VMNs Make a Difference at Pleasant Grove
Contributed by Walter Hussey, VMN-Rivanna Chapter
Pleasant Grove is a county park in Fluvanna County with 23 miles of trails on more than 800 acres, including 2.5 miles along undeveloped Rivanna riverfront. VMN volunteers in the Rivanna Chapter have been active in habitat restoration and education at the site.
VMN volunteers have assisted with the development of a new Nature Room at the Museum, working with partners to acquire the necessary permits for collecting and displaying wildlife artifacts. VMNs also have generated information for new trail maps on the natural habitats along the trails as well as wildlife, plants and flowers you may see. They have assisted in creating 70+ acres of wildlife meadow and planting 1200+ trees over the last three years. In addition, they installed and monitor 34 bluebird nest boxes. And, they have partnered with Fluvanna Master Gardeners on a new Butterfly Garden with over 500 native plants in 4 landscape designs as examples for home pollinator friendly native plant landscapes. In terms of education events, VMNs lead hikes and nature activities and an annual Earth Day field trip for first and second graders.
In addition to Walter Hussey, who has spearheaded many of these efforts, other Rivanna Chapter volunteers providing major contributions have included Ida Swenson, Jeff Divers, Pat Coldeway, and Deborah Anderson. A dozen or more additional volunteers from the chapter have assisted with one or more of the projects at the site.
Conservation Educator of the Year
Jody Ullmann, VMN-Tidewater Chapter, received the Garden Club of Virginia Conservation Educator of the Year Award for all of the many programs she has developed both in her work role as the Education Coordinator for Lynnhaven River NOW and in her volunteer role as a Virginia Master Naturalist volunteer in the Tidewater Chapter. Jody accepted the award at the 2017 Garden Club of Virginia Fall Symposium, where she gave a moving speech describing her programs and the many ways adults can inspire our next generation of natural resource stewards.
Three Recognitions for VMN-Fairfax Chapter Volunteers
2,500 Hour Achievement
Bob Dinse, VMN-Fairfax Chapter, completed 2,500 hours of volunteer service as a Virginia Master Naturalist.
Coaching Youth in Urban Sustainability Projects
VMN-Fairfax Chapter Training Chair Peter Mecca coached students at George Mason High School in Falls Church who received the 2017 Presidential Environmental Youth Award (US EPA). The George Mason High School (GMHS) Environmental Group, a group of 11 students in Northern Virginia, have worked for the past two years to implement two projects, with a focus on providing healthy, sustainable food sources that can be produced in an urban area. Interest in urban sustainability began after the students received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to work with soil scientists from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District on ways to reduce water runoff in urban areas. From this project, the GMHS Environmental Group became interested in other urban sustainable practices and received a “Super Grant” from the Falls Church Education Foundation to design and implement a hydroponics and aquaculture project at their high school and a local middle school.
Fairfax Chapter advisor Jim McGlone receives 2017 Environmental Excellence Award from Fairfax County
Jim McGlone's nomination featured a series of supporting testimonials from environmental professionals and volunteers, each of whom spoke to his passion, commitment and knowledge on trees and the environment, as well as his dedication to supporting and nurturing those whose efforts have strengthened tree preservation and planting, environmental stewardship and environmental education. His nomination describes him as "the consummate teacher always bringing a passionate enthusiasm for the environment and follow workers, or the countless non-profit efforts that go on around the county." The testimonials described: "Jim's tireless efforts to learn, to teach and to accomplish many outstanding projects and programs;" "his voracious appetite for knowledge;" his long-time dedication and contributions to the Envirothon natural resources competition for high school students; his assistance in organizing plant rescue events and in offering assistance in assessments of forest value; his partnerships with many county, state and nonprofit agencies and organizations; and his role in the establishment of Fairfax Master Naturalists.
He is described as a "tireless champion for the environment" with "passion and enthusiasm for changing how we interact with the environment . . . far beyond what most jobs entail." His nomination concludes: "Jim McGlone demonstrates a tireless commitment to environmental issues and is planting the seeds for the future everyday by teaching and inspiring others, which may be his greatest contribution of all."
VMN-Shenandoah Chapter Hosts a Successful VMN Statewide Conference
The Virginia Master Naturalist 2017 Statewide Conference and Volunteer Training took place in September at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal. Our Shenandoah Chapter served as the local hosts, assisting with program planning and many other aspects of the conference, which was our biggest ever, with approximately 250 attendees. They planned and organized special additions to the conference, including field journaling stations and an amazing assortment of handmade door prizes. In all, 45 members of the chapter supported the conference in some way. Members of the organizing committee and supporting committees were recognized at the chapter's annual picnic.
