ELN Expedition

Expedition Day 4 Finale: I Now Call the Chesapeake My Home…Do You?

By Peter Fargo

This is a great moment, I thought, as I joined 30 other voices in a glorious cheer: “Save the Bay!”

We had just finished running a half marathon to Point Lookout, MD. It was last leg of our triathlon journey of over 100 miles from DC to the Chesapeake Bay. After it all, we stood there on the beach where the Potomac meets the Chesapeake, beaming with accomplishment for the flash of our final team photo. Along the way, we experienced first-hand the environmental challenges and opportunities of this watershed.

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In our kayaks, we explored the wetland ecosystem of Piscataway Creek where we saw bald eagles and osprey. Unfortunately, when we reached the Potomac, we had to paddle through the smelly product of over-fertilization and sewer overflows. (Hint: There is more than algae floating on the surface of the Potomac River.) On the same day, at the Accokeek Foundation, we learned the benefits of sustainable farming and saw how “rain barrels” and “green roofs” enable us to capture and use rainwater instead of letting it overwhelm our sewer system.

Half-marathonOn our bikes, we passed Amish families in horse-drawn carriages as we rolled through southern Maryland’s picturesque farm country. We also struggled with heavy suburban traffic as our route traversed busy roads and towns. The president of the Mattawoman (Creek) Watershed Society explained that suburban sprawl threatens the watershed, yet smart growth can protect the environment and promote economic development.

Before our run to Point Lookout, we visited St. Mary’s College and enjoyed an outdoor course in the ecology and history of the St. Mary’s River with Prof. Robert Paul. We witnessed an oyster-bed restoration project led by the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association.

_2All of these experiences gave us plenty to think about during our 13-mile run to the Bay. It was a hot day, so it’s no surprise that we celebrated our Expedition victory by diving in!

Somehow, even at the height of the algae season, the yellowish-brown water felt cleaner that day—especially after our months of hard work. As volunteers, we organized an Earth Day exhibit, river clean-up projects, and discussions with Bay experts. To expand the conversation on environmentalism, we found multiple ways to engage the public, including face-to-face listening sessions, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Greenversations blog posts such as this one.

And this was just supposed to be a pilot project! It started with an idea that I helped develop: What if we combined leadership development, experiential learning, and multi-media communications with a cause-driven expedition? Thanks to the collective energy and expertise of EPA’s Emerging Leaders Network and Georgetown University Outdoor Education staff, this idea transformed into more than we could have imagined. We all helped to create something extraordinary this year that I hope will continue to grow in the future.

Hands-and-Faces.1With this Expedition, I can identify more than ever with the people and places of my Potomac and Chesapeake watersheds. Even though I grew up in the West, I can say without hesitation, this is my home too. This is my environment.

About the author: Peter Fargo serves as the special assistant to the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He graduated from Georgetown University where he was (and still is) involved in their Outdoor Education program. Peter can’t wait for the next expedition!

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Expedition Day 2: Peddling My Bike and Thinking of “Kweti Lenu”

By Tina Chen

The second day of the Expedition was our first day biking and we had a 40+ mile ride ahead of us. Our trusty guides and volunteers marked the route and setup checkpoints with water, snacks, and words of encouragement along the way. We cheered, “To the Bay!” and we were off.

ELN membersRiding through Charles and St. Mary’s counties, I was able to witness firsthand the beauty of the surrounding environment. I couldn’t help but think how the rolling landscapes we passed ultimately affect the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Impervious surfaces, such as paved parking lots, bring run-off water – and the pollutants it may carry – quickly to the bay without giving the land time to help clean it. Many agricultural operations also will result in industrial waste run-off into the Bay and impact its health. What is the model paradigm we must implement so that cities can thrive, farmers can produce and harvest, and water bodies are able to be protected and enjoyed by future generations?

Later that day we were joined at our campsite by Rico Newman with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the Piscataway Indian Tribe. He led an energetic discussion about the evolution of tribal rights and how the native peoples continue to advocate not only for their own rights and level of recognition by federal, state, and local governments but also for their historic fight to bring recognition to the plight of our natural resources; the land, the water, and the people. I really connected with his emphasis on how we need to think about the people and the environment in a holistic framework. Nature must be thought of as “one” and we must realize that cities, towns and states are just artificial boundaries. Solving environmental issues cannot be left to each party to resolve on their own, all parties must come together to tackle the issues at hand. He explained the Piscataway term “Kweti lenu” which means “one man or entity,” which he used to describe how the water is one body and cannot be divided.

Rico Newman speaking to ELN members

Rico Newman speaking to ELN members

The native peoples have always harbored a deep respect for nature, with reverence to the “life force” that exists in all human and non-human life in this world of ours. We are all interconnected and the health of one impacts and affects the health of all. In this modern world, we need to find space at the table for ideas that may be “old”, but nonetheless wise and legitimate.

About the author: Tina Chen works in the Office of Environmental Information and specializes in data exchange. She is a fan of the outdoors and an avid dragon boater. The Expedition culminated in her running her first, and hopefully not her last, half marathon!

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.