Protecting, promoting Dorchester’s environment

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/BNWR
The Blackwater Refuge has one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the nation.

Editor’s note: The monthly Heritage Partner Spotlight focuses on our Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area (HCCHA) partners and how they have supported heritage tourism in Dorchester County with a project funded by either a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grant or a HCCHA mini-grant.

This month’s spotlight shines on the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, who strive to preserve Dorchester County heritage by working for the protection, preservation and enhancement of our public lands.

Friends support Refuge
While Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has been around since 1933, it wasn’t until 1987 that the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (FOB) was founded when a group of about a dozen concerned citizens came together to support the Refuge. Their goals were to increase public understanding of the history and environment of refuges and to increase public awareness of the need for environmental protection as it impinges on wildlife and human life by the use of educational and other outreach programs.

Today, their mission has evolved “to support the purposes of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge by working for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of these precious public lands and providing financial and human resources, advocacy, environmental education, and outreach programs.” Their membership now numbers about 1,000, said Rick Abend, FOB president.

“When we say, ‘Water moves us,’ that can be no more true than at Blackwater NWR,” Mr. Abend said. “The waterfowl and other wildlife that abound there is a major part of our Dorchester County heritage and a true tourism magnet. In 2019, a $2,900 HCCHA mini-grant to help install a ‘Waterfowl Cam’ expanded our reach to the public. Thousands of snow geese, Canada geese, ducks, and other wildlife can now be viewed on Visitor Center monitors and around the world via our website. I feel like this has put Dorchester County on the map!”

Festivals, visitor center enhancements
Some of the annual activities supported by FOB include the Eagle Festival, a youth fishing event, butterfly & beneficial insect garden maintenance, a 4th and 6th grade environmental education program, litter pick-up, the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Competition for Maryland, the Wild Goose Chase Women’s Bicycle Ride, a Volunteer Update and a Volunteer Awards Dinner.

“While our projects over the past 32 years are almost too numerous to say, the major public pleasers have been our Visitor Center enhancements, including a second-floor observatory and library and new MHAA funded interpretive exhibits (2013 — $50,000), and the development of four hiking trails and three water trails,” Mr. Abend said.
“In my opinion, the most important project taken on by FOB was the building of our Environmental Education Building, which opened in 2007 with help from a $72,000 MHAA grant. Developing partnerships, especially financial partnerships, is what makes these kinds of projects possible.”

Education connections
Since completion of the Environmental Education Building, more than 8,000 Dorchester County Public School 4th and 6th grade students have spent a day at Blackwater as part of their school science curricula. FOB provides any needed supplies, materials, and bus transportation.

This winter, with help from a $4,487 HCCHA mini-grant, FOB plans to bring a new “Eagle Cam” on-line. Blackwater NWR hosts the largest population of bald eagles along the east coast north of Florida.

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