outdoor activities

Student Intern Looks to Make a Big Difference at EPA This Summer

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these summer interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Our first blog is by Andrew Speckin, who is lending his skills in our Clean Water Program.

By Andrew Speckin

I’m moving into my junior year at the University of Kansas, pursuing a double major in accounting and information systems technology, which is simply a term to describe the use of analytics for business purposes. In today’s workplace, there is a new phenomenon called “Big Data.” It seems that every company or organization is using some form of Big Data, including EPA.

The Agency uses data in many areas: to compare water or air quality assessments from different time periods and regions, to spot trends in ever-changing river levels, to have a better understanding of the precursors that lead to flooding, to determine how temperature affects our ecosystem, and for countless other challenges.

There’s always room for improvement. Some of the projects I’m working on this summer involve updating and enhancing the data systems currently in place. Improving those systems will allow for better decision making and, in turn, better protection of our environment.

Working for EPA gives me the chance to help safeguard the environment in which I spent so much time growing up as a kid. Being outdoors started at an early age; my father signed me up for the Boy Scouts while I was in kindergarten. I stayed with the Scouts all the way up to my senior year of high school, and eventually was presented the Eagle Scout Award.

150731 - Speckin Bartle Camp Site

Andrew’s 10-day campsite at Bartle Scout Reservation

During those 12 years, I was able to partake in many diverse outdoor adventures here in the Heartland, such as spelunking in Missouri caves, canoeing down small Missouri Rivers, and participating in a 10-day summer camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. I also went white water rafting in Colorado. Going through Boy Scouts gave me a perspective on how truly complex our ecosystem is, and an understanding that the environment needs to be protected for the health of future generations.

One of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts was to leave the campground in a better condition than which I found it. If everyone followed that rule in the environment, EPA would have less work to do. Sadly, that is not the case. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m ready to get started, while hopefully making a difference in the fight to conserve our precious resources.

About the Author: Andrew Speckin is working as a Student Intern this summer at EPA Region 7. One of his main goals in life is to shoot under 100 on 18 holes of golf. Knowing Andrew, we’re sure he’ll achieve that goal, among many others in his life.

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.

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Experience history and nature on rail-trails

by Virginia Thompson

A view from the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.

A view from the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.

My husband is a huge fan of biking on rail-trails created by the conversion of unused railroad rights-of-way.  Within the past year alone, he has ridden on many trails in the Philadelphia suburbs, as well as throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.  On a recent trip, we rode on two rail-trails in southcentral Pennsylvania.

The Heritage Rail Trail County Park in York County, recently ranked by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as the top rail-trail in the U.S. for American history, carried President Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg for his famous address and also carried his funeral party to Springfield, Illinois, following his assassination.  The trail follows the South Branch of Codorus Creek, connecting the City of York and many small communities with beautifully restored train stations that now serve other purposes.  The trail, next to an active rail line, also continues across the Mason-Dixon line and connects with the Northern Central Rail Trail in Maryland.

The Safe Harbor Dam as seen from the Enola Low-Grade Trail

The Safe Harbor Dam as seen from the Enola Low-Grade Trail

Another trail we biked recently was in Lancaster County—the Enola Low-Grade Trail—which parallels the Susquehanna River as it approaches the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  One of the interesting facets of the trail is the juxtaposition of older and new forms of electric power.  On the cliffs above the trail are several large windmills, taking advantage of the height and open space to generate electricity.  Just below the windmills sits the Safe Harbor dam, reliably providing hydroelectric power since December 1931.  The fish congregating at the dam attract bald eagles, which can be seen flying above the dam. There’s nothing quite like experiencing history and nature by biking or hiking a rail-trail. At one stop on the trail, as I looked up at the windmills and down to the river and generating station, I felt small and insignificant in one respect, but also an important part of the natural balance.

Turning formerly used rail lines into biking and hiking trails is a great way to bring people closer to waterways in their regions. EPA’s Brownfields program has had a hand in converting unused rail lines, which often snake along picturesque rivers (our nation’s original highways), into prime recreational areas. The Harrison Township Mine Site in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania was assessed through a Brownfields grant, and is now part of the Rachel Carson trail, attracting area visitors as well as hiking and running events. Allegheny County is even acquiring additional land so that the Harrison Hills Park Mine Site will ultimately connect three trails – the Rachel Carson Trail, the Butler-Freeport Trail, and the Baker Trail.

Leave a comment below to let us know about rail-trails in your area.

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson works at EPA Region 3 and accompanies her husband on his rail-trail adventures as often as possible.

 

 

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.

