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Delaware River Reflections

Paddlers’ reflections from the Delaware River Expedition

As a child pedaling my bike and fishing along the Cooper River with friends, we never ventured into the water. Over 40 percent of the flow of the Cooper was raw sewage.  However, since the Clean Water Act, and thanks to Camden County Board of Freeholders and Andy Kricun’s leadership at the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), all that has changed.

The Cooper River is now clean enough to safely paddle and play in.

Last Sunday, we paddled from Philadelphia to the heart of Camden. In the very center of the city we were in a “water garden” where we observed bald eagles, juvenile shad, herons, egrets and waterways lined with trees and marsh. It was an adventure that all of us in Camden should experience–and not just once, but often, and starting in childhood.

I dream that Camden’s youth will soon ride bikes to the waterways, paddle a kayak, swim and play, and experience something that is apart from the hustle and bustle of the city while still inside her embrace. Our children, communities, and environment will all be better when this happens.

As the future Mayor of Camden, I intend to make this dream a reality.

Frank Moran, president, Camden City Council 

 

Thank you to everyone who helped to organize the trip of a lifetime.  To share that experience with Camden County residents will be our priority going forward.  We must offer this unique opportunity to our young men and women, who would otherwise not know what extraordinary beauty sits in their backyard.  It is inspiring.

Jeffrey Nash, freeholder, Camden County

 

Thank you so much for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait until Camden families are able to experience the same serenity.

Felisha Reyes-Morton, Camden community leader

 

The perspective gained from viewing the Delaware River from its tidal (and industrial) mainstem is unlike anything I’ve seen before.  It was all there in front of us—from the biggest derelict power plant to the smallest juvenile river herring.

I got a sense of the river’s past and its present, its limitless opportunity for wildlife, habitat and water quality restoration.  It has had so many lives in the past and has played such a major role in our nation’s history, and yet its next chapter is just now being written. It’s my hope that we continue to connect Delaware watershed communities to their river.

I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in this trip. It provided an invaluable grounding for the work ahead.

Rachel Dawson, senior manager, Delaware River, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

 

The Delaware is the lifeblood of Philadelphia, and in the past was the avenue for transportation and trade. Today it is an even more crucial supplier of drinking water to millions.

Yet many who depend on it have never experienced this wondrous river at the end of their streets. It is still wild and it moves to the tune of nature–tide, wind, and water from vast forests upstream.

The river reaches out to connect with those who depend on it. Public access and active programming would be great strategies to make that happen.

Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

 

Unlike my rivers in the interior of Alaska, the Delaware and Cooper rivers have a long history as “working” waterways.  For hundreds of years people have been connected to the river by transportation, fisheries, energy, and industry effluent.   Although our watersheds are so different–there are only 0.3 people per square in the Delta Junction watershed in Alaska–the challenges to create and support public access are similar. The shared vision of connecting people to the vibrant verdant rivers doesn’t stop at political boundaries (and neither do the shad, egrets, and eagles that accompanied us on our paddle).

You don’t have to live on the edge of wilderness to appreciate the serenity of winding through wild rice wetlands of the upper freshwater tidal reaches, or to appreciate the paddling traditions of the Red Dragon Canoe Club, or to be awed by the tidal currents, or to feel the joy of counting fish flopping in a seine net. When I migrate back North, I will carry with me your inspiring energy to work toward connecting people to the water.

Judy Olson, Delta Trails Junction, Alaska

 

I’ve been trekking in various vessels on the Delaware River since 2000, and never before have I learned so much as I did this past Saturday!

Upstream Alliance organized a three-day odyssey for area leaders interested in stewardship of the Delaware River. They ranged from environmental educators and elected freeholders to the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the chair of the William Penn Foundation board of directors.

What we learned was impressive, too.

We dropped a net at the river’s edge as we launched from Beverly, New Jersey. We found dozens of wriggling fish, including the juveniles of the iconic shad.  They appeared energetic and ready for their long migration to the ocean, where they will live before traveling back to the Delaware to spawn.

The historic sites along the river as we paddled were amazing. I have previously studied many important sites along the river, but on this trip was introduced to the Red Dragon Canoe Club, one of the oldest boating clubs in the nation, and the oldest angling club, Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, perched overlooking the Delaware.   That quaint old board and batten structure built in 1732 was relocated in the mid-19th century due to the deteriorated water quality on the lower Schuylkill.

