This year marks the 15th year that the local watershed protection organization CU Maurice River has celebrated its outstanding volunteers, who contribute more than 10,000 hours annually. They monitor a host of species like purple martins, bluebirds, osprey, eagles, and wood ducks. They lead nature walks, save horseshoe crabs, create wildlife habitat, maintain nature trails, clean natural areas, conduct air and water quality surveys, teach children, feed the International Shorebird Recovery Team, help with fundraisers, restore wetlands, offer stewardship, and so much more.
CU has ambassadors who represent the organization, set up activities, and/or help to organize local festivals like the Eagle and Purple Martin festivals, WheatonArts Eco Fair, and Outdoor Artists’ Day in Mauricetown. CU is fortunate that many of its volunteers are professionals who contribute a expertise toward its mission of raising awareness about natural and cultural resources in the southern New Jersey region—what is called “Down Jersey.”
Seven outstanding volunteer contributors were recognized recently. Five received an Ah Why Knot award. The award’s name derives from members’ response when asked to help out—“Ah, Why Knot.” The knot is a play on words, as the award is a wood carving of a nationally threatened shorebird, the red knot, which the group works to protect. A sixth volunteer received the Sanderling Award for youth achievement and a seventh was chosen for the Presidential Award.
Normally, this ceremony is held in May at a picnic where the achievements of the Shorebird Recovery Team are celebrated as well. This year CU took the awards on the road because of the pandemic. Each individual’s ceremony was videoed and a bit of fun was added to make up for the need to socially distance. If you know any of the winners, please congratulate them.
Meet the Ah Why Knot awardees:
• Cindy Berry—As a teacher in the Millville Public School System she has been an enthusiastic advocate for Wild About Cumberland. Some 25 to 30 volunteers help with this program each year. Annually, since 2006, teachers, students, and chaperones have been treated to sessions that emphasize “a sense of place,” along with environmental programing that focuses on local habitats and species. About 350 students are given indoor lessons for half a day and outdoor field studies the rest of the day. Since retiring Cindy has been dedicating time and experience to the Dragonfly Mercury and Bluebird Trail Monitoring projects, while also participating in other outdoor opportunities. Cindy is part of Allen Jackson’s CU team spearheading an amazing success story in bluebird recovery. They banded about 2,116 chicks in 2019.
• Steve Glynn—CU is fortunate to have a team of naturalists with diverse knowledge and willing to share their appreciation for the great out-of-doors with others. As leaders they grow stewardship of natural resources by promoting an appreciation for all creatures great and small, as well as connecting participants with the work and resources of the conservation world. Steve is one of these leaders. While he is an avid birder, his current interests have expanded to include butterflies and dragonflies. Steve’s volunteerism has allowed CU Maurice River to provide outings showcasing some of the best butterfly and dragonfly sites in the Maurice River Watershed. Steve has also brought volunteer opportunities to CUMR’s calendar, most notably a survey of the county’s rare sleepy orange butterfly population.
• Tom Glynn—Involved with CU Maurice River for the past two years, Tom was instrumental in replacing the spindles on the bridge handrail along the Maurice River Bicycle and Walking Trail. Tom is always well prepared for the task at hand and has proven to be a true force for accomplishment. He put many hours into the installation of raised plant boxes at the Neighborhood Wildlife Garden in Millville, which will serve as a new outdoor learning tool. He volunteers for many other programs, including the Dragonfly Mercury Project, rebuffering initiatives, ReTurn the Favor (a horseshoe crab rescue effort), Wild About Cumberland, clean-ups, Elevate (a Vineland-based summer enrichment program for youth), wood duck box maintenance, and osprey conservation. He has a keen interest in wildlife photography and donates images to the CU photo collection.
• Bert Hixon—As part of the Purple Martin Spectacular Event team of naturalists for several years, Bert shares his knowledge of local wildlife with the tour-goers. In the last two years Bert has been leading outings for CU Maurice River in the Delaware Bayshore and Atlantic Coast areas. He leads every outing with an appreciation for the diverse levels and backgrounds of the attendees. He has a unique way of making every bird sighting thrilling and always has interesting facts to share about even the most common birds and trees. Some leaders ignore these sightings but Bert revels in the ordinary, recognizing that nature is always extraordinary.
• Carol Sibley—As one of CU Maurice River’s most dedicated ambassadors, Carol represents CU at numerous activities including nearly all of the community events we attend. Her ability to communicate the organization’s mission and the importance of its work in a relatable way has been of great assistance. She connects well with people of all ages and experiences and is especially wonderful with the youngest visitors. She helps staff lead outdoor learning opportunities designed to turn kids on to nature, including Elevate and Wild About Cumberland.
Sanderling Award: Luka Villani, from Vineland and having grown up on the shores of the Maurice River there, is an Environmental Studies major at Colby College in Maine. From October 2019 to January 2020 Luka volunteered well over 100 hours in assisting Program Manager Karla Rossini to establish a partnership with the Wetlands Institute in tailoring their diamondback terrapin conservation project to the Delaware Bayshore. Luka coordinated indoor volunteer trainings, helped lead onsite walks, and conducted outreach with local partners. Luka’s approachability and eagerness helped to engage the public, which was instrumental in getting the program off the ground.
Presidential Award: Wendy Walker has been involved with CU since about 2013 and won an Ah Why Knot in 2014. Wendy enjoys all the CU walks, volunteer work events, trips, and presentations. Her list of involvement is like a what’s-up of CU happenings: 2nd Friday walks, campfires, Chili Bowl prep, bi-monthly meetings, Eagle Trail walk, duck caravan, trash hunt, clean-ups, 4th Saturday walks, Tuesdays on the Fly, setting up for Ah Why Knot, ReTurn the Favor, Play Streets at the Neighborhood Wildlife Garden, butterfly surveys, Elevate, feeding the International Shorebird Recovery Team, Wild About Cumberland docent, Derelict Crab Trap removal, office work, prep for CU Socials, and volunteering for the National Fish Wildlife Foundation grant wetland restoration project. She’s an amazing ambassador for CU and has filled that role at the Eagle Festival, Barn Day, Neighborhood Wildlife Garden, Mauricetown’s Outdoor Arts Day, WheatonArts Spring and EcoFair. Everyone enjoys Wendy’s wonderful spirit.
On YouTube: Watch recipients get their awards on the CU YouTube channel using this link youtube.com/watch?v=EvIIjzVVS6Y. If you’d like to learn more about CU or to join, check out the website at CUMauriceRiver.org