Tyshaun Turner and Queen Richardson, both members of D.C.’s first River Corps group, ensure a rain barrel is properly connected to the downspout on a RiverSmart home in Washington, D.C., on April 13, 2017. (Photos by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

With the New Year comes a time to reflect on our actions and think of ways to improve – our bodies, our minds and our relationships. Another thing to consider is our connection to the environment around us and how we can reduce our impact.

Environmental improvement begins with you, but that doesn’t mean that taking action has to be hard. Here are a few ways you can resolve to help the environment, and ultimately the Bay, this year.

1. Begin in your backyard

Or garden, parkway, patio, flower box or downspout. If you have a lawn, consider replacing some or all of it with native plants – plants that are originally from your area. They will require less watering (since they are adapted to the ecosystem), and also support native birds, insects and other critters.

One way to add native plants to your yard is by constructing a rain garden. Rain gardens not only beautify your yard, but also help trap, control and manage rainwater to prevent soil loss and pollution. If you need help, you could contact a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional.

Whether you live on a large plot of land or a tiny apartment, you can also trap rainwater in a rain barrel. Rain barrels connected to downspouts keep you from having a mud moat around your house after rainstorms, and you always have water on hand to reuse on your plants or yard. If you live in an apartment, talk with your building manager and neighbors to see if you can get one installed on your downspout or roof. Once you install the rain barrel, ensure that it’s emptied between storms. And if you’re worried about how it looks, you can look into buying a decorative rain barrel, paint a plain one or build an enclosure for it.

Andre Mosley of the Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center in Norfolk, Va., volunteers during a trash cleanup organized by the Elizabeth River Project at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Va., on Oct. 24, 2015.

2. Think (and rethink) about trash

Plastic bags, cigarette butts and other litter are unsightly to look at and can add toxic contaminants to our waters. A great resolution is to pick up trash that you see, and recycle it when possible. Take notice of the trash and recycling cans in your community. It’s easy to pick up a plastic bag, drink container or wrapper off the ground and find a nearby can for it.

Do you pick up your dog’s waste when out on a walk? If not, take a baggie with you next time. Not only is pet waste smelly, unsightly and a public health hazard, it also contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into our waterways and contribute to pollution.

Leaf litter is another type of “trash” that can be put to a much better use. Instead of burning or sending them to a landfill, mulch, compost or bag leaves that fall on your property. Mulching or composting helps you put your leaves to work by keeping their nutrients on your property to benefit your soil’s health. Many cities and towns collect bagged leaves each fall, and garbage-collection services often offer yard waste pick-up. That way, the leaves will end up at a composting facility and not in a landfill.

South River Federation leads volunteers during a planting at the site of a restored stream in Annapolis, Md., on Oct. 28, 2017.

3. Volunteer

Find a local environmental group that hosts volunteer events or organize your own. One way to do that is through Project Clean Stream, an annual event where groups from around the region can get their feet wet—so to speak—in volunteer work. Organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Project Clean Stream a series of cleanups taking place from New York to Virginia. The Alliance offers support to local groups by coordinating cleanups, training site captains and providing supplies to make each event as successful as it can be. You can register your volunteer group or find one near you to join on their website.

There are plenty of other ways to volunteer, from planting trees to raising oysters. If you want to volunteer but aren’t quite sure where to begin, check out a local environmental organization to see if they have any upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Sarah Brennan of the Elizabeth River Project (ERP) shows children a marsh periwinkle as ERP's Learning Barge hosts fourth grade students from Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 23, 2015. Learning stations on the barge featured science lessons on topics such as water quality and wildlife.

4. Attend an event

If you’re not quite ready to start volunteering, attending a local event is another way to get out of your shell, get to know the environment and explore new places. Many environmental organizations, nature centers, museums and even libraries host events to connect you with the environment around you, and many of them are especially aimed at kids and families.

State and National Park sites, too, host events throughout the year that can connect you with a place’s culture, history and environment. With over 50 National Park sites and scores of state parks, there is bound to be an event near you.

Residential development in Warrenton, Va., on July 21, 2017. The way we develop land—where we put new roads and buildings and how we construct them—can have a lasting impact on the natural environment.

5. Learn the issues

Most of us want to improve the environment around us, but don’t know how we fit in. By learning about the issues facing the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding area, we can better understand our role in protecting the environment.

Staying up to date can be a challenge. Following environmental organizations, news outlets and research centers on social media is a way to keep up with news as it happens. You can also have the news sent directly to you through newsletters from your favorite organizations. Do you have a long commute? The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a podcast, among the many other great environmental podcasts. There is no shortage of information out there, and plenty of ways to receive it.

From the cars we drive, products we use and actions we take, we all affect the environment around us. By arming ourselves with some knowledge about the issues, we can better understand the connections of the ecosystem, including ourselves, and make more informed decisions and actions to enhance our quality of life.

What are you resolving to do to help the environment? Let us know in the comments!



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