Combining Service Learning and Recreation for Stewardship

| New Orleans

Service learning is a powerful tool for connecting people and their communities to local parks and natural areas. To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, the REI Foundation partnered with the National Park Foundation to fund projects that introduce underserved, inner-city youth to their nearby national parks and engage them in service projects to improve them. The project purpose is to foster stewardship among participants, help them to discover opportunities for outdoor recreation, and instill the value of nature and our nations’ parks—both national and local.

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Oklahoma City’s Drinking Water in a Struggling Watershed

In 2012, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) received an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant, sub-granted by the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment, to study the causes of the eutrophic conditions in Lakes Hefner and Overholser and to evaluate which Best Management Practices (BMPs) could significantly reduce the nutrient load affecting water quality in the lakes. Originally, the study focused on identifying BMPs that could be implemented in the lakes themselves. However, it was found that most of the pollution was coming from urban runoff entering the North Canadian River.

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Photo of Lake Overholser

Tackling Runoff through Community Education and Technology

In urban settings, stormwater runoff is one of the leading water quality concerns due to limited surface area where water can infiltrate into the soil. Impervious surfaces result in water flowing quickly across pavement and down gutters and sewers rather than dispersing out evenly over the landscape. The farther and faster the water travels, the more contaminants and sediment it picks up along the way.

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Restoring the Wabash River in the Heart of Indiana

The Wabash River, which is Indiana’s state river, has a rich economic and cultural history. As a tributary of the Ohio River, it is part of the upper reaches of the 1,245,000-square-mile Mississippi River Basin, and so was a vital navigation and trade route for French traders traveling between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Emerald Necklace: Connecting the Mountains to the Sea

The San Gabriel River drains a 713-mile watershed in the San Gabriel Mountains, flowing as far south as Long Beach, where it enters Alamitos Bay as a tidal river. It shares its watershed with two other major rivers: the Los Angeles and the Santa Ana.

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Building the Future by Uncovering the Past

Most people are familiar with archeology as a field that explores ancient civilizations by uncovering artifacts. However, archeology has applications in modern urban locations as well. Cities change quickly, and in the process, the lives and stories of residents—and even whole neighborhoods and rivers—can be buried or substantially altered. Archeology can uncover the stories that never made it to the history books, and can also help communities to discover and tell their own stories and histories.

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Workforce Development: Empowering Baltimore’s Residents and Shaping Futures

The Patapsco River flows for 39 miles through central Maryland and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. The last 10 miles of the Patapsco River form an estuary that is home to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Historically, the Inner Harbor was an important seaport and is still an essential component to Baltimore’s economy by being home to one of the city’s largest tourist attractions.

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Connecting a River to the Fabric of a City’s Culture and History

The headwaters of the San Antonio River originate in Bexar County, from which it begins a 240-mile journey through six counties toward San Antonio Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. From Spain’s colonization efforts to the emergence of San Antonio as the second most populous city in Texas, the area’s rich history and culture have been shaped by the San Antonio River.

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Changing Behaviors Through Messaging

The Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association (BMW), with members from wastewater agencies, cities and counties, water providers, environmental groups, planning agencies, and recreational interests, believed that if Colorado residents knew how their daily choices affected the watershed, they would be more mindful and actively reduce pollution. In 2012, BMW was awarded an Urban Waters Grant from the EPA to develop and test clean water messages, including Spanish translations, and implement an ongoing messaging campaign.

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Ataque de las Algas poster

Youth Engagement on the Rio Grande: A Refuge for the Neighborhood

| Taos, NM

The Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, located in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the first US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) refuge in the Southwest to be designated an “urban refuge.” With funding from the US EPA Urban Waters Program, Amigos Bravos partnered with area organizations to engage youth directly in water quality monitoring in the Rio Grande and adjacent irrigation ditches. Many of the youth had never seen the river before, much less interacted with it.

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Albuquerque youth learn about stormwater and watershed health

Informing Our Future by Understanding Our Past

| Washington, DC

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum explores issues impacting urban contemporary communities. Its approach starts with research and documentation of urban life and history organized around the concerns that are relevant to the largely African American residents in the local river neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where the museum is located; then expands to metropolitan Washington, DC area and to like urban communities. Through its innovative research focus, exhibitions, and education programs on the issue of urban waterways, the museum has actively encouraged community investment and stewardship.

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Visitors to the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum explore the groundbreaking original exhibition, “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” part of the museum’s ongoing long range urban waterways initiative. On view Oct 2012─Nov 2013, “Reclaiming the Edge” examined the consequences of the abuse of waterways worldwide and the efforts by communities to restore them. Photos: Susanna Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/ Smithsonian Institution

Groundwork Elizabeth: Reconnecting the City and the River

| Elizabeth, NJ

The long-term vision for the Elizabeth River Trail project in Elizabeth, New Jersey is to connect people with the natural environment in the most densely populated region of the country. Through signage and service learning events, residents and visitors will learn about ecological restoration plans for the river and become environmental stewards of this valuable resource. Ultimately, the trail will tie into the regional network of greenways already established and under construction.

