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Impassioned and focused, visionaries embrace the spirit of stewardship

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By Lori Valigra

THE HOPE AND PROMISE of a sustainable Gulf of Maine rests, in large part, on the passionate good works of people from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia who are actively engaged in the overall health of their watersheds. One of the main purposes of the Gulf of Maine Council's Visionary Awards, which are given each year, is to remind such stewards that they are not alone. The awards honor the innovation and creativity of individuals and organizations from each state and province bordering the Gulf of Maine.

Jack Buckley
Cohasset Center for Student Coastal Research

Cohasset, Massachusetts
Jack Buckley

Jack Buckley, a social studies teacher at Cohasset Middle School in Massachusetts, spent most of his life around boats. That led to his interest in the environment, and in 2003 the founding of the Cohasset Center for Student Coastal Research (www.ccscr.org). "My passion is providing an opportunity for kids to be out in the community gaining valuable knowledge and seeing how it applies to the world," says Buckley, the research center's president.

The center has a four-fold mission: inspiring students to study the region's marine environment, engaging them to study coastal watersheds, encouraging awareness about the environment and promoting activism within the community. About 30 students are involved in the center each year.

The program emphasizes developing working relationships among educators, students, as well as local, state and federal agency staff and coastal managers. Buckley has worked with students to get grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, MIT Sea Grant and other groups especially interested in monitoring, assessing or remediation projects.

Last year, for example, the students put together a report about sources of pollution in the Gulf River, which feeds into Scituate Harbor, and presented it to the Scituate Board of Health. The board replied with a letter saying the report helped it to take the necessary steps to address nonpoint source pollution. The report was based on the analysis of water samples the students took over periods of time. The students are conducting follow-up testing now.

Buckley also is thrilled that six of the center's students over the last six years have won the Henry David Thoreau Scholarship. It offers up to $30,000 to students who have demonstrated a commitment to the environment and who want to continue environmental studies as undergraduates.

Children outside Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre

Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre
St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Located on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre (www.sunburyshores.org) sits in the perfect location to explore the connections between art and nature.

Founded in 1964, the non-profit, membership organization offers courses and workshops throughout the week, as well as excursion programs for children. The center contains artists' studios, a print-making shop, a pottery studio, an exhibition gallery and a reference library. It also owns and maintains a self-guided hiking trail called the Two Meadows Nature Trail.

Founder Dorothy Meigs Eidlitz of Florida was a long-time summer resident of St. Andrews who believed in the Zen Buddhist concept of harmony between art and nature. Instructors at the center include naturalists, artists and crafts people.

Among the courses being offered this summer are "Understanding a Maritime Treasure - Our Arcadian Forest," taught by Jamie Simpson of the Nature Trust of New Brunswick. Another course is "Birding on Wolves Islands," taught by Tracey Dean, who directs the education department at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews.

In September 2005 the center started a program called Children Learning at Sunbury Shores (CLASS). The program allows children from kindergarten through grade eight to take part in nature classes and art at the center during regular school time. Naturalists and artists from the community serve as instructors.

The Two Meadows Nature Trail gives visitors an inside look into secondary succession, where land that was once cleared is allowed to revert back to its natural state. Wet areas have filled in with alders and other water-loving plants. And birch, aspen, fir, tamarack and white cedar have filled in the forest in drier areas, with the forest floor between them covered with mosses, ferns and flowering plants. Animals visitors might see include deer, porcupines, pileated woodpeckers and osprey.

Lorie Chase
Executive Director, Cocheco River Watershed Coalition
Dover, New Hampshire

Lorie Chase

Lorie Chase has acted like a concert director since co-founding the Cocheco River Watershed Coalition in 1998, defining its mission, developing a restoration plan and bringing together various parties in the watershed to address issues such as fish barriers, bank erosion, debris removal, septic systems and agricultural waste.

