Standing up for science and connecting families with nature across Virginia.
By Daniel White on May 04, 2017
In simple terms, science is the process of learning how our world works. So when Earth Day rolls around, celebrating our planet and our human endeavors to investigate and explain it go hand in hand.
After all, Earth Day was created as a direct result of science alerting the nation to growing environmental threats. Science has guided The Nature Conservancy’s conservation work for decades, and today, more than ever, we need science to inform and inspire solutions. As we grapple with challenges from a changing climate to overfished oceans, science gives us hope for a better future.
This year, the Conservancy signed on as an official sponsor of the March for Science, and our Virginia colleagues participated in events in D.C. and Charlottesville. Of course, from the western Virginia mountains to the Eastern Shore, we also continued our tradition of offering people hands-on opportunities to connect with nature on our preserves.
Read on for a roundup of scenes and stories from our Earth Day celebrations across the commonwealth.
Shaina Huynh (field ecologist) and Judy Dunscomb (senior scientist) fielded questions at the Charlottesville March for Science. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)
Charlottesville March for Science
Thanks to science — specifically meteorology — our Conservancy team arrived at IX Art Park for the Charlottesville March for Science equipped with rain gear and umbrellas, as well as a tent to cover our booth. Conservation scientists Judy Dunscomb, Gwynn Crichton, Shaina Huynh and Jensen Montambault also came prepared for the "Ask a Scientist" portion of the program.
Shaina, who specializes in wetland and stream restoration, said she was surprised by how many people were intrigued by her Munsell Soil Color Charts. Similar to a collection of swatches you might use to choose new paint colors, the Munsell charts sparked numerous conversations about how soils change in response to restoration projects, such as nearby Meadow Creek.
State Sen. Creigh Deeds talks with Senior Scientist Judy Dunscomb about the Allegheny Highlands. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)
Migration and Mapping
In addition to a computer animation of wildlife migration patterns in response to climate change, Judy pointed to our statewide project map as a key conversation starter. Those drawn to the map included State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who zeroed in on Warm Springs Mountain — a familiar landmark in his home territory of Bath County. Their conversation then turned to the coast and efforts to restore oyster reefs.
From left: Elizabeth Derby, Tom Moutinho and Kristin Fread brought positive messages to the Charlottesville March for Science. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)
Standing Up for Science
As the non-scientist on our team, I was able to ask my own questions. I wanted to know what brought folks out in the rain — a downpour at one point — to stand up for science.
Tom Moutinho and Kristin Fread (pictured above right), graduate students in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, expressed concerns about the nation’s commitment to funding vital research.
Maureen and Joe Mikolajczak wear their support for science not just on their sleeves. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)
Showing Support for Science
Maureen and Joe Mikolajczak traveled from Louisa County to show their support. “Nature and science are very dear to our hearts,” Maureen said.
“It all ties together,” Joe agreed.
Canine participant; Gwynn Crichton (senior project scientist) shares a baby night heron plushy. Photos © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)
Life Without Science?
Members of Charlottesville's canine community helped pack the park, and I asked spokesdog Boston Terrier, “What would life be like without science?”
"Ruff!" he replied.
Wagon tour at Brownsville Preserve on the Eastern Shore. Photo © Jodi Sape
Open Farm Day at Brownsville Preserve
Meanwhile, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Conservancy colleagues and volunteers hosted well over 200 visitors during the second annual Open Farm Day at Brownsville Preserve. A former plantation, Brownsville now serves as a living laboratory for conservation science and headquarters for our Virginia Coast Reserve.
According to Margaret Van Clief, outreach coordinator, guided wagon tours (pictured above) were among the day’s most popular activities.
Showing off a critter creation. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Jennifer Davis)
Connecting Kids with Nature
Open Farm Day was a big hit with families, Margaret reported. Kids created nature-themed arts and crafts and enjoyed activities such as the Piping Plover Survival Game, which resulted in “lots of shrieking and learning,” she said.
To play the game, some players assume the role of plovers trying to feed at the surf line, while other players act as predators. Everyone learns that a shorebird's life is perilous!
Missy Neff (legislative affairs director) assists a young bird watcher; a family explores marshes at Brownsville. Photos © The Nature Conservancy (Alex Novak and Jennifer Davis)
Visitors of all ages also enjoyed guided kayak tours, nature walks led by master naturalists, and, of course, the ever-popular picnic lunches. Hardy explorers ventured out on their own to explore the Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail, or the four extra miles of trails open only during special events at Brownsville.
Volunteers Melinda Hooker and sons, Elizabeth McNichols, and Sarah Bates help Sam Lindblom (director of land management, far left) with preserve maintenance at Warm Springs Mountain. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Jen Dalke)
Warm Springs Mountain Workday
Across the state and up on Warm Springs Mountain, nearly 20 volunteers cheerfully worked through a foggy, drizzly Earth Day morning. A downpour finally forced an early halt for lunch, but “not before the crew completed several projects to enhance the visitor experience,” according to Jean Lorber, interim director of the Allegheny Highlands Program.
Volunteers Hubert and Michelle Newton, along with Grace Cole and her friend, plant native shrubs at the preserve entrance adjacent to Ingalls Field. Photos © The Nature Conservancy (Holly Korab) and © Melissa Cole
Care and Feeding of a Preserve
Around a new kiosk at the preserve’s southern entrance, adjacent to Ingalls Field, volunteers planted native blueberries and coneflowers. They also performed maintenance and cleanup — "the care and feeding of a preserve," as Jean calls it — on the Bear Loop Trail and helped install a new interpretive sign to highlight our fire program.
Volunteers included several locals, along with folks who drove from Richmond and Manassas, according to Jen Dalke (volunteer program manager). The consensus among volunteers, Jen said, was a plan to come back soon — but on a clear day to enjoy the views!
See More and Stay Connected
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Daniel White is a senior writer for the Conservancy based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and editor of Virginia's Passport to Nature blog.
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