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The Bottom Line: Why Permeable Pavements are Good for the Environment and Your Pocket

by Jeanna Henry

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

Are you looking for ways to reduce your environmental footprint, improve water quality, and save money?  If so, permeable pavements are a great way to green your community – and put some “green” back in your pockets.

We’ve blogged recently about the environmental benefits of permeable pavements, a green infrastructure alternative that can be used for stormwater management in urban areas.  Did you know this technology also provides a host of economic benefits?

Permeable pavements are one way take advantage of financial incentives from many state and local governments for reducing stormwater fees, and they can potentially help developers and property owners qualify for credits under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.

Local economies also benefit from the use of permeable pavements because they create “green” jobs. In addition, permeable pavements serve as both a paved surface and a stormwater management system, so they can reduce the need for conventional stormwater management practices such as piping, retention ponds and swales, resulting in overall cost savings.

Permeable paving is being used across the mid-Atlantic, in places like Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. But my favorite illustration of cost savings is out of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), which happens to also be one of five recent Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant recipients researching green infrastructure in Philadelphia.

This UNH case study compares the costs of conventional and low impact development (LID) stormwater management designs.  The LID design included the installation of two porous asphalt parking lots covering a total of 4.5 acres.  Although the paving costs for the porous asphalt drainage systems were estimated to cost an additional $884,000, the LID option provided significant cost savings for earthwork ($71,000) and stormwater management ($1,743,000). Total project cost savings were around $930,000, a 26% decrease in the overall cost for stormwater management.

The LID option doesn’t just save money, monitoring results from the case study show that porous asphalt systems are successfully treating stormwater to remove sediment and nutrients to protect local waterways, and meeting durability and permeability expectations for peak flow.

Interested in more on permeable pavements, like porous asphalt and pervious concrete? The National Ready Mix Concrete Association, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute have information on certified craftsmen, installers and technicians in your area as well as information on how to become certified in these green infrastructure techniques.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking or spending a day at the beach.

 

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.

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Fun on the Urban Waterfronts

by Virginia Thompson

Spruce Street Harbor Park. Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia,  PA                                 Photo credit: Matt Stanley/Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Just in time for summer fun and relaxation, the Delaware River in Philadelphia is again the setting for a unique riverside attraction.  Spruce Street Harbor Park, a pop-up park near the city’s historic area, reflects the attraction that rivers and water—even in an urban setting—hold for us.  The paradise-like park, in its second summer, boasts a somewhat tropical theme with hammocks, large board games, gourmet food, floating gardens with native plants, a planted meadow, and a boardwalk with even more attractions.  Visitors can hang over the river in suspended nets, dip toes in the fountains, rent kayaks and swan boats, or sail remote-controlled sailboats.  There will even be a giant “rubber” duck, weighing 11 tons and standing 6 stories high, as part of the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden festival, scheduled for late June.

That the park is such a popular attraction and respite for residents and visitors alike serves as a testament to the success of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).  The CWA established pollution control programs and water quality standards, and requires permits to discharge pollutants into rivers and streams.  Prior to the CWA, the Delaware River, like many urban rivers, failed to meet the Act’s goals of “fishable and swimmable.”  Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that the river is on the rebound.

Another popular urban park experience in Philadelphia is offered on the banks of the Schuylkill River, which now boasts a trail for thousands of walkers, bikers, and skaters.  The trail includes a segment leading from Center City to the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Water Works, even extending to Valley Forge National Historical Park and beyond.

The enthusiasm for these urban water-related recreational experiences demonstrates the value we all place on clean water.  Look for me hanging out in one of the Spruce Street Harbor Park hammocks!

 

About the Author:  Virginia Thompson has worked at EPA for nearly 29 years and enjoys gardening, swimming, and biking in her spare time.

 

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.

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Sustainable Weekend Activities: NYC

Check out our top eco-friendly weekend recommendations and feel free to share your own in the comments section.

Canstruction Design Competition: Twenty-five teams of architects, engineers, contractors and the students they mentor will compete to build enormous structures made entirely out of unopened cans of food, which are then on view to the public until they are dismantled and donated to City Harvest for distribution to those in need. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring a can of high quality food to the exhibition’s collection station to reach their goal of collecting over 50,000 pounds of non-perishable edibles. Saturday, February 9 and Sunday February 10, 10:00 a.m. –6:00 p.m.

Clothing and Textile Recycling:  Textiles can be dropped off weekly at eight select Greenmarkets: 97th Street, Union Square (Monday and Saturday only), Grand Army Plaza, Fort Greene, McCarren Park, Inwood, Tompkins Square and Jackson Heights.  Collections accept clean and dry clothing, paired shoes, bedding, linens, hats, handbags, belts, fabric scraps 36″ x 36″ or larger and other textiles. Click here for the full schedule of textile recycling stations.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Enjoy live music every Friday from 5:30 –7:30 p.m. Admission is always free.

