Rising Tide of Awareness

IMG_1520(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Today, I’m posting a third chapter from my upcoming book, which I plan to self-publish as an eBook, hopefully in the next few weeks. Here is one of my favorite chapters, the story of a passionate and inspiring environmental volunteer I met in Newport, RI.


Rising Tide of Awareness: Julie Frost

A self-described “nature and science freak from a very early age,” volunteer Julie Frost grew up in Atlanta where she says she “climbed trees every single day.” Sitting with her on her back patio at her house in Newport, Rhode Island, it quickly became clear that this transplant from Georgia had not lost any of her southern charm. Also clear was her passion for environmental issues and a sincere and powerful desire to really do something about what she sees happening to our planet.

The youngest of four kids, she points to going outside as something that may have been playtime by necessity, a means to keep one’s self occupied at a young age. It’s clear, though, that her connection to and love for nature and the outdoors was something deeper, more than just a way to occupy her youthful free time. After a childhood filled with tree climbing, beach vacations on the coast of Georgia and camping trips, she says she developed an even deeper connection to the outdoors later, on her own, especially at college. At Eckerd College in Florida, she began to study Marine Sciences, a field she was drawn to by the idyllic thought of playing with whales and dolphins, along with her love of the oceans, animals and nature.

“And then I get to college and you realize it’s not all beautiful wonderful swimming with dolphins kind of stuff,” Julie says. “I had to take marine invertebrate biology my freshman year and spend hours drawing a crab shell, you know, getting the design perfectly and go through all the classification. It’s that time in your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and playing with your friends is just as important and you’re getting serious about choosing your career and all of this is coming together and thinking about what the job looks like and the fact

that you’re signing yourself up for just grueling research for years on end and some of it’s not going to be glamorous. So, by the time I was hitting my junior year, I was realizing that this line of work meant signing up for a doctoral program, it meant slugging away, and I just didn’t have the maturity at that time to stick to it, I really didn’t.”

While obtaining her degree in biology, Julie says, she still kept in touch with her “marine side,” taking classes such as marine mammalogy during junior year. “We did some phenomenal stuff. I got to stay pretty tapped in with the marine side because the school that I was at was so strong in marine biology. I don’t regret the decision. My hindsight on it now, I’m forty-one, so I’ve had some time to think about these decisions. In all reality, I just wasn’t mature enough at the time and the idea of not having the flexibility to have jobs that would bring in more income. I grew up with a family that didn’t have a ton of money so as an adult I was just drawn to the idea of having something that would give me a little bit more income.”

Now, Julie works as a scientist for the biotech company Amgen, where she’s been for eleven years. “For some reason, it’s important to me to call it a biotech and not a pharmaceutical company,” she says. It comes after a series of jobs that allowed her to put the biology background into meaningful and important work, especially in the area of AIDS research.

“My senior year I got a job off campus at a children’s hospital and ended up in a lab and this was at a time when the AIDS epidemic was really hitting and I started to get drawn towards that world and I realized that I was really interested in immunology,” she says. “So I didn’t get any more advanced degrees but I took some classes and learned a lot through the jobs I had in that world.” She and her husband moved around a bit after that, with Julie working primarily in laboratories, testing water and soil samples or doing research into AIDS/HIV vaccine development. A move from academia to industry brought her to Amgen and Rhode Island.

After they settled in Newport, Julie began to look for her next volunteer outlet. She says that at that time, it made the most sense to find something that would take her back to the outdoors. Roughly ten years ago, she became involved with Save the Bay, when they were working on eelgrass transplantation in Narragansett Bay. She describes her early involvement with the organization as sporadic over most of those years, working one-off events rather than committing to a long-term program.

“I think slowly over the years I realized I needed to be back in touch with the marine side of things, you know, I needed to fulfill that itch that I had gone away from,” Julie says. “And because of living in a coastal community and so many of our activities are based around water, our love of everything we do, sailing, surfing, kayaking, or just taking a bike ride around Ocean Drive…I genuinely care about the ecosystem and of course I did from an early age identify with spending time at the water. I learned through some early volunteer experiences with birds or with hospice that it’s good to volunteer and do whatever you can do, but you generally don’t stick with it just because it’s a good thing to do. You don’t stick with it unless it really, really hits you. It really means something to you personally.”

