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Joe Toolan

Chesapeake Conservation Corps Profile: Emma O’Donnell & Carrie Murray Nature Center

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Participating in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps (Corps) is a unique experience. We are showcasing the individual Conservation Corps members in the 2019-2020 cohort along with information on their host site and descriptions of the incredible work they are doing. This month’s featured Corps member: Emma O’Donnell.

Emma holding the Green Center Certificate

Emma O’Donnell considers herself a lifelong advocate for the environment, which is why she attended Washington College, known in the region for its immersive environmental programming. Emma graduated last spring majoring in Environmental Studies and double minoring in Anthropology and Chesapeake Regional Studies. Interning with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, and The Delaware Center for Inland Bays, Emma became even more interested in the field as she worked her way through college. Emma was drawn to the Corps program because it provides invaluable experience to young adults and would allow her to work on leadership skills throughout the year.

Carrie Murray Nature Center (Nature Center), an entity of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, is located inside of Gwynn’s Falls Leakin Park and is part of Baltimore City’s Division of Recreation and Parks. The park is the largest urban wilderness park east of the Mississippi and the third-largest in the United States serving over 30,000 visitors annually. The Nature Center was created through the generous donation of former Oriole’s hall-of-fame player Eddie Murray, dedicated to his mother, Carrie. The mission of the Nature Center is to ensure that all children can connect to nature through environmental education and leadership. While the programs at the park have changed this summer, the park is open as an escape from the big city for those looking to connect to nature. Thanks to Emma’s hard work, the Nature Center itself is now the first public entity in Baltimore City registered as a Maryland Green Center by the Maryland Association of Environmental & Outdoor Education (M.A.E.O.E).

Emma takes pride in her work with the center, serving as an environmental educator (naturalist). Prior to Covid-19, she facilitated programs like “Every Kid Outdoors” (EKO) which is a National Park initiative and “Aqua Partners” a field trip program in partnership with the National Aquarium and Maryland Public Television (MPT). These and many other programs are provided to assure children from Baltimore City have an opportunity to discover nature every day. Assisting in the daily maintenance of the animals housed at the facility is another part of her job. The Nature Center is home to 19 rescued and rehabilitated animals that broaden the environmental education experiences visiting students receive and are often a highlight for those who are passionate about animals.

Emma Teaching Students about Macroinvertebrates

As her capstone project, Emma took the lead on completing the M.A.E.O.E. Green Center Application for the year 2020. Emma will continue work removing invasive species solo as part of her capstone, which had to be modified due to public safety restrictions. The certification recognizes facilities that demonstrate overall sustainability efforts, exhibit best management practices in daily operation, offer effective environmental education and professional development to all appropriate age groups, and uphold overall sustainable ideals for themselves and their staff. Currently there only 42 Certified Green Centers in the region. Nature Center staff are committed to sustaining such practices for the betterment of our environment, future generations, and Baltimore City.

Emma said she is thankful to be included in so many fantastic initiatives and embraced by the staff of the Nature Center who are constantly helping her evolve to become a better employee, environmentalist, and citizen. She also stated that serving as a Corps member has heightened her passion for the Chesapeake Region and she feels fortunate to work alongside other corps members. Emma looks forward to nurturing all the relationships that she has built in the program as she knows they will aid in her personal growth and professional opportunities. The current Corps class is set to graduate in August, although the ceremony may not be in person as usual.

 

Chesapeake Conservation Corps Profile: Amanda Bland & The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

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Participating in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a unique experience. We’re showcasing the individual Conservation Corps members in the 2019-2020 cohort along with information on their host site and descriptions of the incredible work they are doing. This month’s featured Corps member is: Amanda Bland

Amanda Bland grew up at the Southern tip of Calvert County, Maryland, at the mouth of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay on Solomons Island. Solomons Island is now a popular tourist destination where visitors can learn about maritime history and taste delicious seafood. Growing up, Amanda recalls fishing, crabbing and boating with her family, which inspired her connection to the Bay. During her sophomore year at Washington College, Amanda spent 5 months in an intense interdisciplinary program called the Chesapeake Semester Program; studying the Chesapeake Bay and learning about the intricate connection shared by humans, community, society, and the environment. In May of 2019, Amanda graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies minoring in both Sociology and Chesapeake Regional Studies. Amanda said that as she neared the end of her undergraduate career “I felt that the Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC) would allow me to apply not only my passion, but my degree, and experience in the environmental world to issues that matter, and connect with other young professionals and professionals in the field.” Amanda stated that she was driven to join the CCC after hearing inspiring stories told by alumni and because of the opportunity to work with leaders in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

Amanda was placed at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (The Alliance) for her year-long term of service in August (Read more about the 2019-2020 cohort here). The Alliance works to implement unique strategies to enable humans, waterways, and land to prosper. Amanda is “ecstatic and grateful to be working with an organization whose values align so closely with my own,” and has already gained an entirely new understanding and appreciation of restoration projects around the region. On her first day at the Alliance, Amanda was able to visit a potential spotted turtle restoration site. Amanda has been hard at work planning a habitat forum in Southern Maryland, leading outreach for the Chesapeake Watershed Forum, and producing new content for the Alliance Blog. Amanda says her experience so far has allowed her to explore many different things and has increased her motivation to work in the environmental field. Amanda is learning how to communicate effectively, work through obstacles, and prioritize tasks. The Alliance has received a Corps Member the past 2 years. Last year they hired their Corps Member Lucy Heller as their Communications and Maryland Outreach Coordinator.

