Town of Forest Heights Keeps Street Trees Healthy and Thriving

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Tree Keepers project funded by Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program

Trees are essential—they clean the air, lower the temperature of cities during warm weather, and reduce heating bills in cold weather. They also act as filters to clean stormwater and slow the flow of water during heavy rains to reduce flooding, which is why even urban areas need plenty of trees. Trees along sidewalks and roads in urban areas are known as “street trees.” Street trees require regular care and maintenance to keep them healthy and thriving.

The Town of Forest Heights received a Prince George’s Stormwater Stewardship Grant to fund their unique Tree Keepers project, a summer program which combined a maintenance plan for existing street trees with job training and mentorship for high school students and a community outreach plan to engage citizens in the care and maintenance of street trees.

Using grant funds, the Town hired six high school students from Oxon Hill and Potomac High Schools, one college graduate student, and one community elder for the summer program. These new hires for the project were known as the “Tree Keepers.”

At the start of the project, the Tree Keepers learned about trees from two certified arborists. Then they examined, watered, mulched, and pruned 150 street trees. The group also conducted research to identify and catalogue trees. The Town will use this data to create an environmental asset inventory.


The Tree Keepers engaged Town residents using an educational campaign that focused on sharing the benefits of trees, including improved property value, stormwater collection, air quality, and energy conservation. In addition, the Tree Keepers talked with people who lived near the street trees to share the value of the tree, along with a few easy tips to help the tree continue to grow and thrive. They also shared a brochure with residents that they developed as part of the program.


This project was a success for the Town of Forest Heights. The high school students gained job experience, some for the first time, and the guidance of the community elder and the graduate student was a successful model for mentoring and learning in the program. Building capacity within the community and building job skills was important goal of the project. The Town even hired one of the students at the end of the summer to provide maintenance and upkeep for plants at the Town Hall property.

Most importantly, the Tree Keepers forged connections with homeowners about the care and maintenance of the trees in their neighborhood. Now Town residents are interested and excited about their street trees!


The Prince George’s County Department of the Environment (DoE) partners with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to offer the Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program to support clean water projects and engage citizens throughout Prince George’s County. Applications for this program are currently closed, but will reopen in June/July 2018. Learn more about previous grant awards here.


Are you interested in planting a tree?

The following organizations have received funding through the Prince George’s Stormwater Stewardship Grant Program to plant trees on private individual residential property in Prince George’s County in 2018:

Contact them to inquire about planting opportunities on your property or in your neighborhood!

Local Nonprofit Organizations Receive Close to $300,000 in Grants for Environmental Projects

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Rockville, Maryland – The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and the Chesapeake Bay Trust announced that $291,000 in grant funding has been awarded to seven organizations to improve water quality and help manage stormwater runoff in Montgomery County. Montgomery County neighborhood groups, faith-based organizations, and nonprofit organizations received support ranging from $6,000 to $77,000.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is committed to improving the water quality of our local streams while contributing to the health and sustainability of our communities,” said Patty Bubar, acting Director of the Department of Environmental Protection. “This grant program fills an important niche towards meeting our mission and we’re thrilled to be able to support and engage these hard-working local groups who share this mission.”

Established in 2014, the initiative supports projects and programs that improve communities and water quality in Montgomery County through public engagement, education, and on-the-ground restoration projects. Project types include public outreach and stewardship projects, such as volunteer-led stream cleanups, stormwater education workshops, environmental education projects and community-based restoration projects, such as rain gardens, rain barrels, tree planting, impervious pavement removal, conservation landscaping, and green roofs.

Funding for these projects is made possible through Montgomery County’s water quality protection charge.  The Chesapeake Bay Trust, a regional grant-maker specializing in engagement of not-for-profit entities in restoration and outreach work, administers the grants for Montgomery County, similar to programs it manages for seven other jurisdictions.

These programs are so important to provide residents and nonprofit groups the tools, resources, and power to be part of the solution and feel like they are improving their communities,” said Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  “Completing one’s first project as a nonprofit creates the capacity to do so much more and we’re proud of how many of these groups have grown and become strong grantees in other programs.”