Getting back in touch with something that meant a lot to her personally began with helping Save the Bay transplant eelgrass for several years in a row. She describes the project as “an important program for helping to rebuild the base of the ecosystem,” adding that, “eelgrass allows a good place for invertebrates and mollusks and stuff like that. So once you develop that eelgrass bed, you’re really setting the foundation, and it helps with CO2 exchange an also I think trapping some pollutants. I think there’s even some evidence that it helps with the water not overwarming because it will filter the sunlight.”

One of the exciting things, Julie adds, was the ability to see the results of the eelgrass transplanting and the direct impact it had on Narragansett Bay. “For one, I could observe what was going on with areas like that just form my experiences with being out on the water, especially with kayaking. You really see stuff like that up close. You see mussel beds and sea stars and you see how clear the water is or you see trash floating in the water. So, I think doing the eelgrass work made me clue into it even more when I was out. We went, my husband and I, went to a seminar, a couple of different seminars, where we saw the data come back after four years of them doing this kind of program and saw which transplant beds had taken off and done well and which ones hadn’t and water quality data that had paired up with that. That was really neat, to have been part of that program and then see the data that they tabulated. That was really neat, to actually see it come to fruition.”

“I think over the years I’ve matured a little bit to be able to commit more of my time to it,” Julie says of volunteering. “In the earlier days it was just here and there, I’ll do this one little thing or I’ll do that one little thing. Then I actually jumped over to an organization for a couple of years that’s very informal, really just a bunch of surfers that wanted to protect the water quality around the local beaches because surfers were getting sick. They’re called Clean Ocean Access, very small group just based here in Newport but they’re fairly active. One of the things they do is they have a water testing program and it’s a little more extensive and they keep it up all year round. They basically augment the data that the Department of Environmental Management is getting and they give it to the state and they do a full annual report of all their data. So, I was collecting water samples for them for about a year and half right over here at King Park. When I did the water sampling, that was the first time I committed to a program, where on this day, every week, you have to go and do this thing and they’re relying on you and you can’t bail, but it only took me ten minutes to do. It was a baby step. And then from there something clicked and I really wanted to do something more serious with Save the Bay.”

That something materialized into working as a docent at Save the Bay’s aquarium. Julie says it came at just the right time in her life, when she wasn’t dealing with other craziness, knew she wouldn’t be making a career change any time soon, and knew what kind of free time she had. When we spoke, she was heading into her fourth winter as a docent, spending half a day, every other Sunday, educating kids and families about marine life and ecosystems.

“And this goes back to you have to find the right thing. That did it, that was the right thing,” she adds. “First of all, the realization that I was willing to commit my time to it in the winter but not in the summer and I just had to be realistic about that. This is a really good fit for me, I get to sit there and play with animals in the aquarium and I get to work with these little kids and this has become a really important thing for me. Getting in front of families and kids and trying to make that spark happen and trying to make that awareness happen. That is so important and if you hit it with a four year old, you got ‘em, you got ‘em forever, if you really see that light bulb go off. That just gives back to me every single time I’m there.

Julie calls time spent at the aquarium “pretty free-form,” as she works at five stations, including an arts and crafts center, walk-through exhibits and a touch tank that allows kids to directly interact with the marine ecosystem. Her favorite, she says, is the touch tank, where she says, “The kids really tend to go nuts over that stuff.”

Within the last year, Julie has also begun helping Save the Bay with another important project, something she says has really opened her eyes. “One other thing I added on this last year was water rise monitoring and tide monitoring. They have this program to document certain areas around the state, basically by taking pictures, and they give you the times of the full moon high tides. That’s when they want you to take pictures so they can see when they have bad flooding events either due to rain or some other kind of weather event but also just to see year over year where the tides are, where they are hitting. And as I’ve been on my own learning more and more about the changes in the ecosystem and global warming of course, I’ve gotten more interested in understanding what’s happening. And the fact that we own a house that’s two feet above sea level, does kind of make me a little nervous.”

As a tide monitor, Julie goes to the same spot every month and tries to get the same photo at the same angle, from a number of different perspectives. She does this at a couple of area locations, including King Park, Second Beach, and near Third Beach. Taking pictures at each spot allows Save the Bay to see where tides are rising, in relation to fixed points, such as a section of wall along the beach. Describing what she has seen while taking these photos, she calls it “scary, scary stuff.”

“Why is it scary stuff?”

