Member Spotlight: Friends of the Bohemia

The thing we love the most about our campaign are the people we meet and the amazing organizations we get to work with regularly. One of those organizations is Friends of the Bohemia. Chuck Foster, one of the most passionate watershed advocates we’ve ever met, sat down with us recently to give us the scoop on everything we want to know about Friends of the Bohemia. Read on for the interview!

(Psssst…Chuck mentions some really great ways you can volunteer and get involved with one of the coolest groups we know, so pay attention. 🙂 )

When we mention “Bohemia” to our friends and followers, they often think of adventurers, artists, and wanderers. We know you’re adventurous, but what is the Friends of the Bohemia all about?

Friends of the Bohemia is an all-volunteer nonprofit watershed improvement association incorporated in 2015.  We are all about bringing together everyone who lives, works or plays in our watershed to work in a spirit of fun and cooperation to help each other keep our beautiful river beautiful.  The name Bohemia was given to our river by Augustine Herman, who came from that part of Eastern Europe.  Augustine was commissioned by Lord Baltimore, Cecil Calvert, to make a map of the Chesapeake Bay.  As part of the compensation for the map he produced in 1670, Herman was given his choice of any land he wanted.  After seeing and charting the entire Chesapeake Bay, he selected the most wonderful location he had encountered and named it “Bohemia Manor” after his homeland. So clearly, our river is the most beautiful spot on the entire Bay!

We hear the Bohemia River begins in a Walmart parking lot in Middletown. Is this true? And why should Delawareans care about what pollution lands in that parking lot?

It is true!  I love to tell people that fun fact because the word “headwaters” always seems to conjure up an image of a sparkling clear mountain stream in most people’s minds.  Kind of like the TV commercials we see for bottled water. The reality is that lots of waterways begin in a densely populated urban setting. Pollution, such as petroleum products, running off of the hard surface of a parking lot goes right into a waterway without having a chance to slow down and soak through layers of soil that filter it before it reaches the water table, or before it can get absorbed and used as fuel by native plants.  Clean water is important to everyone.  Even if you can’t see the larger part of the river from where you are, what folks do anywhere in the watershed makes a difference to our community and our quality of life.

What do you think are the top three ways to enjoy the Bohemia watershed? 

Sunset Over Bohemia RiverKayaking is one of my favorites, but all manners of water-related recreation is popular…sailing, motor boating, skiing, tubing, fishing, and chasing the most delicious blue crabs ever.  Every Wednesday evening, the river is the site of a sailing regatta that provides dinner-time entertainment from the shore line.  Personally, just staring at the water brings me joy.  There is nothing like watching a beautiful sunset over the Bohemia.  It is great fun to observe the birds…osprey, eagle, Canada geese, ducks, great blue heron, crow, purple martins, finches, humming birds and many more varieties, as they go about their lives, raise their young, and compete with each other for fish, other food and territory.  Marvelous!  We also have a wide variety of plant life in our watershed, including the beautiful but rare American Lotus.  We purposely located one of our water quality sampling sites directly across from the cove where the American Lotus grow so we can observe and enjoy them.

You mentioned to us that you spent nearly every childhood weekend on the Bohemia. What’s your best memory growing up here on the Bohemia River Watershed? 

My favorite memories are of a river teaming with life and water so crystal clear that you could skin dive with a mask and snorkel and see the fish. It was easy to see the river bottom, even if the water was six feet deep. Amazing!  There was so much aquatic grass that we had to pull up a narrow swath to get our little boat out to the deep water.  I’ll always treasure family gatherings to feast on crabs and float around on old truck tire inner tubes on a lazy summer day. Most of all, I remember the sense of freedom and connection with the natural world that I experienced here.  Of course, my parents were WAY less anxious about my activities and whereabouts than I and my generation of parents seem to be!  That was a good thing.  I survived.

Where can Delawareans access the Bohemia River? What is the most convenient launch point for Middletown-area residents? 

Kayakers on the Bohemia RiverRight now, public access is pretty limited.  There is a launch point for paddle craft at the northwest corner of the Bohemia River Bridge on Maryland Route 213 (Augustine Herman Highway!).  There are also several commercial boat ramps available at the marinas that dot the river.  BUT…stay tuned for the opening of Bohemia River State Park!
The Maryland Park Service has recently acquired a 460 acre parcel on the northeast corner of the Bohemia River Bridge and is in the planning phase of developing a new park!  This will be a great place for folks from the Middletown area to come picnic, launch paddle craft, walk the trails, see the wildlife, participate in educational programs, and more.

Can you give us a few examples of the ways Friends of the Bohemia are improving our water quality here in DE? 

