Wink stands in front of a presentation talking to a crowd.
Wink Hastings presents during the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va., on Sept. 27, 2014. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

I met Wink Hastings in 2007 after starting as an Environmental Management Staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, Maryland. I had seen him around the office but was intrigued by his work after reading an office-wide email from him one day announcing a public meeting about the Deer Creek Watershed Restoration Action Strategy at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland. My interest was sparked because Deer Creek is my home “trout stream,” the place I spent many a cool April morning struggling to learn how to catch (likely) half-starving hatchery trout that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had been stocking all spring. But Wink was involved in an effort to manage the watershed and conserve its resources, an effort at the time I wasn’t familiar with.

Wink and I later met and became friends and colleagues. The more I learned about what he did the more I began to appreciate the thousands of people working at the local level to restore water quality and habitat throughout the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. Wink worked for the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, and by the time he died in 2016, he had a long career with the federal government that had lasted 42 years. But he didn’t strike me as the kind of guy that appreciated office work, or the exhausting bureaucracy that often times accompanies it. He liked to be out working with people. He liked to get down to the local level and help communities find ways to address environmental challenges. And he was made to do it.

Wink was a landscape architect who worked for several agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. He loved the land, especially out west. I remember we were in upstate New York one time having dinner and he told me a story about a job he had once for BLM surveying oil pipelines in Alaska. He always worked with a team that would walk in a line along the pipeline. The two people on the ends would carry a rifle, and the three in the middle would carry a handgun. The individuals with the rifles were there to defend the teams against bears. When Wink began, he asked his supervisor, “What good is a handgun going to do for someone up against a bear?” To which his supervisor replied, “That’s to shoot yourself if a bear comes at you.” I suspect this may have turned him to helping local communities with watershed restoration.

As an Environmental Management Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office (and a big reason why I have always been such a fan of the program), I was encouraged to undertake a staffer project before my three-year position ended. I approached Wink to see if he needed help with any of his local assistance projects. There was one in upstate New York at a place called Sidney Center, a small hamlet in Delaware County. This small community lay way up the Susquehanna River almost to where it begins at Otsego Lake near Cooperstown. The community had been devastated by flooding issues. In 2006, two truck drivers were killed when a flood in Carrs Creek, which runs right through Sidney Center, caused a culvert to fail. Livestock were killed during the flood, along with severe loss of agricultural land from stream erosion. The Sidney Center Improvement Group reached out to the Chesapeake Bay Program and luckily were introduced to Wink.

Now, Sidney Center is a good 4–5-hour (depending on traffic) drive from Annapolis. I strongly suspect that Wink would have rather made that drive every other week than sit in the office. And I drove up there a lot with him. We gave up our weekends to meet with the community. Wink brought in folks from the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Izaak Walton League to conduct a community-led rapid stream corridor assessment. Wink and I also assisted them with applying for a Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grant to help fund development of a comprehensive watershed management plan, which they were successful in eventually getting.

This work was incredibly rewarding. As Joe Lally, president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group said in an article I published back in 2009: “For the Sidney Center Improvement Group to work on this project, and with help from the Chesapeake Bay Program, we’re not only improving environmental conditions in our watershed but we’re increasing our ability to work as a community. Thanks to this project, the community has strengthened its relationship with elected officials, Delaware County and the local school system.”

Towards the end of 2009 I went to work for the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment and Energy, where I would spend the next 13 years of my career. It was actually Joe Lally who texted me early one Saturday morning in 2016 to tell me Wink had died. He had been battling a long-term illness which I had not been aware of. We had lost touch over the past couple of years, probably because of work life. When I attended his funeral, it was really heartwarming to see his friends from church, work and from the communities he worked with attend and say such good things about him. And I will never forget that service for one simple reason. Wink loved music and his iPod was packed full of a musical library that we spent many hours shuffling through on long drives to and from New York. But he had a particular affinity for Pink Floyd. The musical selection for the end of the funeral service was “Wish You Were Here,” which everyone in attendance joined in and sang.

I miss Wink but I am forever grateful for the time I spent working and learning from him. It’s very easy to get bogged down in endless emails and the meetings we have to participate in, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of our local communities, and the people that live in them, and how they can and want to help restore the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. We often talk about local implementation and its importance at the Bay Program, but Wink really embodied it. His quiet, unassuming approach to working with just about anybody to help them not only restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but help themselves, is something that you can never have enough of. As Pink Floyd sang: “Breathe, breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care.”



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