With a change in the weather intensified by a Canadian high-pressure system and tropical storm Maria, we had an intense day of paddling.  Winds were a steady 10 to 15 miles per hour with gusts. Seventeen miles of paddling on flat water (albeit with the help of the tide) is challenging in such conditions.

We managed nonetheless to make it on schedule to Palmyra Cove for lunch and a freshwater mussel identification exercise.  I have long heard about the value of mussels to water quality, but little did I realize that the tidal stretch of the Delaware has some of the richest mussel habitat in the watershed. Moreover, it appears to be growing. Though we found several species of native mussels, the most eye-opening discovery was that 80 percent of the shells we collected belonged to a non-native species, the Asiatic clam.  In fact, all I picked up were Asiatic invaders.

As we approached Center City, the scenery featured industrial artifacts, dominated by the former power plants at Port Richmond and Penn Treaty Park, as well as the Reading Railroad coal “gangway.” And the majestic bridges! As much as I love the Ben Franklin Bridge, I couldn’t help thinking the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge provides a cross-sectional view akin to an enormous cathedral knave.

It was a great day.  At the end, we shared words about what we saw. “Opportunity,” “majestic,” and “changing” were some of the words shared.

Patrick Starr, executive vice president, Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Click here to see pictures from the expedition

The Great Dog Paddle

By: Hans Christoffersen

Upstream Alliance was kind enough to stray from their normal clientele base to take our group of high school students on a paddle up the barrier islands of the Eastern Shore this past week. The barrier islands are an incredible part of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and over the course of the week, our appreciation for the ever-changing islands grew. Our excursion, The Great Dog Paddle, launched from Wise Point on Monday the 31st of July. There Captain Baugh, Erica Baugh, Tom Horton, Dave Harp, Lonnie Moore and Turney McKnight met our coalition of sophomores and seniors that are Chesapeake Bay Fellows at Norfolk Academy (whose mascot is bull dogs). After making introductions and sandwiches, our group set off. From Wise Point, our group stayed on or near Godwin, Cobb, Hog, Parramore, Cedar, and Metompkin Islands to finish at Chincoteague.

Although each island had many similarities, every location we stayed at distinguished itself in incredibly cool ways. For example, Cobb Island produced the first shark of the trip, a nice three to four-foot Sandbar. When waking up on the barge near Parramore Island, we found tracks of a coyote that visited our campsite in the night. Metompkin, near Gargathy Inlet, was the most challenging campsite, as the island almost hadn’t existed the night before as a result of the high tides near the full moon. These stories are only a handful of some of my favorite and most remarkable moments of the trip. The remaining tales and sightings throughout the journey made the trip of a lifetime.

Our focus on environmental issues was a strong undercurrent of the trip. With concern over rising sea levels and ocean acidification, we often discussed the consequences of such issues. When staying on Parramore, our group ventured to Wachapreague to visit the marine science center at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Many students and professors there were studying the ways in which various sea creatures react to factors such as sea level rise and warming waters. Our evening discussions went back and forth between science and experience, as Captain Baugh and Captain Lonnie Moore argued the two viewpoints. The visit to VIMS and discussions with our captains provided valuable insight into what can be done in the marine science world, as well as how different people view our changing environment.

A large take away from the trip regards future action. The issues facing the bay are complex, requiring tireless effort to make steps in the right direction. Personally, I find the history of the bay as well as environmental problems intriguing. Weighing the two challenged me in finding a way to overlap the two. When landing at Chincoteague, Chesapeake Bay Commission member and Pennsylvania State Representative Keith Gillespie shared his insight with us. He stressed the importance of listening and learning from the people in the watershed. This tactic helped him gain his elected position. There I see the overlap of history and environment. He handles both the people of the bay and ways they have made their livelihoods with the necessary changes to regulation in order to help the overall health of the bay. The knowledge Representative Gillespie shared was intriguing and thought provoking. I now anticipate the challenges we’ll have to face in the future.

Don and Erica Baugh’s passion for their work was apparent through the entire ninety-five miles of our trip. We learned much about our special watershed from the directors. Activities like clamming inside Cobb Island, cooking morning oatmeal in stunning scenery, and identifying the plethora of seabirds along the route excited our group. I cannot thank the two of them enough for creating the team and opportunity to embark on the Great Dog Paddle.

