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Welcome Macy Galvan: CREA Summer Camp Director

We are so excited to welcome Macy Galvan to the team as our new CREA Summer Camp Director!

Macy earned her B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology with a minor in Africana Studies from Bowdoin where she was introduced to the idea of the Common Good, that individuals have a “peculiar obligation to exert their talents” for the benefit of society. She has been involved in the education sector for the last ten years including teaching in Armenia, directing afterschool programs and summer camps, and working alongside teens with the focus of mental and emotional well-being. As the Director of CREA Summer Camp, Macy is responsible for managing camp operations including camper registration, training and overseeing staff and CITS, and coordinating daily camp activities. Macy is passionate about being outside and spends much of her free time camping, growing flowers, hiking, swimming, and all things her pup Pushkin enjoys too. After years of traveling and exploring, Macy lives in Freeport with Pushkin and her partner.

She’s already hitting the ground running preparing for 2024 camp registration – welcome Macy!

BTLT Supports Local School’s New Greenhouse

If you have driven down McKeen Street in Brunswick recently, you may have noticed the new greenhouse on campus, and wondered what plans are in store. As part of a grant funded by the Department of Education, students at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School (HBS) will soon be experiencing more outdoor learning as part of their curriculum! This coming spring will hopefully offer new outdoor learning spaces for students that will likely include a pollinator garden, compost systems, 4-5 fruit trees, a “Sunflower House,” and greenhouse seedling projects during late winter when the snow won’t allow for outdoor work yet. HBS used some of the grant funds to hire a part-time Garden Coordinator, who will help oversee successful garden and greenhouse projects that will get students involved in the hands-on gardening projects throughout the school year.

BTLT educators are supporting the project by helping to identify ways that hands-on activities in the new garden spaces will tie into the science curriculum. Fifth graders, for example, who are learning about nutrient cycling will build and maintain compost systems to recycle garden waste and turn it into “black gold.” Fourth graders studying sense receptors will observe pollinators to see the different ways that bees and butterflies use different body parts to sense the world around them. Third graders studying plant traits will observe closely to find plants that have similar traits (leeks, garlic, chives for example) and notice the similarities and differences between different varieties of squashes and pumpkins.

Everyone will get to enjoy the power of the sun as the greenhouse provides a balmy break from the cold winter weather. Right now the first step is to get rid of the grass and turn it into garden beds. The Garden Coordinator took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get the first delivery of soil in mid December. We look forward to supporting the Garden Coordinator and students this spring as they get outdoors for learning adventures in the garden!

Students feel the power of the sun — 68 degrees and cozy in the greenhouse on this afternoon when it was 32 and windy outdoors!

Fifth graders help haul cardboard that will be used to smother the grass lawn beneath future garden spaces.

Taking the plastic packing tape off boxes so the boxes can decompose and become the bottom layer of new garden beds, replacing the grass.  

BTLT In the News: “Brunswick Superintendent’s Notebook: When does learning not feel like learning?”

BY PHIL POTENZIANO, The Coastal Journal

To read the article online, click here. 

Mary Poppins had the right idea. A spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down, and the Brunswick School Department has found a way to sweeten the learning experience in our science-based programs.

Brunswick schools have been working with the Cathance River Education Alliance to bring kids outdoors to learn in a hands-on environment, something that offers a long list of benefits. And the program is a hit with our students, who tell us it’s so much fun learning outdoors.

CREA, a program of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, promotes ecological awareness and stewardship through nature-based learning. In addition to the beautiful 235-acre Cathance River Preserve in Topsham – which is also open to the public – the CREA team offers a wealth of expertise in the area of science education.

In recent years, the school department has partnered with CREA as we continue to revise our science programs and strengthen our alignment with the state’s Next Generation Science Standards. A central theme of the program is bringing students outdoors and adding more hands-on investigations into science class, something teachers of all grades have practiced. So, instead of just studying frogs from a book, second-graders search for them near a pond and listen to their different croaking sounds. Fifth-graders, meanwhile, are taking soil samples and learning about ecosystems in the nearby forest.