Health & Race Walking in Central Park— Still looking to turn over a new leaf in 2013? Join other New Yorkers as you get fit and enjoy Central Park’s winter landscapes. Saturday, February 9, 9:30 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

Lunar New Year Firecracker Celebration: Join the Better Chinatown Society for the 14th Annual New Year firecracker ceremony and cultural festival at Sara Roosevelt Park this Sunday, February 10 at 11:00 a.m.

Rechargeable Battery and Cell Phone Recycling: Here at EPA, eCycling is one of our favorite topics. If you’re interested in diverting e-waste from landfills, check out GrowNYC’s collection boxes for rechargeable batteries and cell phones, stationed at Greenmarkets across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. For a complete list of hours and locations, click here.

Volunteer: Find volunteer opportunities in your area as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

ea as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

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.

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Eco-friendly Weekend Activities

Cross Central Park Promenade Tour – You will see many surprises: a hidden bench that tells time, miniature boats powered by the wind, a magnificent sculpture celebrating fresh water. These are just some of the sites on this east-to-west walk through the Park. Sunday, February 3, 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.

Family Art Project at Wave Hill: March Out The Mardi Gras! Join visiting native New Orleans artist and instructor Paul Deo to make a colorful parasol, hat, nature mask or funky bead necklace. Then join an imaginative indoor parade as we create the sights, colors and sounds of the Mardi Gras at the Ecology Building in Wave Hill. Sunday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. –1:00 p.m.

Fix Your Bike Workshop: Come learn how to fix bikes, do simple maintenance and tune-ups at the Time’s Up bike mechanic skill share. Sunday, February 3, 6:00 p.m.

NYC Audubon Winter EcoCruise: Step aboard the New York Water Taxi for a winter adventure in New York Harbor! Look for harbor seals on the rocky shores of Governors Island and the more remote Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Learn about the surprisingly diverse winter birds of New York City, including ducks, geese, loons, and sandpipers – many of which migrate south from the Arctic Circle. Dress warmly and bring your binoculars because there will be plenty to see! Departs Pier 17, South Street Seaport. Sunday, February 3, 2:00 –4:00 p.m.

The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter – Ready for summer? Stop by the American Museum of Natural History this weekend to frolic with 500 butterfly specimens in a balmy 80 degree vivarium. Saturday-Sunday, February 2-3, 10:00 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

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.

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Sea Farming Shellfish and Seaweed in Long Island Sound

Local students, through a program with Rocking the Boat a nonprofit community development organization, helping to set up the shellfish and seaweed raft off of Hunts Point in the Bronx.

By Mark Tedesco

The theory behind the martial art of Jiu Jitsu is to use an attacker’s force against him or herself.   What if the same theory can be applied to pollutants that degrade coastal water quality?  An innovative project just offshore of where the Bronx River empties into western Long Island Sound is doing just that.

Shellfish and seaweed suspension raft off the Bronx River

There on a raft anchored about 20 meters offshore, not far from the Hunts Point market, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Connecticut, and Purchase College are studying a pilot sea farm of shellfish and seaweed.  Students from the South Bronx community are maintaining the sea farm through involvement of Rocking the Boat, a nonprofit community development organization.  The seaweed and shellfish (ribbed mussels) grow by absorbing and filtering nutrients from the water.  When harvested, the nutrients they contain are taken out of the water.  As a result, sea farming of shellfish and seaweed could be a powerful tool in cleaning up nutrient-enriched waters.

While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for the growth of plants and animals, in excess they can overwhelm coastal waters, resulting in poor visibility, low oxygen levels, and loss of healthy wetlands and sea grasses. Through the Long Island Sound Study, EPA and the states of New York and Connecticut are taking action to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound by reducing the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound by 60 percent, mainly by upgrading wastewater treatment plants and controlling fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff. Enhancing sea farming of shellfish and seaweeds in Long Island Sound can complement nutrient control strategies as part of a comprehensive clean water strategy.  The pilot study is evaluating a range of potential markets for the harvest, from seafood for human consumption to agricultural feeds, from biofuels to pharmaceutical products.

The project has caught the interest of the CNN and the New York Times.  If successful, the expansion of sea farming of shellfish and seaweed can mean more jobs, cleaner water, and local quality products.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator,  in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

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.

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Sustainable Weekend Activities to Keep you Warm!

It may be cold, but there’s no need to hibernate! We’ve got suggestions to help you brave the temps while still staying sustainable and eco-friendly.

Animal Autographs – Head to Staten Island to learn how to identify Greenbelt inhabitants by their footprints. Walk and crafting geared to ages 4-8. Sunday, January 27,  1 p.m.

