you installed a rain garden at your home? Do you volunteer for a wateshed organization?We're looking for great examples of people making a difference in the Bay cleanup effort, one small step at a time. If you'd like to tell us your story, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Or you can add your photo or video to our new Flickr group. If you're chosen to be featured on our website, you'll get a Bay-friendly freebie, such as a reusable mug or shopping bag.
The Earth Day tradition began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day. Over the past 39 years, Earth Day has grown into a global event.
Earth Day in the Chesapeake region is a day to take action to help restore the Chesapeake Bay. You can celebrate Earth Day by planting a tree, picking up trash in your neighborhood or attending an event.
Many Earth Day events are taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed this April. Check out this sampling of Earth Day cleanups, festivals and celebrations to find an event near you. And if you know of an Earth Day event that we have not included on this list, add it in the comments!
If you live in Northern Virginia and you're looking for a way to make a difference in the Bay restoration effort, mark your calendars for the annual Friends of the Occoquan (FOTO) spring river cleanup, taking place on Saturday, April 18 (rain date Sunday, April 19) from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. There will be five cleanup sites at the following locations; make sure to RSVP with the listed contact.
Lake Ridge Marina - 12350 Cotton Mill Drive, Lake Ridge, VA 22192
Renate G. Vanegas, (703) 674-6659
Town of Occoquan - 314 Mill Street, Occoquan, VA 22125
Claudia A. Cruise, (703) 491-1918, Ext. 11
Occoquan Regional Park - 9751 Ox Road, Lorton, VA 22079
Alex Vanegas, (703) 674-7847
Bull Run Marina - 12619 Old Yates Ford Rd., Clifton, VA 20124
John Rothrock, (703) 887-1124
Fountainhead Park - 10875 Hampton Rd., Fairfax Station, VA 22039
Danielle Wynne, (703) 324-5616
There is a great deal of emphasis placed on government’s ability and responsibility to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. While it is appropriate and important to expect federal and state agencies to lead the effort, the Chesapeake Bay and the entire 64,000-square-mile watershed will never be restored without the work of the region’s residents.
A staggering 17 million people live here. That many people can surely have a tremendous impact if they choose to get actively involved in the clean-up. One of the best ways for people to help is to volunteer for a local watershed group. We have a list of more than 600 organizations, so there are certainly plenty of options and opportunities to help.
We at the Chesapeake Bay Program are interested in the rate of volunteerism in the watershed. So we launched the inaugural Chesapeake Volunteer Count. Watershed groups have been asked to tell us how many volunteers they had in 2008 and how that number compared to 2007. Using this data, we will gain some understanding of what percentage of residents volunteered and if the rate is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. This information will be reported in the annual Health and Restoration Assessment.
The plan is to hold the Chesapeake Volunteer Count every January. Hopefully more groups will provide their data each year and we will get an increasingly accurate and comprehensive look at volunteering. This annual count can also be used to call more attention to the need for volunteers for environmental projects. Government can solve many problems and provide valuable resources, but it’s ultimately the contributions of everyday people that truly bring about the greatest change.
If you are with a watershed group and would like to participate in the Chesapeake Volunteer Count, please fill out our form on Survey Monkey.
In tiny Occoquan, Virginia, located just minutes away from bustling Interstate 95 in Prince William County, Germán and Renate Vanegas anticipate their upcoming fall Occoquan River cleanup with a concern that many other small nonprofits only ever dream of: they may have too many volunteers.
At a time when many popular environmental initiatives — such as minimizing backyard fertilizer use and implementing “smart growth” development — target white, middle-class residents, the family-run Friends of the Occoquan (FOTO) has instead directed its efforts toward the Hispanic community: a fast-growing segment of the Bay region's population that's often overlooked by environmental groups.
Using a combination of outreach, education and on-the-ground conservation, FOTO has successfully engaged Spanish-speaking residents throughout Northern Virginia in protecting their local river and becoming stewards of the Chesapeake Bay.
FOTO's work is concentrated on the Occoquan River, which splits Fairfax and Prince William counties and flows into the Potomac River.
“When we first moved here about seventeen or eighteen years ago, the river was so polluted,” said Renate. “We began cleaning up the small area in front of our property. About four years ago, we decided to get some help.”
“Some help” came in the form of about 100 community volunteers, who spent one Saturday removing trash from the banks of the river at four local parks. FOTO has since hosted two cleanups per year, attracting hundreds of volunteers to remove bicycles, mattresses, appliances, dozens of tires and several tons of debris from the river, which supplies drinking water to the area's growing population.
FOTO began concentrating on the Hispanic community after the Vanegases met with local park rangers, who had observed many Hispanic families leaving their trash on the ground. When the rangers would ask the families to pick up their trash, they found that many did not understand English.
It's not that Hispanic residents do not care about the environment, explains Renate, but that environmental awareness is not a part of many Hispanic cultures.
To help the local Spanish-speaking community understand the importance of picking up trash, FOTO created and installed bilingual signs at parks in the Occoquan River watershed. “NO LITTERING: Drains to River / NO BOTE BASURA: Va al Rio,” the signs read, with the international “no” symbol of a circle with a red slash over a picture of a person throwing trash into the water.
FOTO has also reached out to the area's Hispanic youths by speaking at local middle and high schools. The Vanegases hope that young people will grow up to respect the Occoquan River if they learn about its history, geography and importance to Northern Virginia's residents.
FOTO's outreach and education efforts have been met with measurable success. At their last cleanup, the Vanegases estimated that about 80 percent of the volunteers were Hispanic. Many of them were the same students the Vanegases spoke to at the local schools.
Last year, FOTO completed one of its largest projects to date when it helped produce a bilingual education video that teaches viewers about the link between human actions and the health of the Occoquan River and the Chesapeake Bay. “Saving Our Watersheds: Beyond the Occoquan,” has been shown on public access channels throughout Northern Virginia. FOTO is now working with other local networks so more people can learn about the importance of protecting the river.
The work has been difficult at times. But FOTO has managed to connect with a large and important part of the Bay watershed's population that may otherwise have been neglected.
As they prepare for October's cleanup — and the potential of having more volunteers than trash to pick up — the Vanegases look back on their mobilization efforts with enthusiasm.
“One thing we have learned over the years is that you have to be persistent,” said Germán.
“Yes,” Renate added with a smile. “Persistence is key.”