All posts by Meredith Ballinger

Stormwater Best Management Practices

By Katie Evans | Year 20 Upper Cape AmeriCorps Member 

One of the greatest sources of water quality impairment on Cape Cod is stormwater runoff. Many of the problems associated with this runoff can be mediated with the use of stormwater BMPs, or best management practices. These include structural, vegetative, and managerial practices that contribute to the treatment, prevention, or reduction of pollution by stormwater, while also controlling flooding and erosion. When the stormwater managers representing each town on Cape Cod began navigating the Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit as it went into effect this past year, a common need was identified during meetings at the Cape Cod Commission. The managers wanted to know more about existing stormwater BMPs on the cape, in order to best identify how and where to install new ones in their towns, and which kind to use. To meet this need, I began building the stormwater BMPedia. The BMPedia is an ArcGIS story map that compiles information about nine different kinds of BMPs, such as catch basins, rain gardens, stormwater wetlands, and permeable pavement, using examples from sites all across the cape. Some of the information included in the story map about each site includes its location, size, year built, links to site plans and more information, and current images of each BMP. This resource provides a easy way for individuals to navigate stormwater infrastructure throughout Cape Cod, either on a general scale, or by filtering to see a specific kind of BMP.

Katie created a ArcGIS story map of the stormwater Best Management Practices or a “stormwater BMPedia” as part of her Individual Placement with the Cape Cod Commission.

Rain gardens are one of the most common kinds of BMPs seen on Cape Cod, and for good reason. A rain garden is a shallow, landscaped depression, planted with small and medium sized vegetation, that is able to capture and store runoff as it is filtered through the soil. They are fairly simple to construct, do not take up a large amount of space, and have numerous benefits ranging beyond water quality improvement to providing habitat for beneficial pollinators and adding aesthetic value to a site. There are examples of rain gardens found all over the cape, from the Sandwich Library to the MP-Renaissance Maplewood in Brewster. Rain gardens can easily be incorporated into residential yards, and are a great method for individuals to contribute to pollution reduction and water quality improvement within their own households. Much of the MS4 permit contains technical jargon or relates specifically to the actions of municipal officials, but stormwater BMPs like rain gardens are the perfect way for the public to get involved in the process. For this reason, the stormwater BMPedia was expanded beyond just the stormwater managers, and is available for the general public to access on the Cape Cod Commission’s website.

Katie Evans, a year 20 Alum, served with Barnstable County Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition addressing critical needs pertaining to water quality.

Keeping Service Meaningful

By Connor O’Brien | Year 21 Upper Cape Program Supervisor

Back in March, spring and summer of 2020 held a lot to look forward to. Members were poised to put their fire training into action. At each new project, service partners told me how impressed they were with members’ competence and efficiency. We had developed an exciting new partnership with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal AmeriCorps program and my fellow supervisor, Phoebe, and I were on track to schedule over 150 group service projects for the year. Unfortunately, those hopeful plans, relationships, and experiences were cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early March, I had a conversation with Andrew, a member in the Pocasset house, that I will likely remember for the rest of my life. We had just gotten back from a service project and were relaxing on the couch discussing the growing concerns over COVID-19. At the time, there were only a few confirmed cases in the United States. We discussed in very frank terms how COVID-19 would likely become a generation defining event and our lives would never be the same. We could predict the devastating economic impacts, the disproportionate effect it would have on under-resourced communities, and the likely possibility that most people would know someone who had the virus and perhaps most people would know someone who had died. We compared it to other large scale tragic historical events like 9/11, the Vietnam War, and World War II. In all these events, the pain of losing loved ones was so pervasive across the nation, it changed American history and culture, and we figured that that would also be the case for the Coronavirus. Oddly, though our conversation topic was morbid, the conversation was lighthearted, as it was early enough in the pandemic for us to brush off our negative predictions with the qualifier “or maybe it won’t happen.”

Upper Cape members served from home building oyster cages for Falmouth Marine and Environmental Services while they were quarantining at the program residence.

