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Teacher Continues Tireless Stewardship for the Watershed

More trees are now growing in Pennsylvania and across the Chesapeake watershed thanks to a Maryland middle school teacher.

John Smucker and his organization, StreamLink Education, donated more than 100 large seedlings to the Alliance’s Pennsylvania office to use in our Franklin County Trees for Tomorrow Program, which has a goal of planting 150,000 trees in the county by 2016.

John Smucker tends to his saplings at the Mount Saint Mary’s University plant nursery. (Donna Morelli)

“I learned about Trees for Tomorrow on the Alliance website and liked that trees were being planted in the Conococheague Creek watershed,” Smucker said. “My goal is to improve the health of the county’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, one successful tree planting at a time.”

Smucker, called a modern day “Johnny Appleseed” in a recent feature story by Chesapeake Bay Program, would like to see every stream in the Chesapeake Bay watershed healthy and buffered with trees and shrubs. He’s responsible for organizing volunteers and planting many thousands of trees, partnering with the Potomac Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and other local groups.

To that end, he began stockpiling seedlings, grown from seed or donated from growers, to be used for projects. In a few years, he “outgrew” his first nursery at Frederick County’s Scott Key Center, an adult developmental center, and started another one at Mount Saint Mary’s University, which now has about 3,000 plants. In the past two years, he has spread his impact by donating approximately 500 trees and shrubs to other groups, including the Alliance in Pennsylvania. Another nursery is planned at Northwest Middle School in Carroll County. He said he will teach students what he’s learned about the survival rates of seedlings based on different variables. Trees grown at the school will be sold at a spring fundraiser.

“Since our greenhouse practices have become more efficient and success rates increased, we have been given the opportunity to support other nonprofits with plants for their projects,” he said.

His good deeds are not going unnoticed. He was named a Forest Champion in 2013 by The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and US Forest Service for demonstrating the “Greatest on the Ground Impact.” The purpose of the annual Forest Champions contest is to recognize the outstanding efforts of individuals and groups to conserve, restore, and celebrate forests throughout the six state Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Also in 2013, Smucker was given a Certificate of Appreciation by the City of Frederick, Maryland for leading a riparian buffer project along the Monocacy River.  In 2007, he earned the Fort Detrick Commander’s Environmental Award for organizing a tree planting project at Fort Detrick.

Smucker manages his efforts, he says, in about two hours a day outside of his family responsibilities and teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. You can find him on a cold December Sunday at former planting sites, removing tree shelters, or mowing tall grass around seedlings in the summer. The work is hard, but satisfying. The relationships with volunteers and organizations he’s made over the years make it worthwhile.

“I’ve always loved trees,” he said, when asked if he’s worried about adding even more sylvan influence to his life. “I want to build a wheelchair accessible greenhouse before I get older, so no matter what happens to me I can wheel in and rig an apparatus for me to get seedlings on my lap.”

Learn more about StreamLink Education at their website and consider volunteering at their next tree planting event.

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Jenna Mitchell Pennsylvania State Director, Pennsylvania Office

Jenna serves as the Alliance's Pennsylvania State Director, where she oversees our PA staff and manages several projects in the region.

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