Archive for May 2019 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Get Outside, Feed Your Soul: Tips to Living Your Best Outdoor Life

By Sara Murrill, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Let’s face it, DC is a career-obsessed city. Our jobs here are intense; the grind is nonstop. There’s always more work to do.

Fortunately, there is a reprieve from the craziness. DC has an impressive amount of greenspace, with plenty of biking and running trails through trees and alongside creeks and rivers; spots where you can disappear into the woods and totally forget you are in the middle of our nation’s capital (save a distant siren). Many studies have shown how beneficial greenspace is to physical and mental health. In our overworked, over-connected society, it’s becoming more essential to unplug and immerse yourself in some therapeutic quality nature time.

As someone who has spent much of my career in national parks, I encourage everyone to reap the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. Make sure you’re properly prepared and then get outside! Here are some tips to living your best outdoor life.

Explore every nature spot you can

From Rock Creek to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to the Capital Crescent Trail, the more you get out there and explore, the more you’ll realize what DC has to offer. Venture out regionally to nearby mountains for weekend trips. Discover world class landscapes and America’s stories by visiting national parks across the country.

You know what is the best thing about Vegas? It’s only two hours from the Grand Canyon. Anytime you go out of town on a work trip or to attend your millionth wedding of the year, research public lands nearby and tack on a visit!

Go off the beaten path

Not literally – please stay on the trail. The most popular places are popular for a reason; visit them to find out why. But the lesser known places are just as amazing even if they’re not as obviously glamorous. A backpack and a tent are a great investment for exploring more remote places. You’ll feel like it’s all your own.

Appreciate nature’s tiny details

Sitting in the same spot in the woods for 40 hours a week for entire summers taught me to really appreciate the subtleties in nature. How many water droplets are on that flower? Is that fluttering butterfly ever going to pause for a rest? Where’s that beetle going? What’s that weird growth thing on that tree? Do the squirrels that I see every day recognize me? Forget everything else and occupy your mind with nature’s curiosities.

Examine your own motives

Another yoga pose on a mountain peak? Are you doing a hike for yourself or for your Instagram? What do you want out of your time in nature? How might your experience change if you only focused on being present in the moment and immersing yourself fully in being outdoors?

Enjoy the natural soundscape

When I first moved to DC, I joined a Silent Hiking Meetup group. I still have no idea who those people were or why they joined – I never talked to them. Presumably, we all understood the power and enjoyment that intentionally tuning in to your natural surroundings can bring. Try it for yourself! If silence isn’t for you, please be mindful (especially in large groups) of your noise levels.

Take some time for yourself

If you can make some time alone for yourself outside, it’s the perfect setting for reflection and inner growth. Sitting by an endlessly babbling creek or staring up at majestic mountain peaks that make you feel like a tiny speck can help bring perspective and a sense of calmness. The peace you build through time spent in nature seeps its way into your normal life. Nature is therapeutic.

Respect ecosystems & wildlife

Please, learn and follow Leave No Trace principles. Many people harm ecosystems without even realizing it. When I lived in the backcountry of Yosemite, a beautiful black bear used to roam near the ranger campsite in the evenings. He minded his own business and we minded ours. One night, a park visitor broke the rules and slept with food in his tent, and our bear took a swipe at the tent looking for a snack. No one got hurt, but this bear was now a “problem bear” and had to be hazed each night so that he wouldn’t return to the area and potentially cause harm. Know and follow all park rules. Respect all wildlife by keeping your distance and do NOT feed or touch them. You are the visitor; this is their home.

Learn, share, and protect!

Check out a ranger-led talk, read up on the park’s history, and learn more about the incredible resource that you’re visiting. The more you learn, the more you’ll come to value these irreplaceable treasures. Share your experience and invite others to join along – preserving these special places will take effort from all of us!

 

Sara Murrill is a DC EcoWomen Board Member. She currently works at the National Park Foundation, the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. Previously, she was a contracted field researcher for the National Park Service.

Captions: Pic 1: Who needs a gym when you can run these trails? Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC; Pic 2: Work trip summer 2018: solo sunrise hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Pic 3: Camping in Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, WV; Pic 4: An Avalanche Lily – a bit droopy from the morning dew. Mount Rainier National Park, WA; Pic 5: Me and a friend doing a double arch at the double arch. Creative, huh? Arches National Park,  UT; Pic 6: Channel your inner mountain goat and get outside! Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, CO.

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By Maggie Dewane, US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council

A friend recently asked for advice on composting in a city. I was a little embarrassed to tell her that I had no advice to give! My mom composted in our family’s backyard when I was a kid, but since moving out of the house and having only lived in apartments and cities, I assumed it couldn’t be done (easily) without a backyard. Realizing I must have assumed wrongly, I set out to investigate and here’s what I learned.

What is compost?

Compost is organic matter (mostly food scraps, leaves, twigs, etc.) that has been allowed to decompose and can then be used as nutrient-rich garden soil. The process of composting requires keeping the organic matter in an enclosed space (sometimes in a bin or a partitioned-off section of yard) and then, with proper management, supports the material so it may break down naturally, effectively becoming repurposed or reused existing, albeit discarded, material. There are many resources to teach you how to compost.

