York River Roundtable recognizes excellence in watershed education

For the first time in its history, the York River and Small Coastal Basin Roundtable has awarded educators who have worked to improve understanding and bolster support for water-quality restoration and protection within the York River, Mobjack Bay, and Piankatank River watershed areas.

In its inaugural awards, the Roundtable recognized four individuals for their superb environmental literacy programming and inspired watershed stewardship.

Excellence in Environmental Education Awards

Receiving Excellence in Environmental Education Awards were Drs. Michael Fenster and Charles Gowan, professors of Environmental Studies at Randolph-Macon College. Dr. Michael Fenster.Nominated by the Lake Anna Civic Association (LACA) for their dedication to an undergraduate research partnership focused on identifying potential nutrient sources responsible for Lake Anna’s harmful algal blooms, Drs. Fenster and Gowan were recognized for their design and delivery of multi-disciplinary courses that involve student exploration, analysis, and problem solving for real-world environmental problems.

“As in universities across the country, the fall semester at Randolph-Macon College was impacted by COVID-19,” says Harry Looney, LACA Water Quality Chair. “Dr. Fenster and Dr. Gowan demonstrated significant resilience in the face of COVID-19 constraints on their Environmental Studies Program and achieved course objectives and LACA research objectives in the face of immense adversity. Dr. Charles Gowan.Both professors are a credit to Randolph-Macon College, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Environmental Studies discipline. LACA is proud to be a partner with R-MC and these outstanding educators."

"It’s so hard to avoid cliches,” says Fenster, “but this award means a lot to both Chas [Charles] and me. It makes some of the blood, sweat, and tears worth it!"

Lifetime Achievement awards

Eugene Rivara and Page Hutchinson received Lifetime Achievement awards posthumously. Rivara was nominated by the Mattaponi and Pamunkey River Association (MPRA), where he served as president and chaired the Legislative/River Issues Committee for decades. Rivara was a dedicated river steward who, for more than 20 years, led annual river clean-up crews, participated in river outreach events, and actively engaged in challenging the King William Reservoir Project. He was also a founding member of the Save the Mattaponi campaign and served on the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission.

Mr. Eugene Rivara."Eugene was one of our most dependable volunteers and champions of our rivers,” says MPRA President Dawn Shank. “He was a man of service, dedication, and love of the outdoors. We were all blessed by his involvement in MPRA and it is our pleasure to honor his life with this recognition."

Page Hutchinson, Virginia’s Project Learning Tree Coordinator, had worked with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Master Naturalists, and the Virginia Association for Environmental Educators.

"Page believed in getting kids outdoors to learn about the environment in creative, hands-on ways,” says Ellen Powell on behalf or her colleagues at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “She gave educators the tools and support they needed to feel empowered to lead outdoor education. She wasn’t afraid to be silly, get messy, or try something in a new way. Her intrepid, vibrant spirit and enthusiasm for nature undoubtedly inspired the next generation."

Ms. Page Hutchinson.In 2020, Hutchinson was awarded the Virginia Association for Environmental Education Outstanding Educator award; VAEE colleagues nominated her for the Lifetime Achievement award.

"We are thrilled to help celebrate her life and legacy alongside her watershed colleagues,” notes Mariya Hudick, Tri-County/City Soil & Water Conservation District Education Coordinator.

The York River Roundtable and its awards

The York River and Small Coastal Basin (YR&SCB) Roundtable provides a forum for information sharing and collaboration among water quality and conservation-minded stakeholders within the York River, Mobjack Bay and Piankatank River watershed areas.

Award winners were nominated by Roundtable members and selected by steering committee members. Each will have a native tree planted within the watershed in their honor.

"Water quality is one of those things we tend to take for granted; education is another,” says Cirse Gonzalez, Roundtable coordinator and coastal training program coordinator with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR). “These watershed warriors have dedicated so much unacknowledged effort behind-the-scenes to communicate the importance of watershed health and empower water-quality stewards; our aim was to shine a little light on their work and give credit where credit was due."

Promoting environmental literacy within the watershed is one of the Roundtable’s foundational cornerstones. Through digestible and relatable approaches, including Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences, the Roundtable translates and transmits information to motivate behavior change, inspire related action, and empower all watershed communities while enhancing the watershed experience and bolstering the watershed’s visibility and value.

At 2,669 square miles, or about 6% of the Commonwealth’s total land area, the York River and small coastal basin combined watersheds are among the smallest of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watersheds, though no less grand. Located within Virginia’s Coastal Plain and Piedmont physiographic provinces, the York River, Mobjack Bay and Piankatank River watershed areas include all, or portions of, 17 counties and one independent city, encompassing approximately 6,700 miles of rivers/streams, 11,330 lake acres, and 82 square miles of tidal estuary. York River headwaters flow 220 miles from their origins in Orange County to their mouth at the Chesapeake Bay, traversing land characterized as 75% natural.

CBNERR, administered by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, reinvigorated the York River and Small Coastal Basin Roundtable in support of Virginia’s effort to protect water quality and conserve coastal resources for the betterment of its communities. Designated in 1991, CBNERR-VA is one of 29 protected areas in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) established to promote informed management of the nation's estuaries and coastal habitats. CBNERR-VA is co-managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Commonwealth of Virginia.