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Groundwork Elizabeth Green Team students use a recently installed lookout point to view the Elizabeth River. Photo: Groundwork Elizabeth.

Youth and Community Engagement Changes Places and Lives

| Washington, DC

Groundwork Anacostia, a “trust” under the umbrella of Groundwork USA, is based in the District of Columbia’s Ward 7, which has the longest portion of riverbank—including four out of the five tributaries that feed the Anacostia River. The neighborhood has a large amount of green space in the form of National Park Service (NPS) historical preserves, Civil War sites, and city parkland. Groundwork Anacostia’s main focus has been to improve this parkland, as well as local derelict lots and vacant land, in order to improve quality of life and access for neighborhood residents, while also offering innovative education and job training programs for area youth.

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Groundwork Anacostia Green Team youth paddle the Potomac River

The Duwamish Valley Youth Corps

| Seattle, WA

The Duwamish is Seattle’s only river. It is a 5.5 mile long Superfund site that flows through Seattle’s Duwamish Valley – a highly developed urban and industrial center south of downtown. In 2014, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Technical Advisory Group (DRCC/TAG) founded the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC) with support from the Forest Service’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership. The DVYC supports environmental improvement projects identified by residents in the Duwamish River Valley. With a focus on urban forestry, river restoration, and green infrastructure, the program is equal parts environmental science, job skills training, stewardship, and hands-­on restoration.

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Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition

Reawakened Beauty: Place-Based Learning on the Jordan River

| Salt Lake County, UT

In 2008, many Utah organizations came together to develop a long-range plan for the Jordan River that laid out a vision for a revitalized river corridor. The Jordan River Commission was created to spearhead this plan, and it has been successful in building partnerships with organizations now working together to implement this vision. These collaborations have led to a new public appreciation for the river corridor as a recreational amenity and opportunity for conservation, environmental education, and community building.

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Jordan River, Salt Lake County, Utah. Photo: Jordan River Commission.

Reclaiming Urban Waterways—Daylighting the Saw Mill River

Few environmental projects focus community attention as dramatically as those that seek to create (or retrieve) parks and trails along urban waterways. The Groundwork network has achieved significant success on such projects, including the Saw Mill River Daylighting Park in Yonkers, NY; the Spicket River Greenway in Lawrence, MA; the Elizabeth River Greenway in Elizabeth, NJ; and the Mill Creek Greenway in Cincinnati.

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River Ambassadors – Future of the L.A. River

| Los Angeles, CA

Youth from different areas in Los Angeles are creating positive change along the LA River through the River Ambassador program; a youth leadership and education program of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). MRCA wanted to try out a program that was focused solely on the LA River and the factors impacting the health of the river. With EPA Urban Waters funding, MRCA was able to make this a reality.

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Multifaceted Methods Help Restore the Mystic River

| Arlington, MA

Momentum for improving the Mystic River got started in 1969 when various agencies and local planning departments published a report outlining plans to tackle the high levels of pollution and improve recreational opportunities on the Mystic River Reservation, a publicly-owned nature preserve. By the early 1980’s, greenways with bike and pedestrian trails started to be installed.

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Centennial Creek Restoration Project

Centennial Creek, a tributary of the Salinas River, begins east of the City of Paso Robles, California and flows into the Salinas River on the west side of town. The Salinas River flows into the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This is significant because any improvements made to Centennial Creek, though miles away, will positively impact the marine sanctuary.

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Environmental Justice for South Wilmington, Delaware

Flooding in South Wilmington neighborhood is a severe and well documented issue. South Wilmington is situated in a 100-year flood plain and surrounded on three sides by the Christina River. Knowing the extent of these issues, the City of Wilmington applied for and received funding in 2013 to repurpose three brownfields sites into a wetlands park in order to alleviate flooding.

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Citizen-led Monitoring of Urban Wetland Restoration in New Orleans

The Citizen-led Monitoring of Urban Wetland Restoration in New Orleans creates active wetland advocates by placing technology into community members’ hands, especially in those of low-income Lake Pontchartrain residents. This effort was supported in part by a $50,000 Urban Waters Small Grant funded by EPA.

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Addressing Baltimore’s Vacant Land Problem

Baltimore, Maryland, home to over 30,000 vacant and abandoned lots and numerous economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, is also home to some of the most innovative job creation strategies and vacant lot reclamation projects in the nation.

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Making Space for Monarchs and Students

In 2014 The University of Arizona (UA) received support from the U.S EPA in the form of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

This funding was used to supplement the restoration efforts conducted through Project WET; a project of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension – Maricopa County. With this NFWF funding, UA was able to weave Monarch Butterfly habitat creation into their existing program.

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Vacant Lots to Greenways in Kansas City

Heartland Conservation Alliance (HCA) was created as an alliance of diverse partners who share a vision and work collectively to conserve natural areas, connect people to nature and convene partners. Their mission is creating multiple benefits for people by focusing on projects that save Kansas City’s valuable natural resources and give them back to benefit the community—“ecological democracy.”

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Action on the Middle Blue River

In 2014 the Blue River Watershed Association (BRWA) received $59,940 from EPA’s Urban Waters Program to work with its partner agencies to engage eight teams of urban middle school students, four teams this spring and four teams in the fall. BRWA will engage the youth in water quality monitoring studies, data collection, and community presentations and projects.

