This crazy year of 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history. Books will be written, and tales of survival will be shared for years to come. So as the year ends, I want to reflect on these last twelve months at the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District. In hindsight we may not have anticipated how 2020 would unfurl, but despite the pandemic, there have been some meaningful and proud moments, different collaborations, better thinking, new techniques for greater efficiency and better ideas for the year ahead.
The Cuyahoga SWCD staff is truly blessed to be able to work in jobs that we enjoy. Since most of the staff worked remotely, relying on technology to communicate with each other and the public was incredibly important. For the education program and watershed staff, the pandemic put the kibosh on most in-person programs and events, but the unanticipated benefit was extra time to get acquainted with ZOOM, GoToWebinars, and other online platforms, which allowed the staff to roll out a variety of virtual programs. Now people can access our You Tube channel, our online programs, such as the popular Master Gardeners class, and other workshops at any time day and night. The perennial and popular rain barrel workshops were offered in hybrid fashion, with online training videos and drive-in rain barrel pickups. Our online Tree Sale was canceled, but the native plant kits and seed sales exceeded those of previous years. Gardening helped keep many people’s minds off the pandemic—at least for a little while. A few stream clean ups, tree plantings and storm drain art events were held, albeit with social distancing and proper hygiene.
Pandemic or not, conservation always matters. Individual Acts of Conservation was promoted to inspire people to engage in conservation initiatives in their own neighborhood. This Fall, the board agreed to establish a Cuyahoga Conservation Grants program to provide some financial assistance to inspired individuals and groups that want to implement conservation projects or attend workshops. There has also been a discussion of expanding the grants program to help address maintenance issues for stormwater control measures, such as bioretention basins.
In January when the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan was adopted, better use of technology was a long range goal. By May, that goal easily met, far sooner than projected! In fact, due to the ability to use technology like Zoom, the first-ever tri-county annual meeting was held in October. This historic event was a remarkable collaboration between Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton counties. It was fun to connect Ohio’s three largest urban SWCDs with videos and presentations. Staff and board members were delighted to share the stage and network afterwards.
Planting and growing trees has been a long-time endeavor of the Cuyahoga SWCD and extremely necessary as the county’s tree canopy drastically diminishes. We are proud to serve in an advisory role s to the County’s Healthy Urban Tree grant program, and especially happy to monitor tree plantings and share our knowledge about the benefits of trees, proper planting, and tree stewardship. Late last year, the SWCD embarked on the innovative NUTS Program (Native Urban Seed Starters), which took off like gangbusters, only to be stymied when classroom went virtual. The good news is that the seedlings that were started early in the year, were transplanted to a site to continue growing. The District also has video and educational materials related to trees and tree stewardship.
And speaking of stewardship; the watershed programs continue to engage the public in activities ranging from stream clean ups, water quality monitoring, rain garden maintenance and plantings. Staff had success in securing funding to address water quality goals with stream restoration projects. The watershed program got an extra boost with assistance from a full-time NowCorps member. In October, the SWCD was awarded a grant to serve as the facilitating organization for the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern and is involved in the push to delist the remaining beneficial use impairments that negatively impact the river.
The Stormwater Program expanded its reach by adding another community to the monthly inspection schedule. The post construction long term operations and maintenance program continues to grow in sites and in developing good relationships and guidance for stormwater control facilities. Pandemic or not, the staff has continued to meet their inspection goals and are thinking about how the program can be further streamlined with better use of time and technologies, which will provide additional opportunities to expand stormwater management best practices education.
In hindsight, these are just a few of the wonderful programs that were held this year. Hopefully, you have tapped into our website or seen our Instagram and Facebook posts. Please “like” us if you haven’t already. Next year, watch for the Native Plants of the Day (April), and more posts on Facebook and Instagram about our activities and hopefully plenty of activities.
I am extremely grateful to our board who supports the SWCD’s vision and the super professional staff that implements our mission day in and day out. It may have been a crazy year, but the future is looking bright. In hindsight, at least in implementing our goals, 2020 was not so terrible. However, one thing is for certain, we will have a lot more fun in 2021!!! Stay well and stay connected, with us and each other. Happy New Year.
Blog Author: Janine Rybka, Director