Fall signals a time to celebrate bird migrations, apple harvests and refreshing Bay breezes. It is also a time to reflect on the year that is passing and the important work that has been done to restore this national treasure we call the Chesapeake Bay.

At the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, this also marks our time to celebrate the year's accomplishments with friends and partners at our annual gala, Taste of the Chesapeake.

The Taste celebrates Bay stewardship within an atmosphere of local food, drink, and music. This event is also the time when we recognize outstanding environmental leaders. This year, the Alliance will give two such awards.

The Alliance's Environmental Leadership Award was created in 2001 to honor Frances H. Flanigan, who served as executive director of the Alliance for more than 20 years and has dedicated her life to environmental leadership and partnership-building throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The award recognizes one individual who is held in high esteem and whose accomplishments in Chesapeake Bay conservation are unique and noteworthy.

The award also highlights those whose efforts have been consistent with the Alliance's mission of fostering partnerships and building consensus to advance the cause of environmental stewardship in the watershed.

Past winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award are noteworthy for their leadership in public service like Gov. George Baliles, W. Tayloe Murphy and Cindy Dunn; for the establishment of public policy like Charlie Stek and Sarah Taylor-Rogers; and for leadership in their communities like Steele Phillips and George Wolff. Others have been noted for their devotion to getting things done like last year's winner, George Hawkins.

Leaders inspire. They motivate us to take action and remind us of the importance of a sustained commitment to the work of environmental stewardship. Action also comes from a passion for the Bay or its local rivers that is just as much a matter of heart and soul as it is mind or muscle.

I admire those who inspire us to speak up for and do what it right, to ask the right questions and to invite a dialogue about solutions. So often for me, it is a story — a simple thought conveyed in words and images — that helps me understand in human terms what the problem is and my place in that solution. Stories are often more likely to motivate action than data, rules or policies.

This year, the Alliance is proud to honor Tom Horton as our Environmental Leadership Award winner.

Horton is a noted writer and author and his work has been an influential force in advocating for the Bay and its special significance for more than 30 years. He focused on environmental issues and the Chesapeake during his distinguished 30-year tenure at the Baltimore Sun. His articles have also appeared in National Geographic, Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

Horton has written numerous books about the Bay, from a layman's textbook on Bay issues, "Turning the Tide"; to unique stories of Chesapeake culture and history in "Bay Country," "An Island out of Time," and "Swanfall."

Horton, known for his dedication to understanding the issues, presents them with a human face, a sensitivity of perspective, and a passion that is hard to question. He still writes for the Bay Journal in his column, "Chesapeake Born."

Horton's writing has left an imprint on many, including me — often because he makes us look at issues differently and causes me think more broadly. He also lives like he writes. Horton remains an ardent educator and outdoorsman living in his native Salisbury and teaching writing and environmental topics at Salisbury University — sometimes teaching from his kayak!

This year, the Alliance will also give special recognition to Gary Waugh. As a media relations expert for the state of Virginia, he has been a force behind numerous campaigns that have rallied awareness and real change in the health of the Bay and its watershed communities in innovative and engaging ways.

Waugh was instrumental in launching the Chesapeake Club media campaign to change homeowner behavior toward runoff and lawn care in the DC metro area. Remember "Save the Crabs, Then Eat Them!" More recently, he initiated the "Plant More Plants" campaign in Virginia.

Waugh has been a tireless unsung hero of Bay watershed communications and education and a longtime employee of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The Alliance has only given four other Special Recognition Awards so Waugh is in good company. Past honorees were: Don Walsh, EPA; Will Baker, CBF; Patti Jackson, James River Association; and Congressman Wayne Gilchrest

If you can, please join us at the Taste of the Chesapeake on Sept. 20 at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, MD to celebrate the contributions of this year's award winners as well as to salute all of those who work to conserve our precious natural resources.

For details, please visit allianceforthebay.org.