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Stay-at-home mom drives watershed group

May 25, 2009|By JANET HEIM

Rain gardens help clean creeks

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Start with the Beaver Creek Watershed Association, add a stay-at-home mom with a background in environmental biology, throw in two schools in need of a coordinator for their environmentally friendly rain garden projects and the result is a perfect mix.

Susan Simonson moved to Washington County in 2003 and within a week, Doug Hutzell, a "driving force behind BCWA," was knocking on her door. He heard through a fellow graduate student of Simonson's that she had moved to the area.

With Simonson's background -- an undergraduate degree in biology from The Pennsylvania State University and a master's degree in environmental biology from Hood College -- she was a welcome addition to BCWA.

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Simonson, who grew up in Schuylkill Haven, Pa., worked for an environmental consulting firm in Rockville, Md., before starting a family. She said watershed management practices were a personal interest of hers and she took courses outside of work to learn more.

"I lucked out," Simonson said. "It's networking with like minds. Doug is very enthusiastic. It's kind of addicting."

By the time Simonson, 41, got involved with BCWA, the environmental group had received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and completed a study suggesting projects to improve the watershed area.

One of the projects was to create rain gardens at Greenbrier Elementary School in Boonsboro and Mount Aetna Adventist Elementary School in Hagerstown. Simonson wrote the grant applications for the projects and serves as coordinator.

She is quick to give credit to the team that helped make it happen.

"It happened because of the work of a lot of other people. I'm the organizer. Lots of great minds go into these projects," Simonson said. "Literally, I'm coming in at the tail end of the projects. I have the advantage of working with the fun part -- working with the kids."

Simonson said BCWA members tend to be educated in the sciences or enjoy fishing and are aware of the environmental aspects of the watershed. She said school projects are valuable because they reach out to many people.

The wet weather this spring slowed progress somewhat. It also raised awareness that Greenbrier's rain garden needed some regrading because it was taking on too much water.

Simonson said it took about a year to coordinate with the school districts, create designs, and get the designs and grants approved. Each school also has a representative with whom Simonson works.

The fourth-grade curriculum at Greenbrier tied in well with the project, so that grade level was chosen to receive an educational component about rain gardens and to help with the planting, Simonson said.

It was a happy coincidence that Simonson's daughter, Grace, a fourth-grader at Greenbrier, got to be involved with the project. Her son, Andrew, is in kindergarten there.

Students in grades four through eight were involved in Mount Aetna's rain garden.

Simonson said she tries to practice what she preaches at home, including recycling and planting more vegetation, to set an example for her children.

She has been married to Dustin Simonson, a medical physicist at Frederick (Md.) Memorial Hospital, for 11 years. They live on Beaver Creek Road in Hagerstown.

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