The 2018 Montgomery County Watershed Restoration and Outreach Grant Program awardees include:

Anacostia Riverkeeper, $14,644: To engage Montgomery County Spanish-speaking populations in programs to improve water quality.

Anacostia Riverkeeper, $58,350: For rain gardens and conservation landscape plantings at the Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House.

Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, Inc., $53,417: For a rain garden at Woodend Nature Sanctuary in Chevy Chase.

Butler Montessori, $58,275: To remove 3,000 square feet of impervious surface and install permeable pavers at Butler Montessori School in Darnestown.

Friends of Sligo Creek, $22,650: For an engineering study, conservation landscaping, dry wells, and engagement of volunteers in the Three Oaks community in Silver Spring.

University of Maryland, Environmental Finance Center, $77,096: To engage county Civic Associations in watershed restoration activities and to hold a stormwater summit in Montgomery County.

Wildlife Habitat Council, $6,568: To engage corporations in the implementation of stormwater and habitat best management practices such as rain gardens, bioretention cells, conservation landscaping, water recapture, and other practices on corporation-owned land.

About the Chesapeake Bay Trust

The Chesapeake Bay Trust ( is a nonprofit grant-making organization established by the Maryland General Assembly dedicated to improving the natural resources of Maryland and the Chesapeake region through environmental education, community engagement, and local watershed restoration. The Trust’s grantees engage hundreds of thousands of individuals annually in projects that have a measurable impact on the waterways and other natural resources of the region. The Trust is supported by the sale of the Treasure the Chesapeake license plate, donations to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund on the Maryland State income tax form, donations from individuals and corporations, and partnerships with private foundations and federal, state, and local governments such as Montgomery County. The Trust has received the highest rating from Charity Navigator for fourteen years: 92 percent of the Trust’s expenditures are directed to its restoration and education programs.

About Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection

The mission of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection is to enhance the quality of life in our community by protecting and improving Montgomery County’s air, water, and land in a sustainable way while fostering smart growth, a thriving economy, and healthy communities.

Snapshot of Life in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps

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Corps Members Collaborate on Jug Bay Wetlands Nature Discovery Play Space

Check out this great video from Chesapeake Conservation Corps member Shelby Cross!

In late December, eight Chesapeake Conservation Corps members gathered at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary for a site visit and to assist fellow Corps member Shelby Cross with one phase of her capstone project: building a giant “bird’s nest” for a new nature discovery play space at Jug Bay’s Wayson’s Corner location.

Each year participants in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps complete a capstone project to top off their Corps experience. The capstone project provides Corps members with experience in grant writing (they apply to the Trust for grants to fund their projects) and project planning, management, and implementation.

To build Cross’s giant bird’s nest, Corps members worked together to remove three truckloads of vine, including some invasive oriental bittersweet, for the construction of the nest. The nest will be a key feature in the nature play space, which aims to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and encourage children to grow socially, physically, and cognitively by engaging with nature through play.  The Corps members completed the nest within 4 hours, whereas Cross estimates that it would have taken her over 30 hours to complete by herself.

Describing her Chesapeake Conservation Corps experience, Cross says “This experience so far has been absolutely amazing, and in many instances rewarding. I have taught Anne Arundel County Public School’s second grade classes, and it brightens my day to know I made a child smile for something as simple as sharing my knowledge of turtles. However, there are some days that this position is equally challenging, and requires a lot of mental and physical attention. It has an easy balance between being rewarding and challenging, and it’s hard to find that kind of experience.”

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps is currently accepting applications for 2018-2019 Host Sites until March 9, 2018 at 5:00 pm.

Applications for 2018-2019 Corp members are also open and due by April 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm. To learn more about this life-changing program and to submit an application visit:

To learn more about Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, visit their website.

Shelby Cross is a 2017-2018 Chesapeake Conservation Corps member with Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. She received her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Goucher College.

There Used to Be a Forest There

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Popp

Trust Grant Program helps restore and protect forested land from invasive species

This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, so we’re sharing this stunning photo, which shows how planting bamboo as a screen can go very wrong. In this case, an invasive variety of bamboo and other invasive species spread to over 6 acres and killed off all of the native trees on the forested land on this property. The photo shows the land after the bamboo was removed, a process that took two years.

