Registered: December 2014
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Environmentalism, community improvement, and public policy—three of my greatest passions—combined into one ambitious project to benefit my community. I initiated it in the context of my Eagle Scout Project, but because of my interests, the conservation activities I undertoook extended far beyond my Eagle Scout project. I worked with the county’s Stormwater Coalition campaign to inform the public about stormwater runoff. My goal was simple: give the community a clear example of why reducing runoff pollution is so important, and then explain how residents can make a difference. Given that I live in the Buckland Creek Watershed, which drains into Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York, I felt that my chosen topic was particularly beneficial to the area. Stormwater pollution from our watershed contributes to environmental and human health problems, exemplified by frequent closures of Lake Ontario beaches due to poor water quality.
I began by approaching the Stormwater Coalition’s leaders about building on their work, which included a grant-funded stream restoration, indigenous vegetation planting, and storm drain stenciling near my high school. My goal was to add to their tangible stormwater reduction efforts and educate the local community in the process. I focused on education because I figured that as a student, I might be able to attract more public attention than a government campaign. The Coalition leaders agreed, and in June 2014 I began contacting various town officials, including the town engineer, farmer’s market coordinator, high school principal and town supervisor to get approvals for my project. I collected information and educational materials from the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and Monroe County, as well as my own research.
My project began to take form as a public education campaign-- I designed an educational syllabus and farmer’s market booth using the materials I had collected I then recruited volunteers to help me run the booth at the market on Labor Day. The booth included a sample rain barrel, interactive watershed model, preserved benthic macro invertebrates, and watershed maps. I signed eight households up for free rain barrels through the Stormwater Coalition’s grant, almost a tenth of the project’s total reach. I estimate that the educational booth directly reached over 50 families.
To really give the community a concrete reminder to reduce runoff pollution, I decided to create a few physical reminders. First, I scouted the neighborhoods alongside the school for storm drains. My volunteers and I then glued official informational markers to the drains, covering around 15 in total. The markers serve to remind the public that the storm drains lead to Lake Ontario, and discourage them from dumping hazardous materials.
I extended these efforts in November, when I taught a local Brownie troop about stormwater runoff and helped the girls mark over twenty storm drains in another neighborhood. I also spearheaded the planting of a residential stream garden, designed to limit runoff into a nearby stream. Our group planted eight indigenous shrubs along the creek’s banks to slow soil erosion and to absorb greater amounts of rainwater and runoff.
My crowning effort lay in purging an existing stream planting of invasive species. This planting was situated directly next to my high school, and I’d worked on its initial planting three years ago. Between then and my project in 2014, dozens of invasive species had found their way into the indigenous planting. Over the course of several hours, I trained volunteers in invasive species identification and led them in removal of purple loosestrife, Phragmites, and other invasive plants. To organize the volunteers and make sure that the restoration was ecologically correct, I taught each volunteer to recognize and eliminate a different invasive species. Once the project was finished, the stream planting looked pure again—green and full of native species, a verdant example of conservation and runoff prevention.
To further my project’s impact, I contacted several reporters and got information published in the Democrat and Chronicle, Brighton-Pittsford Town Post, and both the high school newsletter and newspaper. This initiative was the greatest organizational and leadership challenge organization I’ve yet faced, but it remains one of the most personally satisfying endeavors I’ve completed.
The greatest challenge I faced lay in getting various government officials to work with me to help me accomplish my campaign. They were all fairly helpful, but the bureaucracy slowed my project significantly, so I focused on maximizing any time I spent meeting with them and minimizing the number of visits I had to make. I also struggled with finding volunteers to aid me with my project. Given that I had scheduled it for Labor Day weekend, it was difficult to find many available peers, though I managed to connect with classmates, friends, and fellow Scouts.
Additionally (and humorously), I found it difficult to manage the pack of seven-year-old Girl Scouts I was tasked with guiding while they marked storm drains. The easiest way to cope with their energy was to assign clear and varied tasks and rotate them between each as fairly as possible.
Through my project, I not only contributed to watershed restoration, but also I raised public awareness about stormwater runoff pollution, an environmental and health risk that affects both the community and Lake Ontario. Our runoff leads to contamination and algae blooms in the lake, which pose a public health and environmental risk. By raising awareness and education about reducing such pollution, I hope to see these risks reduced substantially as the issue becomes more visible in the community. The stream plantings, storm drain markers, and invasive species weeding should all serve as clear and tangible reminders of this commitment to eliminating runoff contamination. The markers, with their clear warnings and visible colors, should help deter anyone from dumping refuse down storm drains. Additionally, by clearing invasive species and allergens such as ragweed, the planting near the high school is now substantially cleaner and much safer for students come spring.
Conducting and completing this project gave me confidence that I can make a tangible difference in issues I care about. I learned from the experience of recruiting, training, and organizing volunteers, communicating with diverse community members – including children, homeowners, journalists, and politicians, and the hands-on aspect of applied ecology by planting and maintaining native streambed plantings to protect water quality. I look forward to applying my skills and interests in communication, education, policy, and ecology to other environmental protection efforts in the future.
END OF ESSAY
Post-project Interview with NWP:
What are your educational, career, and life goals?
I will be attending Williams College next year with an undecided major, though I will probably end up majoring in Political Economy or Environmental Science. My eventual hope would be to be able to influence policy (particularly environmental policy) at a high level. National or international policy would be my dream field; I feel that policy is the best way to work any sort of change in the world. Furthermore, I hope to get a student job in the local experimental forest (Hopkins' Forest) either as a steward or as an educator.
What do you think are the benefits of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative and how has your Apprentice Ecologist Project enriched your life?
I feel that the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative is important in that it both gives motivation for and recognition of stewardship projects across the world. Such projects are often carried out "behind the scenes" as it were, and so any exposure is incredibly important to ensure that these projects continue. My own project gave me a deeper understanding of the difficulty in implementing environmental policy and public service campaigns.
Why do you feel it is important to be an active steward of the environment now and in the future?
Our world is not inexhaustible; as members of the ecosystem and as those with the most power to destroy the environment, we bear the responsibility to protect it. Now and forever, it is our duty to ensure that future generations enjoy an equal or better natural world than we enjoy. I personally don't feel any sort of spiritual experience outside of nature, and I doubt that I am alone in this. We came from nature; it is only natural that we protect it.