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Schuylkill Headwaters worker receives $10K grant through fellowship program

Wed Sep 4, 2013 / Storm Water


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Schuylkill Headwaters worker receives $10K grant through fellowship program

by thomas leskin (staff writer

Published: September 3, 2013


Students living in the watershed from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia will soon have a program that will teach them about environmental impacts on the headwaters of the Schuylkill River.

Sierra Gladfelter, New Ringgold, outreach coordinator for Schuylkill Headwaters Association, received a $10,000 grant through the Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship Program.

According to the TogetherGreen website, Toyota and Audubon have funded innovative community-based conservation projects, trained environmental leaders and engaged volunteers in opportunities that benefit their local environment through TogetherGreen since 2008. It also states that the fellowship program invests in promising and proven leaders who are committed to empowering others and creating positive environmental change in their communities and organizations.

Each Toyota TogetherGreen fellow receives professional development opportunities, a $10,000 grant to help support an innovative community-based conservation project and an opportunity to network with a cadre of committed leaders.

Up to 40 fellows were selected this year from within the Audubon network and other organizations outside of Audubon to participate in the 12-month program. The website has not yet been updated with information about the 2013 recipients.

The yearlong process to design a conservation project begins this month and runs through October 2014, but Gladfelter said the program she's working on, a week-long summer program for high school students, will probably be offered in early June.

"I have between now and then to work on getting the logistics finalized and doing some additional fundraising and partnering with organizations," she said.

Rich development

Gladfelter said while the program she is designing is in the early stages, she has a rough sketch of its content.

When in high school, she participated in the Schuylkill River Outreach Team once orchestrated through the Schuylkill Conservation District.

"The program looked at environmental impacts to the headwaters of the Schuylkill River," Gladfelter said. "It was a very Schuylkill County-focused program. It sort of was the inspiration for this."

She said the weeklong program took students around in a bus looking at environmental issues and meeting with people in the field. They also camped a couple times and spent time on the river.

William E. Reichert, Schuylkill Headwaters Association president, said the program ran for about five years.

"This is a similar model, but will be expanded to the whole watershed," Gladfelter said. "My goal is to have a diverse representation of students in the watershed."

She plans to widely publicize her program and make it competitive, possibly requiring candidates to write an essay, submit teacher recommendations and participate in an interview process. She expects to take two to three students each from Schuylkill, Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties and Philadelphia.

"I want to make sure that the students who are there, are committed to being there," she said. "I think with a diversity of students, there will be more interesting conversations and people will be able to speak to different issues based on their direct experience."

During the week, the students will look at issues in the headwaters, especially with abandoned mine drainage. They will get to visit both active and abandoned mine sites to look at issues with water quality and the efforts of Schuylkill Headwaters and the conservation district.

The goal is for the students to learn about the issues and have a half-day service project attached to each issue. Projects may include planting trees and doing a cleanup at a site.

The students will spend time on the river, so Gladfelter plans to work with Outward Bound Philadelphia to facilitate and outfit participants with canoes.

On the river, possibly between Landingville and Port Clinton or farther downstream toward Reading, Gladfelter hopes to have biologists talk to the students about water quality. They will do some basic monitoring and learn about the river's historic significance of moving raw materials to Philadelphia.

In Berks County, the students will examine agricultural issues, possibly visiting a dairy farm, looking at stream bank restoration efforts and completing a miniature stream bank stabilization project.

Paddling to Pottstown, the students will visit the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area. Farther downstream, they will discuss runoff issues and do a service project, such as a miniature rain garden.

In Philadelphia, Gladfelter hopes to take advantage of the Fairmount Water Works and have people from the water department meet with the group. A cumulative presentation will take place at the end of the program, and the students will brainstorm about how they can take what they learned back to their school district and communities.

"Besides the service work, I'm hoping to have a team-building element structured throughout to look at collaboration because I know when I did the outreach team, I was so inspired by it," Gladfelter said. "I think if there's that team building element, there's more potential for the students to engage in further work."


Reichert is also excited for the potential of the program. He said that there is still a disconnect among the people living along the watershed, such as the people in Schuylkill County not understanding "the need to take care of the water here for people downstream" and the people in Philadelphia not understanding how people upstream live.

"I think it's something we've been working with for a long time, to bring the whole watershed together," Reichert said. "I think it's a neat opportunity. We're fortunate to have Sierra, who has the energy and the wisdom to put something like this together. The grant makes it possible."

Gladfelter's program is planned to become an annual event.

For more information about the Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship Program, visit or the Schuylkill Headwaters Association at