At one end of a field, nearly 40 volunteers gathered around a single tree. Nearby, the chatter of a swift-moving creek did its best to drown out the directions coming from our instructor. It was almost as if the stream had come to life in anticipation of the morning's event. Across the field sat 2.6 acres of freshly dug holes, and next to each a sapling, stakes and a plastic trunk guard. With our tree-planting instruction/demonstration complete and roles assigned, the volunteers took to the field, tools in hand.
Planting 500 trees in one day sounds like a daunting task. On your own, you would need to plant one tree every 173 seconds for 24 hours straight. But on this beautiful October morning, with a team of motivated volunteers on the job, we had the final tree in the ground in less than two hours. Many hands make light work; that's one of the beautiful things about partnerships. The practical benefits of inclusive collaboration are plentiful, and we know that all too well at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The groundwork for the project at hand kicked off months prior with the help of the Muddy Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited in southern Pennsylvania. The chapter had identified a small local stream in need of a wooded buffer. The owner of the property adjacent to the creek, Tim White, had not only given his permission for the tree planting, but also showed up to help when our platoon of volunteers arrived.
Local Trout Unlimited chapters are intimately attuned to their watersheds. Their passion for the health of local streams and rivers positions them as an ideal partner to identify specific needs and establish relationships.
"Riparian buffer zones are a vital ecological tool for maintaining good water and making sure we have cold, clean water and good habitat for fish,” said Jim O’Connor, president of the Muddy Creek chapter. “When we found this location, we knew we were in the right spot. The Whites have been incredible partners, and their commitment to doing the right thing with the land is so important."
With a site identified, the Alliance stepped in to identify landowner objectives and provide a holistic reforestation plan. Our plans often include funding, buffer design, tree species selection and purchase, planting expertise and developing a long-term maintenance plan.
As the forest of saplings grows, gradually putting its roots deeper and deeper, it will reduce sediment in the water by stabilizing the stream bank and filtering stormwater runoff. The trees also decrease the creek's overall temperature not only by providing shade, but also by slowing down stormwater that's headed for the creek. It's an integrated plan focusing on the long-term sustainability of the forest, stream and the wildlife that depend on these healthy habitats.
"I think it's a huge investment in the long-term value of this property," Tim White said. “These trees are going to protect this stream for years and years to come, and it's a tremendous example to my grandchildren as a commitment to the land."
The symbiotic relationships that occur when people from a variety of backgrounds come together are powerful. Just as our upstream efforts improve the water quality of the larger creek, river, and Bay downstream, they affect the community in ways that are sometimes hard to quantify. Riparian buffer plantings create opportunities for volunteers to connect not only with nature but also with like-minded individuals. Engaging in outreach opportunities, especially with youth, is a critical step toward developing long-term support for conservation.
"My 13-year-old son, Aiden, is a passionate angler with a desire to connect with and learn from mentors in our community," planting volunteer Cara Mattlin said. “As a result of our volunteer efforts, Aiden gained permission to fish on the property, received a fishing rod from another volunteer and became aware of Trout Unlimited's Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp. He got to see what it looks like to take care of the land and made some potentially life-changing connections."
As a local conservation partner within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Muddy Creek Trout Unlimited has mounted an aggressive campaign to impact the lives of young members of the community with its Trout in the Classroom program. The organization estimates that approximately 2,000 students from third-graders through high school seniors have learned about, cared for, raised or released trout over the last five years. Through the combined efforts of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, school teachers and the Trout Unlimited chapter, these students develop early connections with the watershed where they live, work and play.
Partnerships like this are a foundational element of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. From its very beginnings, the Alliance has been creating connections and uniting diverse audiences through common goals. Local organizations, volunteers, landowners and communities, as well as streams, rivers, the Bay and the wildlife that requires clean water to survive, all benefit from our collective approach to conservation.
As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we also celebrate the partnerships that have shaped us, assisted in our accomplishments and bolstered our momentum. It's with that energy that we leap into the next five decades of conservation. As a community, we have achieved so much, but there is much more to do — and no time for hesitation. We must continue to unite the 18 million individuals that call the Bay watershed home.
We encourage you to get involved. Much like the unforeseen opportunities that come from our partnerships, you never know what you may find waiting for you at your next community cleanup, tree planting or local meeting.
Visit allianceforthebay.org/stewardscorner to watch a video of the event, learn about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities, and find your local Trout Unlimited chapter.
Adam Miller is the communications director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.