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Why I’m a Riverkeeper

Having fun, making a difference and driving the pump-out boat

Almost a year ago, the West/Rhode Riverkeeper completed a living shoreline project at the end of the Camp Letts peninsula on the Rhode River. Over the past few decades, the land had been eroding from storms, boat wake and sea level rise. Hundred-year-old trees were toppling over a sandy bluff, and the silt made the water look like a soy latte.
    With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, we built a series of stone breakwaters stretching the length of a football field to protect the end of the peninsula from erosion. We filled the gaps between the rocks with sand and gravel, replicating the beach that had been there since the Susquehanna River bottom filled up with melted glaciers 20,000 years ago. The day after the contractors packed up their equipment and rumbled off the site, we saw a horseshoe crab crawling up out of the clear water to lay her eggs on the newly restored beach.
    Then we worked with the Anne Arundel County Outdoor Education Program at Arlington Echo to get 600 middle-school kids to plant the sand with 7,000 tufts of marsh grass. One of the schoolgirls tugged at my sleeve because she wanted to show me the tree that she and her girlfriend had planted a month before.
    How’s that for job satisfaction? Not only that, but I get to drive the pump-out boat, sometimes, too.
    A shipload of dedicated people are working hard to restore Chesapeake Bay, but there’s only one citizen-based organization whose only job is to serve as the eyes, ears and voice of the West and Rhode Rivers.
    Launched more than a decade ago by Bob Gallagher, the West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc., is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to making these two unique waterways swimmable, fishable, crab-able and kayak-able. We are not part of the county or state and depend upon individual memberships and donations and grants from foundations and other sources to do our work.
    While we are independent, we do work regionally in partnership with the other 18 organizations in Waterkeepers Chesapeake, with agencies like the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and locally with the South River Federation and other groups. About two years ago, I stepped into the shoes — or rather, the hip waders — of Chris Trumbauer, who served as Riverkeeper for a number of years when Bob moved up to serve as board chairman.
    The other great benefit of this job is the chance to work with so many dedicated volunteers, like the dozen citizen-scientists who are out on small boats every week between May and October, rain or shine, monitoring the quality of the water. We assess the results in an annual report card. You can see the reports on the website. We were up a half point this past year, to a D+ from the D the year before.
    On top of the usual parameters — water clarity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients and the presence of subaquatic vegetation — we also test for bacteria.
    Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we take samples at 14 sites, mainly near community beaches, and report the results on a weekly basis through a free downloadable app called The Swim Guide, so you can see if your local swimming hole is safe for your kids and dogs to play in.
    We use these data to target restoration projects, like the stormwater treatment project we’re planning at the Holly Hill Harbor community beach on the Mayo Peninsula with another Chesapeake Bay Trust grant. The site, up near the headwaters of Bear Neck Creek, had been a consistent hot spot for bacteria readings. The new wetland will slow the flow of storm runoff and serve as a last line of defense for the creek.
    But some of the best fun I have is when I get to introduce people to the beauty of these rivers and the Bay. We’ll be holding free public kayak sessions every Thursday evening over the summer. We have partnered with the Maryland Park Service to open Franklin Point State Park to the public. This is a 477-acre tract of fields, forests and marsh that was saved from development 20 years ago, but that’s been locked behind a gate since then. Watch this space for a special event in July that will unveil new interpretive hiking and water trails.
    Want to join the fun? I’m always looking for new volunteers. Reach me at [email protected] or 410-867-7171.

Upcoming West/Rhode Riverkeeper Events

Avalon Shores Earth Day Cleanup
Saturday, April 23–Join volunteers from the Avalon Shores community to clean the park, beach and roadsides. Work gloves, water and snacks provided. 8am-noon:

Pigs & Pearls Barbecue & Oyster Roast
Saturday, April 30–Be part of a mouth-watering fundraiser to benefit the West/Rhode Riverkeeper with live music by the Eastport Oyster Boys. 2-6pm, Pirate’s Cove Dock Bar, Galesville: $40 includes 18 tickets for your choice of oysters, BBQ sandwiches and local craft beer: ­

Chesapeake EcoQuiz
Tuesday, May 10–Team up with friends to test your knowledge of Chesapeake Bay ­natural and cultural history with this fun pub quiz.
7-9pm at the Inn at Pirates Cove, Galesville. $10 cover (food and drinks available):

Ride for the Rivers & Muddy Bottom BBQ
Saturday, May 14–Metric century or 40-mile bicycle ride, plus family-friendly routes. 7am-3pm from Discovery Village, Shady Side, followed by the Muddy Bottom BBQ, noon-3pm, with local craft beer and live music, plus fun family activities. Ride: $50, rsvp: