On Saturday, I told my husband that I was going to visit the center of the universe, and he knew exactly where I meant – the Cape St. Claire Community near Annapolis, MD.  If you live in Annapolis, you likely know that there is always 6-degrees of separation to the Cape. While this might be our own private joke, the community of Cape St. Claire takes great pride in Stewarding their natural resources – their sense of service to others is unparalleled.

Years of Practice Makes Perfect

I met up with Brad Knopf in the parking lot near the local baseball field, where Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works had generously left a dumpster for the community to use during their annual Project Clean Stream event.  I have had the joy of knowing Brad for over a decade, having met him in the first class of the Anne Arundel Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA) in 2010.  Brad is an even keel kind of guy – “a guy who gets things done,” as his wife Marsha explained to me while we chatted.  What stuck out to me even more was Brad’s commitment to Project Clean Stream, something he’s been coordinating in Cape St. Claire for the last 6+ years.  He told me that one of the benefits of the Alliance’s PCS program was that it was plug and play – this means that communities can easily get the supplies and information they need to setup their own cleanup.  It’s also a program that’s been able to adjust safely to getting volunteers outside during the pandemic.  This year, Cape St. Claire had a pre-registration form for 25 attendees to join one of three sites.  Brad informed me that those 75 slots filled up quickly.

While chatting with Brad, another incredible Caper pulled around in her car, and I had the pleasure of chatting with Stacey Wildberger, an active member of the Cape Conservation Corps.  Stacey rattled off the common and scientific names of the native plants she was looking to plant in one of the community raingardens.  She told me about the “trade-in” program the Cape Conservation Corps was promoting, which gave any of the 8000+ people in the community the ability to dig up and remove one Nandina (an invasive bush commonly used in residential landscaping) in exchange for three native shrubs of the residents choice.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then the Capers have truly birthed some incredible ideas to fix some age old problems.  

By the time the three of us were wrapping up our conversation, we were manically plotting the next restoration opportunity in their community.  Mind you, the community’s second living shoreline is going to construction in the fall of this year – but that is by no means the end of the work for these dedicated Cape Conservation Corps members.

The Cape Conservation Corps – Another Great Idea

Brad checked his phone, where Marita Roos had been texting him to let him know that the 25 volunteers had finished their cleanup around the Cape St. Claire Elementary School. I swung by, and caught up with Marita, who is a landscape architect working as a Program Director for the Neighborhood Design Center.  I just missed the photo op of the group with the many bags of trash they collected, because a neighbor with a pickup truck had stopped by to unexpectedly help transport the bags back to the main dumpster for appropriate disposal – I get the impression that random acts of kindness are frequent in the Cape.  

Marita shared some group photos with me via AirDrop as we stood masked in the Elementary School Parking lot.  Marita has been a part of the Cape Conservation Corps since its inception, and she had played a leadership role in the continuation of this 40-member Program with a mission to “inspire community pride in our native landscape through projects that promote stewardship, create healthy natural spaces and champion fish able, swimmable waterways.”   Marita mentioned the other leaders of the Corps, especially Jennifer Vaccaro, who Brad corroborated as “a plant genius.”  Jennifer was one of the founding members of the Cape Conservation Corps, and in 2014, in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, then-Executive Director Al Todd (also a Cape St. Claire resident), successfully secured a grant to perform controlled burns to remove the very invasive Phragmites that was choking out native vegetation at Lake Claire.  Jennifer also helped bring EcoGoats to the community that year, where they gladly munched down the invasive English Ivy and other plants that had overtaken the native trees and shrubs.

In my 17 years of working on Chesapeake Bay issues, I’ve never encountered another community with such a rigorous and intentional community program as the Cape Conservation Corps – yet another reason that the Cape feels like the center of the universe.

Youth from the neighborhood joined the efforts to help pickup trash from around the Cape St. Claire Elementary School.

I said my goodbyes to Marita, and went from the elementary school to the Deep Creek Marina, where the third Project Clean Stream volunteer group was just wrapping-up.  The volunteers I found had wet shoes and pants, as they worked directly at the edge of the water in Deep Creek, a tributary to the Magothy River.  I chatted with Jeanne, also an active member of the Cape Conservation Corps.  I heard the tales of the large tires and other debris that they hauled out as a team.  All ages of volunteers were assisting, and I made sure to capture a group photo to commemorate their hard work.  While it’s hard to tell with masks on, smiles abounded with this group!

Community members of all ages helped remove trash from the Deep Creek Marina, located on the Magothy River.

For Brad – it’s Personal.

My final stop on the way out of the Cape was to photograph the Project Clean Stream signs that Brad Knopf had hand-lettered himself.  As a fan of calligraphy, the series of these six signs stuck out to me as I drove into the community that morning.  Bringing together his creative side with his interest in serving his community, Brad has created a permanent set of hand letter signs which he uses annually.  For Brad, this type of work is deeply personal.  

It is so abundantly clear that Cape St. Claire is truly at the center of the universe when it comes to passionate residents organizing to protect and restore their little slice of this earth.  I tell every Caper I run into about how incredible I think the energy and enthusiasm in their community is – they are truly a model for all the other communities living across the 500+ miles of coastline in Anne Arundel County.  As I drove home from the center of the universe, my mind wandered to what it would take to replicate the energy and passion in which Cape St. Claire has Stewarded their community.  To quote Ferry Fibriandani, “We are the center of the universe.  We’re right here, right now. We’re everywhere, and forever.”  May the incredible Capers of today and tomorrow continue their good work for a stronger community, and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

To learn more about the work that the Alliance has done in partnership with the Cape St. Claire Community, check out: