Expedition Day 1: Paddle, Listen, Learn

By Robert Courtnage

ELN Members with kayaks

ELN Members with kayaks

A 4:30 AM wake-up is rough. But on the first day of our 4-day Chesapeake Bay Expedition, it didn’t feel so bad as the excitement had me extra motivated to be up and ready to go. Eighteen dedicated EPA Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) athletes trained for months to physically prepare, while ELN volunteers and Georgetown University Outdoor Education guides spent months planning logistics and outreach activities. As we stood on the dock in Ft. Washington, MD getting ready for the first leg of the journey, the calm water and sunrise rendered the scene breathtaking. An osprey let out its distinctive call and drifted overhead as folks readied their kayaks.

As a volunteer for our 4-Day Expedition, I helped setup listening sessions with local Bay experts and the public, and keep our athletes safe, well fed, and in good spirits. Judy Lathrop with Atlantic Kayaks led and educated the Team down a beautiful stretch of the Potomac, just south of Colonial Farm, MD. After helping to fix a flat tire on the kayak trailer, I shuttled the athletes back to our campsite to hear from members of the Accokeek Foundation, Mattawoman Watershed Society, and the public.

I always try to buy organic, locally grown foods, so I was really excited for the first part of the listening session which featured a tour of Accokeek’s Ecosystem Farm. The team learned about community-supported-agriculture operations and its benefits to our health, the environment, and the community.

ELN members listening to presentation

ELN members listening to presentation

Next we listened to a presentation by Jim Long, President of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, and his passion for the Mattawoman Creek, a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. Our session was open to the public and we were joined by a young family concerned about the role of government in protecting the Bay. I gained a lot from this form of public engagement as it’s a great way for the Agency to actively connect with people knowledgeable about the problems facing their community.

It felt great to be a part of the Expedition and its three purposes: the outdoor athletic challenge, fellowship among EPA employees, and a unique opportunity for our emerging leaders to meet with folks challenged with environmental issues at the local level.

About the author: Robert Courtnage works for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention on toxics issues including asbestos management in buildings and the phase-out of mercury in products. Robert loves fly-fishing and helping to increase awareness about the need to improve the declined health of the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that feed it.

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