As the summer gets under way, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is preparing for our annual celebration — the Taste of the Chesapeake! This year’s Taste takes place Sept. 14 on the stunning rooftop of the Belcher Pavilion at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

You will not want to miss this event: I will be saying a fond farewell as I step down from full-time leadership to retirement and the Alliance will welcome a new executive director.

The Taste, the Alliance’s biggest fund-raising event of the year, raises needed funds that are invested directly in its “on the ground” programs and projects. Most importantly, the Taste honors outstanding leaders in the environmental community who work tirelessly for a healthier Chesapeake.

Mayor Rick Gray of Lancaster, PA, will receive this year’s highest honor, the Environmental Leadership Award.

The Environmental Leadership Award, which honors Alliance founder Fran Flanigan, recognizes a person whose dedication to the Chesapeake Bay also illustrates the Alliance’s mission of fostering partnerships and building local environmental stewardship.

Gray was elected mayor in 2005. He has led a renaissance in local business, as well as arts and culture while dedicating himself to improving the city’s residents’ quality of life. For Gray, there was never a choice between the economic and environmental health of his city. Throughout his leadership, he showed that quality of life depends on a quality environment and worked diligently to promote the greening of Lancaster’s infrastructure and lead an environmental movement in the city.

Like many older cities in the East, Lancaster has a combined sewer system, which means that stormwater runoff and sewage travel in the same pipes to the wastewater treatment plant. The plant is not able to handle the growing amount of runoff during rain events, causing overflows that seriously pollute local waterways

Gray took on this challenge with a unique perspective. Why not fix water problems in a way that benefits the community? He became a driving force behind a citywide strategy to reduce pollution through adding parks, trees and green space to neighborhoods. Why not put a stormwater storage tank under a basketball court, use permeable pavement or redesign roads and intersections with rain gardens? His leadership brought neighborhoods together to be a part of the solution.

Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Gray to the Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee of the Executive Council, where he served as chair for two years. He is known by his colleagues and friends as someone who is deeply passionate about the environment and people. Gray said, “I walked to work for 44 years. I always say it takes me 20 minutes to walk a block, I’m stopped so often. I love the people. A lot of the best suggestions come from sidewalk conversations that start off ‘Are you the mayor?’ ”

We are proud to recognize Gray as our Environmental Leadership Award Winner.

We will also honor three Watershed Champions at the Taste.

Dave Gunnarson is a senior staff environmental engineer at Lockheed Martin in Manassas, VA. Gunnarson’s specialties include environmental remediation, large project construction management, environmental management systems and auditing. But his passion is environmental stewardship. Gunnarson believes that businesses must be active participants in environmental restoration and improving the communities where they work, and he readily shares this message with others.

He took on the establishment and leadership of the Lockheed Martin Go Green Team at the Manassas office and is spreading his ideas through remediation projects, community outreach and technical assistance to more than 20 Lockheed Martin facilities. Additionally, Gunnarson serves as the chair of the Businesses for the Bay Steering Committee and received the Businesses for the Bay Mentor of the Year award in 2003.

Betsy Love has worked as a grant writer, program developer, project manager, entrepreneur, and now in retirement, as an environmental advocate for clean water and native habitat in her community. Love graduated from the Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy as a Master Watershed Steward and was the 2016 Master Watershed Steward of the Year.

After becoming a watershed steward in 2014, Love immediately put her new skills and knowledge to work at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, where she led their environmental committee. For the last three years, she has determinedly led an effort to secure the designs, permits and the needed funding for a major stream restoration and stormwater reduction project on St. Luke’s property. Beginning this summer, a $1.3 million project will begin construction to clean polluted stormwater from 28-acres of urban drainage area and significantly reduce the nutrient pollution entering Back Creek. Love’s passion and care for nature is an inspiration for all.

If you know Greg Wilson, you know that he is a force of nature! Although he had a career in the construction industry, it was his love of fly-fishing that inspired him to begin working for the environment.

Wilson got started as a dedicated volunteer for the Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While many saw the Lititz Run as a degraded, eroded, channel running through farms and subdivisions, Greg saw a stream with potential. Trout Unlimited began some small restoration and buffer planting projects around 1990. Soon Wilson was the lead on the project, continuing to bring new partners together and talking to anyone he could to support the work. Today, dozens of completed projects have led to the Lititz Run’s being recognized as a model of water quality improvement and fish habitat restoration. Wilson remains vice president of the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance and a longtime member of Donegal Trout Unlimited.

So he would be able to tinker on his own, Wilson and his wife also purchased a 50-acre degraded farm in Warwick Township, a property with a small tributary to Lititz Run, and have spent years restoring the land to a thriving wildlife habitat. If you run into Wilson, I guarantee he will want to talk with you about a few ideas he has…for streams, native plants, buffers, floodplains, wetlands — the list goes on. He is a tireless champion for his local watershed.

While the people we honor are all champions by themselves, our 2017 awardees also represent all of the dedicated professionals and volunteer stewards throughout the Chesapeake community who work daily to improve the watershed. They inspire us to continue in our fight for clean water and healthy communities, because we know that together, we will get the job done!

We invite you to join us at the 2017 Taste to honor all of the environmental leaders in the Bay community. Your support will also help us continue our essential work to restore and protect the lands and waters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

For information about the event, visit allianceforthebay.org/taste.