Check out pictures of the expedition.

Reflections from the Manhattan Circumnavigation

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Fourteen Upstream Alliance representatives joined the 158 paddlers on July 15, 2017 for the annual 30 mile Manhattan Circumnavigation #ManhattanCirc2017. Our congratulations and thanks to the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club for sponsoring such a well-planned and safe circumnavigation. A big thanks to the members of the Inwood Canoe Club, which shared every inch of their venerable institution with a crew of outsiders—and for embracing us as friends.

Reflections from the Circumnavigation

Don Baugh

The Manhattan Circumnavigation put an exclamation mark next to the Waterfront Alliance’s City of Water theme. There is no substitute for embracing a waterway than to experience it by being on it or in it. New York indeed is a city of water and by water. Now, thanks to the Waterfront Alliance, it is also a city for water.

Expeditions like this one create a visceral connection. You “own” the waterways by paddling and observing every inch. I am proud to say I now own the New York City waterways that previously were mere glimpses over guard rails. I’m even prouder knowing I own them with my new friends in New York.

I heart (symbol) New York’s remarkable waterways, its stalwart advocates for clean water, and our new comrades who connect people to them!

Genevieve Leet

Groggy clouds muffle the Hudson River valley. They hang so low that their bellies scrape against the spires of the George Washington Bridge. Beneath the span congregate sixty garishly colored kayaks. The rumble of morning bridge traffic is mixed with bird song and the gargle of radio chatter between the boats. The group has assembled to circumnavigate the entirety of Manhattan Island.

In contrast to the urban and industrial features the group expects to see several miles downstream, near the put-in the river valley is steeply banked in verdant greenery. That’s not to say there are no signs of people; there is, for instance, an orange easy chair positioned in the shrubbery by an industrious fisherman.

The Hudson is many things—a vista, a sewer, a shipping highway, and also a rebounding habitat for oysters and sturgeon. The pod of kayakers slides along under the bridge, chatting excitedly as the Hudson’s ebbing current slithers seaward. We’ve come to see it all.

Erica Baugh

While crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, I peered out of the van and looked down at the Hudson River. My only connection to the river was knowing about Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger heroically landing an airplane with 155 people on board there in 2009.

After circumnavigating Manhattan by kayak, I gained a whole new perspective and passion for the waterways around New York. Each paddle stroke around the island gave me an understanding of the land use, culture, history and importance of the area. This intimate adventure has gotten me to brainstorm ways to improve water quality, increase public access and increase conservation efforts on the waterways.

In less than 12 hours, I cultivated a love for New York waters. What if all New Yorkers had an experience like this?

Maggie McCann

My experience was a bit different from the circumnavigation paddlers. I had the opportunity to shadow Roland Lewis, President of the Waterfront Alliance, for the day.  I received an insider’s tour of City of Water Day via a whirlwind Manhattan zodiac cruise. The sheer number of people, places and things to take in as we jetted from one City of Water neighborhood event to the next was overwhelming and unforgettable. I left with a sense of inspiration that we can bring a similar event to the Delaware River and continue to raise awareness of our regional life source.

Nathan Boon

For just over a year back in 2007-2008, I would go out on a monthly research survey cruise along the very same route we paddled, grabbing water quality samples every few miles with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s water quality monitoring program as part of the research for a master’s thesis on water pollution.

That data clearly showed the fingerprint of 8.5 million New Yorkers. But despite all those toilet flushes, the billions of dollars invested in advanced waste-water treatment technology—thanks to the federal Clean Water Act—were reaping huge returns in the reduction of pollution. Even with the significant problems that remain, it’s amazing to witness New York City’s refusal to abandon her waterways.

The Manhattan Circumnavigation reminds us of just how tied New Yorkers are to their rivers. From the active ferry terminals to the unexpected riverside clubbing scene of La Marina where we put in, the waterfront remains a destination, and a valued resource.

Let us learn from New York’s example and restore our waterways, return to our waterways, and celebrate our waterways.

Jenny Kraft

Saturday’s paddle around Manhattan was a blast. The perfect timing of the tides by the coordinators allowed for a truly magical ride. We were jettisoned down the Hudson River, then slung around Battery Park and swooped up the East River before fighting through Hell Gate to get carried back up the Harlem River. Sure we paddled.  But we had the tides on our side, too.