“This has really opened my eyes,” Julie says. “Most of the work that I did was from March through July. They mainly focus on it in the spring but they do it year round for all the full moon high tides. I knew things were changing around here, since we’ve lived in this house in particular. I knew things were changing but that really brought a new awareness to it. When we bought this house in 2000, I don’t remember this ever happening…my husband and I are trying to think of the first times we ever saw this happening and I think it’s been within the last five years. When we get a really high tide, the sea water bubbles up out of the sewers. The first couple of times that we saw it…we saw it happening over the past couple of years but didn’t make big mental notes about it cause I wasn’t doing this program…but when I was taking the pictures and doing it…one of the first times I had documented it coming out of the sewer, there had been this torrential downpour. We had tons and tons of rain, so I thought, ‘oh, ok, big rain event, spring flood tides, then the street’s getting wet.’ It wasn’t raining when it happened but there had been a lot of rain and it was spring, so maybe there was a lot of runoff. And then the next month, there hadn’t been any rain and it was completely dry out and seawater was bubbling up out of the sewers. So that told me this is really changing. Other than big storm surges, we don’t remember ever seeing the water so close to coming over the sea wall over there. And now, just at a really big spring high tide, it looks like it’s about to breach the sea wall.”

While her own awareness has been elevated, Julie is doubtful that her neighbors are as aware of what’s happening. “I’m really, really nervous about that,” she says. “This is Rhode Island, we’re so coastal, all the way up to Providence and people really need to understand this. I feel like our whole planet is threatened right now. For many people, we’re starting to rally because it’s real and it’s very obvious and we’re also nervous about the fact that there are so many people who are either not awake to the fact that this is happening, or there are actually people who think that we are making it all up.”

“Part of me is really pessimistic about it and part of me is optimistic because I think I have seen some shift,” Julie says. “I think the red and blue politics that I’ve seen during my adulthood is really, really scary but despite that…I also see something happening in the middle and something about connections, some people trying to be more connected with each other and some people really concerned about where our society is going. I think part of the key is that those of us who are the early adopters to understanding global climate change, to saying there’s something wrong with our society and we’re too much of that and not enough of this…there’s a small population of us saying all this and being awake to the idea that we’re going to make a little difference and this can change and we have hope. So, if we just keep meeting with each other and keep taking small steps, little by little by little, that spreads. We think that in the last ten years we’ve barely made a dent and then, all of a sudden, everybody’s on board. As a volunteer and a citizen who is concerned about the environment, when I get pessimistic, I think to that incremental process and where you see something that all of a sudden…I think that’s really the key. I guess we have to believe that.”

Julie was one of the few volunteers I spoke with who did have an educational and career background in the sciences, which she brings to the debate and the volunteer work. “Is the chance to keep learning part of the motivation to keep volunteering, and trying to reach people,” I ask her.

“Absolutely,” she responds. “And that’s why it’s a good fit and that’s why I’ve realized it’s important. You know, I don’t think that volunteerism is for anyone, not for many people, as altruistic as it sometimes sounds. You’re looking for something that works for you that you get something out of that makes you feel good. Turning people on to the fact that this is important to pay attention to this stuff, that we need to take care of our animals and our beaches and our waters, that’s important to me. So when I see that light up with somebody, I just feel good, I feel good that I connected. I am one of those people that I just, I want to learn, I am very curious, that’s a huge piece of it. When I’m looking at an exhibit with a family or at the touch tank and they ask a question and I don’t know the answer, for some people they feel very awkward, as a docent they’re supposed to know the answer. But for me, that’s just perfect, because they thought of a question that I don’t know the answer to. It’s definitely an opportunity for me to learn more and just be excited about understanding animals and the marine ecosystems that I was drawn to a long time ago.”

Julie admits that volunteering with Save the Bay is also helping her to plot her future path, build her resume and work towards a possible eventual career change. She adds that at the same time, it’s also given her the chance to be immersed in the issues she’s passionate about, such as the impacts of a changing climate. Many people who come to the aquarium, she says, share her feelings on those kinds of issues.

“It’s interesting the diversity you get because the parents select this as an activity they’re going to do with their kids on a cold, rainy Saturday or Sunday, so the parents know this is a good thing to do and expose their kids to,” Julie says. “Sometimes, though, the parents decide to do it because they got a Groupon or they just can’t think anything else to do with their kid. They’re not necessarily doing it because….they kind of look at it as the same thing as going to the zoo…a lot of people think of it like going to an amusement park. So we do get parents like that but you know, a parent who is spending the money and the time to come up with an activity and take their kid someplace is a parent who kind of already gets it. Generally they fall into that category. Now, you’ll see them be completely stunned about stuff we tell them. They’ll be surprised that there’s this much going on or that something as simple as having a really old leaky lawnmower contributes to runoff that goes into our bay. And so you realize that you get people who have so many different levels of awareness about what we need to do to protect our ecosystem.”