A former blueberry and Christmas tree farmer, Chase enjoys finding ways to make things happen. "We're trying to make a little bit go a long way," she says of the funding and other resources the group receives. Chase returned to school at age 50, earning a degree in resource administration from the University of New Hampshire. She became interested in the Cocheco because it has been a neglected river, polluted, smelly and overrun with plants such as duckweed. Chase, who works out of a small, donated office at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Program, conducted research on water quality and land use along the river, which passes the rapidly expanding residential areas in the towns of Dover, Rochester and Farmington. After eight years she came up with a plan to clean up the river that includes 84 actions.

"Ultimately we want communities to take over restoration of the river, so we can work our way out of a job," says Chase, who spends a good bit of her time writing grants and orchestrating collaboration among students, scientists, state and local officials.

One recent highlight was a canoe trip on the Cocheco from Farmington to Rochester. It attracted 103 people, including residents and the town mayors, to see what was out on the river and to talk about land use and its effect on water quality. "People were puzzled by the amount of trash in the river and where it comes from," she says. "Plastic bottles are the biggest problem, though there are a lot of fast-food containers."

She also is involved in an effort in Farmington that involves adults and students who found e.coli in the water. The students located the probable source - outdated sewers in old residences - and made recommendations to the community, which now is investigating the problem and what to do about it.

Joan Lyford

Joan Lyford
New Harbor, Maine

Joan Lyford becomes animated when talking about the damaged culverts that had choked up the six-acre marsh near Maine's Pemaquid Beach, just steps from her house at Fish Point. "Ten generations of our family have been here at this incredibly beautiful ground," says Lyford, a teacher who had visited Fish Point most of her life and then moved there permanently with her sculptor husband in 1963. "I fell in love with the marsh, and I wanted to see it taken care of."

In the 1940s a bridge that had let the tides in twice daily to wash out the marsh collapsed. It was subsequently replaced twice by culverts that weren't wide enough, so the marsh didn't get enough water and native species such as salt-tolerant plants, mummichogs, sticklebacks and other small fish the egrets and blue herons fed on disappeared, as did many of the birds.

Lyford wanted to do something, so she took photos of the crushed metal culverts and the damaged marsh and sent them to Jon Kachmar of Maine's State Planning Office. To her surprise, Kachmar responded quickly. He helped the local town manager write a grant to get state funds to replace the aluminum culverts with strong cement ones that were installed in April 2005. The marsh has since sprung back to life. "I'd never seen a mummichog before," Lyford says. "I held one in my hand and I think she smiled at me."

Lyford works as a volunteer to monitor the marsh. She and a friend, another former teacher named Diane Petty, recently set up a nature center on Pemaquid Beach near the changing rooms to educate visitors about the area and hopefully instill a sense of stewardship. The "Beachcomber's Rest" contains shells, photos and other items Lyford and her friends collected over the years.

While both the marsh and nature center run on shoestring budgets by volunteers and donations, they are making their mark on the area. The University of Maine's Darling Center brings down what Lyford refers to as local "critters" once a week during tourist season in a touch tank for visitors. She has started other activities like the "world of the small," where visitors are given magnifying glasses and taken into the tidal pools to observe the life forms in them.

Lyford is thrilled to see the return to the marsh of blue herons and egrets, and the mallard ducks that fly year round from the marsh to her back yard.

Susan Farquharson
Pocologan, New Brunswick

Susan Farquharson

Susan Farquharson has made a career out of volunteering, even though she does hold a paid position as executive director of Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc., an environmental resource center in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, which itself won a visionary award in 1998 (www.ecwinc.org).

But it was Farquharson's love of volunteering and the environment that got her invited to becoming a founding board member of Eastern Charlotte Waterways in the first place. She first became a volunteer 20 years ago, when she helped turn one-and two-room schoolhouses into larger school classrooms. Her work extended naturally to the environment, she says, because she loves her community around Pocologan and the coastal zone.

"My interest in fisheries comes from living in a coastal zone all of my life," says Farquharson. "I got involved in water-quality monitoring as a volunteer. My daughter and I were among the first to monitor the water quality in the New River in Pocologan."

About 10 years ago, as part of a kindergarten program turtles were brought into a school and the children learned about water quality. Farquharson soon began to hear anecdotes about how the children passed along their knowledge at home. "I'd heard that parents who were brushing their teeth and running the water were told by their six-year-old daughter that they shouldn't let the water run," she says.

