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.”


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.