Working for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay the last few months, I have had a chance to experience how local watershed and citizen groups and volunteers work together to respond to a cause like Project Clean Stream.

This April will be the 11th year that the Alliance has coordinated Project Clean Stream at sites throughout the watershed. The project is a unified effort to serve the watershed in hundreds of Chesapeake Bay communities.

Our partners — local and regional groups like Blue Water Baltimore, the Sassafras River Association and Friends of Stony Run, just to name a few — do an incredible job of mobilizing a dedicated network of volunteers and inviting others to join us in this annual “spring cleaning for the Bay.”

In 2013, more than 7,000 volunteers at 250 sites in six states removed more than 400,000 pounds of trash and debris from area streams!

Just recently, I found the Friends of Stony Run at the Waverly Farmers Market in Baltimore talking to passers-by in an effort to sign up volunteers to help clean up sites along Stony Run. The passion with which they talked about caring for local streams that influence the health of the Bay was contagious.

Blue Water Baltimore will once again be working with the Alliance to champion the program in Baltimore City and County.

And, the Sassafras River Association is making inspiring strides to expand the number and extent of cleanups throughout the northern portion of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

While the initial impact is a cleaner, safer, more beautiful and healthier Chesapeake watershed, the project also aims to engage volunteers in a meaningful outdoor experience, connecting them to a piece of nature in their backyard as well as with local watershed and community groups.

Project Clean Stream helps to ensure that these groups’ one day of work translates into continued involvement in the long-term restoration of the watershed. I have talked to many people who are active in local issues who tell me that their first exposure to environmental work was a Project Clean Stream event.

Al Todd, executive director for the Alliance, has a phrase he uses when talking about environmental stewardship: “People care for what they know and love.” Making that connection locally can lead to a lifetime of volunteerism and support for the Bay.

Project Clean Stream depends on the thousands of dedicated volunteers who are willing to participate year after year. Volunteers and site captains (cleanup organizers) have been planning field events since late fall.

Site captains enthusiastically recruit friends or neighbors to take on the challenge. People who have lived their whole lives in neighborhoods join new arrivals to improve their communities.

Parents work together to remove items like refrigerators and tires from wooded areas where their kids play, and schools are eager to engage students in a “Green Day” to teach environmental stewardship at an early age.

During my daily commute, I see an unfortunate amount of garbage littering our roads, woods and streams. This problem is a symbol of disregard for the environment but it is damage that can be easily reversed. All it takes is for one person to gather some friends or coworkers and to set an example for all who pass. This is the idea behind Project Clean Stream.

Approximately half of the cleanup sites established this year are new streams and parks, registered by site captains who are expanding their reach or by volunteers from previous cleanups who now want to organize their own cleanup effort. The expanding network of volunteers, friends, coworkers and family in communities represents what Project Clean Stream’s mission is all about.

Another invaluable part of Project Clean Stream is the support of businesses within the watershed who provide most of the financial backing. Sponsorships from businesses like Perdue Farms and Dominion Power allow the Alliance to support local organizations with training, supplies, logistical support and volunteer recruitment.

Businesses are also engaged in organizing cleanup sites near their workplaces, providing employees with a day of team-building and environmental stewardship. Perdue, alone, recruits nearly 1,000 of its employees, friends and families to participate. Think of how powerful it would it be if all businesses supported their employees for a day of service to the Bay.

With a few exciting new prospects on the horizon, including a more active way to involve students and teachers both inside and out of the classroom, Project Clean Stream is breaking barriers to engage new communities and continue changing attitudes about the critical need for people to be actively involved in improving the health of watershed communities. We hope you will be involved as well.

Here are two ways to help with Project Clean Stream:

  • Volunteers looking for a nearby stream or roadside cleanup site to pick up trash, tires and other discarded items can check out the interactive map on the Project Clean Stream website, http://cleanstream.allianceforthebay.org/.
  • Volunteers who would like to find out how to create their own cleanup site can visit cleanstream.allianceforthebay.org/start-a-cleanup or contact the Alliance to learn how to become a site captain.

To learn more about Project Clean Stream, contact Joanna Freeman at jfreeman@allianceforthebay.org or 443-949-0575.

To find Project Clean Stream on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/ProjectCleanStream. Tweet #PrjClnStrm to share it with your friends!

Together, we can get the job done!