“Even the kids, they already have that awareness or understanding?”

“I think so,” Julie replies. “When they have field trips of school kids that come to the aquarium, and it’s like the whole third grade class, then they probably see more of the population who might not be aware at all or might be more resistant. I don’t do that kind of work with them; I just see the people who just walk in on their own. I think that might be more what I want to do, to work with programs in inner cities where you’re tapping into the kids who have no idea what a beach even looks like. And their parents are working two jobs and don’t have time to tell them how important recycling is or something like that. So that might be where I want to go and I’m sure that’s extremely challenging to get those light bulbs to go on.”

Until then, she continues to work for Narragansett Bay, a place she has a deep, emotional connection to. She says, “So much of my recreational time…but beyond that, my meditative time is spent in that arena. That is where I go when I need to nurture my soul. It is, it’s really, firmly in my heart, that I need that time. It’s what replenishes me, to be outside at sunset, staring at the water, watching waves, watching birds fly around. Every winter we get some harbor seals, watching that. Watching other people be outside, turning off their phones and getting away from their computers and the TV and all that and just having that quiet, real connection with our planet. So, at a surface level, it’s the recreation that’s really fun, I just spent two hours in the morning surfing, it’s really, really fun. But the connection for me is very, very deep because it’s nourishing. It’s nourishing to just spend quiet time outside.”

Learning to Identify Trees

Up a Tree

by Robert Barossi

A recent volunteer story I posted talked about volunteer oceanographers, or volunteers who were collecting data to be used by professional oceanographers. In this similar story out of Northampton, Massachusetts, volunteers are helping out another group of professionals: foresters and arborists.  The volunteers were assisted by these professionals in identifying trees in the local area. Groups of volunteers worked to not only identify the trees, but also to gather information about them, including data such as diameter and bark and leaf health. The volunteers had the opportunity to gain knowledge and expertise in tree species and how to identify them while helping deal with the very real issue of canopy loss.

Volunteer Scientists

P1000068(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

As we’ve seen in all of the volunteer stories  discussed here, volunteers provide  an immense amount of data to environmental organizations, professionals and scientists. According to this recent study, volunteers are due a little more credit than they currently get. The study describes volunteer efforts as often “invisible,” as the work of citizen scientists typically goes unmentioned in scientific papers and journals. The study’s lead author, Caren Cooper of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, makes a great point that people often don’t volunteer because they don’t think they have the expertise or qualifications to do so. If citizen scientists were mentioned, credited, or even applauded in scientific papers and journals, people may be more likely to see that they can, in fact, contribute in important ways. Even something that people think of as only a hobby, Cooper notes , can contribute greatly to scientific work, through citizen science and volunteering.

Volunteers and the People’s Climate March

ID-10010562(Photo by Danilo Rizzuti, Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

by Robert Barossi

This past Sunday, the 21st of September, marches were held all over the world to raise awareness for climate change. I had the pleasure and the honor to be in the massive crowd that assembled in New York City. Surrounded by over 300,000 people (some have claimed it may have been close to 400,000) it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was also inspiring. Words can’t really do justice to the energy, the enthusiasm and the passion that filled those streets as the crowd slowly marched the two-mile route. There were also many volunteers who helped to make the event happen and make it a huge, resounding success. Volunteers get a mention in many of the stories that appeared before, during and after the march. This story describes some of the work and preparations which occurred leading up to the event, including the work of volunteers. A story from Indiana demonstrates another way volunteers were involved in the march, by getting buses filled with people to NYC for the event.  In Montreal, according to this story, volunteers organized a march that  coincided with the march in NYC and, while smaller, was no less  important. Volunteers also lent a hand during a similar march on Sunday in Iowa City. This final story offers a fantastic set of photos which document the day in NYC. It also mentions volunteers and a few of the important roles they played.

Monitoring Water Quality Everywhere

Winter Stream

(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

There’s no question that landscapes across the planet are filled with numerous bodies of water. Lakes, rivers, ponds, swamps, streams and everything in between. Every body of water performs a function in the ecosystem, provides something to the surrounding natural environment. And in many cases, if not most of them, the quality of the water has been greatly diminished or degraded in modern times. So, again in many if not most cases, it’s up to us to monitor the quality of the water, to make sure that the ecosystem is still healthy or can be brought back to health. The thing that caught my eye in this story out of Alabama is the quote, “Our vision is to have a citizen monitor on every stream, river, lake and coast in Alabama.” It’s a lofty and ambitious goal and one that should be applauded. Check out the websites for Alabama Water Watch and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program to see how they are doing.