We got to paddle down smooth water and through chaotic eddies, alongside bustling piers and hustling ferries. It was completely thrilling. Apart from the maritime magic we experienced, we got to witness the energy of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.  It was a great day spent celebrating our waterways.

Stuart Lehman

Seeing New York is always fascinating for me because it offers a glimpse of a more heavily populated future. The city is an amazing example of human potential in art, business, and technology.  Studying it from the water suggests how water quality in other parts of the country may respond to an ever-growing population.

Despite the beauty of the Hudson, the dramatic skyline, and the upwelling currents that carried us safely through Hell Gate, I couldn’t help thinking about the condition of the water. It was more green and gray than I expected; an occasional condom drifted by; and from time-to-time I noticed the sulfurous smell of mercaptans, a compound that accompanies even well-treated sewage. I knew that New York City’s water had substantially improved over the past 40 years, but I wondered if it and other heavily developed harbors could ever be substantially restored without retaining and using stormwater, which remains a major source of pollution.

It was a day to celebrate water in New York, and there were indeed thousands of people enjoying the wooded fringes along its rivers—cooking out, fishing, attending festivals, and strolling the waterfront trails. Still, there seemed to be only a small fraction of residents outside, given the number of apartments, condos, and townhouses we saw. It struck me that I had the privilege of time and money to play on the water and soak up its beauty. I was taken aback by the question of a gentleman in Queens who wondered if the beached kayaks at our lunch stop were for anyone to use. I cringed and said, “No, they are private.”

Dave Brown

Manhattan Island has been above the water for tens of thousands of years, and yet hardly a square foot is undisturbed by man.  And that’s not just true of what we can see.  The underground is riven by tunnels, pipe trenches, conduits, and the roots of skyscrapers tying into bedrock.

So, when I rounded a turn at the northern end of the island in Spuyten Duyvil and saw a rock cliff on my left, I paddled over to it.  It was shaded by vegetation growing out of its face, and trees and vines hanging down from its top.  The air was laden with the smell of moss and mold.  I thought to myself:  This, at least, is unchanged.  This is something the Dutch colonists might recognize.

But as I paddled on toward the turn into the Hudson River—New York City’s big water—it occurred to me I was wrong.  Or at least partly wrong.

I’d been paddling all day on rivers that were pretty much where they’d been in 1600.  The water was different from that which Lenape Indians, Dutch sailors, and English colonists had touched.  But its location, flow, and feel were the same (and so, undoubtedly, were some of its water molecules).  This was the permanent, changeless New York City.  I’d been paddling on it all day.

Bob Baugh

As we rounded the battery and were buffeted by the effects of humanity and the consequential sensory overload, I mused what the paddle would have been like before New York City.

NY before and after

 

Horsheshoe Crabs Wow Emerging Leader

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By James Hemphill

I visited Fox Island as part of a sixth grade field trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From that moment I was hooked on the Bay and estuary ecosystems of the east coast.  I met Don Baugh on a kayaking voyage to Cumberland Island.  I remember the anxious faces after we made landfall when we realized the latrine digging shovel was left at the last campsite.  Fortunately, I had my trusty foldable shovel and the trip was saved. I have led various environmental projects including oyster reef restoration, dumpster dives, and environmental advocacy.  I decided to pursue environmental science at Virginia Tech where I am a rising Junior.  I am also a midshipman in the U.S. Navy and look forward to my commission in two years.

On the recent Delaware Bay expedition, we witnessed the annual horseshoe crab spawning – a world class event.  This 450-million-year old ritual makes one feel out of place and time, realizing it was the horseshoe crabs who once owned the shoreline.

We began our journey on the Murderkill River, paddling through a vast expanse of meandering marshy creeks seemingly untouched by people.  Eventually we happened upon Bowers, Delaware, which seemed like an island of humanity surrounded by the elements. Several kayaks stopped to talk to the Captain and crew of the Maggie S. Myers, a 1893 Oyster Schooner.  This last-of-its-kind vessel is a living relic, keeping the pulse of the Delaware Bay’s coastal communities alive.  We only saw a few horseshoe crabs throughout the day, and we couldn’t foresee the scale of what was to take place that night.