Corcoran Woods is a 215 acre forested area owned and managed by the State of Maryland located near Sandy Point State Park. Over several decades, invasive plants replaced and degraded almost half of the property’s hardwood forests and were threatening to infiltrate the remaining healthy acreage.

To save this forested land, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay received grant funding through the Trust’s Anne Arundel County Forestry and Forested Land Protection Grant Program, a partnership with the County, to launch a three-part, large-scale reforestation project. In the most recent phase of the project, grant funds were used to treat the bamboo and remove invasive species. The next phase of the project will plant more than 11,000 tree seedlings on 27 acres. More than 7,000 trees were already planted in 2017.

“The Anne Arundel County Forestry grant program is an innovative and unique opportunity,” says Craig Highfield, Director of Chesapeake Forests for Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “It provided us resources to be able to address significant forest health issues of our project site well in advance of planting the trees while also allowing us to implement essential post-planting care for our new trees. This better ensures the overall success of the restoration and improves the function of this forest. It is not just a tree planting program.”

The Anne Arundel County Forestry and Forested Land Protection Grant Program implements cost-effective reforestation and greening projects and increases the number of acres of protected forested land in the County. By increasing tree cover and expanding green areas, erosion can be reduced; water and soil quality can be improved; airborne pollutants such as particulates, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide can be filtered; and summer temperatures and resulting ozone pollution and energy use can be reduced.

The grant program is open until March 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm. To learn more and to submit an application, click here.

To learn more about the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and their forest restoration work, visit their website.

Trust Kicks Off 2018 with More than $3.7 Million in Grant Awards

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The Trust announced the approval of 164 grants totaling $3,727,047 to enable a wide range of organizations to implement on-the-ground restoration and education projects and programs. Four times each year the Trust’s board of trustees announces its grant approvals which help local nonprofit organizations, local governments, and schools improve water quality and better local communities through a variety of outreach and restoration techniques. In fiscal year 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Trust awarded more than $11 million in grants.

“We are proud to offer grant opportunities to a wide range of organizations, from small homeowner associations and faith-based institutions to large cities, universities, and hospital campuses, to help them further our shared mission of improving our communities and protecting the natural resources of the Chesapeake region,” said Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

The grants announced today range from small tree plantings and community outreach initiatives to large-scale restoration and stormwater management projects.

For example, Black Girls Dive Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and empowering girls and young women to engage in aquatic-based recreational and STEM activities, was awarded their first grant from the Trust. The grant will be used to incorporate environmental ecology curriculum into their STREAMS program, which integrates science, technology, engineering, art, and math experiences with SCUBA lessons.

Baltimore Tree Trust, an established environmental nonprofit dedicated to restoring Baltimore’s urban forest, was awarded a grant for their planned collaboration with Volunteering Untapped and Baltimore Trash Talk. Funds will be used to expand their Trees for Public Health program by working with the residents of Baltimore’s Berea neighborhood to “green and clean” their neighborhood and to reforest a portion of the Harris Creek watershed by planting 170 street trees.

The Trust works with many funding partners to pool resources. Partners for these awards included U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, City of Baltimore, Charles County, Howard County, Harford County, and numerous private foundations.

About the Awards:

Community-based engagement and on-the-ground restoration work:  Sixty-five grants totaling more than $2.6 million were awarded to support a broad range of projects that engage residents and restore habitat and/or water quality in our region.

