By Russ Campbell
Brandywine Creek, which runs through southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, once powered the mills that supported European settlements in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Today, people rely on the creek for recreation and as a source of drinking water. SciStarter contributor Russ Campbell recently spoke to Kim Hachadoorian, The Nature Conservancy Delaware‘s project manager for Stream Stewards, a citizen science project that seeks to preserve this natural resource.
What does Citizen Science mean to you?
To me, citizen science is the democratization of science. It’s a way of making science accessible by engaging people in the scientific process. It helps them feel empowered to take part in research and advocacy that leads to conservation of natural resources. That’s the kind of citizen scientist that I interact with in my Stream Stewards program.
It sounds like citizen science is much more than data collection?
Some Citizen Science programs focus on data collection with volunteers collecting valuable data that can be queried by researchers who have a question. Stream Stewards engages volunteer citizen scientists more deeply in stewardship of natural resources by using the data they are collecting to help inform management decisions.
You mentioned engaging people in the scientific process – how do you create that connection between individuals and natural resources, particularly as it involves citizen scientists?
An important goal and outcome of citizen science is that it does connect people to natural resources. In the case of my program, it’s drawing an explicit line from the resource to people’s lives. The area where we work is the Brandywine Creek and it flows through First State National Historical Park where we do our program. The creek provides 100% of the drinking water for the residents of Wilmington, Delaware. A lot of people probably don’t realize that.
It’s also an important recreational resource. People enjoy getting out to swim and paddle.
Our big take home message is that we all live in a watershed and everything you do on the land affects the water. We have a responsibility to protect the watershed.
What is the Stream Stewards?
Stream Stewards is a citizen science program developed by the Nature Conservancy in Delaware, in partnership with the National Park Service and Stroud Water Research Center, designed to engage people in water quality monitoring and watershed stewardship in First State National Historical Park.It’s a new program, funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Ernest E. and Brendalyn Stempel Foundation and it’s just getting up and running. I’ve recruited and begun training for the first cohort of volunteers.
We’ll start with data collection because we want to find out what’s going on in the streams based on what we know about the land use in the park. The data we collect will be used by the National Park Service to make natural resource management decisions.
It’s a relatively new park that was designated in 2013. The unit we’re working in is 1100 acres of forest and fields, some of which is being used for agricultural purposes. The park is now looking at a resource management plan and our program is going to feed directly into that.
You’ve been with the program since February 2016, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
To have a successful program like this, it’s important to make sure you’re including everyone involved. There are a lot of stakeholders and participants that have a role to play. It’s not just the staff of the organizations involved. The volunteers are crucial. We have professional scientists from the Stroud Water Research Center assisting us with the water monitoring strategy. They’re a really important part of our program. Everyone in the local community – home owners, local government, the farmers in the park – it’s very multidisciplinary, it’s very holistic, you cannot separate out any of the pieces, you have to consider everything at once. Everyone has a part to play for the success of the program.
How can someone get involved with Stream Stewards?
There’s a couple different ways. We’re definitely looking for people who are willing to make the commitment to become trained Stream Steward Citizen Scientists. It is an adult program so we’re looking for people 18 and older who can commit to the training and the hours of service doing the water quality monitoring and stewardship activities. I’ve started the training already but I’m still accepting applications for anyone interested. The information can be found on the Stream Stewards website at www.nature.org/destreamstewards.
For people who cannot commit to such a high level, we’re having a number of public activities, such as a stream clean up on October 22. And anyone can participate in that event. Information can also be found at www.nature.org/destreamstewards.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!
Russ Campbell heads communication at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private biomedical foundation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He is a volunteer with the Turtle Rescue Team, based out of the North Carolina State University Veterinary School. He is the cofounder of the Science Communicators of North Carolina (SCONC).