Even in mid-March, when the possibility of COVID-19 significantly impacting the way we served and lived became clearer, Phoebe and I still felt we could make hopeful predictions for the rest of the year. We saw getting covered in soot while tending to controlled burns, culling oysters at the beach in short sleeves and sunglasses, and snacking on wild blueberries while doing trail maintenance. The reality was that, like everyone else trying to get by in the pandemic, we could not make predictions or plans. As the country rushed to respond to a pandemic, our jobs became trying to figure out how to continue ACC service in an environment that was exceedingly unpredictable and in constant flux. Phoebe and I spent the first weeks on the phone scheduling projects, cancelling them, rescheduling, and then cancelling again as
regulations and our situations changed. Despite challenges, we eventually found a system that worked and, with help from service partners, organized meaningful service projects. It wasn’t perfect, projects still got cancelled, members left for home, the houses were put under quarantine multiple times, but we found a way to weather the changes and still be useful in

Lehac members safely participate in a social distance friendly beach cleanup

During quarantine, I thought of how I would eulogize this year. Having to shift gears so frequently and not being able to provide the kind of service we were used to felt like a loss and, though we felt the progress of our plans and the state of the program pre-pandemic regressing, we were too busy to mourn it. As the country begins to open again and some normalcy returns, I am able to get some more perspective. Seeing how hard ACC members and staff worked, how much was done for Cape Cod, and the impact that was made on the partner organizations both pre and post pandemic, I realize that a eulogy is not necessary. Year 21 ended early in a fashion that no one hoped for, but overall, the year had been an unambiguous success. Between the trails cleared, habitat protected, groundwater guardians created, and members of the community touched, ACC Year 21 leaves a positive legacy on Cape Cod and has exemplified the AmeriCorps pledge to Get Things Done.

Service, Personal Growth, and Beyond!

By Bee Perry | Year 21 ACC Lehac Member

My year as a member of AmeriCorps Cape Cod (ACC) was a wild ride. I was able to overcome insecurities and grow as a young adult in many ways. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I served at my individual placement the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). By serving with IFAW I was trained on how to help conduct marine mammal rescues, releases, and intakes. I also learned how to manage IFAW’s marine mammal rescue hotline. My Tuesdays were dedicated to manning the phone. I answered calls and made calls to gather information IFAW needed regarding possible injured or stranded marine mammals on the Cape. Talking on the phone is something that has always made me uncomfortable. In the past, whenever my own phone would ring or I needed to make a call to someone, I would avoid the task. However, by managing the hotline for IFAW I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and face my fear head on. It took some time, but I was eventually able to serve on the hotline, comfortably and proudly. My service with IFAW taught me things about marine mammal conservation and myself as a young professional I never thought I would learn before being a part of AmeriCorps Cape Cod.

ACC members practice CPR on a dummy in the back of an ambulance
ACC members Bee ad Lourdes participate in a first aid course.

Outside of regular AmeriCorps service hours, I could also see myself growing as a member of the community. As part of ACC I lived in the program’s Wellfleet House with eight other AmeriCorps members and my Program Supervisor. This meant alone time was scarce. This was not necessarily a bad thing, but it was an adjustment on my part because I was used to having my own living space. In an attempt create more space for myself outside of the residence, I turned to the Wellfleet community. As the year progressed, I found myself starting to go out into the community more. This was very new for me. I began attending weekly community dinners hosted by the 246 Community Kitchen in town. I would talk to my neighbors at these dinners to learn more about them, while also teaching them more about today’s young people. I felt like I was able to make connections with people by putting myself out there and branching out further beyond the ACC residential community I lived in.

AmeriCorps member poses with a donation bin for MLK day
Bee assists putting out arts and crafts donation bins for the AmeriCorps Cape Cod’s annual MLK day event

When the lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic began to take effect on the program and the local community, I did not let that stop me from staying engaged with my surroundings. I wanted to stay involved so I reached out to fellow members of the Wellfleet community to learn about what people were doing during his time to support one another. I contacted people in the community who were making face masks. To keep myself safe during the pandemic while still supporting local businesses, I decided to purchase masks from them. Through those connections, I was even able secure a donation of locally made masks for the entirety of the ACC Wellfleet House community. During my time exploring the Wellfleet community, I had become familiar with a local restaurant called the Fox and Crow Café. Because of the connections I had made in town, I was able to reach out to them regarding their non-profit organizations called Common Table. This organization provides free meals to Wellfleet community members in need. Thanks to the generosity of Common Table, I was able to set-up daily food delivery for the members of the Wellfleet House.