Awards were made to: American Farmland Trust, Anacostia Watershed Society, Anne Arundel County, Maryland (2), Associated Catholic Charities, Inc., Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, Inc., Back Creek Conservancy, Inc., Baltimore County Soil Conservation District, Baltimore Tree Trust, Black Girls Dive Foundation, Inc., Blue Water Baltimore (2), Carroll Soil Conservation District, Charles Soil Conservation District, City of Annapolis, City of Bowie, Civic Works, Inc. (2), Clean Water Fund, Clyburn Arboretum Association, County Commissioners of Caroline County, Delaware Maryland Synod ELCA, Epping Forest Community Association, Frederick County Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources (OSER), Frederick Soil Conservation District, Friends of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway, Inc., Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, Gunpowder Valley Conservancy (2), Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, Howard County Conservancy, Inc., Howard EcoWorks (2), Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC), Kent County Commissioners, Knollwood Improvement Association, McDaniel College, Most Precious Blood Church, Mount Sinai African Methodist Episcopal Church, Park School of Baltimore, Patterson Park Audubon Center, Pickering Creek Audubon Center, Port Tobacco River Conservancy, Potomac Conservancy, Ridge to Reefs, ShoreRivers (3), South River Federation (4), Southeast Community Development Corporation, The 6th Branch, The Church of the Redeemer, Town of Centreville, Town of New Market, and University of Maryland College Park.

Science: The Trust partners with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support some of the science gaps in bay restoration.  This quarter, two awards totaling $108,000 were made to Tetra Tech, Inc. and Penns Valley Conservation Association.

Capacity Building Initiative: The Trust supports innovative partnerships between traditional natural resources organizations and organizations not traditionally engaged in natural resources as way to reach beyond the choir and broaden the engagement of individuals in watershed restoration.

Twenty-six grants for this type of work were awarded totaling $743,539 to: Anacostia Coordinating Council, Assateague Coastal Trust, Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, Blue Water Baltimore, Capital Area Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. (2), Clean Water Fund (2), Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas – CATA, DC Appleseed, Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Future Harvest – Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (C.A.S.A.), Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC), Neighborhood Design Center, Patterson Park Audubon Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, Progressive National Baptist Convention Community Development Corporation, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, Southeast Community Development Corporation, Surfrider Foundation, TRF Development Partners, Inc., Ward 7 Business Partnership, and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

Small Grants: For entities just starting out in the environmental realm and for teachers who need just a small amount of resources to get their students outside to experience nature, the Trust also offers small grants up to $5,000.  This quarter, 53 organizations received small grants for a total of $202,007.

For more information on any of these specific grant awards, email Erin Valentine at

Episcopal Church of Christ the King is Greening their Property to Protect the Bay

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Community Engagement Mini Grant helps Baltimore-based church harvest rain water and prevent pollution

The Episcopal Church of Christ the King (CTK) in Windsor Mill believes “this world is our Father’s creation and we want to take care of it.” With community-lead environmental stewardship as one of their goals, the church community embarked on a series of greening projects on church property to help reduce polluted runoff flowing into the Bay.

CTK began the process of greening their property by partnering with Blue Water Baltimore and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake on a series of projects, including planting 47 trees on church property and planting two community vegetable gardens adjacent to the church building.

A Water Audit recommended rainwater harvesting to prevent further stormwater runoff and help prevent pollution from reaching the tributaries of the Patapsco River. CTK used funding from a Chesapeake Bay Trust Community Engagement Mini  Grant, which is a grant program designed for first-time applicants, to install two cisterns and five rain barrels to collect rain water from the buildings on church property. Water from the cisterns and rain barrels will water the new gardens and trees, helping to filter out pollutants before they reach the nearby creeks and streams.

For CTK, these projects are just the beginning—they have big plans do more in the near future, including adding more rain gardens,  conservation landscaping, and removing as much impervious surface as feasible from church property. In addition to the work on church property, CTK is reaching out their surrounding community to host workshops on rain barrel installation and to spread the word about how their neighbors can green their properties and protect the bay too!

The Trust’s Community Engagement Mini Grant program is currently open and accepts applications on a rolling basis until the funds are fully expended for the fiscal year.  Funds for the grant program are replenished each year on July 1. To learn more about how your organization can benefit from this program and to submit an application, visit here.

To learn more about Episcopal Church of Christ the King, visit their website.

Reservoir Hill Tree Canopy Project Creates Green Culture

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(Photo courtesy of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council.)

West Baltimore neighborhood uses Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant to transform streetscape and build community

by Don Akchin

For many years the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of West Baltimore was better known for its grit than its greenery. But in 2009, the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council launched a visionary Tree Canopy Project with the help of a Chesapeake Bay Trust Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant and many community partners. Over the past seven years, the look and feel of the neighborhood has been completely transformed. Volunteers on the council’s Green Team planted 550 new trees, tagged each tree for easy identification, and completed a comprehensive tree map of the community.  In the same period, more than 4,700 square feet of impervious surface was removed through tree pit cutting and expansion, and more than 2,100 square feet of vacant lots were restored to provide enjoyable greenspace in the community.