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Connecting Residents to Village Creek

| Birmingham, AL

Village Creek, which flows through the heart of Birmingham, was once considered one of the most polluted streams in Alabama. Today, thanks to the Freshwater Land Trust, and with significant support from the U.S. EPA, there is new hope. The Freshwater Land Trust has gathered together community, non-profit, city and business leaders who are working together to transform Village Creek into a community asset.

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Transforming Mill Creek

| Cincinnati, OH

Twenty years ago, in some inner-city stretches of Mill Creek, the only living things you could find were blood worms, sludge worms, and leeches. In the summertime, fish kills were common. Carp that ventured into the stream from the Ohio River would flop onto the stream banks and die. Many species of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife
vanished from the river corridor for over 100 years because their habitat and food sources had been destroyed by intense urbanization.

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Visioning for Green Infrastructure

While ECO-Action serves as the lead for the project there are many partners working together to address stormwater and combined sewer overflow impact on Proctor Creek. Green infrastructure concepts and principals are being infused into the Clark Atlanta University dual engineering courses. This marks a milestone in the efforts led by ECO-Action to increase awareness among faculty, staff, and students about the importance of green infrastructure and the type of positive impacts these practices and principals can have at a local level.

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Engaging Community and Tracking Habitat Health

Funded by an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council teamed up with the Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Mgmt. and other partners to develop a fish community monitoring program for Rhode Island’s wadeable urban rivers and streams. Program goals are to assess changes to habitat health, target locations for water quality restoration initiatives, engage community members in citizen science initiatives, and provide water quality information to the public.

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The Old Smoky Hill River Channel

In 2012 the Pollution Prevention Institute at Kansas State University was awarded a $60,000 urban waters small grant from EPA, part of which was used to conduct water quality monitoring in the river channel in addition to engaging the public in the removal of invasive species along the river bank. Intended outcomes of their project include establishing an understanding of the pollutants present in the river and helping create a more informed public which understands the importance and process of maintaining the integrity of the river channel.

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Helping to Save the Rain

Once known as the most polluted lake in the nation, Onondaga Lake has received significant attention over the last several decades. The lake’s upper water’s have undergone tremendous improvement because of efforts to remediate industrial and municipal pollution. Improvements to the county’s wastewater treatment plant as well as the reduction of combined sewer overflows (CSO) through the use of both grey and green infrastructure have led to the resurgence of the lake’s fishery.

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A River for All – Fighting for Environmental Justice and Health Equity in Seattle

In 2013 and after 12 years in the making, EPA released its Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Superfund site, starting the clock on a 105-day public review and comment period. This highly technical document recommended a mix of technologies for addressing the river’s toxic sediments and meeting the four objectives of the cleanup, which include protecting the health of people who consume seafood.

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A Watershed Plan is Born

In 2012 Groundwork Denver received funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 319 Nonpoint Source funds. With EPA’s funding Groundwork Denver has successfully created a non-point source watershed plan for the Lower Bear Creek.

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Stormwater and Sewer Overflows “Sexy?”–Effective Messaging in Galveston Bay

Water quality is not the most zany or attractive topic in which to engage citizens. They know it’s important, but how, really, can they affect change? The Galveston Bay Foundation has launched a successful suite of programs —matching playful and provacative messaging with down-to-earth behaviors—that will empower local citizens to improve water quality in the bay.

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A Model to Engage Youth

Each model site is a place where neighborhood surface waters (streams and lakes), receives water runoff from storms (stormwater), and becomes an outdoor learning site for investigations and actions by students from nearby schools. Thus Keep It Clean (KIC) – Neighborhood Environmental Trio (NET) means a program focusing on clean water (KIC), each with a school, park (preferably with a recreation center), and an accessible body of water or waterway within a few minutes walk of each other (NET).

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Restoring a Watershed One Community at a Time: Groundwork NOLA

In a city like New Orleans, community is everything. Walks down the street, one can simply speak to everyone passing by, and everyone would keep an eye out for one another. Everyone was each other’s neighbor. Eight years ago, prior to Hurricane Katrina, walking around the Lower Ninth Ward meant passing several homes on every block.

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Restoring Balance in an Urban Creek through Green Infrastructure

Ellerbe Creek flows out of the heart of Durham, North Carolina through the community on its 14 mile path to Falls Lake Reservoir, a drinking water source for more than half a million people. It offers a refuge for people and nature from the stresses of city life across its compact 37 square mile watershed. The entire creek has been designated as impaired since 1998 for ecological/biological integrity. Falls Lake Reservoir has similarly been identified as an impaired water body due to excessive levels of nitrates and phosphates associated with poorly managed stormwater and failing waste water systems.

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Cleveland Botanical Garden Transforms Vacant Property Using Green Methods to Reduce Runoff

| Cleveland, OH

The Garden is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to spark a passion for plants and cultivate an understanding of their vital relationship to people and the environment.” Their commitment extends beyond the gardens and into the community through various projects and programs that work to engage people in learning about the importance of a healthy environment.

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