ACC members Bee, Celia, Nick, and Travis outside of Common Table.

Throughout all the experiences I have had and all the connections I have made during my year with ACC, I have been able to reflect on my physical and mental health – as well as my habits both as a young professional and young adult. I used this year as an opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone and learn from the people in my residential community and my professional connections. This year has really showed me how I can be a better individual for myself and for those around me. I have learned I am person who can bring change to the world!

My Accidental Passion for Oysters

By Sarah Paulson | Year 21 ACC Pocasset Member

Ever since I was a little kid I can remember being fascinated by coral reefs. So many different organisms coexisting in a beautiful, colorful habitat that looked nothing like the nature in my backyard. So naturally when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in marine conservation I looked to coral reefs. Along the way, I applied to some oceanography internships and conservation opportunities closer to home, and ended up with oysters. When I first got the news that my summer oceanography research internship would be focused on the oyster microbiome I was disappointed. Not only was I studying oysters instead of colorful coral, but I was studying the bacteria inside oysters through data analysis. This study was less glamorous than what I had imagined, but I was excited to learn more about marine science and decided to keep an open mind about oysters. 

During the first weeks of my internship, I was asked to put together a presentation about my project and what I was studying. When I went to introduce the topic I realized I knew very little about oysters and their role in local ecosystems, and the more I learned, the more I was amazed. Did you know that one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day? Or that oysters form oyster reefs which protect coastlines from storms and act as habitat for many other marine organisms? The more I learned, the more excited I was, but I finished my internship and figured that was it for me and oysters. Then this year I joined AmeriCorps Cape Cod. 

ACC members, Sarah, Chansea, and Kelsey getting ready to broadcast oysters at a group service project with Falmouth MES.

As a new ACC member I knew I wanted to serve at an organization that worked in marine conservation for my independent placement (IP). What I didn’t know was that on Cape Cod, marine conservation often means shellfish in one way or another. And so a few weeks in I found out that I was going to be serving with Falmouth Marine and Environmental Services on their shellfish propagation projects. Just like that, oysters found me again. This time they were joined by quahogs and scallops too! I figured this IP would be a good opportunity to use my oyster knowledge from my previous internship, but that I would never really be interested in shellfish. 

Sarah taught her housemates how to build oyster bags which will be used for future oyster propagation by Falmouth MES.

I started off the year by designing lesson plans to teach Falmouth 3rd graders about shellfish and their role in local ecosystems. Along the way I learned even more about shellfish, how they improve water quality, provide a local food source, and stimulate the local economy. Then while I worked with the Falmouth teachers and administrators to plan a time to start teaching these lessons, I was out in the field maintaining oyster farms, overwintering some oysters and quahogs, and seeding others. In March I finally went to my first classroom with a box of oysters and started teaching about these crazy little organisms. Explaining to the kids how oysters live and the services they provide us, I felt so much pride. Both in the program that I had helped create, and in the oysters themselves. Much to my surprise, I had come to love oysters. 

Sarah provided environmental education and community outreach on behalf of her Individual  Placement with Falmouth MES.

As I have started to look for jobs for next year, my AmeriCorps Cape Cod experience has certainly changed my outlook on my future career. I am still interested in colorful, tropical coral reefs, but now I am also genuinely excited about shellfish and their potential as an alternative solution for nitrogen remediation. The opportunities that I have had to experience a wide range of natural resource management and environmental education projects have helped me see what kinds of positions are out there, and think about what might be a good fit for me going forward. It is especially exciting to know that you do not have to move to the tropics to be able to find opportunities for marine conservation. So thank you to oysters for following me until I loved you, and thank you to ACC for helping me get there.