In addition to the changes in the physical landscape within the community, perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the neighborhood greening was the project’s impact on attitudes throughout the community. The project triggered the development of a “green culture.” Students at the neighborhood elementary school have become active gardeners and experts on a healthy environment. Other institutions in Reservoir Hill have started their own greening programs. Tree loss through vandalism has been virtually nonexistent. Today, residents of Reservoir Hill take pride in being a greener community.

The Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program is funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region III (EPA), Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the City of Baltimore Office of Sustainability with support from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The program helps communities develop and implement plans that reduce stormwater runoff, increase the number and amount of green spaces in urban areas, improve the health of local streams and the Chesapeake Bay, and enhance quality of life and community livability.

The Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program is open and accepting applications until March 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm. To learn more about how your community can benefit from this opportunity and to apply for a grant, visit here.

To learn more about the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council and to see photos of their community greening projects visit their website.

Don Akchin is co-chair of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council.

Trust Celebrates 2018 Scholarship & Award Winners

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The Chesapeake Bay Trust celebrated our 2018 scholarship and award winners at our Annual Legislative Reception and Awards Program held at the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday, January 11, 2018. During the event, more than 150 environmental leaders and Maryland legislators came together to honor six remarkable individuals for their outstanding contributions to environmental education, watershed restoration, and volunteerism.

This year’s winners embodied the spirit of the Trust’s family of grantees, who work tirelessly to restore and protect their local natural resources and engage community members in those efforts.

Awards are made each year to two students for environmental and community leadership, to one educator for excellence in environmental education, to one business for green efforts, to one organization for a notable watershed stewardship project, and to one community leader or volunteer who goes routinely above and beyond in improving the streams, rivers, parks, forests, or other natural resource within our watershed.

2018 Award Winners

2018 Ellen Fraites Wagner Award
Reverend Gail A. Addison
President/CEO, End Time Harvest Ministries
Prince George’s County

2018 Student of the Year Scholarship
Mercedes Thompson
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Baltimore City

2018 The Honorable Arthur Dorman Scholarship
Darrea Frazier
Baltimore City

2018 Educator of the Year
Francis J. Cardo
Program Facilitator for Science and STEM Education
Cecil County Public Schools

2018 Commercial Stewards Award
Shockley Honda
Frederick County

2018 Melanie Teems Award
Housing Initiative Partnership, Inc.
Prince George’s County

Congratulations to all of our awardees and thank you to the legislators, partners, family, and friends who joined us in celebrating them!

Learn more about our scholarships and awards program and find a description of each award here.

I am grateful and very blessed to be among the distinguished recipients who have received this award that honors a phenomenal lady, Ms. Ellen Fraites Wagner. I am deeply moved and humbled to be among people who have made tremendous environmental education contributions in this region. Thank you to the Trust for your faith in End Time Harvest Ministries’ environmental work of educating youth and families about the importance of being environmental stewards in their communities and schools.

Reverend Gail A. AddisonPresident/CEO, End Time Harvest Ministries and 2018 winner of the Ellen Fraites Wagner Award

Students, Chesapeake Conservation Corp Member Learn about Bay Culture and Ecosystem on Trip to Fox Island

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(Photos courtesy of Morgan Jones.)

An island with no time, marsh bouquets, and stories by fire light

By Morgan Jones

Barely visible on the horizon, a resilient piece of marshy land sits with a single structure that catches the light of the midday sun. With Tangier Island to its west and Pocomoke Sound to the east, Fox Island rests there quietly in the Chesapeake Bay. The blue-green waters around it are teeming with life. Built in the 1920’s as a hunting lodge, the quaint building on the island is now an environmental educational center owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). Thanks to CBF, school groups from all around the watershed can visit Fox, as it’s known, for an authentic island experience. In September, I spent three days on Fox Island with a group of students from the Key School of Annapolis as part of my experience as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member with CBF.

