Truly Treemendous Tales from the Field

August 5th, 2013

By Elizabeth Rives, Bridging the Watershed Program Coordinator

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

“Look at that – that tree is tight!” exclaimed a bubbly six-grader from Accokeek Academy while walking to the site for a Bridging the Watershed field study. Fortunately, I’ve hung around enough tweeners and teenagers to know that tight, in teen-speak, means “stylish, cool, having everything together,” according to the web-based Urban Dictionary. The student was admiring the striking white silhouette of an American sycamore tree on the banks of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park at Great Falls Tavern.

At BTW we thrive on those “aha” moments when learning becomes relevant, or “tight,” to a student’s life. We’ve become accustomed to hearing such exclamations over a crayfish, or an especially large and menacing hellgrammite the students have netted in the creek. Sometimes the awe is even over chemistry when a water sample magically turns from dark blue to clear. But it’s not often about a tree. So for me, a devoted tree enthusiast and tree identification teacher, I couldn’t believe my ears when it was a tree that inspired that level of enthusiasm.

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

And then, to my delight, it happened again the next week at Prince William Forest Park — a park whose main claim to fame is 15,000 acres of trees. All those tree roots soak up pollutants from runoff before the water drains into Quantico Creek, making it one of the most pristine streams in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan region. For BTW students, that means a boundless diversity of insects to study. For one North Stafford High School AP Environmental Science student, however, it sparked an unsolicited and lengthy private discussion with me about non-native trees and their impact on the surrounding ecology! Now that was perhaps as thrilling an “aha” moment for me, the educator, as it was for the student.

Greenbelt Watershed Watchdogs; Faye Austin March 23, 2011 057

Central High School Teacher Faye Austin at Greenbelt Park

Four days later at BTW’s advanced teacher workshop on benthic macroinvertebrates I got my third tree “aha” in three weeks. This time it came from a teacher who, at the end of the workshop, suddenly remembered she knew me from a workshop on tree identification I led the previous summer at, where else?, Prince William Forest Park. To my surprise, amusement, and embarrassment, her face lit up as she shouted, “Oh, you’re the tree lady,” toward the end of my talk on field logistics. Okay, so maybe this one wasn’t so much about trees, but at least she had associated me with trees and remembered that she had taken a workshop to learn how to identify them.

If you’re wondering what my take away was from that flurry of tree “aha” moments, that’s easy: all good things come in trees, er threes.

Potomac Watershed Study Center Phase One Construction in its Infancy

July 26th, 2013

By Karen Miles, Land Use/Facilities Manager

PWSCgeothermalFor anyone not familiar with construction projects, the work going on in preparation for Phase One of the Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC) is mind boggling. When we go into any private or commercial building that is already built, all of the ‘invisible’ parts are taken for granted. These include all of the various underground pipes that carry drinking water, septic, electric lines, fire protection water lines, communications lines, storm water culverts and more.

I have never seen so many trenches and holes dug in such a small space! Not only are these underground lines necessary to any project, but these particular ones are different than nearly all that have been laid in the past. They are all a part of our Living Buildings Project that has the potential to actually improve the quality of the environment. If you are reading this blog post, you probably have read about our PWSC project on the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Website, so I won’t go into more detail.

The products that are used in an endeavor such as this must meet stringent guidelines and each item and its parts, plus the manufacturing process toxic impact, must be submitted to the International Living Futures Institute (ILFI) for approval prior to using it. This process is new to most architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors and government entities, so it can be tedious. As with any new and revolutionary concept, those who sign on in the beginning have to lay the groundwork for all those following in their footsteps.

Many of the building products contain toxins and/or were manufactured thousands of miles from the work site. Man’s footprint on the environment can be reduced drastically by using non-toxic materials that are manufactured within a tight radius of each project. Even the road building aggregates must be tested for conformance to this strict set of standards. The normally used piping that carries water from a water storage tank to the buildings in case of a fire contains ‘red-listed’ chemicals, so an alternative had to be found. High density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes replace the common poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) or metal lines. These pipe sections must be fused with a special piece of equipment that requires training prior to using it. Even the valves that are placed in the lines and things like screws in equipment must be submitted and approved. The concrete recipe that is commonly used for footings and walls contains a very small amount of formaldehyde which aids the curing process. Our concrete subcontractor has agreed to change to chemical content of the pour to conform to the ILFI standards.

This way of doing things is totally new to almost everyone now involved in our project, but as is with most new innovations or standards, will soon become the norm. We hope to be THE PROJECT in the DC metropolitan area and beyond that showcases what can be done when people aim for the moon and actually land on it, metaphorically!

Celebrating Watershed Heroes

July 10th, 2013

[Note: This week we are joining author Jennifer Chambers, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Blue Water Baltimore, in a blog tour to celebrate watershed heroes and the launch of Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle]

During Scout the Water Bottle’s journey in Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, written by the educator, Jennifer Chambers, he learns about all the ways in which litter negatively impacts our environment as well as how each individual can make a positive difference. With the mission to connect people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship, and advocacy, we at the Alice Ferguson Foundation hope to take the students, teachers, and community members we serve on a similar journey where awareness will lead to action to protect our environment.