Marie Majarov - Marie did an amazing job of redesigning the photo contest process by converting it to a digital format. She received much praise for the effort. It will be used for future state contests as well as adopted by many of the chapters. She also ran our chapter photo contest this year.
Melanie Schneider - Melanie played a big role on our social committee especially in making sure the dining hall looked good for our meals. In particular she hand crafted 32 beautiful center pieces for the Saturday evening dinner as well as provided wild flower vases for all other meals.
Karl Dydak - Karl was our “Green Team” meaning he took care of all recycling, composting and hydration stations by designing the layouts and setting them up. This is a new position to the state conference this year. In addition Karl was always there and willing to help with any tasks. He really did a lot for the conference.
Sara Dydak - Sara stepped in to take over the role as the volunteer coordinator when we lost the person that had originally signed up for that role. Sara came on board late in August just when things were really heating up as we prepared for the conference and then over saw the volunteers during the conference itself. Not an easy job.
Laure Wallace, Margie Miller, Karen Fall, Kelly Macoy - The social committee had a great deal of the work required to prepare for and support the conference. This group was originally headed by Laure and Margie. It transitioned to Karen and Kelly during the summer and they headed up a working group we formed to ensure that all of the various tasks would be completed.
Susan Galbraith and Jo Riding - Susan and Jo were responsible for putting together what we called a ‘local interest’ display for the conference. This display was to inform attendees about interesting things to do in our area. The end result was quite spectacular and well put together.
Richard Stromberg - Richard was part of the group that oversaw the activities of our chapter as we prepared for the conference. This was called the Conference Organizing Committee and was made up of 7 of our members and the three individuals from the state office. Richard’s main task was to help to put together the conference program which in the end was very well received. He also led some field trips into Shenandoah National Park.
Alex Newhart - Alex Newhart served as the lead organizer for the chapter's contributions to the conference and on our program planning team. He was instrumental in contacting the chapter's partners to get them engaged in the conference, in recruiting volunteers, and in many other aspects!
By Nancy Heltman, Visitor Services Director, Virginia State Parks, Department of Conservation and Recreation
Virginia State Parks strives to keep much of its park land undeveloped, striving for a developed footprint of no more than 25%. Most parks are far less than that. We have always maintained woodlands and fields in their natural habitat. However, we have also historically made most of the developed areas in our parks look manicured; at the very least the areas along park roads and around facilities.
Realistically while many of our visitors enjoy the natural sections of the park, they primarily do that on trails and many more visitors do not venture much farther than those more manicured developed areas. So other than a pollinator or natural plant garden here or there, and a few wildlife viewing areas we created in the past, an average visitor might not get to view natural habitats close at hand.
We decided to make a change this year and a significant number of our parks began piloting “no mow zones.” The result: colorful wildflower fields, reduced soil erosion, habitat diversity to attract wildlife like small game and pollinators, and reduced staff time, equipment wear and tear, and gasoline/pollution involved in mowing operations.
Part of the program is to educate our visitors as to why we are making the change (as opposed to letting them assume the staff have just shirked their grass cutting work). Signs explaining the changes and the reasons behind the program have been posted along with smaller signs that indicate areas that are part of the no mow zones.
The signage also provides some “take home ideas” for our visitors so that they can broaden the habitats and improve environmental stewardship habits at home.
These “no mow areas” now provide increased wildlife viewing opportunities, the sounds of birds, photo ops and research opportunities.
Even our most rural Virginia Master Naturalist chapters have developed areas within their communities, and learning about ecosystem functions in urban and developed areas is as important as learning about ecosystems in more wild places. Here are three (of many) ways that you can learn more about urban forests, specifically. In a future newsletter issue, we will discuss ways that VMN volunteers can put that learning into action through volunteer service relating to urban forestry.
ONE: Attend the upcoming program, “Urban Forests for Your Health: How Trees Can Save Your Life", organized by Trees Virginia, Virginia’s Urban Forest Council. The purpose of this bi-annual conference is to present research relating to urban forests and human health. Speakers from the USDA Forest Service and other organizations will review the research on connections between nature contact and human health, how medical facilities are incorporating nature to improve patient outcomes, how localities are using city parks to address community challenges, and how to communicate the importance of green space to city officials and other people.