Aboard the Walter Ridder, a 40-foot jet boat, our group motored away from the town of Crisfield on Maryland’s eastern shore and out into the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. As we traveled further from shore, the legendary islands of Smith, Tangier, and Fox began to take form around us. The students were bursting with curiosity and excitement.

Before I knew it, we pulled up to the dock at Fox. Soon after getting settled, we met in the living room to listen to the rules of the island. One rule in particular stuck with me:

“There is a time and a place for everything, and here is a place where time is nothing.”

Adam Dunn, the Fox Island Manager, explained that from now on we would be living on “island time.” He went around the room collecting cell phones and watches from all of the students. Then, he said, “your normal lives are filled with schedules and routines, but out here all of that goes away.” After this, whenever a student asked for the time, the reply was always “it’s island time.”

The next few days were filled with nonstop adventures. Students learned how to bait and set their own crab pots, dredge for oysters, and identify exciting species that frequent the bay such as red beard sponges, lined seahorses, and black-fingered mud crabs. We spent a few hours on the neighboring island of Tangier where the kids were able to meet island locals and observe the similarities and differences between island culture and their own. To let out some extra energy, we went mud muckin’ and collected bouquets of marsh flowers and grasses.

The nights were just as thrilling. Students stared up at a clear night sky bursting with stars, and they tasted the famous Smith Island cake one evening after dinner. Perhaps my favorite experience of all was sitting around a warm, crackling fire listening to Captain Larry Laird tell the story of the “Green Man” and feeling more spooked than most of the kids.

The time I spent on Fox Island felt magical, and I believe that the students felt it too. The environmental education experiences that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides to kids, many of which are funded by grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, last a lifetime in their memories. Not only does it draw them closer to the ecosystem, culture, and history of the Chesapeake Bay, but ultimately the rest of the natural world around them.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust offers two educational grant programs that can supply funding for similar environmental field experiences for your students or school. The Trust’s Environmental Education Mini-Grant Program, which awards up to $5,000, is open and accepting applications until January 12, 2018, at 5 pm. The Environmental Education Grant Program, which awards between $5,001 and $40,000 per year (with a multi-year option), is open and accepting applications until December 8, 2017, at 5 pm.

To learn more about CBF’s invaluable educational field programs, visit their website.

Morgan Jones is a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member working for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She splits her time between the Environmental Protection and Restoration Department and the Education Department. This position provides her with professional, educational, and social skills to advance in the environmental field. 

Annual Port Isobel & Tangier Island Trip with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps

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By Brandt Dirmeyer

[Photo Credit: Malia Pownall, Chesapeake Bay Trust Conservation Member]

As we all looked back in silence at Port Isobel on the boat ride back to the mainland, I felt the midday sun and a slight breeze on my skin, and also felt a sense of longing to stay another day. The past two and a half days had left a warm glow within my core, and as I did a few yoga poses while the boat swayed and rolled with the waves, I let the experiences sink in deeper.

Roughly thirty corps-members spent time together on the island, and during the first meeting with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff, we were split into three groups and assigned two MWEE’s (Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience), an immersive field experience and a service project. The group I was a member of, Group 3, explored the East Salt Marsh the first afternoon and set up a shoreline fish trap the following morning.

For the immersive field experience, we gathered supplies and set out on a short hike to the high marsh. Osprey, seagulls, and egrets flew over our heads and the towering Loblolly and Virginia pine trees as we walked along a path lined by cordgrass and invasive phragmites reeds to a sandy beach, then a little further along the beach to the low marsh, where oystercatchers were nesting for the season. The high marsh was only about two inches further above sea level than the low marsh, but even that slight difference in elevation has a significant impact upon the ecology of the marsh.

As we walked along the beach, we noticed the whitened remnants of pine tree trunks. Our guide Adam explained that the saltwater from Pocomoke Sound intruded into the wood over time, slowly killing the trees, and that the sun had bleached the bark, giving it the eerie ghost-white appearance. The area of the sand we were standing on used to be a pine forest, but had turned to a sandy beach because of the rising sea level and subsequent erosion. He also explained that submerged in the saltwater tide of Pocomoke Sound, there were still tree trunks clinging to the now-inundated ground.