Why is science so important? The knowledge you acquire goes beyond the ability to identify an amoeba under a microscope or the understanding that the blue whale is a mammal. In the same way that math teaches us how to think logically, the study of science builds essential life skills, including observation, hypothesis, collaboration, inquiry, problem-solving and flexibility.

Our partnership with CREA covers kindergarten through fifth grade. The learning units are consistent across all the grade levels to ensure that every student has access to the same experience based on Next Generation Science Standards.

After elementary school, Brunswick junior high and high school classes continue to offer plenty of hands-on, outdoor learning opportunities through field trips, extended learning opportunities and on-campus activities, including in our BHS garden.

The K-5 grade modules, created by CREA and Brunswick staff, also take a load off teachers, who can now focus on students and instruction without the need to develop their own curriculum. This is particularly beneficial for new teachers and those in the lower grades who teach multiple subjects.

“Feedback has been great,” says Suellyn Santiago, chief academic officer. “Teachers have everything at their fingertips. This gives them the resources they need to focus on the kids and what the students need.”

Students progress as they move through the grades. Second-graders identify turtles and quietly observe robins nesting. Third graders look at larvae under a microscope. Students in fourth grade study more abstract, longer-term processes, such as how the moving water of a river smooths rocks.

An especially exciting outcome we’ve seen comes from students who may lack confidence in the classroom – those who sit in the back and rarely participate. I’ve heard several stories that these quiet students often become some of the most connected and engaged learners in the outdoor education setting.

Certainly, there will always be an emphasis on books, lectures and even hands-on classroom activities. But bringing students outdoors for experiential learning is fun, effective and here to stay. A favorite story came from Sarah Rodgers, school program coordinator at CREA, who was told by a young learner, “This is so awesome – we’re learning so much new stuff, but I don’t even feel like I’m learning.”

Mary Poppins would be proud.

If you want to learn about the Brunswick School Department and CREA, look no further than the October Brunswick Buzz podcast.

To read the article online, click here. 

CREA Corner: August

Welcome to the CREA Corner! Most of you are aware that Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) and BTLT merged effective July 1. Woohoo! We’re excited about the opportunities this union will open up and each month we’ll have a special blog post focused on CREA programs and events.

Go Native!

Twenty-five people learned what a spectacular, lawn-free landscape looks like at our garden tour events this summer. We toured the premises of Brunswick resident Sarah Cline who, following construction of her house five years ago, opted to surround it with native flowers and shrubs instead of grass. 

Today, Sarah has towering perennials and shrubs that supply continuous color throughout the warmer months. The plants also provide food and habitat for the all-important insects so essential to the birds and creatures that bring us such joy. Click on the links to learn why native plants are important and how to get started with rewilding a portion of your home, whether it’s a pot on your front steps or a small section of lawn.

The beauty of native plants is that in addition to their great looks and high ecological value, they don’t require improved soil or (once established) watering. The Maine-based Wild Seed Project is a great source of information about getting started with native plants!

Fall Speakers: Owls, Forests, & Biodiversity

We have wonderful speakers coming your way this fall. As big believers in the capacity of the natural world to teach, our ‘speakers’ will include live owls at the Topsham Public Library on the evening of September 26. Their handlers from the Center for Wildlife will help us understand the habits, diets, calls, ecological role, and more. Children are welcome! Registration not required – just show up.

In October, we’ll return to a virtual format with Karin Tilberg, Executive Director of the Forest Society of Maine, speaking about how Maine’s forests play a key role in mitigating climate change. In November, Nancy Olmstead, Conservation Ecologist with the Maine branch of The Nature Conservancy, will help us understand why biodiversity is important and its status in Maine. Registration for virtual speaker events opens 3-4 weeks before the event on our Events page. Links to attend will be emailed prior to the presentation.

CREA Camp: Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Mud, Oh My! 