She says volunteering allows her to meet a lot of people, get involved in interesting activities and give back to her community. "I always need to be doing something," she says.

While developing and overseeing environmental programs and projects at the Eastern Charlotte Waterways, she continues volunteer work on the side, including sitting on the Bay of Fundy Marine Resources Planning Committee. It is a volunteer group supported by government whose task is to develop guidelines for marine resource planning. In early May a large public outreach program began to collect information about how people in the area use the Bay of Fundy.

William D. Delahunt
Massachusetts’ 10th District

William Delahunt

William Delahunt has a keen interest in coastal wetlands, being the representative of the Tenth Congressional District of Massachusetts, the New England shoreline area that includes Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Boston's South Shore.

Re-elected four times to Congress over the years, Delahunt has championed coastal restoration projects on a national level, pushing for increased funding and innovative partnerships. One example is the Straights Pond Salt Marsh Restoration Project in the Massachusetts towns of Hull, Hingham and Cohasset. Straits Pond is a 92-acre open water system restricted from tidal flow by a culvert and tide-gate control structure at a crumbling bridge in Hull. Delahunt was able to get $750,000 in federal funds to repair the bridge and culvert and bring together industry, government and activists to craft a consensus on how to protect and restore the wetlands.

Last year he joined Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy in getting $500,000 for the Herring River Wetlands Restoration Project in Wellfleet, a town on Cape Cod. The project brings together officials from the town, the National Seashore and dozens of conservation groups to restore the estuary for recreation, wildlife and commercial fishermen. It is one of the largest restoration projects in the Gulf of Maine, and aims to restore tidal flushing to more than 400 acres of severely degraded estuarine and salt marsh habitat impacted by a dike and tide gates built across the mouth of the Herring River in 1908.

Stacie and Al Crocetti
Owners, Hardy Boat Cruises
New Harbor, Maine

Stacie and Al Crocetti with sons Theo (left) and Sebastian

Stacie and Al Crocetti, owners of the Hardy Boat Cruises (www.hardyboat.com) that take visitors to see puffins, seals and pristine Mohegan Island, have been recognized for their stewardship and as a model for "ecotourism." One of their most popular tours is the puffin tour. "We donate a lot to the Audubon's Puffin Project to bring puffins back to the coast of Maine," says Stacie Crocetti. "This is a win-win situation. Our visitors love it because they can contribute to restoration” of the puffin population.

Both Stacie and Al have a long-time love of the sea. Stacie holds a degree in marine science and Al graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The couple bought the Hardy Boat, which they saw in a magazine ad, after they got married, and made a business out of it. It holds 117 people. They not only conduct regular tours that are educational, but also conduct special cruises for school children. This summer Hardy Boat will start a pilot education program with a Harvard University professor to use a submersible so students can see the goings on under the surface of the water.

Stacie says she enjoys the education tours, especially with children who live near the ocean but who have never been to the shore or on a boat.

Another favorite tour of visitors is to Mohegan Island. The island has no paved roads and few residents. Electric power was brought in about 20 years ago. There, visitors can hike, learn about the environment and about the history of the island. "About three quarters of the island is preserved, so it's wildlands," Stacie says. "This is a big draw for school groups, because there are no cars or roads.”

Dean Peschel
Environmental Projects Manager
City of Dover, New Hampshire

Dean Peschel

Dean Peschel, who works in Dover's Community Services Department, has pushed aggressively over the past 10 years to identify and clean up pollution from sewage, pet waste and stormwater. One example is his work addressing failing septic systems with sewer extensions in areas that were affecting the quality of shellfish growing areas. The cleanup has resulted in improved water quality and shellfish harvest conditions.

Peschel was instrumental in turning a negative, an Environmental Protection Agency fine for sewer discharges, into a positive by negotiating a settlement that included restoration and seeding of oyster beds in the Bellamy River. He was a key player in developing Dover's innovative pet waste project. Through a program funded partially by the New Hampshire Coastal Program in 2004, researchers discovered fecal bacteria at several sites in the Great Bay watershed, including the Garrison Road neighborhood of Dover, which borders a tributary of the Bellamy River. They linked the bacteria to dogs via specialized DNA tests.