Volunteer of the Year

P1000239(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Many organizations, if not all of them, recognize and reward their volunteers. Among those recognitions, there is often a “Volunteer of the Year” award of some type. The National Wildlife Refuge Association recently bestowed this award upon two very worthy recipients, Sharon and Bob Waldrop. The retired couple clearly have a deep passion and dedication for all of the work they do. Traveling in their RV, they spend summers “up north” and winters in southeast Louisiana, where this story comes from. The list of their hands-on volunteer achievements is impressive, from wiring generators to renovating or rebuilding old buildings. Their efforts have likely touched every person who has visited one of the refuges where they have done this great work.

Volunteers are Cleaning Up

IMG_0685(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Whenever searching for volunteer stories around the internet, there’s never a lack of cleanup stories. Volunteers are constantly proving their dedication, passion and enthusiasm for the local environment by cleaning up rivers, lakes, ponds, beaches and ocean shores. Three recent stories include: Volunteers wade into water and pull muddy bicycles out of rivers in Idaho. All the way across the country, in New Jersey, they work to clean up a beach and plant dune grass at an annual event. Finally, up north in Michigan, shopping carts are just some of the items pulled out of Grand River by 120 volunteers.

All of these volunteers, and the hundreds more like them all over the world, deserve our appreciation and thanks. Their tireless efforts go a long way towards protecting waterways everywhere. Environmental organizations involved in the above efforts include Portneuf Watershed Partnership in Idaho, the Sea Isle City Environmental Commission in New Jersey, and the Grand River Environmental Action Team in Michigan.

Protecting Grafton Pond and Its Wildlife

IMG_0218(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

For today’s blog post, another chapter from my upcoming eBook. This chapter features the story of a volunteer from New Hampshire who worked to protect Grafton Pond, an area owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Teachable Moments: Linda Howes

On an autumn Sunday afternoon, Linda Howes, a land steward with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, welcomed me into her home, where we ate locally grown apples and talked at length about Linda’s life spent in the outdoors, her land steward work at Grafton Pond and her love of loons. While many environmental volunteers are inspired by a particular place or environmental issue, some are inspired by another person, and Linda is one such volunteer. Growing up in Massachusetts, Linda came into contact with Marion Stoddart, a fellow resident of the town of Groton who had made a huge impact on the local environment. Stoddart is credited with leading the fight to clean up the Nashua River, once listed as one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. A suburban housewife at the time, Stoddart started a movement that engaged the local community and changed the face of their river forever. Her advocacy, lobbying, petitions and mobilizing efforts were proof that one person could make a difference and an inspiration for many other everyday citizens. Passion and drive equal to Stoddart is clear in Linda, who’s filled with youthful exuberance and endless enthusiasm for the causes she cares about.

Linda considers Stoddart “a beacon,” describing her by saying, “She’s an amazing woman…She lived nearby and she decided she was going to do something about the heavily polluted river running through their community. She was housewife and she ended up talking to the paper mills and started this whole movement on her own and got change. She was amazing. She was kind of mentor for me and how she was just out there, you know, she could do it. I’m sure I must have heard her speak somewhere, probably in Groton, and was just so enthralled with this woman taking on big industry and going to Boston, speaking out. She was an inspiration, absolutely. And she went on to found an organization called Outdoor Vacations for Women Over 40 and when I was under 40, I did some teaching for her and for her group. She had led trips all over the world, cross country skiing and bicycling and all kinds of stuff and I did some cross-country skiing vacations for her and got to know her a little bit then. I just look up to her.”

In addition to meeting Stoddart, growing up in Groton gave Linda the chance to explore the outdoors throughout her childhood. “We lived with woods and apple orchards all around us and we would go out in the morning and not come home till dark and we were out playing, you know. I knew those woods and the apple orchard. We had different trees that looked like different things. We played football and baseball and I was a scout, a girl scout, and my parents would take us hiking up Mount Monadnock on hikes and adventures.”

Linda took her love of the outdoors and nature to college, where she majored in environmental recreation at Greenfield Community College and then at Springfield College. Working in the recreation field, as a waterfront director at a camp, she put herself through college teaching and coaching swimming. Afterwards, she found her way to a career with the U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. Her first job, at Ten Lakes Scenic Area in Montana, took her to real wilderness, just outside of Glacier National Park and near the Canadian border. That was followed by work for the Park Service in Wyoming and then another position back in Montana. After another job took her to Acadia National Park in Maine, she ended up back in Massachusetts, working at an environmental and recreational center.