We had eight very full weeks of camp this summer, providing a week of nature-based fun for 256 campers. CREA camp finished up on August 18th with (you guessed it) a rainy afternoon! Our intrepid campers, counselors, and counselors-in-training (CITs) were undeterred by the moisture this summer. And all that precipitation kept our rain barrels full! 

Campers spent their days building and racing boats, hunting for bugs and salamanders, hiking to Clay Brook for fun with mud, learning about mammals, creating puppet shows, making friends with painted turtles from our pond, playing Beckon and other group games, and much much more. Our new Hammock Haven was a big hit, giving youngsters a place to hang out (literally!) and rejuvenate for the next activity. The pictures tell the story.

“CREA Camp is hands down our favorite summer camp experience in the area. Both of my kids (one of whom was a new camper and pretty nervous) settled in immediately, came home thrilled and exhausted in the best way, and couldn’t wait to go back in the morning. For us, it is the opportunity to experience a really high quality outdoor, place-based program in such a fun way. And JUST the right balance between relaxed and structured- hard to find.” – ‘23 Camp Family

CREA Corner: July

Welcome to the CREA Corner! Most of you are aware that Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) and BTLT merged effective July 1. Woohoo! We’re excited about the opportunities this union will open up and each month we’ll have a special blog post focused on CREA programs and events.

For over 20 years, CREA has been using the natural world to captivate people of all ages from our base at the Ecology Center, located at Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham. We provide hands-on learning experiences for school classes, run a nature immersion summer camp (full to bursting this year), and host speakers, guided nature walks, and community events for the public. 

A favorite speaker of 2022 (based on the 250 people who registered for his talk and 600 people who’ve since watched the recording) was Doug Tallamy, who explained the importance of insects, their key role in supporting other creatures we love — like birds, and the critical need for more native plants to support the charismatic megafauna (e.g.…birds) we want in our landscapes. You can watch that talk or read a summary of it here.

Read below to learn more about CREA’s exciting, and busy, summer happenings!

Inside the Ecology Center

Ecology Center: CREA’s Ecology Center is open to the public on Sundays from 12–2, weather permitting. There, you’ll find Maine mammal and bird mounts, a cool mineral display, scavenger hunts, ideas for outdoor children’s activities you can take home, and more. Walk to the river after your visit and read the Storywalk along the way! 

Firefly Mysteries: On June 27, we learned that the firefly dating scene is fraught with danger and intrigue. If you missed firefly enthusiast and expert Don Salvatore’s virtual presentation, you can read some highlights here and access a recording of his presentation. There is a whole lot more going on in a firefly meadow than you could imagine. If you thought the human dating scene was complicated, check this out!

CREA Explorers undeterred by the rain!

CREA Summer Camp: Our CREA camp is underway! Check out the Instagram page for great pics of what our campers are up to. For eight weeks, youngsters explore and learn about the plants and animals of the Preserve, catch frogs and bugs, make crafts, eat lunch by the river, and generally get dirty having a great time guided by our wonderful team of counselors. Our 14-16 year-old Counselors-in-Training (CIT) get daily leadership training that helps them learn to be confident, positive role models.

It’s Holly’s first time in Maine and she wants to learn everything she can about this wonderful place before she heads back to Montreal this fall.

Summer Intern: We are grateful to have the assistance of our Environmental Education intern, Holly Beato, this summer, sponsored by John Wasileski. Holly is a student at McGill University studying Sustainability, Science, and Society. She is just back from a semester of field study in East Africa!

Holly will be spending her internship working on mapping projects, helping with communications, creating educational aids for programs, researching potential speakers, exploring grant opportunities, crunching data, helping out at the community garden and farmers’ market, and a whole lot more!

Spring Birding Extravaganza 2023 Line-Up!

BTLT In the News: “Your Land: What you can see (and what you can’t) – Earth Day ‘22”

Your Land: What you can see (and what you can’t) – Earth Day ‘22

By Sandy Stott

A cool spring morning, with rising wind. It is the season — post-snow and pre-spring-growth — where what’s been thrown and blown away is easy to spot, and I’ve come to this part of Brunswick Landing with 30+ others to clear the area of this hand- and wind-scattered trash.

