Along the River Walk

IMG_1096(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

River walks and parks along rivers are nothing new, especially in urban areas. As conservation and environmental protection have become more of a focus in recent years, these areas along the banks of a river have also become more important. They are an essential part of protecting the river, its flora and fauna, its water and its fragile ecosystem. River walks are also great places for educating the public about all of those things. This story out of Point Huron, in Michigan, demonstrates a few ways in which volunteers do just that. They are using the river walk as a resource to educate and inform the public about the St. Clair River and the river’s water quality.

The River Ramble was organized by the YMCA of the Blue Water Area and led by a staffer from the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

Tree-mendous Volunteer Work

Up a Tree(photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

It’s not every day that a volunteer organization is honored with…well…a day. That is, a day in their honor, set aside just for them, to recognize all of their hard work. In Miami, the City Commission did just that, honoring TREEmendous Miami by proclaiming it to be “TREEmendous Miami Day.” The group certainly deserves the recognition, having planted more than 25,000 trees over 16 years, with only volunteers doing the work.  Their long term success and dedication to their mission (“we are volunteers united to build community pride by planting, promoting and preserving trees in Miami-Dade County”) is an inspiration and a model for any similar organization.

Visit TREEmendous’ website for more information.

One Volunteer’s Inspiring Story

P1000395(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Many volunteer stories feature groups of volunteers working together for a common goal. Some stories focus on just one volunteer who leads the way, inspiring others with his or her actions. This article out of Virginia profiles one such volunteer. Diana O’Connor’s story is filled with her many years of wildlife care and rehabilitation. At the age of 70, and with a physical condition that limits what she can do, she is still rehabbing and saving wildlife as much as she possibly can. She even has a business card that describes her as simply “a volunteer for wildlife,” which is a pretty great job title to have.

O’Connor does much of her work with Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation.

Volunteering For the Summer

Rocks in Still Water(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Here in New England, there are many areas where the population swells in the summer. On Cape Cod, the coast of Maine and down in southern Rhode Island, many people arrive in the late spring and stay just until the weather gets cold enough to motivate the return trip south. This great story out of National Elk Refuge in Wyoming introduces us to some people who don’t spend their summers at the beach house enjoying the warm weather, sand and surf. They choose to jump in their RV and head to a National Wildlife Refuge to spend the summer working as volunteers. At many refuges, there aren’t many paid, full-time staffers and these summer volunteers make a huge difference, performing essential tasks all season long. Monitoring wildlife, protecting habitat, leading tours and providing visitors with educational classes or demonstrations are just a few of the jobs filled by these summertime environmental heroes.

More information here on National Elk Refuge. While the story focuses on that refuge, many volunteers spend the summer at other refuges in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Volunteers as Both Stewards and Educators

Underwater Leaves(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Many hats are worn by environmental volunteers. For a large number of them, maybe most of them, they must wear those varied hats while working for just one organization or at only one location. They  might help out in the office one day, lead tours or give classes another day, help with mailings another day and assist with cleanup projects on another. At Sonoma State University, community volunteers lead some of the educational and land stewardship efforts at the university-owned Fairfield Osborn Perserve. While the preserve is used only for research and education, it’s not open for public recreation, volunteers have an active role including acting as naturalists, classroom presenters and trail crew members, according to a university’s website.

More information here on the Fairfield Osborn Perserve.

Raising Weevils

IMG_0203(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

When I was interviewing volunteers for my book, I spoke to a mother and daughter who were volunteer “beetle ranchers.” They were working with Neponset River Watershed Association to help raise beetles which, when released, would help reduce or eliminate Purple loosestrife in areas along the Neponset River. In this great story from the Shreveport Times, volunteers are part of a similar process down south. Salvinia weevils are being raised in a recently completed greenhouse, one which volunteers helped to construct. The volunteers will also be helping to raise the weevils so that “as many weevils as possible” can be released into “selected areas” of Caddo Lake. The goal is to reduce or eliminate Salvinia, an invasive weed which has been spreading through bodies of water throughout the area.

More information here from the Greater Caddo Lake Association, the lead organization on the project. Also some information on the lake and issues it faces from the Caddo Lake Institute as well as the Giant Salvinia Control Team.

Saving Seabirds from Oil Spills

ID-10079108(Photo by Vlado, courtesy of

by Robert Barossi

The problem of oil spills and their devastating impact is not new. And it’s not going away any time soon. Unfortunately, it seems likely to get worse, as new pipelines are built on land and offshore drilling sites are created at sea. This article from Australia describes one innovative and creative way that volunteers are helping to save seabirds who are caught in the mess of an oil spill. They have modified a shipping container and turned into a facility where volunteers can be trained how to save oiled birds. This great idea seems like something that could be replicated pretty much anywhere, giving volunteers in any location similar opportunities to learn what to do when helping wildlife after an oil spill. The more people who can lend a hand and help out, after getting the proper training  in a unique facility such as this one, the more birds and other animals that can be saved.

For some more information about how Australians are helping sea birds, especially those in danger from oil spills, check out Australian Seabird Rescue

Watching Grass Grow

IMG_1538(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Ok, I admit it. At first, that doesn’t sound all that exciting, watching grass grow. But, in fact, it’s not only exciting in an environmental and ecological context, it’s also essential work. The grass in this case is Saltmarsh Cordgrass (or Spartina alterniflora), an extremely important part of the ecosystem in marshes along the Florida coast. As the article states, “The grass is the foundation for a whole web of marsh life that brings both work and play to the region.” Also mentioned in the article is that volunteers will be helping to do some of the work involved in important studies, including pulling out individual grass plants and replanting them in areas where they can do the most good. This kind of work is becoming more and more important as sea levels rise, which will cause as-yet-unknown impacts to coasts and coastal marshes. Volunteers will no doubt be out there helping to implement the solutions to those impacts or perhaps helping to  prevent them before they happen.

The Saltmarsh Cordgrass project is under the auspices of the Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves and the study is primarily taking place in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.


Shaping the Shoreline

 Onondaga_Lake_Park(Photo by Joegrimes at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

by Robert Barossi

This story came to me from my friend (and fellow Green Mountain College alum) Christine Harris. On the environmental blog The Ecotone Exchange, you will find of excellent articles, well worth reading. The story comes from upstate New York, where members of the Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps are actually creating a new wetland through their work, which includes planting native shrubs and trees and building habitat structures. This very hands-on work is both inspiring and educational and will go a long way towards protecting the habitats and species of the lake’s shoreline. It’s also likely to increase awareness among the human population and foster a greater connection to this precious natural area.

Check out more information on the Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps here. And some great photos form the project are here.

Volunteers Who Never Tire

IMG_1101(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

I don’t usually post stories about upcoming volunteer events (although maybe I should start doing more of that). This one struck me for a couple of reasons. First, it takes place along the James River in Virginia. Having spent a year living in southern Virginia (although not on the James itself) it is one of my favorite places in the U.S. Secondly, while there are many river cleanups that occur all across the country and around the world, throughout the year, this one is unique in that it focuses on just one thing: Tires. Finally, I was also struck by the fact that a  number of organizations are involved and there’s also a major corporation, Bridgestone involved. They will be hauling away and recycling all the retrieved tires.

Groups involved include James River Association, Virginia Canals and Navigation Society and Heart of Viginia Council Boy Scouts of America.