While in the low marsh, we walked atop the benthic algal mat and short stalks of salt grass photosynthesizing in the afternoon sun to wade into the shallow water. Almost immediately, our noses were permeated by a pungent odor. Adam explained that the smell was from sulphate in the ground of the marsh, which acts as the terminal electron acceptor in the decomposition of organic matter by benthic microorganisms, as opposed to oxygen gas or another electron acceptor. In layman terms, sulphate is responsible for the energy transfer between bacterium and microalgae in soil devoid of oxygen, which are instrumental in controlling the exchange of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus across the sediment-water interface.

In the tide of the low marsh, as our footsteps swirled the top layer of the algal mat into the water, we collected periwinkle snails and jellyfish with our nets. A few of us had our boots nearly swallowed by the marsh as we marshed around, but all boots were accounted for as we trekked back to higher ground.

Surrounded by tall salt grass in the high marsh, we pulled black needlerush stalks out of the sulphuric sediment, peeled back the green outer layer, and chewed upon the white inner layer. Our eyes lit up when we tasted the black needlerush We were all amazed that they tasted like almond cake, and shared smiles and laughs as we nibbled like muskrats.

Photo Credit: Tara Baker

After dinner and some time to prepare, each group presented about what they learned during their experience. We went last. For our presentation, we decided to put on a play about a muskrat living in the marsh. As I began to fingerpick the guitar, Judith started the narration and Andrew hopped on stage wearing a furry hat, robber mask, and printer paper front teeth and did his best imitation of a muskrat. We showed how the muskrat eats black needlerush, played by Mary, Ellie, and Kylie. With a hand outstretched and holding a muskrat skull, we asked the audience, “to nibble, or not to nibble. . . that is YOUR question!” and shared our prior amazement in the field with the audience as Ellie gave them all black needlerush to taste. As everyone experienced the almond taste of the black needlerush, Olivia became the ocean before our eyes as she acted out the changing tides. Judith, Kathy, and Bre’Anna pretended to be various animals as Judith spoke of the other species present in Port Isobel’s marsh ecosystem. To show pollution, Mary swirled the trash that we collected from the field in front of her in the air. Dressed in a lab coat and safety goggles, Kyle informed the audience about how the sulphate, saltwater, sunlight, and mucky ground of dead organic matter combine to form one of the most productive ecosystems in terms of biomass, and tied the encroaching sea and increase of coastal erosion on the island into the play. The other corps-members, CBF staff, and Schmidt Center employees were entertained, and we received a lively round of applause.The following morning, the writers, directors, and performers of “Muskrat Love” took part in the construction of a bank trap on the shoreline of Port Isobel. The previous year’s corps-members had begun the project, and it was our duty this year to replace a few wooden poles and install the fencing. Mary, Kathy, Ellie, and myself volunteered to immerse ourselves in the water with Adam, and the others helped to facilitate our dirty work. We were up to our bellies in brackish bay water removing and replacing poles in the silty ground. After a few minutes of us loudly exclaiming how cold it was with smiles on our faces, Andrew felt compelled to join us. The water was frigid and the black gnats were swarming, but all we could talk about after we completed the project was how much fun we had.

After we first set foot on Port Isobel and moved our luggage into Snow Goose Lodge, we explored the area before our introductory meeting. On the side of a shed was a painted map of the island, complete with different colors to highlight the different topographies, landmarks such as the various buildings and service projects, and trails weaving throughout the island. My eyes studied the details of the map. Written in pencil beside a trail that ended between the East Marsh and West Marsh, I noticed the words, “Sacred Bench.” Later on, I would learn that CBF also has a sacred bench at their Annapolis Office, but at the time I thought that it must have had some deeper legacy. After breakfast the following morning, with my alpaca blanket wrapped tightly around me as I carried a book, Earth Prayers, that I found in the peaceful poems drawer in the kitchen, I made a solo trek out to the sacred bench through the pine forest restored by CBF. Later that day, as most of the corps-members were out on the boat harvesting crab pots, I brought a small group to the sacred bench, which turned into a long walk along the beach and through the marsh. For the third and final visit to the sacred bench, I led another small group on a night hike after the bonfire. We sat together on the bench as we talked about our individual and collective futures while moving our eyes from one another to the array of stars overhead, and to the horizon, where the light of a distant lighthouse recursively returned to point in our direction. Each trip to the sacred bench was different, memorable, and full of beauty. The bench may not be a main attraction on the island, but it will forever be sacred to me.