With the setting of the sun and rise of the moon, the crabs marched to the beach in unfathomable abundance.  Only when one is reminded of the global travelers who have stopped here, including the migratory birds ruddy turnstone and red knot, does one understand the necessity of this abundance for the survival of species.  The seeming chaos was orchestrated all in a few hours, and by morning only the marks on the sand remained of this event. I left with an understanding of the critical necessity of this abundance for the existence of other species and the ecosystem of the Delaware Shore as a whole.

While these trips are organized to highlight nature, one gains wisdom and experience from other outdoorsmen and conservationists with broad expertise.  This is an opportunity for the old guardians of our environment to impart their experience on a younger generation, but also for the young environmentalist to share their ideas, commitment, and hope for a Bay where this event will continue for generations to come.

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Watershed Conservation Starts Upstream

By Keith Gillespie

As a lifelong admirer of the outdoors, it was a very short and quick decision to join Upstream Alliance for a three-day paddle on and off the Potomac River, in the Northern Neck of Virginia recently.

I chair the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Game and Fish Committee and am a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, having been appointed by the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Born in Delaware, close to the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, I was raised on a farm in southern Lancaster County, Pa. Currently, I have a small farm in York County, Pa., near the Susquehanna River, and a property on Chincoteague Island, in Virginia.  The love, passion and desire to sustain the natural environment is what drives me in my role as a policy maker and a user of our precious resources.

Don and Erica Baugh conducted a most informative excursion. We started the trip on Nomini Creek, where we were treated to panoramic views of the Potomac as well as sightings of osprey, shore birds and a water snake out for an early evening swim.

We camped on the farm of Tayloe and Helen Murphy. Tayloe is a former member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, and former chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. As we gathered around a beach bonfire after dinner, he spoke to us about his love of the bay and the work we must do to restore its health.

The next morning, we headed south toward the mouth of the river, observing among many other things the oyster-shell remnants of an ancient Native American encampment. That night, we stopped at the confluence of the Potomac and Yeocomico Creek, and after a great beachside dinner of rockfish again talked about the past and the future of the bay.

Knowing that we are born with one mouth and two ears, I am more of a listener than a talker. I was touched, and motivated, by the people I heard speak around the fire that evening. Young and old, male and female, novice or experienced on the water, their love and commitment to save this jewel was palpable. The time spent with these 27 people only reinforced my resolve to do whatever I can to help reach our shared goals.

A young otter swam past us the next morning as we broke camp before paddling up the Yeocomico to the take-out. As we packed for home, I felt a mix of emotions. I was thankful for this experience, sad it was over, and grateful for the work of many to help “save the bay.”

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By Christine Goldbeck

I had looked forward to the Upstream Alliance expedition on the Potomac as three days to do what I love to do – be on the water, paddling. I got that, and so much more. I made 27 new friends, who, like me, are committed to restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

But first, a bit about who I am and what I do. I’m a blend of city and country. By day, I work in urban policy as executive director of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Urban Affairs Committee, on the Republican side. My other full-time career is as a painter and photographer, specializing in landscapes, especially waterscapes.

A former journalist, I once canoed the Mahanoy Creek in Northeast Pennsylvania. It flows into the Susquehanna River, the biggest tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. At the time, the Mahanoy was a waterway polluted by acid mine drainage, raw sewage and illegal dumping. I paddled in orange water contaminated by human waste while dodging old washing machines. The trip opened my eyes not just to the depredation of one creek, but to the larger threat to the Susquehanna and the Chesapeake. The article I wrote helped lead to the restoration of the Mahanoy, and cemented a commitment, undiminished a quarter-century later, to do whatever I could to help this watershed.

On the three-day trip with Upstream Alliance I mostly wanted to see the birdlife, smell the salt air, and hear the sound of my paddle breaking water. It had been a long winter. I hadn’t paddled since the fall, and looked forward to watching eagles fly overhead as last season’s grasses danced in the breeze along the riverbank. I got what I came for (and a workout to boot). But the big win was the people on the trip. They were folks of awesome pedigree—the U.S. Navy, NOAA, state government, research laboratories—and together they possessed all manner of historical and contemporary knowledge of the bay. It was a pleasure to be in the company of so many people working to make these waters better.

We listened to Tayloe Murphy talk about the oyster industry of his youth—he grew up on the farm where he now lives—and its demise during his lifetime. Yet, hearing him and other members of our group talk about recent improvements in the bay’s health made me feel hopeful.

