[one_full background_image=”https://www.allianceforthebay.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/osprey-landing-in-nest-with-fish_credit-paul-warren-2007_become-a-part-of-our-work_1.jpg” ] This word cloud was created by searching “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement”. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appears. (Sarah Davidson)”Making the Connection” was the theme for the 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Forum. This theme was provided to guide the presenters this year and to lend continuity between the ongoing topics that were addressed. But the theme truly took on a life of its own as we saw before our eyes the nearly 400 attendees connect with each other and make connections between their work and a greater picture.[one_full class=” acb-img-container” ] Wallace “J” Nichols explaining the connecting and calming power of water at the 2014 #ChesForum. Photo credit: Will ParsonsThere is no doubt that during the plenary sessions we got a glimpse of this greater picture. The keynote speaker, Wallace “J” Nichols spoke about his concept of neuroconservation, which he discusses in his bestselling book, Blue Mind. He reminded us that having the privilege of safe water and natural spaces is special, inspiring a happiness that only water can. Nichols expressed that this virtue of water is one of the best justifications for watershed restoration.

It was clear that Nichols’ talk touched many at the Forum from the elations shared on twitter and other social media sites. Because of the active involvement using the official hashtag, #ChesForum, the Alliance created a compilation of the social media messages shared throughout the Forum. This annotated compilation, called a Storify, gives a window into the experience of the entire Forum. Users shared their connection with Nichols’ thesis, their praises of other talks and sessions and the fun that they had throughout the weekend.

Other events during the Forum also inspired a renewed sense of purpose. The Alliance and the US Forest Service honored this year’s Chesapeake Forest Champions. Joe Howard earned a Lifetime Achievement Award. Evergreen Heritage Center was awarded Most Effective at Engaging the Public. West Virginia Project CommuniTree was honored for Greatest on the Ground Impact. Nancy Baker was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. Thanking individuals for their outstanding efforts shed light on one individual’s enormous potential to create a lasting positive impact on the watershed. Matthew Tejada of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. Photo credit: Will ParsonsMatthew Tejada of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice discussed the complexities of achieving equal protection from environmental threats and equal enjoyment of natural benefits. Tejada spoke of the EPA’s involvement at the community level to address the goal of environmental justice. The importance of working on a smaller, community scale resonated with many at the Forum who do similar work in their organizations to effect change.Overall, the 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Forum succeeded in connecting people working in the watershed to each other and to the ideas that inform and inspire their work. With its partners, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has already begun planning for the 2015 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, which is to be held on September 25-27, 2015.