Friends of the Bohemia has mailed Water Quality Report Cards to over 5,000 Delaware postal customers for each of the last two years to increase public awareness of water quality issues and provide folks with concrete suggestions for ways they can help. We have worked with the Delaware Clean Water Alliance to support legislation and funding that encourages clean water in the state.  We have also been closely monitoring the Route 301 bypass project that runs directly through our watershed.  The Delaware Department of Transportation has a highly engineered system of stormwater management and has been working hard to minimize the impact that exposed dirt has on the waterways.  Unfortunately, it is a difficult proposition for a project of this scale, but silt fences and other measures are regularly reviewed for compliance with environmental requirements.  Friends of the Bohemia will once again be participating in the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Clean Up initiative on September 15, 2018.  We are scouting out a site in Delaware and are approaching land owners for permission to pick up the trash that would otherwise find its way into the water.  We are also actively seeking a couple of water quality sampling sites in the Delaware portion of the watershed.  This would be a great enhancement to our program and we’d love to get some more Delawareans to join our team of water quality samplers.  No experience is necessary and no background in a scientific discipline is required.  It is a lot of fun and we have a great team of folks in our Science Subgroup.

You recently held a report card unveiling. Can you tell us about the report card and the event?

On June 14thwe pulled the wraps off our 2018 Water Quality Report Card.  Broken Spoke Winery in Earleville, MD provided us with a beautiful setting, purveying their wonderful wines, serving delicious food and creating a most comfortable, inviting atmosphere.  That’s a good thing because the River’s report card grade slipped from a B to a C+ this year.  Just like those Report Card Days of our youth, we were a little nervous about how that would play out with our audience…sort of the same way we were nervous about our parents’ reaction.  Gulp.  About 60 people were on hand to learn about Friends of the Bohemia’s findings, and our head scientist, Rebecca Wright, did a great job of explaining what we did, what we found, what it means, and what people can do to have a positive impact.  As it turns out, while most of the parameters we test were either stable, improving, or just slightly worse than last year, our overall grade was heavily impacted by the significant decline in the amount of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in the watershed.  The Bohemia was not alone in this regard.  Despite the overall improvement in SAV coverage enjoyed by the Bay as a whole, our section of the Bay Watershed suffered a decrease in acres containing aquatic grass.  The reasons are still under study, but spikes in salinity may have been a factor.  High salinity levels damage the root systems of the fresh water grass species in our location.  The good news is that the Bohemia River still enjoys a very wide variety of aquatic grass species.  Friends of the Bohemia will be hosting an SAV workshop very soon where we’ll wade into the river and verify the findings that the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has developed from their sophisticated aerial photography.  The take away message from the presentation was that we all need to keep doing whatever we can each do in our own sphere of influence to reduce the impact of human beings on the natural environment.  The more we can help each other with that, in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation, the better.

Rebecca’s talk was followed up with a wonderful presentation by the Maryland Park Service.  Rangers Lesley Leader and Rachel Temby were on hand to describe the development of the new Bohemia River State Park and answer questions from the audience.  The group was keenly interested in this topic and seemed to come away excited and energized about this future asset.  What a lovely setting the park will provide for recreation and education!  The Park Service is doing a great job of seeking input and carefully balancing all of the various factors that come into play.

All in all, it was a very successful event and we made a few new “Friends!”

Your community of members are so welcoming. What do you think is one of the most interesting or fun details of your membership and the community you created?

We really enjoy each other’s company and there is a great deal of humor in the group vibe. People often notice the “I’m a Bohemian” slogan on the back of our T-shirts and that starts a conversation.  We embrace diversity in the group and that brings a wonderful exchange of ideas. One thing we all have in common, though, is an absolute love for our river and our community.

Why should a Delaware resident be interested in joining your organization? 

Volunteer with Friends of Bohemia Watershed AssociationDelawareans want clean water too!  What the folks in Middletown do in their back yards makes a difference to the watershed, whether or not they can see the main body of the Bohemia from where they stand. We are all part of the same community and joining Friends of the Bohemia is a great way to meet new people with common interests.  Volunteering your time, for example, at one of our clean-up events or on one of our water quality sampling teams, is very rewarding.  You’ll be doing your part to make a positive difference in the world around you.  Joining us will also help keep Delawareans aware of happenings in their state. Our association with water-friendly organizations in Delaware can help make our collective voices heard on important issues.

If people are interested in learning more about Friends of the Bohemia, how can they best get in touch with you? 

American Lotus in Bohemia RiverOur website is a great place to start:  www.friendsofthebohemia.org.  On that site you’ll find a wealth of information about what we do and how you can get involved.  There are links to other sites that delve deeper into topics that tweak your interest, and there is a Calendar of Events that we keep updated with the latest information on our happenings. We love to have visitors at our monthly board meetings and folks can email us at friendsofthebohemia@gmail.com, or call 443-566-3513 if they have any questions.