The rolling hills and rocky streams of Lancaster County, PA — my hometown and current residence — may seem a world apart from the salty tidal wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay. But the two environments are inextricably connected by water and gravity.

Stream restoration work in Pennsylvania is crucial to the health of the Bay. Equally important are the benefits to the local waterways and wildlife. I’ve always loved hiking along small streams in the woods and observing the plants and animals that make their homes there. And I’ve always been eager to learn more about these natural spaces and work to protect them or perhaps even create more of them.

Rebecca Lauver works at a native plant giveaway event in Pennsylvania, the final phase of her capstone project for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. Her project focused on increasing native habitat for pollinators. (Brittany Smith)

So it probably came as a surprise to no one who knew me that in my junior year at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA, I took on the job of biodiversity coordinator for the school’s Office of Sustainability, working to promote native habitat and wildlife diversity on campus. Thanks to previous internships at the Stroud Water Research Center, I was familiar with the ecological importance of streamside buffers and wanted to reforest our campus’s stream.

I reached out to Ryan Davis, the Pennsylvania forest projects manager at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, to see if the Alliance would support a tree-planting effort at my college. They did. Within less than a year, we had planted 1.5 acres of new forest on campus, which grew to a total of 6.4 acres over the next two years.

That hands-on experience was crucial as I looked for post-college opportunities. Ultimately, I decided to join the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. This program has played an important role in helping young adults launch environmental careers.

The corps was established in 2010 by the Maryland General Assembly, spearheaded by the late Sen. Mike Miller. Under the aegis of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, it addresses environmental issues in the watershed while preparing young adults for green careers and increasing the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.

Chesapeake Conservation Corps training day
A training day brought together members of the 2020-2021 Chesapeake Conservation Corps to help increase the native biodiversity around several small ponds at Camp Puh’tok in Monkton, MD. (Erin Baggs)

Every year since the program’s start, 35 to 40 recruits have been matched with environmental groups throughout the watershed to complete a yearlong stipend-paid position under the Trust’s support and coordination.

The Alliance began participating in the Chesapeake Conservation Corps in 2012 and has hosted seven interns, including two this year: University of Virginia graduate Mel Throckmorton, who holds a degree in environmental science, and myself, with a biology degree from Messiah. Two of the Alliance’s five previous interns are now on its staff.

Lucy Heller, a corps member in 2018-2019, is the organization’s engagement specialist. “There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help from the Chesapeake Conservation Corps,” said Lucy, who came to the corps after graduating from College of Wooster in Ohio. “The CCC program is a great way to get your foot in the door at [organizations] like the Alliance, while also allowing you the year to figure out what it is that you’re interested in.”

Amanda Bland, a Southern Marylander with an environmental studies degree from Washington College, was in the 2019–2020 cohort. She is now the Maryland projects associate. “The Chesapeake Conservation Corps gave me the opportunity to learn from professionals in the region, strengthen my skills … and work alongside staff at the Alliance to make a difference in the watershed,” Amanda said.

Laura Cattell Noll was assigned to the National Aquarium in Baltimore during her time with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps in 2011–12. She said her work that year taught her the vital importance of collaborating with local governments. Laura is now the Alliance’s local government project manager.

In August, I start my environmental career as Pennsylvania forest projects associate, based at the Alliance’s Lancaster office. I am thrilled to continue with some of the projects I previously handled while taking on additional responsibilities.

As we work to improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is very fulfilling to see the connections and partnerships that are formed to get this work done. Through the Chesapeake Conservation Corps and other initiatives, we can continue to partner across states and through various organizations to restore local ecosystems and beyond.

Rebecca completed her year as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member and is now working for the Alliance full-time as our Pennsylvania Forest Projects Associate.