Why is it good?

Americans produce an average of 5 pounds of waste per day, around 30 percent of that is compostable food waste. By composting the material that would’ve otherwise been discarded, you’re keeping waste from landfills that can be reused in a positive and eco-friendly way! For example, if you’re an avid gardener, it will save money on fertilizer costs. If you live in a city, you’ll be part of growing contingency of cities that collect compost and reuse it for specific projects or outsource it to communities that want or need the soil for agriculture. Whether in your backyard or in a city, compost reduces the amount of methane gas emitting from our landfills, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to the overall warming of our planet.

How is composting normally done?

There are a variety of composting techniques from compost tumblers to vermicomposting (using worms that eat the material and break it down into soil, also requires the most effort  and maintenance) to pick up services and drop off locations, which are useful for city-dwellers like myself.

A useful rule of thumb when composting is, “If it grows, it goes [into the compost pile].”

Specifically:

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Plants (dead flowers, weeds, grass, etc.)
  • Eggs and eggshells
  • Breads and grains
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Uncoated paper cups and plates (meaning they don’t feel waxy to the touch)

Less desirable compost items include dairy and meat products. While these items will decompose, they may invite unwanted creatures or molds into your space.

Composting in a city

First, get yourself a bin (Planet Natural has some options at the bottom of their page here) to keep your compost in – one that you can tuck into a cabinet or under your sink. If you stick to the above list of compostable items, the bin won’t smell awful, but a lid will be useful to contain any wafting as well as any unwanted pests commonly found in cities.

One neat bin option I’ve found is GreenLid (available on Amazon). The bin comes with a sleek reusable lid while the bin itself is made from recycled cardboard and can be thrown directly into a compost pile or reused if it’s relatively clean.

For city dwellers, the next step is to find out if your municipality offers a compost pick-up service.

See if your city or town picks up compost bins here.

If your city doesn’t, here are some alternative options:

  • Find out if your apartment complex or building has a rooftop or community garden. If so, it probably has a compost pile. If not, suggest starting one!
  • Sign up for Share Waste. It connects people who want to compost but can’t (because of their living situation or if they’re on vacation) with people who have compost bins.
  • Utilize your local farmers market. A lot of weekend farmers markets have compost tents. Take a walk through your local market to see if it has one (and buy some fresh, local produce while you’re there!).
  • Contact your city council and ask them to consider implementing a program that would collect compostable material from residents.

Like most efforts to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, composting takes time and research, but it has benefits that can serve you, your community, and the planet, so why not give it a try!

Here’s more information from the US Environmental Protection Agency on composting.

Maggie Dewane is the US Communications Manager at the Marine Stewardship Council. Previously, she was the Press and Communications Officer to the Environmental Investigation Agency. She also worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the United States Senate. She has a Bachelor’s from Seton Hall University and a Master’s from Columbia University. Her hobbies include painting, writing, traveling, soccer and camping and hiking with her dog Argos. 

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Hiking and Walking Around the DMV: Finding Time, Locations and Having Fun

By Deyala El-Haddad, DC EcoWomen member and Liveamongchic blog author

Going outside for a walk or hike and getting some fresh air can positively impact your mental and physical health and science has told us that being outdoors and in nature can significantly improve your overall health and happiness.

Here are a few benefits to being outside and surrounding yourself with nature:

  • Being outside and in nature can help decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Going for walks in the sunshine can increase your intake of vitamin D, which can reduce symptoms of depression.
  • Being outdoors in natural light can help regulate your body’s natural clock, which in turn improves sleep patterns.
  • Being in nature can help ground you in a meditative state by being present and in the moment.
  • Going on long walks and hikes can help reduce high blood pressure and can improve blood circulation, digestion, sciatica, and overall health and well-being.

Finding the Time

This all sounds great, so why not step outside and enjoy these benefits? We tend to focus so much on our day-to-day tasks that we forget to check in with ourselves and connect with nature. We tend to make excuses for ourselves as to why we don’t go outside and we’re all guilty of saying things like: “I’m too busy” or “I’m too exhausted after a long day of work.” If you’re too busy or crammed at work, try to schedule 15-30 minutes a day for walking around outside. This could be at the beginning of your lunch break, towards the end, or after work to unwind.

One other thing that I’ve noticed that I’m guilty of doing is spending too much time on my iPhone, social media, games and gadgets. I end up spending so much time without even realizing that I just scrolled for a good 20 minutes! That could have been time spent walking around outside! We are so busy with our gadgets and technology that we are forgetting the outside world. A good solution is to unplug or limit your screen time. Go to your phone settings and set time limits for how long you can use an app per day.

Locations

We also feel so overwhelmed by living in a congested city filled with commuters, buses, cars and buildings that we don’t know where to get that nature fix. A few things you can do is look up parks, hikes or trails near you on Google maps! You could walk around your neighborhood before or after work and plan to visit a trail or little park close to your home or work. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could do a hiking trip to Shenandoah National Park or to the Blue Ridge Mountains during the weekend with friends and family.