While her career gave her lots of time in the outdoors, Linda also did a lot of outdoor volunteering, including ski patrol, skiing instruction, and search and rescue. She says volunteering has always been in her blood, ever since high school. “I was involved in so much and I think my parents were always involved in things. My dad was an amazing volunteer for the town, so it was always kind of a way of life and I’m very…I’m a very detail oriented person, so I’m really good at organizing, so I would organize all kinds of stuff. I was student council president in high school; I would organize all the dances and stuff that would go along with that.”

After moving to New Hampshire, she says that she and her husband would camp and canoe frequently and would visit Grafton Pond, close to their home. Linda describes it as a “beautiful little place” that is “out in the middle of nowhere and there wouldn’t be very many people there.” At the same time, she couldn’t help but notice something else.

“There was just so much trash, which astounded me, there was so much trash. Tires in the water and beer cans in the water, the islands were covered with trash here and there,” she says. When she saw an ad in the local paper for a land steward for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, she decided to apply, especially since Grafton Pond was one of the properties the society wanted to protect.

“I was interviewed by the land steward coordinator and I ended up being offed the job,” she says. “He told me that it was the job that was most popular, so many people wanted it, so I felt really fortunate to be offered the job and I think mainly it was because of my background, park ranger and all of that. Not only is this almost 1000 acres of land, it’s a public place that lots of people go to, so there’s kind of a policing, I use that word lightly. I went through the training and I also had…there’s two of us that had the position, cause it’s a big piece of property, so I have a land steward partner and he was wonderful. We did so much work out there. We took a refrigerator off one of the islands. A bed frame. All kinds of stuff.”

It was twelve years ago when she first started and Linda says she spends much more time at Grafton Pond now than she used to. She attributes that, in part, to the fact that it’s a much busier place these days. Because of the increasing number of people, she worked with the Forest Society and the state to get the parking lot enlarged and improved.

“The parking lot was horrible, it was maybe twice as big as this room and it was just all rocks and you just drive into the trees,” she says. “People would park on the road but it started being found and it got written up in the quiet waters canoe guide by the Appalachian Mountain Club. In the first printing, they listed Grafton Pond as the best kept secret. So, people started coming from all over and the parking lot just wasn’t gonna work and so I talked to the state and we had them improve the parking lot and they made it bigger. And then we put up a kiosk so there’s an information board and even though the state had big signs that said no camping and no fires, almost every island had a fire ring or two or three. One of them was actually as high as my waist, made of cement, really big. They actually had a latrine out there too, that we broke apart and took out of there. My partner, Jay, he and I just took sledge hammers and broke that whole fire ring apart and threw it in the water. We hit every island over a period of a couple of years.”

Over those years, they cleaned up roughly twenty-four islands, as well as shoreline sites that needed attention. They also worked to add signs in the hopes that people would take better care of the area and its natural resources. “We had signage made that we put up on all the islands, trying to not have it be in your face but once you get there you’ll see ‘no fires’ or ‘no camping’ or ‘pack it in, pack it out.’ So we did all that but I’m still cleaning up fires. It starting getting so busy this year…we also have loons there, now we have three nesting pairs of loons, and you know, I just witness people chasing the loons and harassing them. Not intentionally, but they want to get that picture of the little chicks. It was just hard to watch. And the thing I pick up the most is toilet paper, isn’t that disgusting?”

“Used, I assume?”

“Yeah,” she answers, “Kayaking has gotten so popular and available to the masses. There are so many people out there who have no outdoor etiquette. They don’t know, you know? They don’t know anything about being in the outdoors. I pick up beer cans and the leftover picnic stuff. I’m there a lot more and I’m there especially during nesting season for the loons.”

Linda’s efforts are assisted by the New Hampshire Lakes Association and their lake host program. She says, “They train people and they put them at boat ramps on key lakes, there’s usually a lake association that’s involved. These hosts, often its kids, college or high school kids, will be at the ramp on certain days, certain hours, and they inspect every boat that comes to put in, for invasive weeds. That’s what the program is about.” Working with residents around Grafton Pond, the Forest Society raised the money to hire lake hosts for the season. Every weekend and holiday, Linda says, the boat ramp was manned by someone from 8am to 4pm.

