June 24, 2018
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Clean water for clams — and people

By Becky Kolak, Special to the BDN

If someone were to tell me a year ago that I would be dressed as a clam to educate the public about the significance of clean water to the soft-shell clam, I would have called them crazy. However, as an AmeriCorps environmental educator with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust and the Maine Conservation Corps, I am doing just that — donning a homemade clam get-up to promote “clean water for clams.”

Since my term began, I have met with municipal shellfish committees, facilitated an after-school program at the Patton Free Library, collaborated with the ArtVan Program in Bath, preformed as the Clam Ham in a variety show, worked with state agencies to sample water around clams flats and visited classrooms as a guest speaker. I am willing to deliver the message of “clean water for clams” anywhere.

As Maine’s third-largest fishery, soft-shell clam harvesting is directly tied to the quality of water in which the clams grow and feed. Educating the public about this relationship is a major focus of my volunteer service. I work with clam diggers, teachers, volunteers, municipal employees, shellfish wardens, community members and students.

An activity that has proven influential with students has been to dissect soft-shell clams and learn about their life processes. I have had several students remark that even though they had dug clams before, they had never opened a shell to explore a clam’s internal anatomy.

Being an AmeriCorps member with the MCC has allowed me to serve the community in unique and diverse ways. In raising awareness of the importance of clean water for clams, I am growing as an educator, a conservationist and a volunteer. Recently, we marked National AmeriCorps Week. It was an opportunity for AmeriCorps members, alums, grantees, program partners and friends to demonstrate AmeriCorps’ impact on critical issues, bring more Americans into service and thank the community partners who make AmeriCorps possible.

Across the state of Maine there are 104 MCC AmeriCorps members who recruited 509 community volunteers in 2010. These community volunteers have served 2,067 hours working on various projects including trail maintenance and environmental education.

MCC’s field team members worked on 36 sites throughout Maine and rehabilitated over 50 miles of trails. Ninety-eight percent of community partners stated that the quality of public lands was either improved or significantly improved by MCC field team members. MCC environmental educators provided environmental education to 4,000 students through 700 lesson hours.

The work of MCC AmeriCorps members is made possible through grant funds provided by The Maine Commission for Community Service and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

MCC AmeriCorps members serve in communities throughout the state: Augusta, Bath, Blue Hill, Boothbay, Bridgton, Camden, Damariscotta, Freeport, Hallowell, Kennebunk, Kittery, Madison, Monmouth, Phillips, Portland, Searsmont, Waterville, Waldoboro and Wells. In addition, MCC members served at Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park and on the Appalachian Trail. Members helped out at state parks and lands including Bradbury Mountain, Lake St. George, Mackworth Island, Quoddy Head, Mt. Blue, Vaughan Woods, Wolfe’s Neck Woods, Cutler, Deboullie, Tunk Mountain and Donnell Pond.

Becky Kolak is originally from Des Plaines, Ill., and has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hope College in Holland, Mich. She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps-Maine Conservation Corps environmental educator at the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust in Bath.

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