At my back, a one-story building, its long windows opening out toward a field, houses the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) and the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). Often working partners, these two conservation organizations help preserve and manage lands, bring people to those lands, and promote the spirit that adheres to and rises from those lands. Close by the building lie the plots of the New Mainers Garden, where sign of that spirit will poke soon above ground. CREA has organized today’s clean-up, and their executive director, Caroline Eliot, has welcomed our mixed lot, including a number of families (thank you, parents), and, with expansive gestures, she’s turned us loose to clean.

Armed with a picker-upper and an empty bag, I begin to work through the grasses and small pines above a crushed rock berm at the base of a thin pond. Snagged among the grasses: 2 paper coffee cups (company name withheld), plastic lid and straw, two linked post-it notes (task completed, I assume), white chunk of shipping foam, wad of paper towel, bottle cap, ah, the companion plastic bottle, a once-upon-a-pencil, bags 1, 2 and 3, (plastic). And on.

I near the water. I look back upfield, and I can see no remaining trash. Soon, I’ll join the others as they fan out into the woods and along nearby roads to fill their bags further. By morning’s end we’ll have tens of bags full. But first I turn back to the pond. I know this water. The eastern branch of the Mere Brook watershed, it too needs (and is slated for) cleansing work.

Named Pond B, the water before me has been put to work. Not far upstream sibling Pond A pools behind its own dam, and just above that the waters emerge from twin culverts that run beneath Brunswick Landing. Ponds A and B, and downstream relatives, Pond Area C and Picnic Pond receive and process 80% of the stormwater that runs off the Landing. It’s all headed finally south for Mere Brook, and then, Harpswell Cove.

Such water from a heavily-peopled, asphalt-rich site carries within the chemical equivalents of the thrown and blown trash we’re all gathering today. A full catalogue of this water’s trouble would burst the seams of this column. But before I head into the woods in pursuit of more visible trash, I want to describe briefly how the Ponds Stormwater System works, and how, over time, its waters may be redeemed.

When it rains heavily, run-off water rushes throughout the Landing. That hurried water picks up whatever’s available — grit, pollutants, bits of trash; it all courses through the system, swelling, rising. When that water reaches the ponds, it does what we all do in quieter water — it slows down. And, as it slows, it lays down some of its burden, the grit and particulates, the pollutants; that load sinks to the bottom, over time layering it. The now partially-cleansed water flows on seaward. A modicum of success.

But time’s accumulations finally make these pond-bottoms toxic, no-touch sediments that should be cleaned. Such a remediation is at hand for the Ponds system. The Navy, which put the system in place in the mid-90s, has contracted for roughly $5 million to have these sediments removed this summer and fall. A layer of clean sand will then be laid in place. The Ponds will then go back to work slowing and sorting the stormwater, which, given the successful repurposing of the former Navy Base as Brunswick Landing, will be substantial work.

Here, beside this working water, I’m thinking about the dilemma of our presence. We slough off so much, visible and invisible; how we manage our slough, how we minimize our trail of discard is an essential challenge on this Earth Day and every day.

It’s an hour later, and I’ve followed the deliberate course of my trash picking into a little draw. A tiny, transparent stream runs along its bottom toward Pond area C; on its banks, my favorite spring harbinger spirals up, maroon surprise. Before it becomes a green fan of leaf, Skunk Cabbage begins as twisting eruption from the newly soft ground; it is sculpture of the highest quality. Nearby, mid-stream, lies the thin manilla fin of a sandbar shaped by the running water. The sand’s surface is stirred and I bend to it; there, in a two-way script, go the paw prints of fellow travelers — raccoon (I’m sure), fox (I think), and the plush pads of a rogue cat(?). Here, in this little draw, slowed by my work of finding trash, I’m finding also the prints and presence of fellow animals. We are all of this earth. I owe them this effort to clean the seen and unseen litter of my life.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com

To read the full article online, click here.