Earning a “Master’s” in Watershed StewardshipPenn State Master Watershed Stewards have time and again proven to be some of Stroud Water Re...

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Earning a “Master’s” in Watershed StewardshipPenn State Master Watershed Stewards have time and again proven to be some of Stroud Water Re...
Earning a “Master’s” in Watershed Stewardship
Penn State Master Watershed Stewards have time and again proven to be some of Stroud Water Research Center’s most knowledgeable, active, and consistent volunteers. Through their partnerships with the Stroud Center and other organizations, they plant trees, remove invasive species, collect water quality data, and communicate ways local governments can better manage water resources. The Swiss Army knife of watershed volunteers, they carry a variety of skills to meet local needs.

This year, Penn State Extension welcomed its 11th cohort of stewards into the program, which has become one of the most successful in the United States, according to State Coordinator Erin Frederick and Steering Committee Chair Rebecca Hayden.

Hayden recalls, “I remember Erin texting me from a national conference four or five years ago.” Referring to coordinators from other states, she says, “They all wanted her advice on how to run their programs, and I thought that was super funny because our program was relatively young.”

Frederick, Hayden, and Jim Wilson, who was the watershed specialist for the Northampton County Conservation District at the time, launched the program after a conversation over breakfast.

The colleagues had gathered for a meeting of the Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley. As they discussed the struggle many watershed associations faced in finding volunteers, Frederick, then the new Lehigh Valley coordinator of the Master Gardener Program, said the gardener program was so popular it had a waiting list. It was a lightbulb moment.

Hayden, now a project specialist with the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, says, “Erin was honing in on the fact that a structured program with credentials felt very different to people.”

Frederick and Hayden knew from their time working at the Lehigh County Conservation District for more than a decade prior that watershed associations were relying on only a few people who were getting burned out.

“There wasn’t any new blood,” Hayden explains.

Frederick’s idea was to create a program that trains would-be volunteers in the basics of watershed science and management, including topics such as groundwater, stream ecology, wetlands, invasive plants, water recreation, stream restoration, and stormwater management.

Modeled after the Master Gardener Program, the Master Watershed Stewards Program provides structure and support through county or regional coordinators, as well as opportunities to continue learning and build relationships.

“In Bucks County,” Hayden says, “we had a brunch-and-boat where we had brunch, paddling, and an educational program. Sometimes we’ll go on hikes or have pizza parties.”

Hayden says the program teaches stewards about not only watershed science but also “who to reach out to if they want to do something or if they need additional resources.”

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