By Keri Luise
In September 1971, over 130 representatives from public and private institutions gathered to discuss problems surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and how to restore it back to health.
That was the birth of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Annapolis nonprofit turns 50 this year, celebrating a half century of dedicated work to improve the lands and waters of the Bay watershed through agriculture, forests, green infrastructure and community connections.
“We convene voices to talk about problems…and start to brainstorm solutions,” says Kate Fritz, the Alliance’s CEO. “And the second part of our theory of change is to actually bring resources to bear, to help implement those solutions on the ground.”
Those solutions include planting trees, helping private landowners forest their lands and working with homeowners to reduce runoff from their properties. The Alliance works with groups throughout the Bay, from businesses and government agencies to community groups.
When the Alliance initially formed it was called The Citizens Program for the Chesapeake Bay. There was an environmental consciousness growing within the nation as people began to consider their impacts on the future, says Fritz.
“I’ve been thinking about how the Alliance has changed in the last 50 years and while the faces and the outputs of our work has changed.. our core mission really remains the same, which is to bring together unlikely allies to create solutions to some of our most challenging issues facing the Chesapeake Bay. And it’s so great to see that 50 years later we continue to still do that work.”
Even during a global pandemic, the Alliance remains committed.
“The work has not stopped, that’s for sure,” says Fritz. “One of the great things we saw in 2020 was an outpouring of support and a real increase in engagement in the work that we’re doing.” Fritz credits this to the idea that in 2020 people rediscovered getting outdoors.
“We get going in our busy daily lives, but in the pandemic, the only place you could get out to sometimes safely was your local stream or your local park or a walk in your neighborhood, and so I think people really were starting to reconnect with the outdoors and I think that was a silver lining through this pandemic,” says Fritz.
Now that winter weather has driven most of us indoors, we can support the Bay and the Alliance from home. Beginning Jan. 21, the Alliance hosts their third annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival and this year it will be a streaming event.
The virtual festival features films about conservation, adventure, and activism in celebration of the planet and hopefully inspires viewers to take action as environmental stewards.
“The videos…not only tell environmental stories, but they also tell stories of the people who are fiercely working to protect and restore our natural spaces and so it’s really an inspiring night.”
The festival includes a film about Rockfish Gap in the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley, put together by Shawn Kimbro, a board member of the Alliance and local fishing guru and author.
This year’s Film Festival also debuts a video highlighting its work over the last 50 years to kick off the anniversary celebration. And in honor of the Alliance’s 50th anniversary, the organization is presenting a new initiative called 50 Stories.
“We’re trying to tell 50 different stories about our history and connecting it to our future and where we’re headed as an organization, where our movement is headed, where the challenges and opportunities for the Chesapeake Bay lie,” says Fritz.
Fifty years of stories makes for one compelling read of an organization that continues to contribute to the health of our Bay.