Eco-Crafting Competition – Teams will compete to create crafts out of discarded materials in this Iron Chef-style competition. Come out and cheer for your favorite up-cyclers! Friday, January 25, 6 p.m.

Family Art Project: Give a Winter Bird a Home – Learn how to make a birdhouse or feeder with recycled materials. Entrance is free at Wave Hill Gardens until noon on Saturday. January 26, 10 a.m.

Light Show at Winter Garden – Check out the opening weekend of the LED-light installation at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. Daily from sunset to 12 a.m.

Winter Jam – It’s time for the annual winter sports festival in Central Park! Get out and explore some of the winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, animal tracking and more. This year there is even a doggie snow zone! Saturday, January 26, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Woodlands Discovery in Central Park – Explore the North Woods with a Discovery Kit geared toward kids ages 8-12. Binoculars, a hand lens and flora/fauna guides provided help inspire woodland adventures in the wilds of Central Park. Friday-Sunday, January 25-27, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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.

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NYC Sustainable Weekend Recommendations

Greening the Apple’s weekend recommendations are back for 2013! Start the year off on a green foot with some of these activities!

Electronic Waste Recycling at Tekserve— The Lower East Side Ecology Center is bringing one of its 10th Annual “After the Holidays” E-waste Events to Tekserve in Chelsea to help you responsibly recycle  all of your unwanted or broken gadgets. Spread the word to your friends and neighbors! Saturday, January 19, 10:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m.

Emergency Preparedness Training in Prospect Park— Whether you are preparing for an extended journey through the woods or just want to be more prepared for any situation, an emergency preparedness program is perfect for you. Let the Urban Park Rangers help prepare you for the unexpected. Sunday, January 20, 1:00 p.m.

Health & Race Walking in Central Park— Still looking to turn over a new leaf in 2013? Join other New Yorkers as you get fit and enjoy Central Park’s winter landscapes. Saturday, January 19, 9:30 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

Ice Skating in Van Cortland Park— If you haven’t been to the ice rink in Van Cortland Park this winter, what are you waiting for? Saturdays, 12:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m., Sundays, 12:00 p.m.—8:00 p.m.

Tropical Paradise at the NY Botanical Gardens— Want to get out of the cold? Check out the Botanical Garden’s “Tropical Paradise,” featuring orange-yellow crotons, fuchsia bromeliads and more! You’ll feel like you’re on a tropical vacation without having to leave the City! Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00—6:00 p.m.

Winter Constellations and Stargazing— Winter’s long nights provide ample opportunity to stare into the sky and see stars.  Learn to recognize the constellations of winter, and then gaze into the night sky on the lawn in front of the Greenbelt Conservancy’s Nature Center to see which constellations you can find.  Registration required. Sunday, January 20, 5:30 p.m.

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.

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New York City, Then and Now

The Documerica Returns Traveling Exhibit is on display in New York City! You can view the exhibit in the lobby of 290 Broadway, New York, NY through January 18.

From January 22 – February 5 the exhibit will be with Rutgers University in the G.H. Cook Campus Center.

Documerica and New York City

We invite you to share scenes of New York today for State of the Environment. Or just simply reflect and enjoy this blast to the past. You can also match any Documerica scenes as they exist today to be a part of the Documerica Then and Now Challenge.

DOCUMERICA: Sustenance for the Inner Man at the Sheepshead Bay Annual Art Show 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

Three photographers contributed a great deal of images from this area, more of which we have highlighted below.

Arthur Tress
From the National Archives: “Arthur Tress’ photographs of the general New York Harbor area, including Staten Island, include some of the most startling images of unchecked pollution and environmental decay in and around urban areas during the early 1970s.” View his album on on Flickr

Wil Blanche
Wil Blanche’s DOCUMERICA assignment took him to New York City and Westchester County where he took pictures of landfills, water pollution and the rapidly changing Lower Manhattan skyline. Among his photographs are images of the newly completed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.” View his album on Flickr

Danny Lyon
While on assignment for DOCUMERICA, Danny Lyon captured striking images of inner city American life of the early 1970s, including neighborhoods in El Paso, Houston, Galveston, Chicago, and the boroughs of New York City.” View his album on Flickr

DOCUMERICA: Sheepshead Bay 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

DOCUMERICA: Garbage Is Covered by One Foot of Earth in Croton Landfill Operation along the Hudson River 08/1973 by Wil Blanche.

DOCUMERICA: Battery Park Waterfront, Lower Manhattan. Staten Island Ferry in Background 05/1973 by Wil Blanche.

DOCUMERICA: Parking Lot at Ferry Dock on Staten Island 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

*Re-posted from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project 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.

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