A few great hiking trails and nature walks that are within a 20-mile radius include:

  • Long Bridge Park
  • Windy Run Park
  • Potomac Overlook Regional Park
  • Bluemont Park
  • Tuckahoe Park
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island
  • Great Falls
  • United States National Arboretum
  • Gravelly Point

Making it Fun

  • Bring your headphones and listen to music, a podcast, NPR or even an audio book.
  • Bring a friend, your kids, or work buddy!
  • Pay attention to your surroundings and appreciate the little things like clouds, trees, flowers, insects and small animals.
  • Keep a step tracker and see how far you can go!
  • Do an art walk and take creative photos of interesting plants along the way.

Safety Tips

Remember to wear sunscreen, bring water and snacks, wear good gripping or hiking shoes with ankle support, go with a buddy, don’t touch any plants or ivy and don’t turn up your music too loud!

Happy hiking!

Deyala El-Haddad has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and is a firm believer in environmental preservation and conservation. Some of her previous environmental work includes interning for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond. Her experience spans within non-profit organizations as well as government contracting services. In her spare time Deyala enjoys hiking, traveling, yoga and blogging for her website liveamongchic and for DC EcoWomen. 

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Treasures in the City: Volunteering at the Smithsonian Institution

By Angela Trenkle, technical writer and DC EcoWomen member

Throughout the DMV metropolitan area, there are different organizations that give people the opportunity to learn about conservation, restoration, and the natural world that we are lucky to call home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution – an organization that is easily recognized when mentioned. What’s not always known, however, is the amount of work that goes on behind-the-scenes and that it’s easy for people to get involved.

My work with the Smithsonian Institution spans a decade and includes three institutions – the Natural History Museum (NMNH) in downtown D.C., the Environmental Research Center (SERC) south of Annapolis, and the Marine Station (SMS) in Fort Pierce, Florida. At each of these institutions, I had the incredible opportunity to work with different organisms that the general public does not always get the chance to see during their visit.

My work included, but was not limited to, curation and collection management of invertebrates and insects (specimens only a handful of individuals could see), and live aquatic organisms that were used for research purposes to answer scientific questions. I also cared for animals, both aquatic and terrestrial, that the public could learn about and see.

When I’ve shared these experiences with people, one of the first questions they often ask is, “how did you become involved?”. They’re always surprised when I tell them it’s a lot easier than they’d think!

One of the overall goals of the Smithsonian Institution is education and they are always looking for volunteers to help in different capacities, whether its for a long-term commitment, a short-term commitment, or for a day.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

At the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: behind-the-scenes and public engagement.

The behind-the-scenes category gives volunteers the opportunity to help on projects out of the public eye, whether it’s assisting with data entry, cataloging museum specimens, or researching scientific literature.

The public engagement category gives volunteers the opportunity to inspire the museum’s visitors by allowing them to teach visitors about the natural world. Volunteers in the public engagement category get to work with live insects and butterflies in the butterfly pavilion and insect zoo. They can also showcase different objects in the Ocean Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, and Qriuis – a section of the museum that is dedicated solely to visitor enrichment and education.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the opportunities to volunteer are split into two different categories: citizen science and environmental education.

The citizen science program allows volunteers to help SERC researchers on projects that are going on in the field or in the lab. These projects can include work with mud crabs, river herring, and environmental archaeology.

Volunteers in the environmental education category can teach school groups, which gives students the opportunity to connect with the natural world around them. Volunteers in the environmental education category get to lead canoe trips, run different environmental stations (seining, oysters, plankton, etc.) for field trips, and develop educations materials, among other activities.

Smithsonian National Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoo, there are opportunities to volunteer in several categories, such as education, zoo support, and special events.

Volunteers in the education category can learn about the ins and outs of different exhibits throughout the zoo. They can then pass this knowledge onto the zoo’s visitors, which come from around the world.

The zoo support category gives volunteers the opportunity to work with staff behind-the-scenes and assist with animals. Zoo support volunteers can care for animals in different places around the zoo and assist with research projects that are taking place at the time of volunteering.

Finally, the special events category provides volunteers with short-term commitment opportunities. These volunteers can come as little, or as often, as they wish, whether its just for one event or for multiple. Some of the events that these volunteers can assist with include ZooFari and Zoolights.

These are just a few examples of ways that people can help with the Smithsonian. By taking the time to volunteer with this organization, people can learn, pass on information to others, grow and make a difference in the natural world. I hope you consider volunteering!

Angela is a technical writer in Maryland with a scientific background. Preserving the natural world is an important goal for her and she plans to use what she has learned over the years to help do her part in restoring local watersheds for future generations to enjoy. In her free time, when she isn’t found exploring the world of aquatic biology, she enjoys acting in musicals, running, reading, writing, and traveling to new places.

 

Photo Credits: Corey Cavalier CC BY 2.0, Quadell CC BY 3.0, and Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0.