Mary Wilson has been involved in conservation nearly her whole life. She has worked in environmental education, as a curator of education at a zoo, and done volunteer work in watersheds for over 15 years. So this February when she accepted the position as the Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward Coordinator, she felt that it was the culmination of what she has been doing for the past 30 years.
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The long title means that Wilson is the instructor for a class that teaches people how their local watersheds work, and how to best protect and restore them. Master Watershed Steward Program participants learn about stream ecology, how to do stream restoration projects, best landowner management practices, abandoned mine drainage, and storm and wastewater treatment, according to Wilson.
“You can’t be a good steward of something unless you understand it. And this program is all about educating and empowering people to be stewards of the watersheds in our region,” Wilson said. “People can be most effective in their backyard…it’s something that you have an emotional attachment to that you have access to resources to act with. It is important that you can see the results of your efforts so that will serve as a catalyst for keeping you going.”
At Fawcett Fields in Shaler Township, Wilson showed what she touts as an excellent stream restoration project recently completed on West Little Pine Creek, sparked by the Penn’s Woods chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“They were able to convert a stream that was very deeply entrenched through erosion into a stream that is modelling perfect stream behavior in the wild,” Wilson said. “In terms of having the riffles and runs and small falls to create good oxygenated water and water that’s focused into the middle of the channel and not promoting the erosion that we see so heavily in western Pennsylvania.”
While graduates of the Master Watershed Stewards program graduates couldn’t complete a restoration of this scale on their own,Willson says they could be involved in tree planting along the banks or be the catalyst to convince their municipality of the benefits of such projects.
Wilson stressed that this is an educational program, as opposed to pure advocacy.
“Knowledge is the source of a lot of decision making,” Wilson said. “And that’s why we feel that having a science-based educational program is key in helping people make good decisions whether they’re a homeowner or a municipality or a business.”
Public informational meetings on the program will be held at several locations throughout Allegheny County July 22-30. To see the schedule, click here. The training program will run September 23, 2019 – January 20 2020 and another session may be offered March- July 2020 if there is enough demand.