A collaborative effort between the city of Dover, resident volunteers and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program resulted in an outreach program to educate dog owners on the value of cleaning up pet waste. One example of the outreach program was an art contest in 2005 at the Garrison School. The winning logo was used for the Pet Waste Project's Web site, flyers, brochures and other promotional materials. At the time of the contest Peschel said that the contest would bring the message about the pollution home from kids who live in the neighborhood to their parents.

Warren Paton
Marshlands preservationist
Digby, Nova Scotia

Warren Paton

Renowned in his hometown of Digby, Nova Scotia, as an old-world toymaker, former college professor Warren Paton has taken the safe and friendly world of his toy shop to nearby St. Mary's Bay, where he has established a wildlife preservation area. Paton spent five years acquiring 65 acres of land and wetland to establish the Toymaker's Marsh Wildlife Area. Like the magical atmosphere in his toy shop, which he shares with children and adults alike, he also shares the marsh with others who embrace the vision of environmental stewardship and who "take their footprints with them" when they leave.

Salt marsh soils across Nova Scotia have been a historical favorite dating back to the Acadians, who in the 1630s and thereafter, saw the richness of the soils for farming and diked the marshes to keep out the salt water. The result was the loss of up to three-quarters of the salt marshes in Nova Scotia. In 1960 most of the St. Mary's Bay marsh also was diked for agriculture. The area Paton purchased at the east end of the marsh, however, was not, because it was too wet for cattle.

Paton writes a column in the local paper about the goings on in the marsh, including the eating habits of voles, which consumer 65 percent of their weight in grass each day, and the clever architecture of muskrat and beaver dwellings. He has built up to 20 bird boxes and hauled off 400 pounds of invasive purple loosestrife blossoms before they've gone to seed.

Paton considers the marsh his good friend, and says his motive for preserving it is that he enjoys biodiversity and seeing lots of animals. Among the birds that visit the marsh are red-winged black birds, grackles and great blue herons.

Saltmarsh Restoration Team
Ecology Action Centre
Halifax, Nova Scotia

From left: Cory Aldous, Tony Bowron, and Sean Weseloh McKeane at Visionary Awards ceremony in Nova Scotia

The small, damaged culvert that crosses Cheverie Creek in the Upper Bay of Fundy, restricted tidal movement from the salt marsh downstream. Enter the Saltmarsh Restoration Team of the Ecology Action Centre, a membership-based environmental organization, which became the driving force behind what turned into Nova Scotia's first community-based saltmarsh restoration project.

Cheverie was chosen as a restoration site in the summer of 2001 because a relatively large area of marsh could be improved inexpensively by replacing the culvert. It would also make the area safer, because the old culvert, which was damaged at both ends, created dangerous whirlpools at high and low tides, and created a flooding risk for the highway. The site also proved to be good for demonstrating and learning, because it is located just across the highway from a popular picnic and scenic outlook.

Tony Bowron, project coordinator, said that at one time, before the tidal river was filled with rock and the culvert, a bridge spanned the river, allowing waters to flow 30 miles and provide an important habitat for fish such as the Atlantic salmon, shad and gaspereau. But it became common for streams and rivers along the upper Bay of Fundy to be cut away from the marine ecosystem by roads and other barriers; about half the rivers in the Bay contain tidal barriers.

The restoration team got permission from local property owners, and in 2002 and 2003 it conducted research at Cheverie Creek to get baseline data on the marsh. The team secured a commitment from government to replace the culvert with a larger one, and got schools and the community involved through meetings. It also worked with other salt marsh restorationists in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine so its efforts matched standards in the region. The old culvert was replaced in 2005 with a larger, aluminum arch culvert that restored near full tidal flow to about 30 hectares of salt marsh. Restoring natural tidal flow will increase fish passage, reduce the risk of flooding, encourage tourism and recreation, and preserve habitat.

© 2006 The Gulf of Maine Times