Having that extra help, she says, led to the collection of “incredible information on where people are coming from.” On one day, they conducted over two hundred surveys, one for each boat that wanted to get onto the pond. While the initial intention was to monitor for invasive weeds that might be brought in with some of these boats, the lake host duties were expanded so much more information could be provided to pond visitors. Linda says, “We expanded the job, it wasn’t just about weeds, which is important, but we also taught about the loons and we taught about leave no trace, about packing out your trash, including toilet paper.”

Another important change that Linda helped bring to Grafton Pond was the banning of gasoline motors. Although there had always been a six horsepower limit, Linda says it wasn’t strictly enforced. “No one ever checked and sometimes there were bigger motors there and it just seemed like there was a lot of riff raff that would hang out there too. When we got the ban through, there had to be hearings and petitions and so many signatures and we had to go through all this stuff with the state. It went through, so there’s no gasoline motors, only electric motors.”

The process, which Linda spearheaded, took two years and has led, she believes, to a change in the “flavor” of Grafton Pond. “I look at it like it’s a nature preserve…and the loons, New Hampshire is losing its loon population. It’s such a wonderful place for loons, it’s a perfect habitat. You can go most anywhere with your gasoline motor to fish, let’s not have it be Grafton Pond. There’s plenty of places people can go and many people agreed and fortunately it went through.”

Those kinds of tangible results are part of what keeps Linda motivated. “To have other people love the place as much as I do, it means a lot…to know that I make a difference there and to have people recognize that…the lake hosts, they always say to me, ‘thank you for being here, we’re so glad that somebody is looking out for this place.’ That makes me feel good, it really does.”

Grafton Pond is unique from other properties of the Forest Society in two ways. First, it’s a body of water, primarily, rather than a tract of land. Also, it’s a place that is used and frequented by the public much more than other isolated properties. Linda is hopeful that visitors to the pond will take away something that makes them more careful towards and appreciative of all natural areas.

“With the lake hosts there, they have to teach them, it’s a teachable moment,” she says. “And that is what I feel is the most important job, is to interface with someone, welcome them. We had so many new people this year coming to visit the pond and part of what I would always say and train the hosts to say is, ‘oh, you’re in for such a treat. Let me show you the map so you know where you are. This is a really special place. Don’t tell anyone else.’ We always say that, just to have a laugh about it. And, ‘we appreciate you taking out your trash, do you need a trash bag?’ and some would say they brought one with them. So, it’s just planting those seeds. Teaching them about the loons, saying, ‘the loons are nesting, if you happen to come across a nest, just move away.’ It’s just planting the seeds.”

Linda feels the seed planting is paying off, as awareness of environmental impacts is increasing among the public. “I think that as I said, the flavor has kind of changed at Grafton Pond, where before it was kind of a hangout for people, sitting around and drinking, yelling, partying, going out on the island and partying and camping. Because we have such a presence, I don’t think that happens…I should say that it doesn’t happen as much. I don’t think it happened at all this summer. So I do think because the flavor of who is there has changed too, it has made a difference. I think we are having an impact…We had a few guys who would use it as their bathtub. There was this one place you can hike into, there’s always a bar of soap there. I would take it, there’d be another one. And then I talked to one guy who was taking a bath right at the boat ramp. I said, ‘you know, this is not ok.’ He said, ‘oh I just thought I’d rinse off before I went home,’ and I said, ‘please, don’t do that here.’”

“Was he naked?”

“No, no, but we’ve had all kinds of stories,” she replies with a smile.

While a number of volunteers I met are actively involved in water quality monitoring, there is currently no such program at Grafton Pond. Linda hopes to change that soon. “There’s a local college, I want to see if maybe we can find someone. Also, I want to have someone from the state come and do a weed check throughout the pond. I’m not all that savvy, I pretty much know my plants, but Milfoil is very difficult to discern the invasive from the native. You basically have to send the sample to the state lab and they can tell you. So I have a couple of those things on the agenda for next year and maybe, also, a lead collection program. We’re trying in the state to ban lead fishing tackle and that was something that we worked on this year. There was an amendment that got voted on in the house and the senate, so I went to that hearing and testified. Lead is toxic in any amount. They still have led fishing tackle and a lot of kids and people will take a sinker, squish it between their teeth. And it kills loons. If a loon ingests a lead hook, a lead sinker, a lead jig, it will be dead in two weeks, and it’s a really sad, sad death.”

Linda’s work aimed at protecting the loon population includes a number of volunteer activities with the Loon Preservation Committee. For that group, she keeps track of the loons at Grafton Pond, letting them know nesting dates, hatching dates and how many chicks have hatched. She also got to be involved in the recent effort to band the loons.

