When I sit back and think about my career — the things I’ve learned, opportunities that presented themselves and work that I’ve done — there is one thing that has been a constant driving force and focus —the Chesapeake Bay.

I didn’t grow up on the Chesapeake Bay proper, but I did grow up swimming and recreating on its rivers, the Potomac and the James. My favorite moments occur when I’ve been on the tidal waters, breathing in their salty air and resting among those tranquil breezes. 

Those experiences have certainly espoused a special appreciation for our natural environment and fostered my drive to protect it.

For the last six years, I’ve been privileged to work at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. While our ultimate mission is to help restore the Bay, we know that the work we must do is seldom on the actual Chesapeake Bay, but is “up in the watershed,” as we say. It is in the cities and countrysides of Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York.  

But not everyone understands that their rural property in the Shenandoah Valley or their paved driveways and manicured lawns affect the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality.

For nearly five decades, the Alliance has worked to inform people about how their actions impact the health of their local river or stream and ultimately, the Bay. In 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Commission worked with legislators in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to designate the first full week of June as Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week. All across the watershed this week, those of us working to protect the Bay and its tributaries will unite to broadcast our efforts, amplify our mission, celebrate our successful restoration projects and educate the public about the extreme importance of this vast and beautiful natural resource.

In 2017, the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Commission partnered with the conservation community and natural resource agencies to sponsor the first Back to the Bay at Mason Neck State Park. It was a beautiful day that brought people together to have fun and learn about Chesapeake restoration work that is taking place throughout the watershed. It ended with a figurative gesture: Everyone turned their backs to the Bay and looked west, “into the watershed” to visualize where the bulk of work still needs to take place.

This year, the Alliance is proud to once again partner with the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to engage the public in another, yet very different, Back to the Bay. On the weekend of June 8–10, the Richmond Symphony will be the host of the Festival of the River; three days of music, art and the environment at Brown’s Island in Richmond. 

“The Chesapeake Bay Commission is excited about the three-day Festival of the River and the continued growth of the Back to the Bay event,” said Adrienne Kotula, Virginia Director of the Commission. “Sharing our passion for clean water with new audiences is what this is all about.” 

On Saturday June 9, we’ll bring together thousands of Virginia residents to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and participate in outdoor recreational activities such as rock climbing on the Manchester Wall, kayak-roll clinics on the banks of the James River, and interactive, educational games for children and adults.

The Richmond Symphony, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art, and Sound Arts Richmond will also perform works of art that celebrate the communities and wildlife surrounding the James River. Meanwhile, Deborah Pratt and her sister, Clementine Macon — both recipients of national and international awards — will demonstrate their world-renowned oyster shucking skills as they share their first-hand knowledge of the importance of a healthy Chesapeake. 

Proud Platinum sponsor for this event, Smithfield Foods, will be there to showcase their commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration. “Sustainability is engrained in our culture at Smithfield, and that applies to the way we support the communities where our employees live, work and raise their families,” said Keira Lombardo, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods and president of the Smithfield Foundation. “That’s why we’re proud to continue our support of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and their efforts to promote environmental awareness about the health of our area’s natural resources through Back to the Bay. Educating our community on ways we can protect, restore and conserve the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s rivers and streams is vital for all of our futures.”

For me, this event provides an opportunity to continue to share the importance of the Alliance’s work, as well as reflect on the reason we do it.

Nothing can take the place of experiences on the water, or replace the taste of the bounties of the sea. We must remind ourselves on this day, and every day, that the Chesapeake Bay watershed provides us all with the experiences that shape our lives, our economy, our culture, how we see the world and how we raise our children in this world.

The Chesapeake Bay needs our help and our hard work throughout the 64,000 square miles of its watershed. Your actions matter!

So, plan your trip to Richmond and come out to Brown’s Island on June 9 to learn about the Chesapeake and find out why it’s important to you. Join us and get Back to the Bay! Please visit backtothebayva.com.

The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.