Don Baugh, the leader of the trip, spoke about Upstream Alliance’s recent outing in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, a neighborhood battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and threatened by sea-level rise. I spoke of my work with the Washington-based Center for Community Progress and Pennsylvania’s 2012 Land Bank Act—both dedicated to repurposing vacant and blighted urban property.

It was clear that whether we lived and worked in cities or in rural places, we were all connected. Pollute the land, you pollute the water. Pollute the water, you pollute the land. We must be good stewards of our environments, both natural and manmade, for the degradation of one will lead to the degradation of the other.

Whether painting, writing legislation, or sitting with other people around a campfire on a beach, I am one of many people—and I hope many more to come—who see how vital it is to build resilient places and spaces.

On our paddling journey, we saw eagles and egrets. We awoke to spectacular sunrises and the chatter of osprey. The river was clear enough to see a Northern water snake paddling and jellyfish swimming. We, like they, are each cogs on the vast wheel that turns our world.

Exploring an Urban Waterway

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By: Mikaila Altenbern

Nature is often thought of as something that must be sought away from human civilization. Often the two are conceptualized as separate and opposing forces. The April 21 through 23, 2017, Upstream Alliance kayak trip belied that understanding.

Paddling the Delaware River and several of its tributaries, Big Timber Creek, Pennsauken Creek, and the Cooper River, the group traversed a liminal space. In this area where nature and cities meet, we realized that while the specifics may change, similar challenges are shared by waterways and cities from the Hudson to the Chesapeake. In particular, issues of access, use, preservation and restoration were raised as key concerns along the East Coast.

The Delaware is a wonderful example of the success of the environmental movement in the United States, and particularly the Earth Day Movement and the Clean Water Act. Over the course of a three-day, 31-mile kayak trip, we navigated waterways which as recently as the mid-1990s ran thick with effluent dumped from wastewater treatment plants. In the 20-plus years since Camden County, New Jersey, closed some 50 wastewater treatment plants and replaced them with a single state-of-the-art facility, the water quality has improved dramatically, making the river safe for recreation and allowing local wildlife to return and recover.

Lead by Upstream Alliance’s Genevieve Leet, the group conducted an informal survey of one such recovering population: freshwater mussels. The group identified several species of mussels by their shells. Although many native mussel species remain imperiled, their fragile resilience is a reminder that these American rivers were once the richest in the world. And despite the decimation, that past is not yet lost.

The trip was co-hosted by the Independence Seaport Museum. John Brady, the CEO of the museum, memorably arranged for the kayakers to stay both nights on the historic naval vessel USS Olympia.

Aboard the Olympia Saturday evening, Upstream Alliance hosted an Earth Day gala. The event culminated in a beer tasting lead by Gary Burlingame, the director of the Bureau of Laboratory Services at the City of Philadelphia’s water department. Aside from knowing an impressive amount about the tasting notes of beer, Burlingame used the platform to discuss the importance of water quality in the production of beer. It was a fun illustration of the important relationship that people and cities have with water! Although regional rivalry may or may not have contributed to the findings of the tasting, there was no disagreement that water quality affects beer quality.

The trip was a fitting marker of Earth Day: the simple act of being on the water, a vindication of the rehabilitation of American waterways. At the same time, the group bore witness to how much remains to be done, and how much cities can gain from embracing their natural spaces.

School Superintendents Take Learning Outside

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On March 2, 2017, 93 education leaders embarked on an investigation of climate change through a boat excursion into a bayou south of New Orleans and a tour of the city’s hurricane-ravaged Lower 9th Ward.

The one-day explorers were among the hundreds of school superintendents gathered in New Orleans for the three-day annual conference of the American Association of School Administrators. During their first day, 93 of these leaders representing 25 states and Canada, joined the Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC) for a one hour conference session and four-hour field trip that examined environmental education through the lens of the southern Louisiana ecosystem.

The collaborative encourages superintendents to include environmental education in their districts’ curricula, and helps show them how they can do so. The superintendents immersed themselves in the bayou’s ecosystem, observing alligators, eating freshly shucked oysters, holding crawfish, and casting nets into the shallow grasses. As they looked and worked, they talked about how cross-cutting themes and issues from the excursion might translate to the ecosystems of their school districts and states. Sarah Bodor from the North American Association for Environmental Education was hopeful that superintendents may travel home to their own communities to “engage students in thinking about those issues and finding creative and innovative solutions to those problems.”