Although there was a warmth within me as I reflected about the trip on the boat ride back to the mainland, I couldn’t help but also feel melancholy. I wished to stay, but I also wished that the islands themselves would stay. Both Port Isobel and Tangier are at most a few feet above sea level. The shorelines are eroding, at some places up to 15ft per year. There are talks of a new sea wall being built, but it keeps getting delayed as funding needs to be allocated and bureaucracy works at a slower pace than the pace of the rising seas.

At dinner the second day, the mayor of Tangier Island, known as Ooker, was a special guest. He talked with us about how Tangier Island needs a healthy bay to survive, as the economy of the community is dependent upon the yields of crab, rockfish, oysters, and eels that the Chesapeake Bay and Pocomoke Sound produce. He also discussed the sea wall with us. He smiled as he talked about potential the sea wall, as it would keep their community afloat, but after he said all that he wanted to say about it, he was quiet and looked somewhat dejected. I hope that the islands can stay above water both ecologically and economically, as they are beautifully unique and ultimately irreplaceable.

That is why I simultaneously felt profoundly elated and deeply sad. Although it was only a two and a half day trip, I couldn’t imagine a world without Port Isobel and Tangier, and I knew that the people that live there couldn’t either. After all, while I was only a visitor, it was their home, and although the source of their livelihoods is encroaching upon the longevity of their current lives, I could tell from listening to Mayor Ooker that the core of his being and the shared being of the Tangier Island community rises and falls with the tides, and rests within the shallow waters of the Chesapeake.

When your home threatens to destroy itself, no matter the severity, you must remain optimistic in the face of the evidence. I felt that although he has mentally prepared for the worst, he was hopeful for the best, and that hope is what drives us to make the effort to save and protect what we love. Although the corps-members applied from all over the watershed to work towards improving the health of the Bay, including a few from outside the watershed, and the people Tangier Island have their tight-knit and isolated community surrounded by the Bay’s brackish water, we all share a love for the Chesapeake Bay, and its that respect for nature that binds us together in our efforts to restore the bay, as well as in our day-to-day lives. We love the Bay, and we want to see it healthy for ourselves, for others, and for the future.

As I watched our boat distance itself from Port Isobel, I felt a strong connection to those few dry acres surrounded by water. Even though we had only been there a few days, it had felt like a home. Even as I sit under the gazebo of my childhood home in the piedmonts of central Maryland, I still feel the presence of the islands within me, and I also feel a pull to return someday. Although the islands were only my home for those few days, and over time specific memories of my time there will be buried below other, more recent memories, just as a receding shoreline is buried by vast, rising waters, I will carry the experience in the depths of my heart for the rest of my life. Even if Port Isobel and Tangier Island are eventually engulfed by the rising seas, they will live on in the memories of those who have spent time there. As someone who only spent a few days there, I know that what I have to say is limited, but I still feel compelled to vouch for the survival of the islands. I am grateful for them, and I am hopeful that they will thrive along with the Chesapeake, with the Atlantic, and with the other waterbodies and other landmasses that compose the unique ocean planet that nurtures us all.

Home is Where the Heart is
21 Apr 2017 @ 11:15 AM

as the sun permeated my exposed, salty skin
on the boat ride from the island to the mainland
although I was returning, it felt like I was leaving
home, and I wished that I could visit once again

if you move a periwinkle snail from its home
it still retains its sense of place, even halfway
across our ocean planet, it will rise and fall
to the watery tempo of its true tidal home

as the moon sheds and reclaims shadows
I continue my routines atop piedmont soils
occasionally visiting mountains and coasts
keeping all that I love within my calcified shell
composed of the substance of my surroundings