Floating Classrooms Foster Love of Nature

The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

CBF's 42-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat, "Baywatcher"

Many RVA residents have become spoiled by living near the James River and its wonderful amenities: stunning vistas, fishing, paddling, swimming, hiking, birding, and wildlife watching.

But imagine if the closest you ever got to the James was in a car driving over a Richmond bridge. What if you'd never dipped a toe in the river, cast a line to fish, or rock-hopped across the rapids to picnic or sunbathe? What if you'd never seen a great blue heron stalking the riverbank or touched the whiskers on a blue catfish? What if you'd never, ever seen a bald eagle soaring over the James?

Believe it or not, thousands of Richmond-area youngsters have never had such experiences. They are among a growing number of children suffering from nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv, author of the 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to a near-total unfamiliarity with the outdoors caused by a preoccupation with indoor electronic devices — televisions, computers, cellphones, electronic games and other gadgets. On average, kids 8 to 18 years old spend more than 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's more than 50 hours a week.

Fortunately, a beautiful natural world still awaits anyone willing to disconnect from electronic gizmos and venture outdoors. And this year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation celebrates 30 years of unplugging Richmond-area students and taking them outside onto the James to explore nature and the river.

Since CBF launched its James River Education Boat Program in 1985, some 55,000 students have participated in these hands-on, get-wet-and-dirty environmental education experiences. The kids board Baywatcher, a 42-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat and one of CBF's many "floating classroom" vessels, and spend three to six hours on the water. There they read maps, identify landmarks, note shoreline land uses, take water samples, fish, crab, and ooh and aah at the critters they find.

But the boat trips are more than just fun days on the water. These science-based discovery experiences are led by professional environmental educators who reinforce knowledge and skills in Virginia's Standards of Learning and complement teachers' own classroom studies.

For many students, the CBF field experiences represent the first time they've ever been on a boat. For still others, the trips are watershed experiences that spark a lifelong love of science and nature. Many teachers have confided they were inspired to be science educators by a CBF discovery trip they took as youngsters. For testimonials and more about CBF's outdoor education experiences, go to cbf.org/education.

But environmental education provides other big benefits as well. Studies demonstrate that it:

  • Generally improves student achievement in science, likely because it connects classroom learning to the real world.
  • Improves student interest and engagement in the classroom. Students just seem to like environmental studies, opting to focus science fair and service projects on environmental topics more than any other.
  • Boosts reading, math and social studies achievement when integrated into other school subjects.
  • When used as a common thread in all classes, reduces student discipline problems, increases student enthusiasm, and generates greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.
  • Teaches critical thinking and basic life skills necessary for a 21st-century workforce.

All of which is why CBF encourages the McAuliffe administration and the Virginia General Assembly to make environmental literacy a priority in Virginia. A new Chesapeake Bay Agreement, signed last year by Governor McAuliffe and the other Chesapeake Bay partner states, includes an important environmental literacy goal: "Enable students in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed."

CBF urges the private and public sectors to work together in planning and funding a bold vision for all Virginia students to have the opportunity to become environmentally literate. Armed with this knowledge, Virginia students can become tomorrow's leaders, making sound decisions to restore the Chesapeake Bay and to protect Virginia's precious natural resources.

Still, it's hard to imagine the commonwealth will achieve these laudable environmental literacy goals unless more kids get outside and experience the wonders of nature. You just have to be there.

So during this Earth Day season, consider taking a young person you know to a park, on a hike, to a lake or stream, or just out into the backyard. Look around. Smell the air. Touch. Explore. You might even see a bald eagle and change a life.

—Ann Jennings, CBF's Virginia Executive Director

Earth Day Tree Planting with Washington Gas Energy Services and Sterling Planet

Tree Planting 2
Photos by Lauren Belisle.

On Saturday, April 20, more than 100 volunteers gathered in Union Bridge, Md., to plant 1,400 trees and shrubs and to celebrate a unique partnership between CBF, Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES)and Sterling Planet. Since the partnership launched in 2010, WGES and Sterling Planet have contributed more than $400,000 to the CBF-directed Carbon Reduction Fund. The Fund supports projects that both reduce greenhouse gases and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, projects that have included planting more than 9,000 trees in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Talbot, Frederick, and Carroll counties in Maryland.

