Blogger Kristen Koch
December 20, 2023
Nine years ago, I was two years into my career when I was contacted by Connie Schmotzer, a fellow Penn State Extension employee who I had yet to meet. She informed me that she was on the Board of the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council, that they were looking for new members, and that because of my role in watershed restoration and status as a young professional, she thought I would be a good fit. I was nervous and excited to learn the ins and outs of a small non-profit and how I could have a bigger role in Chesapeake Bay restoration. I never would have guessed that I’d end up serving as a Conference Coordinator, an Outreach Committee Chair, a CBLP instructor and ultimately Vice Chair.
I am approaching the end of three terms on the board and will be rotating off at the end of the year. As I reflect on my time with CCLC, what strikes me the most is how much positive change has occurred in what feels like a blink of an eye:
- The Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) program has gone from being an idea and grant application to a robust program that has trained thousands of landscape professionals.
- Employee numbers increased from zero to six staff, including an Executive Director
- Our annual budget has more than doubled
- CCLC has a new logo, a strong email and social media presence, and beautiful marketing materials.
- Riparian Buffer Month was initiated and in two years has engaged over 30 partners who have supported the effort through social media posts, events, news articles, and more.
- There are new opportunities to to support the organization financially, including corporate sponsorships, gifts of securities, Giving Tuesday participation, the Scotty scholarship program, and CBLP Program Participant sponsorships.
- “The Gathering” blog was developed during the pandemic as a way to bring people closer together through stories and shared experience. This is the 37th post that has featured almost that many different authors from across the Chesapeake Bay region.
- Several operational changes have been made including: a formal onboarding process for new members; the adoption of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Statement; updated Bylaws to allow board members to serve three terms instead of two so we can keep institutional knowledge and build leadership, and a plan to develop several other policies that will further improve the Governance of the organization.
- Meetings, which used to require a 2.5+ hour drive for many of the board members or calling in on speaker phone with horrible audio quality, are now held on Zoom. We can now recognize each other when we do attend in person events!
- My personal knowledge and confidence has grown significantly thanks to the experiences I was given through participation on the board and all of CCLC and CBLP’s programs.
- And maybe, most importantly, that the landscape we operate in, is also changing. Native plants are more widely available; meadows, riparian buffers, and rain gardens are more common; the network of landscape professionals who focus on conservation landscaping is stronger and more widely recognized; municipalities have MS4 Permits that require restoration projects; and it seems to me that more of the general population is aware of watershed restoration work.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the amazingness of the Turning a New Leaf Conference. While some format changes have been made (we have a day of field trips now!), the quality of presentations, excitement of attendees, and goals of the Conference have stayed the same. It is an outstanding sustainable landscaping conference! I have personally attended five Turning a New Leaf conferences and love that it moves to a different region of the Bay watershed with every conference, always has an agenda that makes me wish I could listen to more than one presentation at a time, and leaves me hopeful for a future of more beautiful and purposeful landscapes.
The conference held earlier this month was no exception. At the Welcome Dinner, Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy gave an inspiring presentation about the Chesapeake Bay Region and its value to people near and far, past and present. He encouraged each of us to support a movement to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA) as part of the National Park System to benefit and celebrate the Bay. This was followed by the presentation of the Marcy Damon Conservation Landscaping award to Sylvan Kaufman, one of the founding mothers of CCLC and the announcement of the new “Scotty Scholars” scholarship fund for CBLP that has been created in memory of Scotty Guinn Dilworth (1965-2022).
The conference itself, held at the beautiful Chesapeake Bay Beach Club on Kent Island, only continued to motivate and inspire attendees. Abra Lee, Oakland Cemetery’s Director of Horticulture and author, kicked off the day with stories of Black lady legends of horticulture. Her excellent presentation will definitely have me checking out her soon-to-be-published book Conquer the Soil to learn more about women like Blanche King Hurston, Bessie Weaver, and Effie Lee Newsome. Presentations on everything from urban trees and climate change to meadows establishment and workforce development filled the day. It ended with an abundance of knowledge shared about native bees and wasps by Heather Holm. Did you know that bees will only nest in plant stems AFTER the stems have been cut (8 – 18 inches high) to create an opening?
I learned new terms like, “Fetch,” “Revetment,” and “Thin Layer Placement (TLP)” while participating in the post-conference Living Shoreline field trip. The field trips provided an additional opportunity to network, explore the area, learn new things, and see conservation landscaping in action. It was a beautiful end to a great conference. I wholeheartedly agree with the words from one attendee’s conference evaluation form, “Turning a New Leaf is always a JOY to attend!”
I might be leaving the board but this won’t be my last Turning a New Leaf conference. It was great to see some of our new board members at this year’s conference and I look forward to continuing to see new faces in the future. In fact, we have a great group of new board members starting their terms in 2024 and I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce them:
- Larry Davis, CEO of Green Mechanics Benefit LLC
- MarieClaire Egbert, Executive Assistant and Operations Manager at Chesapeake Legal Alliance
- Matt Gallagher, Chief of the Planning and Reporting Department at the DC Department of Energy and Environment
- Hilary Snyder, Landscape Designer with YSM Landscape Architects
- Beth Yount, Extension Educator and Master Watershed Steward Coordinator for Penn State University
I’m so grateful for the experiences that CCLC has given me. I am both saddened to leave the board while also looking forward to seeing what fun projects will fill the spaces in my calendar. Although I’m sure a few CCLC/CBLP tasks will still find their way on to my to do list. I’m invested in the organization now and know that volunteers are always welcome. I hope the new board members will find their niche in the organization, enthusiastically contribute their ideas and abilities, step up to lead projects and committees, and find the opportunity as rewarding as I have.
Kristen Koch is the Program Manager for the Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center. She coordinates watershed partnership initiatives such as the Conewago Initiative and the Chiques Reenvisioned project. She is a co-coordinator of the Greening the Lower Susquehanna Volunteer Corps, a group of 500+ volunteers that help plant riparian buffers and other water quality BMPs. She also develops and leads educational programming as part of the Penn State Extension Water Resources Team and is an instructor for the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional level 1 training. She has a B.S. in Environment Resource Management and has a Master’s in Public Administration from Penn State.