Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Master Watershed Steward Cindy Rogers Strengthens Partnerships In Indiana County

By Kelly Jedrzejewski,
Penn State News

After retiring from a career in special education and staff development, Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward volunteer Cindy Rogers said she “jumped into environmentalism with both feet.”

As a Master Watershed Steward, Rogers is keen on connecting local organizations and building partnerships that focus on water conservation.

“It’s a good way to volunteer and a good way to protect our water and the environment,” Rogers said. “It’s also a great opportunity to network with people in the county and nearby counties who are also focused on the same issues.”

Justin Mansberger, extension educator and the Master Watershed Steward coordinator for Westmoreland, Indiana and Armstrong counties, has worked closely with Rogers since she joined the program in 2020.

“Cindy has remained a dependable and knowledgeable volunteer,” he said. “That’s part of what makes her a great volunteer, but above that is her passion and excitement for making a change for the better.”

Rogers is part of several environmental organizations in Indiana County. 

She is the president of Evergreen Conservancy, which is a Master Watershed Steward program partner.

Evergreen Conservancy manages the Tanoma Passive Mine Drainage Treatment Project. Tanoma consists of a series of ponds and wetlands designed to filter heavy metals and other pollutants from a mine pool.

Over the years, the site has evolved from simply a passive discharge system to an important educational resource for the community. 

Rogers explained that organizers have used several small grants to add a pavilion and a walking path through the site as well as signage explaining different parts of the system. 

The outdoor classroom is used for numerous environmental education programs.

“We lead programs on a variety of topics related to water, plants and trees,” Rogers said. “We’ve had hundreds of kids and adults visit over the years from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, homeschool groups, college students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and even other Master Watershed Stewards.”

As part of Evergreen Conservancy’s work, Rogers and other volunteers also monitor water quality in streams across the county. 

Every two weeks, volunteers retrieve data from about 30 Solinst Dataloggers. They upload the information to a database and share it with other regional organizations that monitor water quality.

“We’re looking for spikes in the water conductivity that can be caused by mine discharge and other pollution events,” Rogers said. “We can’t tell exactly what the pollutant is, but we can tell there is an issue. If there is a spike, we call the Fish and Boat Commission or one of our other partners who are usually able to track it back to the source.”

Maintaining the land around a water source also plays a major role in water quality. In partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the county Conservation District, Rogers and other Master Watershed Stewards planted about 50 native bushes and trees in a “stake nursery” on land donated by White Township to be used for future riparian buffer zone plantings.

Riparian buffers are areas adjacent to bodies of water that are planted with native trees and shrubs. They are beneficial for filtering runoff, decreasing erosion, and providing shelter and food for aquatic organisms.

“In a year or two, we’ll be able to take cuttings from these plants rather than having to spend money on additional plants to support riparian buffer zones,” she said.

Rogers also is a founding member of Plant Patrol, an offshoot of the nationwide organization Weed Wranglers. The group cleans up invasive species along creeks, rivers and lakes in the county. 

Evergreen Conservancy also partners with Keep America Beautiful to clean up trash along roadsides twice a year.

“We work with Indiana County Conservation District, Yellow Creek State Park, Blue Spruce County Park, the Storm Water Education Partnership and Pennsylvania’s Senior Environmental Corps, to name a few. We have really good partners, and you need good partners to succeed,” Rogers said.

Mansberger added, “Without volunteers, the Master Watershed Stewards program wouldn’t be successful. We rely on their passion and energy to make a difference in their communities. Cindy is always willing to lend a helping hand or offer her expertise in various projects and never hesitates to help someone in need.”

The Penn State Master Watershed Steward program provides extensive training in watershed management to volunteers who, in return, educate the community about watershed stewardship based on university research and recommendations. 

The program was established to strengthen local capacity for management and protection of watersheds, streams and rivers by educating and empowering volunteers across the Commonwealth.

Anyone interested in becoming a Master Watershed Steward can learn more at the program's website.

(Reprinted from Penn State News.)

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[Posted: February 21, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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