September is a month of beginnings and endings. The long warm days of summer wind down; migratory birds prepare for departure. Of course, most notably is the beginning of the school year. Students all across the nation enter new grades, start new classes, and sport their new clothes for the year.
Here at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), September means the start of the fall field season for our 15 education programs, some administering one-day trips, while others conduct three-day overnight excursions. Students from Pennsylvania to Virginia will load up CBF boats, canoes, and even tractors to go out and experience the Chesapeake and its watershed. They will learn about its natural treasures as well as its troubles, and what they can do to make change.
But this week, as the Merrill Center Education Program began its season with a group from Annapolis Area Christian School, things were different. The water from last week’s torrential downpour had finally made its way down from the Susquehanna and into the Bay, creating a brown milky mess strewn with tires, plastic bottles, trees, etc. Students saw first-hand a system dangerously out-of-balance as they loaded onto CBF’s 40-foot workboat Marguerite to investigate the waters. Without even pulling away from the dock, they could already see the impacts of last week’s flood. The water resembled chocolate milk. Logs, presumably from Pennsylvania, drifted by on this blue-sky day. As the Marguerite went further out into the Bay, the story did not change. Mats of debris, trash, and even what appeared to be a bowling ball floated all around. Tiffany Granberg, one of CBF’s educators, described the scene as a “cesspool.”
After lunch, the students shifted gears and boarded canoes to explore Black Walnut Creek, the small tributary bordering the Merrill Center property. As they paddled past tree-lined shores, Belted Kingfishers flew overhead chattering away at each other. Small coves on either side protected pockets of lush marshes, just starting to turn from summer green to a golden fall hue. Jason Spires, another CBF educator, asked the students to compare the water quality of the creek to that of the Bay they had seen in the morning. After a few thoughtful moments, they conceded that even though the water here was still murky, it certainly was not as bad as the Bay. “Why do you think the water quality is better here?” Spires asked. “Look around. What do you see all along the shores?” This is what our educators call the “aha! moment.” In a mere instant, these students got the connection. In a creek surrounded by trees and marsh, the water is protected against pollution. Furthermore, with poor stormwater controls and reduced natural flood buffers and filters such as forests and wetlands, the Bay is taking a big water quality hit.
This is the beauty of CBF’s environmental education. Within the walls of a classroom, it is hard to make real-world connections such as the one just described. For more than 40 years, our education programs have provided teachers in the watershed the opportunity to do exactly that and turn information in a book into a memory of sight, sound, smell, touch, and sometimes even taste.
To learn more about stormwater issues and what you can do to help, please visit CBF’s Clean Water, Healthy Families Initiative website: http://www.cleanwaterhealthyfamilies.org/. To learn more about CBF’s award-winning education program, visit: http://www.cbf.org/page.aspx?pid=260. Help us fight for clean water now! Click here for more information. Visit our Facebook album for more pictures of the stormwater's devastation: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150366028460943&set=a.10150366027945943.398340.8914040942&type=1&theater