Tree Planting Photo 3At the Earth Day event, WGES and Sterling Planet employees, together with Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other CBF volunteers, planted native species of trees and shrubs along 6,000 feet of stream bank at the Flowing Springs Dairy Farm. The plants will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, reducing greenhouse gases, and will create a buffer to prevent erosion and runoff along the Wolf Pit Branch stream which ultimately flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

Contributions to the Carbon Reduction Fund are made when WGES natural gas supply customers participate in its CleanSteps® Carbon Offsets program. The program helps customers reduce their carbon footprints by matching natural gas usage with locally sourced certified carbon offsets.

—Harry Warren, President, Washington Gas Energy Services.

See more photos of this terrific event on our Facebook page.

Tree Planting Photo 1

Making a Difference from the Sweetest Place on Earth

Ally Beitzel is a 3rd grader at Hershey Elementary School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. While it's true that Ally quite possibly lives in the sweetest place on Earth, that hasn’t stopped this 9-year old from recognizing the importance of clean water throughout the whole Chesapeake Bay Watershed and beyond.

This past spring, Ally entered The Hershey Company’s Kids’ Water Art Contest, which was one of several Earth Day initiatives sponsored by The Hershey Company. The goal for participants was simple—create an original drawing that depicts what clean water means to them. Entries were broken out by age group, with $2,000 donations being made by The Hershey Company on behalf of the winners to the charity of their choice.

Lucky for us, Ally won her age group and chose CBF!

The contest was right up Ally’s, well, alley. As an aspiring artist, Ally loves to draw and has hopes of being a professional artist one day. When asked why having clean water is so important to her, Ally responded that without clean water and a clean Bay, the animals and wildlife she’s come to love would be in real danger.

Not content to simply rest on her recent drawing accomplishments, Ally passed along a great tip that she practices every day. When brushing her teeth, she always makes sure to turn the faucet off while brushing. And let’s face it, all that water adds up, especially when you’re brushing in the sweetest place on Earth!

As an artist or as a conservationist, one thing is for sure—Ally will have an impact on creating a brighter future for us all.

Thank you, Ally!

—Kirk Swanson

Learn more about our efforts to Save the Bay and waters we love through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

It Takes a Village: Two Companies Help Save CBF Island Study Center

Port Isobel IslandPort Isobel Island, located east of Tangier Island in Virginia, is home to one of CBF’s five island study centers. Annually, more than 1,000 students and teachers learn about the Bay in the island’s unique and inspirational setting. Photo by CBF staff.

As the waves lap along the shore of Port Isobel Island, a 250-acre island east of Tangier Island in Virginia, the beauty and serenity belies a stark reality. Erosion has been slowly eating away at the island’s northeast shoreline for decades. Over just the last 10 years, hundreds of feet of shoreline have been lost.

The erosion threatened not just the island but also CBF’s Port Isobel Island Study Center, with several buildings located yards away from the shoreline. The Center is one of CBF’s five island study centers and, every year is where more than one thousand students and teachers participate in hands-on environmental learning that encourages them to become conscientious stewards of the Bay.

To save the island and the center, on the recommendation of an engineering firm, CBF began constructing six stone breakwaters offshore. These breakwaters stabilize the shoreline and offer storm protection. Requiring more than 4,000 tons of stone and construction, project costs would be steep, but it had to be done.

Thankfully, two companies stepped up to help CBF complete the project.

Vulcan Materials Company, the nation's leading supplier of construction aggregates—primarily crushed stone, sand and gravel, and ready-mixed concrete—provided the needed stone for the breakwaters and transported the stone to the site using their tug boat and barges, at a significantly reduced price that saved CBF tens of thousands of dollars. The stone came directly from Vulcan’s Havre de Grace Quarry located off the Susquehanna River in Harford County, Maryland. Special thanks to Vulcan employees John Smack, District Sales Manager; Steve Magdeburger, Manager Marine Operations; Travis Holman, Area Operations Manager; and Tom Carroll, Director of Business Development, who went above and beyond for CBF to make this donation happen.