Amanda Bland and Alliance Staff on tour of Poplar Island

Amanda’s capstone project will aim to decrease shoreline erosion at Ellen O’Moyer Nature Park in Annapolis, Maryland. The park is managed by the Annapolis Maritime Museum and is used for environmental education programs; however, eroding shoreline is negatively impacting water access and wetland habitat. Amanda said she values the intersection of human activity and the ecosystem, and hopes for both to flourish, which is why her capstone to lead an erosion control planting event is so important to her. Amanda hopes the planting will serve as an educational tool for future generations and will spark a connection with other young adults. Amanda will be presenting on “Community Resilience through living shorelines” at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum from November 15th -19th 2019 in Shepherdstown West Virginia.

The Request for Proposals to be a Corps Host Organization will open next week and close on December 19th, 2019. The Corps Member Application will be opening in late December. To stay up to date on our open grant programs click here.

Chesapeake Conservation Corps Profile: Connor Liu & The Nature Conservancy

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We’re showcasing the unique experience of participating in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps by sharing profiles of Corps member of the 2018-2019 cohort along with information on their host site and descriptions of the work they have been doing.

Maryland native, Connor Liu grew up a few short miles from the Potomac River. Before joining the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, Connor worked at several environmental organizations in Maryland including the Assateague Island National Seashore. Interestingly, Connor also spent a summer in Mozambique researching flora and fauna of the wild African ecosystem at Gorongosa National Park. His Corps service host site, The Nature Conservancy, fits Connor’s interest in restoration, stating that “restoring habitat is work that strengthens the intimate bond that humans should have with the land. One can observe tangible progress and there is little that seems more fulfilling to me.”

Capstone projects are a graduation requirement for all Corps members at the conclusion of their year of service. A capstone project is an initiative designed by the Corps member that advances both an interest of the member and a priority objective of the member’s host site. Connor’s capstone project is focused on monitoring and restoration of red spruce trees in Maryland.

Since The Nature Conservancy began this work in 1996, they have planted over 65,000 red spruce seedlings in western Maryland. Red spruce trees have numerous benefits to forest ecosystems, including providing habitat for native species (such as mice, voles, bears, deer and hares), keeping headwater streams cool (which allows native trout to stay at their preferred body temperature), and providing a carbon sink. Connor set up 27 monitoring sites over a 30-acre area of Red Spruce trees (planted last year) and proceeded to count new seedlings to determine survival and reproductive rates. Connor organized surveying teams in partnership with the Deep Creek Conservation Corps (See Below) to be as precise and efficient as possible. Thanks to Connor’s work, there are data supporting the efforts to bring back red spruce populations in Maryland.

Connor’s project also involved a restoration technique needed to help the red spruce survive called “release.” This part of the project is necessary to balance red spruce trees’ sunlight needs in older forests with denser canopy that does not ordinarily allow enough sunlight for them to grow efficiently. Connor selectively girdles common hardwoods to allow red spruce to ascend to the canopy centuries faster than they would have naturally. Girdling (also called ringbarking) is the act of removing a strip of bark from an area of a tree, which will limit or halt its growth above the area of the girdle. This process has been successful in West Virginia and through his capstone project, Connor has brought it to Maryland. This process is meant to help the overall diversity of the forests as well.

The Nature Conservancy is providing additional trainings for Connor this year, including native plant identification, invasive species identification and removal, GIS mapping, and prescribed fire skills. Prescribed burns are an important part of forestry management. Connor has been trained on the process and conducts them in many areas of Maryland (such as the Nassawango Preserve, Maryland Forest Service, Department of Natural Resource Heritage, Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge). (See Above).

Chesapeake Conservation Corps members hold “All Hands on Deck” days where all Corps members participate in projects at various host sites. Recently, Connor, along with this year’s cohort of Corps members, helped build a “Nature Discovery Area” at Anita C Leight Estuary Center in Harford County. Connor, along with fellow Corps members Olivia Wisner (Chesapeake Bay National Estuary Research Reserve) and Bradley Simpson (Audubon Naturalist Society), are pictured taking a short break after installing a sunken canoe element in the play space. Next month, the Corps members will have one more “All Hands on Deck” experience on Poplar Island with Maryland Environmental Service to conduct monarch butterfly surveys.

Connor hopes to stay with The Nature Conservancy, or take his experience in the program to the Peace Corps after graduation. Connor loves the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program because it allows him to see many environmental projects all over the state of Maryland and network with other recent college graduates with the same interests as him. The Chesapeake Bay Trust is excited to celebrate this year’s cohort and welcome next year’s cohort of Chesapeake Conservation Corps members at the upcoming orientation and graduation ceremony that will take place at Camp Letts in Edgewater in August. Connect with him on LinkedIn.