Want To Make A Real Difference To The Bay? Become A Watershed Steward!
By Laura Wiegmann
A watershed is an area of land the runoff of which drains into a bay, river, creek or lake. In Anne Arundel County, we live in a watershed, or, 72 watersheds, counting all the local creek communities. As most are aware, pollution levels of our bay are extreme, and have resulted in the death of bay wildlife, and endangering swimmers and those who depend on the bay for their livelihood.
The Watershed Stewards Academy was established with goals to educate willing leaders or "stewards" living in each community. They, in turn, educate and engage the community to take ownership of their local watershed, and also coordinate action at both individual and group levels.
The steward's role begins by assessing the neighborhood, looking for a viable project for their community, and working to making that project a reality. In addition, they also educate individuals on how each can make his own property more bay-friendly.
The education plan is comprised of two main strategies. The first involves reducing pollutants produced from issues like pet waste, lawn chemicals, and improperly maintained septic systems. Secondly, there is training in the area of "rainscaping" property. This begins with using rain barrels to control the amount and speed of water draining into the bay, and learning how to plant rain gardens, conservation landscaping, and choosing the best trees for water absorption. More information on this can be found at www.rainscaping.org.
The Academy program begins now with information sessions for people to learn about the level of involvement required. Most sessions are completed at this point, but Suzanne Etgen, the Academy Coordinator, welcomes those interested to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-222-3822 for a private session before the cutoff date of September 12th.
The certification course starts with 13 sessions at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville. Curriculum covers all aspects of being a Watershed Steward, from the particulars of creating a rainscape, to funding, to how to spur on community involvement, and more. Classes are taught by various professionals in their fields, called the "Consortium of Support," and they also serve as an advisory board for all stewards.
Some sessions are hands-on, including one overnight program to provide opportunity for all prospective stewards to gain confidence in their mission. The process is not complete without accomplishing a "Capstone Project", which can be done as a group, and will help them to be competent leaders.
Brad Knopf, a local steward certified in 2010, speaks very highly of the program, and the positive and supportive lifestyle that goes along with it. He says that once people begin to recognize you as the local "go-to person," you get to pick and choose which projects you are able to facilitate. Furthermore, he stated that he couldn't recommend the program more highly. It's a great organization to get involved with."
"There are no skills required to get involved with this program. We can teach those," says Etgen. "We look for the desire to engage the community in change." In 2010 there were only 50 certified stewards, and they recently reached 5,000 people. There were 252 rain barrels placed, 5000 native plants, 268 trees and much more.
The Academy's hope is that the results will multiply as more people come on board, so for those interested in becoming a steward, please contact Etgen right away, as the deadline is approaching. Also, for those who want to get involved on a smaller level, Etgen advises she has projects for everyone. She can put you in touch with an area steward so you can give whatever time and effort works for you. The more people that become involved means the more we will learn about our local waterways.