The table was laid with plates of beautifully arranged fruit, wedges of endive stuffed with salmon, several kinds of cheeses, crackers, chocolates, two kinds of home-made hummus, and smoked salmon slices. Mint and fruit infused water and sassafras tea slaked our thirst. Cascades of lilacs, redbud branches, and ornamental pink cherry blossoms spilled from vases. But even this lavish feast paled in comparison to our enthusiasm in response to the generosity and wisdom of our guests, each of whom represented one of the sponsoring organizations that support the Virginia Master Naturalist Program.
This was the first event of its kind, in which a Master Naturalist trainee group initiated a meet-and-greet to facilitate face-to-face interactions with representatives of each of our six sponsoring agencies. We wanted to share a few tidbits from that experience with the broader Headwaters community.
In preparation for the meet and greet, trainee Peggy Plass summarized the role of the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the potential for volunteers to become more involved with that organization:
While much of the work of the VDOF requires professional credentials, there are also ways in which the agency might be able to make use of volunteers. These include assistance with monitoring forests for signs of disease or insect infestation and collecting acorns to be used in the growing of seedlings and trees which the VDOF offers for sale.
Volunteers might also be able to assist in some of the educational efforts of the VDOF. For example, currently there are geo-caching activities in the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest which are presented as a “family activity” to encourage greater involvement of adults and children in the state in the understanding and care of our forests. There’s currently no such “treasure hunt” available in Rockingham or Augusta counties. In addition, the VDOF also offers a “narrated” driving tour of the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. Volunteers could possibly assist in creating a similar resource for forests in Rockingham and Augusta.
(Does anyone feel inspired for a geo-caching treasure hunt?)
In person, Justin Barnes, senior forester from the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), joined us and talked about how the region has changed over the past few decades. We now have more trees than we did a hundred years ago, but many of them are now in cities and suburbs—a new kind of forest with different characteristics.
In contrast, according to trainee Elaine Smith’s interview with Graham Simmerman, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is highly regulated, making volunteer research inappropriate, but public education and outreach are highly encouraged. Most importantly, Graham emphasized the value of attending public meetings and commenting. We VMN people are also invited to visit the DEQ sometime to see what they do in person; please call a week in advance. Graham’s most surprising statement was that “pouring a gallon of milk into a creek is environmentally more devastating than pouring a gallon of diesel fuel!” He explained that this is because the nutrients in milk settle in one place, fostering an algae bloom that disrupts the stream’s ecology and can lead to fishkill. Diesel, on the other hand, tends to float and break apart, dispersing over a larger area and thus, causing little damage in one particular area. One might ask, “Who pours milk into a stream?” Well, we don’t anymore, but dairy farmers in the past used to clean their milk cans in a Buttermilk Creek, which was how it earned its name.
Paul Bugas from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) joined us, carrying a copy of Virginia Wildlife and a large map of Virginia to share with us so that we could get a picture of the different management regions.
Adam Christie from the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Program (DCR-NHP) chatted with RoxAnna after the reception and offered to become more involved with Headwaters. He has enjoyed participating with other VMN chapters in their monthly general membership meetings and wants to do the same with Headwaters when we are ready to get to that point. As a chapter, we can think about when we want to begin holding such meetings. (Now who’s feeling inspired to organize that?)
Virginia Cooperative Extension’s (VCE) unit coordinator, Jeremy Daubert, shared about his work with connecting farmers to needed agricultural practices. Did you know that Rockingham County has hundreds of dairy farms—the most in Virginia?
The representative from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) was not able to be with us, but earlier in the week, Len Poulin, a Board member of its future second location, shared with VMN trainee Lacey Dean via phone conversation about the up-and-coming additional location to be built in Waynesboro in the coming year. He said that in the future, there may be need for volunteers as docents and tour guides, but for now, the organization is deep in the fund-raising stage. Volunteer grant writers would be plenty welcome.
All in all, it was a lovely experience to see one another’s faces, to shake hands, to chat informally about our kids taking Agriculture classes, to compare notes on stream quality, and to brainstorm ways that we can become more closely networked for the good of our future projects and natural communities.
– Anna Maria Johnson, Cohort IV, May 2015