November 9, 2017, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
Algonkian Regional Park, 47001 Fairway Drive, Sterling, VA 20165
Registration and more information at http://treesvirginia.org/events. Registration closes November 3!
If you miss this event, watch for future urban forestry workshops and roundtables from Trees Virginia; there are several other learning opportunities throughout the year.
TWO: Review the Virginia Master Naturalist Urban and Developed Systems Ecology and Management curriculum materials. This collection of videos, readings, presentations, and activities was developed with funding from the Virginia Department of Forestry to give VMN trainees an understanding of how urbanization impacts natural resources and of the many actions we can take to help mitigate these impacts. Find these materials at http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org/urban-and-developed-systems.html.
THREE: Learn more about urban wood utilization. We talk a lot in our Virginia Master Naturalist curriculum about the importance of urban forests and the ecosystem services they provide. But, what happens to urban trees when they get sick and die? In many situations, it wouldn’t be practical to leave the tree in place. It might be in a place where it could cause property damage or block a road or sidewalk. Or, the urban tree might still be alive but need to be removed because of a new building or conflict with overhead powerlines. Possibly the property owner just does not want the tree there anymore for whatever reason. The wood from an urban tree removed under these circumstances could just be burned or turned into mulch. There are a lot of other possible uses for that wood, however! It could be made into much more valuable wood products, such as building lumber, furniture, or flooring. In some cases, the imperfections, such as knots, found in an urban tree may actually add value, as customers look for wood that has “character” for furniture and other artistic uses. The Virginia Urban Wood Group aims to provide improve the utilization of Virginia’s urban forest resources through education and enhanced marketing. Right now, there are few contractors poised to provide the necessary services (e.g., small-scale logging, portable sawmills) to make use of this wood in an economically advantageous way. The Virginia Urban Wood Group hopes to increase the number of service providers who can fill this niche, and to link them to marketing opportunities. Read more about this effort at http://treesvirginia.org/outreach/virginia-urban-wood-group.
We thank the Virginia Department of Forestry for funding we receive through an Urban and Community Forestry grant that helps us communicate urban forestry learning and service opportunities to our volunteers.
Today, we launched "Creating Exceptional Leadership for Natural Resource Conservation", a short-term crowdfunding campaign to benefit the Virginia Master Naturalist program, its chapters, and its volunteers. Give today and join our dedicated group of Virginia Master Naturalist program supporters.
The Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) program is a corps of 29 local chapters with more than 1,800 trained volunteers engaged in natural resource education, citizen science, and stewardship.
Essentially all our program activities at the local level are conducted by volunteers, from recruiting new participants and providing training to organizing service projects and tracking volunteer hours. The volunteer chapter leaders in each region of the state are the linchpins of the VMN program and are critical to the success achievement of our conservation mission.
Having these 300+ volunteer leaders run all local aspects of a large, statewide program such as ours is challenging. As our chapters grow and evolve, we find there is an increasing need to train and support those local leaders so that we have a strong supply of volunteers who are confident and prepared to take on the leadership roles. High-quality local leaders increase the overall impact of our chapters, so that they can recruit and retain more volunteers, accomplish more impactful service projects, and ultimately make more significant contributions to natural resource conservation in the Commonwealth.
The Impacts You Can Make With Your Gift
The purpose of our project is to provide training and resources to increase the capacity of our local volunteer leaders. We will hold four regional Leadership Days at which we will provide training on effective management of VMN chapters, strategies for decision-making and conflict resolution, and plans for creating and organizing impactful service projects. In addition, we will create online resources (e.g., webinars, manuals, templates) that our volunteer leaders, especially those new to their roles, will use.
In the short term, our project will increase volunteers’ willingness to take on and stay in leadership roles, and it will increase their efficacy in those roles. In the long term, our project will result in more robust Virginia Master Naturalist chapters that are better at recruiting, retaining, and managing volunteers and partnerships so that they have more positive impacts on Virginia’s woods, wildlife, and waters.
While we do receive monetary support from our agency partners, it does not cover all of our baseline budget. Philanthropy is critical for helping us sustain and grow the Virginia Master Naturalist program. Photo credits, left to right: Captain Debbie Ritter (VMN-Eastern Shore Chapter), Patty Maloney (VMN-Historic Rivers Chapter)