Fair weather friends can be a good thing. #b#Jim Waltman#/b# counts on them every summer, when the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association gets inundated with volunteers — out of school or just inspired to go out and play in the warm sunshine — eager to help keep the area’s bodies of water clear.
Waltman, executive director of the association, will be part of a panel on environmental volunteerism in central New Jersey, a presentation sponsored by VolunteerConnect of New Jersey on Monday, June 14, at 5 p.m. at the D&R Greenway Land Trust- Johnson Education Center at 1 Preservation Place.
To register for this free event, visit http://vcenvironmentalforum.eventbrite.com.
Waltman was born and raised in Princeton, and, as a boy, toured the state’s outdoor areas with his family. After graduating from Princeton University in l986 with a bachelor’s in biology, he earned master’s in ornithology from Yale.
During his graduate years Waltman journeyed to Venezuela, the Galapagos Islands, and other lands to study wild birds. Struck with the need to protect and conserve, he moved to Washington, D.C., advocating for the Wilderness Society, the Wildlife Federation, and the Audubon Society. He took over the association in 2005.
The panel also will feature Linda Mead, executive director of the D&R Greenway Land Trust; Barbara Bromley, Mercer County horticulturist and master gardener advisor; and former Lawrence mayor Pam Mount of Terhune Orchards.
Waltman’s contribution to the June 14 forum will be to discuss how volunteerism is (and needs to be) part of something bigger. He admits there is a certain idealism that comes with volunteering, but says also that there is no shortage of people who want to do what they feel is right.
#b#Little bits help a lot#/b#. The key to saving the environment is a lot of little efforts, Waltman says. People doing what they can and want to do, no matter the scale.
Some people, he says, have been involved with the Watershed Association for 20 year, and twice a month they go out to a particular stream and test its pollution content. Others volunteer to meet-and-greet at the association’s annual butterfly festival or to stuff envelopes once or twice a year.
All this is necessary for an organization like the watershed, which has about two dozen staff members and hundreds of water quality issues to contend with at any one time. What the association strives to do, he says, is to impart pieces of knowledge to the occasional volunteers so that they can take action in their own lives. If they leave from a round of envelope stuffing having learned something about the value of, say, not using phosphoric lawn fertilizer, that’s one less source of phosphorous finding its way into streams and groundwater.
“Everyone wears their own particular shade of green,” he says. “Some of us wear a bold, bright green and some of us wear khaki. We try to help people find a brighter shade of green.”
#b#Where are we headed#/b#? Volunteers for the Watershed Association — and there are anywhere between 250 and 500 in a given year — do everything from testing water samples and maintaining trails to educating youngsters about animals and habitats at the association’s nature center in Hopewell.
Keeping them is an ongoing challenge. People have lives, jobs, responsibilities. Waltman sees the future as a concerted effort of education and outreach, a matter of influence rather than simply direct action. This September, in fact, the association will launch its ambassadorship program, which is designed to train volunteers to represent the association at events in their own towns.
“Every town has some event every weekend, it seems,” Waltman says. “But we don’t have enough staff to out into all those communities.”
#b#Joining forces#/b#. New Jersey is often criticized for having so many municipalities and school district, and cries of consolidation and shared services make the rounds routinely.
The Watershed Association has taken the opposite path to consolidation, fragmenting pieces of itself into independent bodies. The D&R Greenway Land Trust and the Northeast Organic Farming Association were, at one time, part of the association. Waltman says this was necessary to avoid stretching the mission of the association too thin. It has expertise in water health, not so much in land trust issues.
So the idea of consolidating environmental agencies, while interesting, he says, is not always the right way to go. Where there are duplicated services, however, he is more open to the idea of combining forces, so as not to dilute volunteer pools and fundraising efforts. Nonprofits, after all, are plagued by competition from like sources, as agencies vying to solve the same problem are all dipping into a finite source of money and talent.
The association has helped solve at least one of those issues. Several years ago, in Gloucester County two bodies working toward the health of waterways and land trusts there became the South Jersey Land & Water Trust, thanks in large part to the association’s Watershed Institute. The combined agencies today present a much stronger advocate for watershed health in Gloucester County, he says.
#b#Love first#/b#. Education in general is a big deal for Waltman. The association, he says, has invested many of its resources in educating children about the environment.
The negatives can come later. “You have to make people fall in love before you break their hearts,” he says. “So we want to make people fall in love with the environment first.” Pontificating about how bad things are will not win any points. “We’re all responsible for the problem,” he says, “but the good thing is that everyone can be part of the solution.”