In the fall of 2016, I had the opportunity to attend my first Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum as a Washington College student. I was in a semester-long program studying the ecology, history, culture, and economy of the Chesapeake Bay. To truly understand the magnitude of work being done to restore the watershed and its communities, it was only fitting that we attend the Watershed Forum in beautiful Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

As a student, it was inspiring to witness firsthand the hundreds of individuals driving change in the region, and having the opportunity to hear their stories and presentation on how the work was occurring. Our professors challenged us to approach presenters and engage with them after their presentations. While this felt intimidating at the time it only enhanced my first forum experience and gave me the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with individuals who were actively engaged in the work I was studying.

Walking through NCTC to attend each presentation is truly an experience in itself. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing colors, and the campus consists of multiple trails and walking bridges. The conference is like one big walk in the woods, with inspiring presentations, and endless snacks scattered throughout. 

I remember walking through the Chesapeake Conservation Corps poster presentation session amazed by how different each topic was, and appreciative that there was a program specifically designed for young professionals in the environmental field. Fast forward 3 years and I was standing in that very same spot, but this time as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member myself. It felt surreal to not only be back at NCTC after so many years but to be actively engaging in the work I had been so inspired by years ago at my first forum. I conducted my research and presented on designing living shorelines for community resiliency. During my corps year, I was matched with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as my host site and my role focused on supporting our living shoreline and stream restoration projects. My cohort was made up of professionals engaging in engineering, outreach, restoration, environmental education, and so much more. The best part about the forum is that all of these topics are covered throughout the week, and entities representing each of those sectors attend the forum. It truly is a place for all ages, a variety of interests, and diverse backgrounds. 

Poster presentation at Chesapeake Watershed Forum

Presenting my poster as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member in 2019

No year at the Watershed Forum looks the same, but returning for my third year as a full-time Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay staff member looked especially different. Like most events of 2020, the Watershed Forum went virtual. This event in specific poses unique challenges to host virtually due to sheer size alone. The Watershed Forum spans days, hundreds of attendees, and dozens of presentations. Additionally, attendees look forward to returning to NCTC year after year to spend a few days in the mountains engaging in meaningful conversations with colleagues, partners, and friends. With all of this being said I was blown away by how seamlessly the virtual forum occurred. The week was filled with inspiring speakers, impactful presentations, and engaging breakout conversations. It was ironic because the theme of the 2020 forum was Climate Resiliency in a Changing Chesapeake Watershed, and as expected discussed resilience and adaptability in the Chesapeake Bay. Just as the Chesapeake Bay needs creative and innovative thinkers to adapt to climate change, converting the forum to a virtual platform is no easy feat, but possible with intentional and dedicated individuals.  

I’m excited to see what this year brings at my 4th Watershed Forum. The theme The Future is Now: Getting to and moving Beyond 2025 spurs a sense of increased urgency and importance. I feel grateful that there is a large group of individuals working so hard to make this year worthwhile, and that there is an even larger group of attendees behind the motivation to host the event each year. Without the support, enthusiasm, and commitment from hundreds of people throughout six states the forum would cease to exist, or hold the impact it does today. The Watershed Forum isn’t only a time to learn and engage but reinvigorates each of us with the energy needed to take action beyond 2025. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum is a reminder to me, and so many others of why I joined the environmental field, and plan to stay in it for the entirety of my career. There is tough work to be done, but we stand a better chance at success when we come together. In my eyes, the Watershed Forum is the glue of the watershed.

Interested in registering for this year’s Forum? It’s not too late. Learn more here.