There’s a new spirit of volunteerism in America, and the Chesapeake is gaining from the many signs of it. Programs of volunteer monitoring continue to grow throughout the watershed, and are especially important as the focus of the cleanup effort moves to the shallows and up the rivers and streams of the basin.

More and more students are meeting community service commitments by asking what they can do for the Bay. Citizen groups based on the small watersheds of local creeks and rivers are becoming more widespread, more vocal, and more active with the on-the-ground projects for restoration of streams and habitat; the new Chesapeake Bay amendments to the Clean Water Act pending in the U.S. Senate authorize a new program of assistance to such groups. Involvement of citizen groups in the development of tributary-based, nutrient reduction strategies throughout the basin has resulted in many improvements to the proposals being forwarded. And most recently, the remarkable outpouring of high-quality proposals in response to the Countryside Stewardship Exchange makes one realize the power and extent of citizen efforts in places as disparate as the Maury, the Lackawana, and the Choptank.

Of all these great signs, perhaps the greatest is the announcement of the creation of the National Civilian Community Corps. A key part of the national volunteer service program proposed by President Clinton and recently enacted by Congress, the NCCC has environmental service to the community as its No. 1 goal. Just in the last few weeks, the call has gone out for the first class of 1,000 volunteers, to be based at military facilities in four locations nationwide. And the first of these locations, housing 250 volunteers dedicated to environmental improvement, opens in June right here in our Chesapeake, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Others will be located at sites in the Carolinas, California, and Colorado. While the Aberdeen groups will serve the entire Northeast as far as Maine, 50 percent to 60 percent of their projects are to be located within a 90-minute drive; this means roughly Harrisburg, Northern Virginia, the Blue Ridge, and Delaware Bay. When moving beyond this range, teams will be temporarily quartered at other military facilities in the region.

Now comes the best part. The 250 volunteers will be organized into 25 teams of 10 each with a leader. The NCCC is looking for high-visibility, environmental improvement projects, especially when they are tied to economic development, education, and cultural dignity, and where they involve other members of the community to be benefited.

Each of the 25 teams will carry out three to four such projects averaging one month in duration; in addition, there is interest in lining up a number of smaller projects for the six-week training period beginning in June. The NCCC will provide the volunteers, transportation, communications, food, lodging, supervision, training, and Department of Defense stockpiled materials. You supply the community and the projects.

The possibilities for such a scale of voluntary effort in the Chesapeake are limitless. Some of the projects already being talked about include help in the inner cities to clean vacant lots and establish parks and gardens; removing blockages from streams to promote fish habitat and spawning areas; planting forest buffers along streams; restoring the natural pools and falls of urban creeks; and constructing recreational trails in partnership with communities. You can probably come up with a number of your own in your city or town or county.