It was my last day co-leading an Alternative Weekend Trip, and the weather was perfect. Sitting on the Philip Merrill Center beach, waiting for my team to wake up, I watched sun lazily make its way up in the sky. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and light was shining off the blue green waters of the calm bay. I was dirty from hours of tree planting the day before, but I could care less. I savored these last few hours outside in the sun before returning to the busy hectic schedule waiting for me on campus. I took the deepest breath I had in the past three days and listened to the wind blowing through the meadow grasses and the calls of birds residing in them. While watching an osprey catch its breakfast, I remembered my team would be up soon and in need of the same sustenance. I made my way back to the vans to prepare the hot water so we could all enjoy our oatmeal while reflecting on what we had done over the past few days, which was a lot.
The Alternative Weekends I led were three-day trips camping on the beach of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis and serving with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) made possible by the generous grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Besides getting some much needed time off campus and in the outdoors, Alternative Weekends introduce University of Maryland students to environmental stewardship work and educate them about the problems plaguing the Chesapeake Bay. As an Environmental Science and Policy major concentrating in Coastal and Marine Science, I have learned a lot about the Chesapeake Bay and feel an incredible connection to it after growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I went on an Alternative Break my sophomore year focusing on Chesapeake Bay restoration with CBF and knew my commitment wouldn’t end on the last day of the trip. I wanted to lead my own trip and teach other students about the watershed so I agreed to lead two alternative weekends in the fall.
The first Weekend was difficult but with the help of our guide and mentor, David Tana of CBF, and the enthusiasm of the team, the trip was a success. It rained without mercy for the duration of the weekend but our team was still able to plant seventy trees on a dairy farm and finish a wetland planting on another. We were rewarded for our work in kale, potatoes, eggs and sausage from the second farmer and could not have been more grateful. We ate the farm fresh food for breakfast the next morning and could not help but repeating over and over that this was “the best tasting produce we’ve ever had!” It was a great learning experience for the team about how supporting local farmers was rewarding for both the farmer and the customer. We reflected on where our food came from and how we could better get in touch with our community through events such as farmer’s markets.
On the second alternative weekend, we were blessed with beautiful weather and a passionate group. The members on the trip were from all different backgrounds and majors, but were interested in learning more about the Chesapeake Bay. On Saturday we attended three tree plantings and had time to set up a campfire upon returning to the beach. We engaged in a long conversation under the stars while making s’mores. We reflected on the service we did and how important conserving the environment is for all the organisms that rely on a healthy bay for existence, and how to strike a balance between human activities, such as agriculture, and ecosystem conservation. Buying food consciously and from a farmer you know and trust was a big contributor to that balance, we agreed. It was also evident that a lot of the work CBF did to help the Bay was reliant on volunteers like us. We all vowed to be active members in the community and continue to dedicate our time to events like tree plantings which make such a difference.
I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to lead an Alternative Weekend that was only possible because of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. I am hopeful for my generation who is invested in where our food comes from and issues like water quality and public health because it is up to us to clean up the mess we are currently in and prevent it from happening again to future generations. There is no “Planet B” and there is no other Chesapeake Bay. With education, volunteering, and reflecting we can all feel a part of something as great as the environmental movement and make tangible change in our community. I hope the Alternative Weekends Program continues to give unknowing and unexposed students on campus a chance to go on an adventure and explore this wonderful watershed right in our backyard.
Libby Truitt, Junior ENSP- Coastal and Marine Science major at University of Maryland