With a corporate philosophy that stresses sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community involvement, their contribution to this project is fitting. Vulcan has operations in 22 states across the nation but has a significant presence in both Virginia and Maryland. The company also invests in education and works regularly with schools and school-aged children through their adopt-a-school partnerships, which makes this project a perfect fit.

One of Vulcan’s most successful environmental programs has been developing buffer lands around its facilities for wildlife habitat. In 1990, through cooperative efforts with the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), Vulcan’s Sanders Quarry near Warrenton, Virginia, became the first industrial site in the nation to be certified by WHC as a wildlife habitat. Vulcan now has 42 certified wildlife habitats at sites across the country. Five of these sites are additionally certified by WHC as Corporate Lands for Learning in recognition of their outstanding educational and community outreach programs.  Since then Vulcan has also developed partnerships with many other regional conservation organizations including the VCU Rice Center, Elizabeth River Project, Friends of the Lower Appomattox River Association, James River Association, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and others.

The logic behind their corporate philosophy is easy to understand; as Tom Carroll, Vulcan’s Director of Business Development and External Affairs for the East Region, puts it, “When you’re in the natural resources business, like Vulcan is, every day is Earth Day. Being responsible stewards of the environment is important to all Vulcan employees.”

Coastal Design and Construction, Inc. also stepped up to help CBF save Port Isobel. The Gloucester, Virginia-based construction company, actually constructed the breakwaters with the stone that Vulcan provided. To help allay some of the costs, Coastal Design and Construction donated a portion of the required materials, further reducing the impact to CBF’s bottom line.

The final step in the project is slated for completion this spring, when submerged eel grass will be planted near the shore to improve water quality and further stabilize the shoreline.

The project has been a resounding success and would not have been possible without the donations from Vulcan Materials Company and Coastal Design and Construction. CBF salutes both companies for their support! The work to save Port Isobel shows how a community can come together to make the impossible possible.

—Brie Wilson

To learn more about how you can help save the Bay, please visit cbf.org/what-you-can-do.

PhotoTwo of the stone breakwaters sit off the northeastern shore of Port Isobel. Photo by Laura Burrell Baxter/CBF Staff.


Photo of the Week: Blue Ridge Oyster Fest

View from front of the crowdPhoto by John Rodenhausen/CBF Staff.

A week ago, more than 1,500 Virginians gathered in the Blue Ridge to celebrate Earth Day for the 2nd Annual Blue Ridge Oyster Festival! It was a gorgeous Saturday complete with Chesapeake oysters, Devils Backbone Brewing Company brew, and live music before the rains came late afternoon. CBF was on hand to educate participants about the Bay and to collect the oyster shells for our oyster restoration activities downriver. Proceeds from the event went to CBF and Big Brothers & Big Sisters of The Central Blue Ridge. We're so very grateful for the support of our friends in the mountains!


Earth Day: "That's All There Is"

EarthPhoto courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.


“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” That’s what U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said when he launched the very first Earth Day back in the spring of 1970. With roughly 20 million Americans taking part in that first Earth Day—from more than 10,000 schools and 1,000 communities across the country, bringing together all walks of life from housewives to farmers to scientists to students—the event was a bigger success than ever anticipated.

I had the honor of meeting and listening to Senator Nelson when he came to talk to The Nature Conservancy in the spring of 2004, just a year before his death. Though older, frailer, and bound to a wheelchair, Senator Nelson had not lost his impact or might. With quiet conviction he told the story of Earth Day, and why indeed it’s critical we continue to gather together on April 22 every year and raise awareness and appreciation for our environment.

After all, as Nelson said in 1995 on the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day, our natural world and our health and wealth are intrinsically tied together: “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

And so year after year we have had the privilege of carrying on Nelson’s vision, and this year is no exception. From oyster festivals to tree plantings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be taking part in various Earth Day events across the watershed. Here below is a sneak peak of what you can expect. Please come out and join us! 

—Emmy Nicklin


CBF Earth Day Events



Why I'm a CBF Volunteer

Iamps earthday party crowdThe crowd at Hooper's own self-made Earth Day event at Iampieri's Bar, where she works in Catonsville, Maryland. All photos courtesy of Heather Hooper.