While studying the interrelationships between humans and nature in coastal Louisiana, the superintendents were able to see effects of sea level rise on Bayou Segnette and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Three U.S. National Park Service scientists who joined the expedition explained that management of the river and coast has prevented sediment from replenishing the low-lying land. “We are removing all the resources that the river brings,” said Julie Whitbeck, a park service ecologist. Also joining the group were Arthur Johnson and Happy Johnson from the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, a local nonprofit. They interpreted the beleaguered landscape as we traveled down barren streets lined with boarded up houses, graffiti and foundations where houses once stood.  We also saw pockets of rebuilding, such as those funded by Brad Pitt, that featured sustainable design and construction on pilings.

Many states and school districts have Environmental Literacy Plans (ELPs) that help guide environmental education. The plans from California and Maryland were showcased at SEEC’s one hour conference session hosted by Superintendent Anne Campbell from San Mateo County, CA and Dr. Kevin Maxwell from Prince George’s County Public Schools, MD. While discussing Maryland’s ELP and graduation requirement, Dr. Maxwell talked about his hope for the future. “We hope that our children will graduate aware of the needs of the environment and . . . will be equipped with the knowledge that allows them to tackle these problems,” he said.

Kathy McGlauflin, director of Project Learning Tree, which provides environmental curriculum and training, was hopeful the outing had delivered a message. “It was a great day for the school superintendents to see how they can get their own schools, teachers and students out exploring the world around them,” she said. Don Baugh, president of Upstream Alliance, which organized the trip, agreed. “We have the potential to make a big impact in school systems. We have a responsibility to help the next generation,” he said.

Watch a video about SEEC and the excursion in New Orleans.

Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative hosts climate change events

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On March 2, 2017, Upstream Alliance is leading a team that will take 90 school superintendents on a boat trip through a Louisiana bayou and a bus tour through the Lower 9th Ward. The excursion will use climate change in New Orleans as a “teachable moment.”

The four-hour field trip will follow a one-hour briefing session on the opportunities for superintendents to partner with environmental education organizations to strengthen their curriculums. The events are part of the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference and are sponsored by the Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC).

“This is a historic opportunity to facilitate an ongoing conversation between superintendents and environmental partners and to leverage ESSA funding to help environmental literacy efforts,” said Dr. Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer (CEO) of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in Maryland.

Designed to further the ongoing conversation between superintendents and partners from environmental organizations, the morning session will explore how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) can be used to expand environmental education and environmental literacy. We will encourage school administrators to create real-world learning experiences that bolster Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning, civic engagement, and prepare students for the opportunities of the 21st century workforce.

“This is innovative and unprecedented – to have funding and cooperation among superintendents across the nation,” said Don Baugh, president of Upstream Alliance.

On the boat trip and bus tour, we will discuss disappearing local ecosystems and the need for education on environmental issues. On the bayou, the superintendents will “jug-line” for catfish, set crab pots, cast nets, look for alligators, and step onto the marsh under the tutelage of local boat captains and National Park Service interpreters.  This world-class ecosystem is in peril due to climate change and is an ideal canvas on which to illustrate the need for environmental education. Several superintendents and educators will present their own experience in turning environmental challenges into employment opportunities in the 21st century.

The Collaborative is co-chaired by Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and Anne Campbell, superintendent of San Mateo County Schools in California. This effort is supported by Upstream Alliance, North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and Project Learning Tree.

Spring Kayak Expeditions

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I think we can all agree there is no better time for those interested in the future of our environment to get back to basics to celebrate our natural environment while collaborating on ways to keep our progress intact. Upstream Alliance is hosting three paddling trips this Spring. Join us!

April 21-23, Delaware River, Theme:  Celebrating the Clean Water Act on Earth Day Weekend

This year’s Delaware River trip will celebrate the waterways in and around Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.  These waterways that were worshiped for over 5,000 years by the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans, and then became toxic sewage nightmares, have returned to some of their former glory thanks to the Clean Water Act.   This trip is co-hosted with the Independence Seaport Museum, where we will stay both nights on the historic Olympia. Friday, we put in near the headwaters of Big Timber Creek, whose watershed drains much of Camden County, paddling 11.5 miles to the Delaware River, and another 5 miles upriver to Olympia in the heart of “Old City” Philadelphia.  Saturday, we paddle up the Delaware River and Pennsauken Creek to its headwaters, and back to Olympia, for an 18 mile round trip.  On Sunday, we paddle up the Delaware River to the Cooper River, through the heart of Camden City for a 5.5 mile trip.  Total paddling distance is 31 miles, but with a tide assist, it will feel like 20.

