Many of our Virginia Master Naturalist chapters are working to engage more diverse audiences in natural resource education and conservation. At the same time, our chapters are also looking to do impactful programs and projects that benefit their communities. Partnerships can help on both fronts, and this year, two VMN chapters partnered for the first time with the NAACP to make new things happen.
Black Birders Week is a grassroots event that started in 2020 and has since spread nationally with the aim of supporting Black individuals participating in naturalist activities and calling attention to Black birders in particular, as they have faced unique challenges when engaging in their hobby. The event first started in the wake of the incident experienced by Christian Cooper in Central Park. Black Birders Week 2022 included daily themes on social media, various online talks and panels, and many in-person bird walks and other events.
Both the VMN program and the Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO) encouraged their members to hold events for Black Birders Week this year. The Middle Peninsula Master Naturalist Chapter ran with that idea and teamed up the Gloucester NAACP Branch and the Middle Peninsula Bird Club to put on a birdwatching event at Beaverdam Park on Saturday, June 4, 2022. Three NAACP branches were represented amongst the participants: Gloucester, Mathews, and Middlesex. The groups saw 26 species of birds, with the highlights being an Orchard Oriole and a Prothonotary Warber.
Members of the VMN-Historic Southside Chapter had, for some years, recognized that retaining the rain water from the kayak shed roof in Windsor Castle Park (WCP) would be a good way to expose park visitors to the many environmental benefits storm water retention systems provide. While recognizing that retaining runoff from impervious surfaces is good in itself and may offer numerous educational outreach opportunities, the initial estimated cost of $800 outweighed our chapter’s will to adopt this project.
In 2021, the Isle of Wight (IOW) County NAACP assumed ownership of a community vegetable garden in WCP that happened to be located about 150 feet from the kayak shed. While the initial 2021 yield from the newly named “Prolific Place” was less than expected, lack of any nearby water source was identified as a real problem for producing consistently good vegetable yields.
VMN volunteer Henry McBurney proposed to our chapter’s board that we explore collaborating with the IOW NAACP to add the water retention system to the kayak shed in WCP. In addition to providing our chapter with educational opportunities, it would provide a water source for the IOW NAACP Prolific Place garden. With chapter board approval for splitting the estimated cost of $800 with the IOW NAACP, Chapter President Cindy Edwards and member Henry McBurney met with Ariane Williams of the IOW NAACP in December of 2021 to explore the possibilities of a collaborative effort. Our chapters outreach efforts ultimately produced a formal collaborative proposal to the Smithfield town council. Two excerpts from the proposal follow.
The “Storm Water Retention Project” is a collaborative project between the Virginia Master Naturalist Historic Southside Chapter and the IOW NAACP. The project entails installing rain guttering on both sides of the kayak shed. The guttering will funnel rain water to a set of five 50-gallon barrels contributed by the James River Association. The set of five barrels would be installed on a newly constructed 60" high platform under the roof overhang at the rear of the shed. The free-standing platform would be supported by two new concrete footers installed for this purpose. The support structure would be attached to the kayak shed for lateral support only. Piping connecting all five barrels would be led underground to the community garden terminating in a hose bib.
The benefits to the park and community are both utilitarian and educational. Upon completion, the project will provide a source of water that will be used by the IOW NAACP in maintaining the community vegetable garden in WCP. The installed stormwater retention system affords the VMN the opportunity to initiate educational outreach materials and interpretative signs, explaining the many benefits of interrupting the flow of storm (rain) water. The benefits of these actions, even on a small scale, have a positive effect on our local waterways Cypress Creek, the Pagan and James Rivers and ultimately our national treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.
On February 22, 2002, Ariana Williams from the IOW NAACP and Henry McBurney from the VMN made a joint oral presentation of this proposal to the Smithfield town council and answered numerous questions. Council member Wayne Hall queried them about if there was funding in place to cover the estimated $1,200 cost in the proposal. (The estimate included as part of the proposal was revised upward from the original $800 to $1,200 due to inflation and running underground piping the 150 feet to the Prolific Place garden.) Upon hearing their reply that there was only $800 set aside to date, council member Wayne Hall, promptly pledged $400 from his personal account. Council member Hall wanted to ensure there was sufficient funding in place before the project started. The Smithfield town council subsequently promptly approved this project application without any reservations.
The project was completed prior to June of this year coming just in time to provide a water source for the Prolific Place garden this year and came in a little under the advertised budget.
Without collaborating with the IOW NAACP on this project it is doubtful that it would ever have happened. But by keeping the educational benefits of this project in mind and recognizing the potential benefits of collaborating with another civic minded organization this project did come to fruition.
There remains work to do by our chapter in the area of educational outreach materials, developing interpretative signage and updating the Nature in Windsor Castle Park website. The IOW NAACP is proceeding with community outreach initiatives including developing a POSTER ART project involving high school students in Isle of Wight County. This POSTER ART project will highlight the community and ecological benefits of this project employing the visual arts.
One thing is certain, that from this collaboration new avenues of reaching out within our communities have developed and are evolving. Who knows what other collaborations and community initiatives may spring from this beginning?