Reading over the list of winning proposals for the most recent round of small watershed grants in the Chesapeake Bay Program not only provides a tour of marvelous rivers and landscapes throughout the region; it also gives a strong sense of the kind of innovative thinking taking place at the community level on ways to engage the public in the restoration of the Bay and its rivers and streams.
The review and selection process was managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the Bay Program. More than $1.3 million was awarded, and projects were matched with an additional $1.9 million. Fifty-six grants were approved, ranging from $5,000 to $35,000. Twenty-six benefited Virginia, 19 Maryland, 15 Pennsylvania, three New York, two the District of Columbia, one West Virginia and one Delaware. (The numbers add up to more than 56 because a number of grants helped people in more than one state.)
Twenty-one of the grants went to community watershed organizations; 13 to regional organizations and foundations; 12 to local governments; six to other governments e.g., conservation districts; two to schools; and two to universities.
As you might expect, a number of the grants were directed at building the capacities of local organizations through planning, visioning exercises, organizing techniques and education. It was heartening to see the spread of these efforts to some of the most remote and unspoiled parts of the Chesapeake Basin.
One grant went to the Otsego County (NY) Soil and Water Conservation District to help fund the implementation of a management plan for Lake Otsego, the source of the Susquehanna River and the inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s “Glimmerglass.” You just can’t get more upstream than that.
Another went to the Department of Geology at Washington and Lee University to support the creation of the Maury River Alliance to educate the public on the impact of land-based activities on the water quality of this distant headwater of the James. If you have seen the Maury Gorge, you understand the origin of the word “gorgeous.”
íaking full advantage of the Internet was another theme among the grants. For example, the Londonderry School in Pennsylvania was funded for a student-constructed GIS system for area watersheds that will be web-accessible to the public.
And, the Maryland Public Broadcasting Foundation was funded to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to launch a Chesapeake Bay Online Fieldtrip.
Another encouraging development was the emergence of proposals to put to work a concept only recently developed — rapid assessment protocols. These are readily understood and simple-to-apply approaches to evaluating the impacts of development, with emphasis on habitat preservation, retaining the natural functions of streams and reducing the threat of impermeable surfaces through low-impact development measures.
Friends of the Rappahannock was awarded a grant to work with Spotsylvania County on a rapid watershed planning approach to demonstrate to local governments. And the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers Association will work with citizens and local governments on a rapid stream assessment methodology.
Many of the grants are to be used for on-the-ground restoration activities, some of them with innovative twists. The Alexandria Seaport Foundation plans to engage up to 60 at-risk youth in the restoration of Potomac wetlands. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Harrisburg office will work with four schools, the Harrisburg Greenbelt Association and numerous watershed organizations to build forest buffers along streams, including a seedling grow-out center and demonstration and training sites.
The Friends of Chesterfield’s Riverfront will work with students at James River High School to restore a quarter mile of stream on the campus.
And, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin will be able to continue to work with adult and student volunteers on shad restoration, including catching the adult fish, harvesting the eggs, raising the fry in classrooms and stocking the river.
Finally, there are a number of projects to work with businesses. The Elizabeth River Project, for example, will establish the means to help other watersheds establish programs similar to their highly successful “River Stars” program, which directly engages businesses and federal facilities in pollution prevention and habitat restoration activities.
All of these and many more of the grants are full of great ideas, demonstrating the richness of creativity and experience that exists at the community level throughout our Chesapeake watershed.
When we began this program, we believed it might help local governments and citizens groups develop and explore new ideas. What we failed to realize as much as we should have is that the ideas were already there and just in need of a little help to blossom forth.
We thought we were planting seeds; what we are really doing is helping with the harvest.