“It was fascinating. We only got one pair. We were out there till two or two-thirty in the morning. They weren’t done yet and I decided it was time to go home,” she says, laughing.

Linda’s wide variety of volunteer experiences has also included some of the political and advocacy sides of environmental efforts. “Somebody has to speak up,” she says. “I don’t want to pass it off to the next person and I do what I can. There’s so many platforms to stand on, positions to fight about and argue about. A lot of scary things going on in the world. You have to find your balance and pick what makes the most sense. I could stand up and shout about a lot of things but I don’t want to be that angry person, you know? I just kind of want to do things that I know can have a real impact in my neighborhood”

Linda hopes that there will always be somebody with her dedication around to protect Grafton Pond. Somebody to meet and greet visitors on weekends or every day during the busy season. Someone to look out for the place.

“I am, yeah. I really am,” she responds to my question about whether or not she’s optimistic. “Doing the lake host program was so much work, so much work. We’re looking at how to do it differently next year, cause there was so much paperwork to it. Something has to give and this summer it was my business, I wasn’t able to take it to places I wanted to because I was doing this work. It was ok, you know, it was my choice, but next year I hope to have someone that handles the paperwork and I kind of do more training…I put in 174 hours from May to Labor Day.”

“That’s a lot of hours,” I state the obvious.

“Yeah, it’s like a full time job. Our total number of boat surveys was over 2900. You know, the little lake here in town that you came by, they have a lake host. They’re lucky if they do like sixteen boat surveys all summer long,” she says.

Checking boats that come to put in at Grafton Pond has been one of the most important opportunities for Linda and the lake hosts to teach and show people how they can better respect the natural environment she loves.

“We’re teaching them how to check their boat, so it’s that teachable moment,” she says. “We ask permission, if it’s ok to check the boat for invasive weeds. We look inside. We look on the bottom. We look at their paddles. If it’s a motor we look at where the motor goes in because sometimes there’ll be weeds wrapped around that. If it’s a boat trailer, we look at the trailer and on the license plate cause the trailer can be holding weeds. We teach them how to do that and give them the rest of the spiel. They get a sticker to put on their boat that shows they have been educated. So the next time they come, we know they’ve had the spiel but we still give it to them, just less. We do boat inspection, we find out what was the last body of water they were on. We ask them if they know about invasive species and we kind of tell them about that and what it does to the environment. We tell them what to do if they find any plant material themselves; you throw it well away from the body of water, somewhere where it’s not going to wash back in. And that it is illegal to transport invasive species. We tell them about the loon being threatened, staying two to three hundred feet away, the lead fishing tackle, carry out all your trash, thank you for helping keep this place a treasure and invite them to make a donation towards protection and upkeep.”

Becoming a Volunteer Oceanographer

P1000689(Photo by Robert Barossi)

By Robert Barossi

For a while, when I was in high school, I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist or oceanographer. Always fascinated by the ocean, it’s species and ecosystems, I imagined myself out on a boat in the middle of a great blue expanse of water, studying and learning about the seas that cover our planet. For one reason or another, I ended up not  following that career path. My love for and fascination with the oceans never diminished, though, and now it looks like I could still get a chance to do some oceanography, as a volunteer. More accurately, I would be a citizen scientist, like the volunteers mentioned in this story, who are helping oceanographers study far-flung areas of the oceans. As the article mentions, the oceans are so vast, it’s nearly impossible for all areas to be studied and tested accurately, in a timely manner. So, citizen scientists, those who have boats of their own, are being given the chance to study the ocean and provide the professionals with the data they collect. These volunteer sailors will be provided with the proper equipment so that data can be collected, perhaps from previously unexamined regions of the ocean, filling in gaps in the currently available information. So, I might still have a chance to do some oceanographic work after all…I just need to figure out how to afford  to buy a boat.

A Growing Need

P1010138(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

As the posts on this blog have demonstrated, volunteers are an essential and integral part of environmental work. The importance of their role cannot be overstated. In many places, they are becoming even more important and are more needed than ever. In this example out of Denver, more and more people are using local areas for backcountry trips. That is putting more stress on the wilderness areas and the wilderness trails, which are maintained by dedicated volunteers. As more and more of the public treks out into the forest, there’s an even greater need for trail stewards who will educate the public about proper trail usage and make sure the trails remain accessible and intact. This type of need for more volunteers is likely to happen in many places as more and more people return to or rediscover nature and the outdoors.

Friends of Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wilderness is just one of the Denver area groups dealing with this issue.