Kristi Sullivan led a group of Master Naturalist volunteers from across the state on a 3-day, engaged learning trip to the northern Catskills. The goal of the event was to engage volunteers in a meaningful, climate -focused project that would improve climate change awareness and response. Topics highlighted during the event included current and future climate change predictions, potential impacts to ecosystems and water resources, and adaptive strategies for addressing stream and community impacts. The program was a successful collaboration with the outstanding staff from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene, several of whom are part of the Hudson River Estuary Stream Resiliency Project, a project designed to address the challenges of flooding, stream and watershed management, and climate change.
Volunteers visited several sites in the Catskill Creek Watershed and saw first-hand the devastation brought about by Hurricanes Irene and Lee. They learned that some common practices targeted at stream and water management, such as placing boulders and stones along the stream banks, lead to channelization which can increase water velocity and potential erosion downstream. Local educators demonstrated the benefits of having riparian tree and shrub plantings for bank stabilization, as well as the importance of maintaining undeveloped floodplains and wetlands to slow stream flow and protect downstream communities during heavy rain events. Joining forces with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Trees for Tributaries Program, participants worked together at three separate sites in the Catskill Creek Watershed to weed around planted tree seedlings and shrubs, stabilize tree tubes, and take other actions to maintain recent streamside plantings. Local partners noted “They are a great bunch of folks and it is energizing to be with such engaged and interested people” and “Thank you. It is so important to the future stability and function of the Catskill Creek to maintain the riparian buffers.”
Participants also discovered the world of aquatic insects, explored their use as indicators of stream health and learned about the Department of Conservation’s Water Assessment Volunteer Evaluation (WAVE) program. Volunteers are now able to take the knowledge and skills they acquired during the engaged learning weekend back to their own communities where they will apply them locally and educate other community members, leading to more resilient communities statewide.
The New York Master Naturalist Volunteer Program develops natural resource stewards and empowers them to educate others in their communities, monitor for environmental change, and participate in on- the-ground conservation projects.
Each year, volunteers contribute over 1,500 hours of work to vital projects such as wildlife monitoring, invasive species control, and habitat restoration. The service-learning weekend in the Catskill Watershed resulted in significant benefits to local riparian buffer restoration and monitoring efforts, and volunteers were exposed to a myriad of different learning opportunities and management techniques. While building climate science and stream ecology skills, Master Naturalist volunteers learned about the impact of heavy rain events on local biodiversity and the importance of stream resilience, especially in a new era of higher magnitude weather events. The volunteers summed up the weekend’s expedition, saying “This training gave me first-hand knowledge of the potential of severe weather events and the impact they can have on our streams and waterways. It was interesting to learn of the simple act of planting the right trees and shrubs and the impact they can have on stream bank stability.” and “I loved being part of the community of volunteers! Great group and for me a real sense of trying to do something worthwhile. I left really motivated to go find other ways to get involved with stream and wetlands work.”