In February of 1984, my family moved to Essex, Maryland. A few days later I heard on the radio that someone named Bob Irsay had snuck out of town with the Baltimore Colts. I added the lack of a football team to the list of reasons my mom should let me go back to the Allegheny Valley and live with my Grandma, but it didn't help—I was stuck here. It wasn't easy making friends, but when I wasn't busy defending myself from really tough girls who wanted to beat me up because of my Pittsburgh accent, I had the chance to try blue crabs for the first time at a lovely house on the water. My new friend's dad stressed that the Old Bay Seasoning on the crabs could only be obtained locally, so when he pulled the first steaming crab out of a shopping bag, I thought the gritty stuff that stuck to its shell was sand and dirt from where it had actually been caught! This, of course, did not stop me from eating it and pronouncing it delicious.

I have learned a lot since high school—about the Chesapeake Bay and life in general. I’ve learned first-hand that its beauty should be shared and savored, not squandered. I have always enjoyed exploring trails and waterways, looking under rocks, seeing what lived there, and I continue to explore the streams and rivers of my youth, including the Patapsco River where I often hike now since moving to Catonsville. There are the remains of mills all along the river, one until recently made little boxes of muffin mix you could buy for less than a dollar. I read the ingredients on its blueberry muffin mix once: plenty of stuff I couldn't pronounce, and no blueberries. So if they were mixing dye and wax or whatever else to simulate blueberries, then what was left over for the company to dispose of in the conveniently located river?

Three years ago I wanted to go to a happy hour at Little Havana (love that place) for an event called "Green Drinks" that was being held all around the watershed on Earth Day. I couldn't go because I had to serve drinks at my workplace, Iampieri's Bar in Catonsville. But then I got the idea that we could host our own event, so I contacted the Volunteer Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Heather Tuckfield, to ask if we could participate. She was receptive and mailed me materials to share with my customers. We didn't make that much, about $250, but I didn't feel bad when I realized that it was $250 more than I had collected on any other Earth Day!

So we've been doing it every year now, making twice as much, and perhaps more importantly, getting people involved. Talented local musicians like Dave Linantud and Jeremy Burke have played, customers have donated their time, legislators have been contacted. I have been to the Merrill Center for wine and cheese, for fisheries updates, and training to speak on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I have presented lessons to Baltimore City students in their science classes, and I plan to do more, all around the state of Maryland. Oh, and I am learning about the watershed, what goes into the water and the crabs, rockfish, and everything else I'd like to eat that live in it, and how to fix it so that we all can.

—Heather Hooper

Looking for ways to get more involved with the Bay? From oyster gardening to becomming a CBF Speaker, take a look at the range of opportunities we offer and sign up here.

Lookin for geese ltlHeather Hooper and her daughter looking for geese in Patapsco Valley State Park.

Goodman & Co. Employees Make An Impact on Earth Day

Photo by Bill Portlock Earth Day, in four different locations (Frederick, MD; Roanoke, VA; Richmond, VA; and Virginia Beach, VA) an army of CBF staff led restoration activities with the regional public accounting firm Goodman & Company. More than 400 Goodman folks participated at one of the locations. The Earth Day event was an important component of Goodman's three-year, $300,000 investment in CBF's Education Programs. 

This group of accountants wanted to do more that just write a check to support CBF—they wanted to get involved in our efforts to Save The Bay and that they did!

I have been told that this is the largest Earth Day activity CBF has ever organized in Virginia; I cannot speak for Maryland. Regardless, it was a HUGE effort that was a great success. Here are some of the highlights:
•         1200 trees were planted (800 in MD, 400 in VA)
•         2400 plugs of beach grass were planted in VA
•         1 rain barrel was constructed
•         1 butterfly garden was constructed
•         4 dumpsters of trash were collected
•         LOTS of non-native honey suckle was removed
•         100 native honey suckle plants were planted
•         1 snake was spotted!
•         Hundreds of smile were seen

Check out photos on our Flickr site.

Goodman employees, tell us what it was like.