Black and white photo of Dr. Patrick holding a book.
Dr. Ruth Patick, a pioneering environmental scientist and aquatic ecologist, inspired Allyson Gibson of Lancaster Clean Water Partners. "Quote," Gibson said. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Freilich/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

While the field of environmental conservation has been historically led by mostly White men, today the Bay watershed is fortunate to have a greater balance of genders in leadership roles. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a number of inspiring women environmentalists are working on critical issues, from clean water to environmental justice to wildlife conservation. We asked six of these leaders to pick one other woman who inspires them, explaining what it is that makes these mentors and colleagues so motivational.

Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, Executive Director, Elizabeth River Project

Some years ago, a powerful writer and naturalist was the keynote at a conference I attended. This will sound paradoxical, since I was asked what inspires me, but this is what I most recall Janisse Ray telling us: “People ask me all the time how I maintain hope,” she said. “To hell with hope.” Instead, she told us, each individual simply must do what we can, whether we feel hopeful, or whether we don’t.

Most days, I do, in fact, feel great hope for what the Elizabeth River Project is achieving at the local level, reclaiming a healthy Elizabeth River. But Janisse Ray inspires me to keep going in two important ways. Her “to hell with hope” freed me from the existential angst of wondering whether I should bother, given the great scheme of things. Secondly, her books demonstrate the power of words to make you care deeply about specific ecosystems. I never really thought about longleaf pines until I read Janisse Ray and fell in love with their vanishing savannahs.

Marjorie speaks at a podium.
Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, Executive Director of the Elizabeth River Project, speaks at an event celebrating the Lafayette River approaching a goal of 80 acres of restored oyster reef in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Lisa Wool, Executive Director, Nanticoke Watershed Alliance

When I first became Executive Director at the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance I had a lot to learn about the local environmental issues facing the Nanticoke River. My go-to person for science-based balanced information was Judith Stribling.

She had recently retired as a Biological Studies professor at Salisbury University. Her knowledge of the intricate details of the natural world, combined with her strong belief in supporting local farmers and the regional economy, always provided the information I needed to help develop sustainable solutions. Judith has been an invaluable resource to so many organizations here on the Eastern Shore, including but not limited to the Friends of the Nanticoke, Wicomico Environmental Trust, Lower Shore Land Trust and of course the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance.

Allyson Gibson, Lancaster Clean Water Partners

Being outside in a creek inspires me to learn, and women who have blended learning and fun are truly inspirational. I loved looking for bugs as a kid and it still brings me joy to wade in, turn over a rock and get a sense of the creek’s health based on what bugs are clinging to that rock. Dr. Ruth Patrick also found joy in creeks; however, she also showed the world that it’s possible, and necessary, to explore Lancaster’s local freshwater creeks using scientific assessment methods.

Dr. Patrick inspired people not only in my home watershed, the Conestoga, but also across the world, establishing herself at the Natural Academy of Sciences among many other highly regarded institutions. Her pioneering research and courage to be leading in a scientific field, which at that time was dominated by men launched her, into a field all her own. She continues to inspire new generations of scientists, conservationists, and curious explorers.

Carmera Thomas Wilhite, Vice-President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Chesapeake Bay Foundation

One woman who inspires me is Mariah Davis, Environmental Justice Officer at Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Mariah works to address environmental justice issues across the state of Maryland. Prior to joining DNR, Mariah worked as the Deputy Director at the Choose Clean Water Coalition where she led the Coalition's Equity Workgroup, engaged with stakeholders on Chesapeake Bay policies with an equity focus and developed a mentorship program to increase diversity across the green movement. Mariah’s calm demeanor makes her a great leader and mentor. She has great connections in the Chesapeake Bay community and her thoughtfulness and drive is truly an inspiration to me and the next generation of green movement leaders.

Mariah sits on a bench inside a room with four other people.
The Chesapeake Executive Council Meeting is held at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19, 2023. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Lydia Brinkley, Riparian Buffer Program Manager, Upper Susquehanna Coalition

Jeanine Harter is a Soil Conservation Technician for the New York branch of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) who has worked out of the Otsego County USDA Service Center in New York for over 30 years. She’s gone through ups and downs in office staffing, through positive and negative partnerships, and has maintained a can-do attitude through it all.

To me, Jeanine is a role model. She is solid with her knowledge of NRCS programs and practices, and always reliable with a well thought out response to natural resource concerns. She’s ready to partner and knows the boundaries of her office’s ability and her program’s ability, which is really helpful. I love going on site visits with Jeanine because she has so much experience with natural resource management that you’ll always learn something when you’re in the field with her. It’s awesome too that she is interested in learning about other programs and strategies to address natural resource management. It’s really an inspiration when someone makes it that long with an agency and demonstrates that they are committed to natural resource management.

Martha Shimkin, Director, Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program

While there have been so many influential women who have shaped my career, two in particular have had a major impact on my life. The first is my college roommate, Chris Schrempp. Even though we are so different, she has an incredible level of authenticity that I hope to emulate in my work. It’s because of her that I joined the Peace Corps which jump started my career and she taught me that who you are is good enough. Another woman who really changed my life is the one who hired me into the EPA, Leslie Baldwin. Leslie is such a smart, hardworking woman who had high expectations for me, but really wanted to see me succeed and worked to help me get there. The characteristics of these women have forged me into the supervisor that I am today.

Martha poses outside by a tree.
In 2024 Martha Shimkin became the Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

It’s because of these leaders and many more that the progress has been made across the Bay watershed. Is there a woman out there that inspires you? Let us know in the comments!



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