May 5-7, Potomac River, Theme:  Political Leadership, Looking Back and Forward

This trip is in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Commission and hosted by Tayloe Murphy, the longtime environmental leader and political champion for the Chesapeake Bay.  We are inviting policy makers to join the expedition in hopes the experience and discussions can reinforce the political calculus needed for the Bay.  We will camp Friday on Tayloe and Helen Murphy’s farm, with expansive views on the Potomac, appropriate as we look forward to what’s needed, and on Saturday at the mouth of the Yeocomico River, another magic riverfront location.   Friday, we start in the afternoon, paddle 6 miles from Nomini Creek to the Potomac and to the Murphy’s farm.  Saturday, we paddle 15 miles to the Yeocomico River.  Sunday, we paddle 3.5 miles up the Yeocomico River to the Kinsale Museum for the Take Out.  Each night there will be bonfire discussions co-led by Tayloe Murphy and Ann Swanson, Director of the Commission.

June 9-11, Delaware Bay, Theme:  Horseshoe Crabs

This is the expected climax of the horseshoe crab migration and spawn in Delaware Bay, the East Coast’s epicenter, and the trigger to a massive shorebird migration.  This is a world class phenomenon, and if you have not witnessed it, you must.  Friday, we will paddle down the Murderkill River, a narrow marshy creek, 9.5 miles to South Bowers Beach for camping.  Day Two is paddling 13 miles along the Delaware River shoreline to Slaughter Beach. Day Three is paddling 5 miles to the mouth of the Misspillion River, and take out.  Delaware Bay is not paddle friendly when windy, so we will adjust the itinerary as needed.  We are delighted to have a backup beach cottage on Slaughter Beach, in the event mosquitoes, no see ums or flies mandate us to spend the night indoors. Expect to paddle up to 28 miles.

These are not Olympic expeditions.  We adjust the schedule and pace to the group. No prior experience is required.  We can provide kayaks and camping gear if needed. All you need is a thirst for expedition, an interest to be with like-minded educators, advocates, writers, scientists, and artists, and a willingness to consider being part of a network to work towards a healthy environment for the next generation.

Interested? Contact: Erica Baugh, Program Director, Upstream Alliance, Erica@upstreamalliance.org

Environmental Education Webinar

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Education leaders hosted a webinar on October 27, 2016 to discuss strategies to fully leverage the opportunity for advancing environmental education initiatives in school systems. During the webinar, Congressman Sarbanes noted that this 10 year effort is now coming to fruition and is an enormous opportunity for schools districts and the EE community to work in partnership, preparing the next generation for the 21st century’s challenges and opportunities related to our environment. You can watch the webinar, hosted by the newly minted Superintendent’s EE Collaborative, and presented by:

  • Kevin Maxwell, CEO, Prince George’s County Public schools, MD
  • John Sarbanes, Congressman
  • Monique Chism, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs, U.S. Department of Education
  • Anne Campbell, Superintendent, San Mateo County Public Schools, CA
  • Kathy McGlauflin, Director, Project Learning Tree
  • Sarah Bodor, Director of Policy and Affiliate Relations, North American Association for Environmental Education
  • Don Baugh, President, Upstream Alliance
Here is the short version:
  • President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015, which included key provisions from the No Child Left Inside Act, providing US Department of Education funding for environmental education
  • Congress is acting on a Continuing Resolution until December 8th.  When a new budget is finalized, we will know the final funding for the two grant programs that include environmental education. 
  • US Department of Education released their guidance language on October 21, 2016 that is favorable for environmental education.
  • States will distribute 95% of the ESSA funding to school districts, based on their plans submitted to the US Department of Education.  EE advocates are encouraged to work at the state level to ensure EE is a priority in these plans.
  • School districts will be eligible for this funding by a competitive grant process or by formula funding.
  • EE partners are ready, willing and able to assist.  Partnerships are a requirement of ESSA.