TFS 3 We are able to serve the community through three core programs: Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, which provides outdoor-based experiences for appreciation,awareness, and lifelong stewardship of our natural environment for PreK – 8th grade students; the Bridging the Watershed program, which provides personally meaningful, educational experiences that connect high school students to their place in the natural world; and the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, which seeks to create a lasting reduction of litter in the Potomac Watershed.

photo 2Our Trash Free Schools Project bridges our three core programs as it works to educate and empower students, teachers, and staff to reduce their school’s waste footprint by providing education and resources. As part of the project, students and staff at K-12 schools are provided with the resources needed to investigate and take action on an environmental issue by implementing a strong waste reduction and litter prevention strategy. Get your school involved at

We have recently revitalized the website, guidebook, and resource center for the Trash Free Schools Project to make sure that we can share the most up to date resources and opportunities with our schools. The Resource Center is designed to serve as the hub for perspective and enrolled schools to find activities, lesson plans, how-to guides, and other tools to help them organize, educate, and take action on trash. It allows us share curriculum plans to teachers while also providing them with service learning opportunities to complement them.

high resolution book coverAs we continue to look for useful resources and tools for our schools, we are always excited when we find a creative way to teach about the harmful nature of litter in our watershed. Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle fits the bill by painting the story of the journey of a water bottle from a Maryland storm drain to the Atlantic Ocean, through clever storytelling and compelling pictures. The book also provides tips to reduce plastic usage as well as other resources for students and teachers who are driven to action. We are happy to spread the word about this great resource and hope like Scout the Water Bottle, readers of this book will go on a journey of discovery and take action to preserve our watershed.

Eye Opening Event

June 21st, 2013

By Karen Miles,  Land Use/ Facilities Manager

We are in the midst of a two-week teacher institute for elementary and middle school teachers from Prince George’s County Public Schools.  This is something that I look forward to each year.  I view our work with many of the participants as molding a lump of clay and beginning the process of turning it into something of great beauty!  We open the eyes of so many people to things that are always in their surroundings, but never saw them through a lens that could process what was around them.  Each day brings a new “aha experience”.

Below are some photos of this year’s institute thus far. We will be updating throughout the week so stay tuned!


















Photos by Bill Townsend, more photos coming soon…

Potomac Communities Work to Become Trash Free

June 20th, 2013

By Laura Chamberlin, Program Manager, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative

TFSPosterMakingTrash Free Community. Seems like an idyllic phrase, that might never be achieved, but in fact each day communities right here in the Potomac Watershed are working to achieve this goal. The efforts communities are taking to end litter are wide-ranging, but the common thread among the efforts is the use of small, creative steps to reach their goal.

Schools are the centers of many communities. With 17 Trash Free Schools there are quite a few success stories to share, such as the story of Walker Mill Elementary School, near Capital Heights, MD, where the school and community have really embraced the spirit of being trash free. Mayor Kito James has encouraged his town’s schools to partner with AFF, as well as look for ways to bring other community members into the effort. This school’s amazing Student Green Team (with over 50 members!) produced their own litter prevention posters, created field day activities using the trash from their lockers, and conducted schoolyard cleanup and beautification activities.  With this inspirational school in the lead, the other schools and the rest of the community will not be far behind.

Campaign Poaster At busstopNearby, in the Branch Avenue corridor of Prince George’s County, businesses are taking the lead for community improvement. Under an initiative led Branch Avenue in Bloom, there is a movement to create a business corridor that attracts people and supports the local economy. Part of this project includes partnership with AFF to cleanup up of vacant lots and trash hotspots. Sam’s Car Wash, one of the businesses in this corridor, has taken the extra step to display litter prevention banners on their property and provide a bus stop with a trash can, and have seen an immediate reduction in the litter in this area. Stretching their creativity, AFF worked with Sam’s Car Wash distribute reusable bags with litter facts to their customers, helping to reach people in their vehicles, a common place for littering to occur.

It is difficult to reach out to all the communities, schools, and businesses in the watershed, so when a community group from the other side of the river, Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA) in Woodbridge, Virginia, responded to a Call to Action for more Trash Free Communities we were excited to collaborate. Working with WPCCA, who has also brought in Keep Prince William Beautiful and the Prince William County Police, AFF has provided the organizations with the online toolkit and a starter set of posters, as well as conducted presentations and reached out to support from the local governmental agencies. Currently WPCCA is working to get a Litter Prevention PSA aired on the 7pm News Show on Radio Valida (920 AM), a Spanish radio station in Woodbridge.  Leveraging their local connections with AFF’s toolkit, WPCCA is well poised to create a Trash Free Community which will display materials, conduct litter prevention activities, and spark change.

Feeling inspired? Ready to move beyond cleanups? Please contact us at [email protected] to find out more about how your neighborhood or town can become a Trash Free Community.