Urbanna Creek sign
As we’ve mentioned in past editions of this newsletter, 2020 marks our tenth year in business. Over the last decade we’ve had the good fortune to work on a multitude of fascinating projects with amazing clients and partners. One project that is most memorable for us and speaks to the power of engaging with local communities around environmental restoration is Restore Urbanna Creek.

In 2014, we were approached by representatives from the Town of Urbanna, Virginia and Christchurch School to help them develop a proposal to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). They wanted to restore oysters to Urbanna’s namesake creek. Urbanna has been home to the largest oyster festival on the east coast for almost 50 years. Ironically, Urbanna Creek hadn’t had a thriving oyster population for decades.

The idea for the proposal was to involve the entire community surrounding the creek in this restoration effort. Schools, businesses, and citizens pledged their support and participation and NFWF awarded our proposal with funds to build two oyster reefs in the creek and to support outreach and engagement around the effort.

Governor's School students dumping oyster shells on one of the reefs

Governor’s School students dumping oyster shells on one of the reefs

A living lab comes to life.

To engage the community, we established project identity and regular outreach to the target audience. As part of our initial involvement in the project, we designed a logo, developed a website and social media, and hosted several community engagement events. Local schools, including Christchurch school and the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School, helped with reef construction and took several trips to the creek to monitor water quality and perform experiments. The good news is that all this hard work paid off. There are now millions of oysters thriving in this small creek.

These trips continue today and, because the reef restoration has been so successful, environmental organizations like Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) frequently take school groups to the creek to teach them about oysters and oyster restoration. School children from near and far can, literally, get their feet wet in this truly living laboratory. Not bad for a body of water that didn’t have any oysters in it a few short years ago!

Interest in Urbanna Creek has continued over the years. For example, thanks to NFWF and FOR, we and Ecosystem Services conducted a stormwater assessment for the Town of Urbanna to identify areas ripe for remediation. The Town of Urbanna and FOR have secured additional funds to greatly expand the acres of oyster reef in the creek. We’ve also developed a data upload portal for students to upload and share data that they collect on the creek and we created a short film about the project.

Students in kayaks on a Friends of the Rappahannock field trip

Students in kayaks on a Friends of the Rappahannock field trip

The success of Restore Urbanna Creek has inspired the Friends of the Rappahannock to start a similar effort in Carter’s Creek, just across the Rappahannock River from Urbanna. We were fortunate to work with them on this effort by creating a directed social media and marketing strategy. These projects highlight the many ways that communities benefit from ecosystem restoration. We can’t wait to see what’s next for these community driven projects.