This month, as part of our 50 stories for our 50th Anniversary, we are focusing on the theme “Across the Generations.”  With 50 years of experience, the Alliance has worked with some incredible leaders from across the decades. We interviewed Charlie Conklin, former Board Member, Watershed Forum planning team member, and long-time supporter, of the Alliance.  Charlie has been involved in his community north of Baltimore, MD, as part of the leadership of the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy (GVC) for the last few decades.

Charlie (far right) with Bill and Barb Harmen at the annual Taste of the Chesapeake in 2011

Charlie became involved in the Chesapeake Bay world by first volunteering in the early 1990s with Gunpowder Conservancy, a local environmental organization. He learned the value of the natural world and why the environment was so important. Charlie also gives credit to his wife, who worked at Johns Hopkins and got them to participate in the “certificate of environmental studies.”

“It was then that I became dedicated to seeing what I could do for the environment and the natural world for future generations,” Charlie explains. 

In 1999, Charlie became more aware of the Alliance through his friends and the state of Maryland’s  Tributary Strategies teams, where he heard about the Alliance’s work. He also lived not too far from the headquarters at the time, located in Towson, Maryland. 

“The Alliance had so many different tools…I’d call the Alliance staff, and I would get good ideas, suggestions, or they would point me in the right direction. It was wonderful to make that connection.” Charlie quickly became friends with Executive Director at the time, Fran Flanigan, and the other staff.  

Charlie had just retired from Sparrow Point and realized in his many years there that the only thing they cared about was how many tons per hour of product they could produce. When Charlie joined the Alliance’s Board, he said it felt like a “birthday gift” he was so happy to start doing his part to help the environment. Charlie remained on the board from 1999-2010 and said some of his favorite memories were the board retreats and getting to explore all the Chesapeake Bay states. 

However, his favorite memory was working with former staff member Lou Etgen to start the first Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum 16 years ago in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. “It brought so many different organizations together throughout the watershed that provided a place to network and learn about all that we are doing, and it still exists today!” Charlie reminisces. In connection with the Watershed Forum, Charlie says there’s a quote he likes to use to remind himself of the importance of coming together, communication, and education. 

Charlie Conklin (far right) at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in 2017 (Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program)

“It’s through others; we become what we are today.” 

Someone might give you a suggestion, and then all of a sudden, that one tip can open up a whole new door you never would’ve discovered otherwise. Charlie believes that the Alliance’s annual Watershed Forum is a place that instills that quote. 

The Watershed Forum is just one of the many things that the Alliance does to bring people together, which Charlie sees as the Alliance’s most significant accomplishment of the past 50 years. Another was starting the Bay Journal, “the Bay Journal is important because of the diversity of its items…including stories of success, which you hope will be contagious. It also educates us about the challenges we are currently facing.” Charlie said. 

As we celebrate the many generations involved in the past 50 years of the Alliance, we asked Charlie to reflect on what he’d tell the people of the environmental movement of the 1970s, “Accentuate the importance and benefits of restoring the bay and the natural world, our health being number one.” Charlie has felt that he’s learned more about how the environment affects the health of people and wants to share that knowledge with others, “sometimes we are so focused on the cost and not the long term health effects.” 

Charlie at the 2017 Taste of the Chesapeake

In the next 50 years, Charlie hopes that the Chesapeake Bay environment is sustainable, that there’s habitat for all living creatures that help make our mother earth sustainable, and for a clean environment for the next generations to be able to enjoy nature the way he has.