Attendees gather around a tree while Craig Highfield, ACB Director of Forestry Programs, teaches them about winter tree identification.

By Kate Fritz, Executive Director

It always feels like returning home when I drive through the gates at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV. And this year was no different.  

I calculated that this was the 9th Watershed Forum I had attended, and was my first as the Executive Director of the organization that coordinates it, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. The weekend was filled with learning and conversations between more than 400 watershed professionals, ranging in their careers from recent college graduate to retired volunteer. The atmosphere was electric with learning – many beers were shared at the bar, business cards were exchanged, hugs were given, and plans for 2018 were already set in motion.

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Sacoby Wilson, spoke about the intersectionality between the environment and health, and how we as the Chesapeake community can do better about intentionally doing more. The Chesapeake Collective was more visible than ever this year, we a large tent full of projects on the patio in front of Instructional West.

Forum attendees write down what connects them to the Chesapeake Bay and add it to the community mosaic as a part of the Chesapeake Collective.

I had the distinct honor of opening the 12th Annual Watershed Forum this year, and wanted to set a challenge for all of the attendees.  My slides purposefully excluded the use of “TMDL” and “WIP” and instead challenged attendees to step out of their comfort zones, and to move in and have courageous conversations this weekend. I challenged them to choose courage or comfort, for they cannot choose both. That idea was reflected back to me all weekend, with many attendees coming up to me to tell me about how they stretched their comfort zone during a session or a conversation. I am incredibly hopeful for our movement and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.