“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”
— Norman Vincent Peale

This would have been an apt theme for the Chesapeake Watershed Forum’s 10th Anniversary edition that took place Sept. 25–27 in Shepherdstown, WV.

Ten years ago, we started with an idea to bring watershed restoration and protection practitioners together to inspire and empower local action toward a cleaner, healthier Bay watershed.

While it has been difficult through the years to precisely quantify the value of the forum, be it pounds of nutrients reduced or partnerships forged, we can honestly say that although we may not have arrived on the moon yet, we are certainly in its orbit with a clear view of the stars.

This year, one of our largest gatherings ever — with more than 400 people in attendance — included a focus on several new initiatives that we hope to continue in the future. To help make the connection from what we do in our communities to how they fit into the larger Bay restoration picture, each session was linked to the goal in the new Watershed Agreement — signed in June 2014 — that it helps to achieve. Participants were able to attend seminars on specific actions they can take to achieve local implementation plans.

For new attendees, there was a six-session track targeted to those who were new to the region or the restoration work. New professionals learned about the history and progress of Bay restoration and gained knowledge of specific, core issues facing the watershed.

One of the highlights was Walter Boynton’s presentation on the history of the Bay and its watershed, including pivotal events that have shaped the Bay, its tributaries, and our strategies for trying to restore it. Boynton has been at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science since 1975 and is one of the pre-eminent researchers on water quality, Chesapeake Bay ecology and restoration.

After several years of reaching out to a more diverse audience, bringing people of color to the forum and to participation in our work, Frank and Audrey Peterman led discussions showing us how to do this. The Petermans, active during the 1960s civil rights movement, are nationally recognized as pioneers in successful efforts that connect urban communities to our natural areas, especially our national parks and public lands and waters. One major take-home from the discussion was, if we’re serious about engaging diverse populations, then organizations and public entities need to include diversity initiatives in their strategic plans and to build in the funding to achieve these goals.

To complement the agenda, the planning committee worked hard to increase the number of persons of color attending this year’s forum. Maryland and Pennsylvania contributed funds that were used for scholarships, and with the help of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Action Team, the forum targeted outreach to expand diversity at the event.

Members of the Diversity Action Team also implemented the Chesapeake Collective, an effort to create space for a range of diverse voices and narratives to be shared. Displays and activities included a Saturday evening Privilege Walk, a group activity that examines the intricacies of privilege (or lack thereof ); community art projects; photo essays playing in each classroom; and the showing of an “Anacostia Unplugged” video, a free online documentary series about how connecting nature with the outdoors is saving lives, preserving the environment and empowering communities along the river.

We also spent an evening celebrating the 2015 Forest Champion award winners. These awards highlight superstars, both professionals and volunteers, who are leading the efforts to increase the number and quality of trees and forests in the watershed. A lifetime achievement award was presented to Don Outen, Baltimore County, MD’s natural resource manager and tree champion.

And speaking of shooting for the moon, NASA Mission Specialist Ricky Arnold shared photos and experiences from his 10-day trip to the International Space Station as part of STS 119, one of the final flights of the Discovery space shuttle. His presentation reminded us of our place in the cosmos and that, even though the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has discovered water on Mars and its potential on several planetary moons, his unique perspective reminded us that Earth is still the only place that can sustain life and that it is imperative we take care of it.

The theme of this year’s forum was “Moving the Needle,” a reference to ramping up implementation strategies toward achieving the 2025 restoration goal set forth in the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement. I am not sure if the original designers of the Bay restoration program felt that they were shooting for the moon back in 1983, but I do know that it is within our reach at this point.

The energy and passion evident at this year’s forum is one clear indication — and the multitude of new faces suggests — that we are growing the voices in the choir. As a community, we must continue to spread the message of stewardship and expand the number of voices supporting and minds working toward a healthy, clean Bay watershed. Together we will get the job done.

The 2016 Forum will again take place at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Mark your calendars and we’ll see you there.