Member Highlight: Cacapon Institute

We had the opportunity to speak to Frank Rodger of Cacapon Institute to learn what makes this organization so wonderful. Not only were they awarded the Arbor Day Foundation’s Headwaters Award, but their continued work in educating the community and youth has made a big difference in their local West Virginia communities.

Tell us about Cacapon Institute, what makes you all unique, and your mission.

Since 1985, from the Cacapon River, to the Potomac, to the Chesapeake Bay, Cacapon Institute has protected rivers and watersheds using science and education.  The Institute is unique because we focus on hands-on education that engages youth and adults in real-world watershed conservation Best Management Practices (BMPs).  BMPs include tree plantings, and installing rain gardens and rain cistern. BMPs reduce non-point source stormwater runoff pollution at the source, before it can reach local streams.  We are a certified West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection laboratory. We do water testing regularly and, like many groups, we teach the importance of watershed protection.  What makes us unique is that, in addition to the instruction, we provide technical and material support so students, watershed associations, and civic organizations can engage directly in watershed protection and restoration.

Cacapon Institute has three hands-on BMP programs.  PHLOW, Potomac Headwaters Leaders of Watershed, began in 2008 teaching “Watershed 101” to students and engaging them in BMP projects at their schools.  Thousands of students have learned the causes of stormwater runoff pollution, solutions to pollutions, and been personally engaged in mitigating runoff pollution.  Students are learning by doing and leading by example to protect rivers and watershed suing science and education.

Cacapon Institute inherited Carla Hardy West Virginia Project CommuniTree in 2011 and we have grown “CTree” into West Virginia’s largest volunteer tree steward program for planting on public lands. We have provided technical and material resources, including more than five-thousand no-cost trees to our volunteers across the eight counties of West Virginia’s Potomac Basin. The Institute is the “urban forestry” lead for the West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Program. Urban forests are the trees we live with, the trees that grace our towns, parks, schools, neighborhoods, and roadsides.

Cacapon Institute’s newest program “Your Community BMP” is engaging private landowners in tree planting and BMPs. The Institute provides planning assistance, education, and material assistance to private homeowners and businesses to help them reduce their “footprint” and better manage their property to have a positive impact to protect local streams, the Potomac, and the Chesapeake Bay. Private landowners in turn contribute financially and invest their time and energy to make their properties more Bay friendly.

Cacapon Institute’s unique blend of arboriculture, conservation BMPs, education, and science combines to engage youth and adults across all walks of life and backgrounds from the Shenandoah Valley, through West Virginia, and into Western Maryland.  We believe that, with education and the requisite technical and material support, private citizens can have the greatest positive impact to protect and restore local waters, the Potomac, and Chesapeake Bay.

What does receiving the Headwaters Award mean to you all?

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Headwaters Award is the greatest honor ever bestowed on Cacapon Institute.  In 2008, Cacapon Institute won first place in the North American Adobe/Tech Soup “Show You Impact” design contest for “Environmental Impact.”  In recent years, the Institute has received the Chesapeake Bay Program’s “Forest Champion” and The Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture’s “Green Leaf.”  West Virginia DEP recognized Cacapon Institute as a “State Champion for Partnership Building.”

In all our years, the most heartfelt recognition Cacapon Institute has received came from Finley’s Green Leap Forward. Elizabeth Finley Broaddus, an 18 year-old student at Highland School with plans to attend the College of William and Mary received the terrible news that she had a rare form of terminal cancer, Cholangiocarcinoma.  As she battled the incurable disease, Miss Broaddus set up Finley’s Green Leap Forward to “support local and global efforts that have a positive impact on the environment, moving us forward towards a healthy, sustainable planet.”  Shortly before passing, for Earth Day 2014, Miss Broaddus selected her first two “Green Leap” grantees, Cacapon Institute in West Virginia and The Green Belt Movement in Nairobi, Kenya.  Every day, we draw strength and inspiration from this heartwarming recognition from a powerful young lady.

What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future (500 words or less)?

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute 

Photo courtesy of Cacapon Institute 

We will continue to protect rivers and watershed using science and education.  We will to expand Carla Hardy West Virginia Project CommuniTree to reach ever more communities and organizations.  Your Community BMP will engage more individuals and strengthen community organizations interested in environmental protection.  Hands-on engagement is the best way to teach the science of watershed protection and educate the public on the importance of personal action to protect the environment.

PHLOW has been teaching school students, at the classroom level, since 2008.  Going forward we want to see Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences become systemic in West Virginia’s Potomac Basin.  As we continue to work with individual teachers and classrooms, we will reach further to engage entire schools and, eventually, we will engage county school boards to make environmental education part of regular curriculum.  Moving environmental education into the mainstream of county programing will ensure all our youth are engaged and learn the value of river and watershed protection.

For more information on Cacapon Institute, contact Frank Rodger.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern at Choose Clean Water