Taking a day to help clean up the Potomac River watershed -- Gazette.Net







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A Laurel company closed its doors July 13, so its employees could help to make the Potomac River watershed a better place.

The Potomac Conservancy, an environmental organization that promotes conservation of the river, hosted 29 volunteers from Chesapeake Surgical, who picked up trash and cleared trails at the C&O Canal and Minnie’s Island, near Cabin John.

Headquartered in Laurel, Chesapeake Surgical distributes orthopedic devices in Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.

The company pitched in along the river as part of its annual company retreat, which replaces indoor team-building activities with public service.

“It was really nice on a weekday to be outside and have some fresh air,” said Kara Spector, an orthopedic sales representative. “I feel like we helped throughout the day. People who were riding the trail were like, `Thanks a lot, keep up the good work.’”

Potomac Conservancy is responsible for maintaining Lock 8 of the canal, miles 8 to 10 of the canal towpath and Fletcher’s Cove in the District through the National Park Service’s canal stewardship program.

The program engages volunteers in a long-term relationship with designated sites along the 184.5-mile towpath, according to the NPS website. Volunteers maintain and enhance resources, such as camping and picnic areas and visitor grounds.

Minnie’s Island is 8.8 acres in the Potomac River that the conservancy uses for periodic camping trips. The island is preserved by the conservancy in the name of Christopher Reuss, whose parents donated the island in 1994, according to RiverScape, the Potomac Conservancy newsletter.

It features a cabin, with an overgrown lawn that volunteers cleared, said Hannah Larson, outreach coordinator for the conservancy.

“The island probably hasn’t been tackled or worked on since last fall and it’s really overgrown,” Larson said. “In some places you could hardly tell there was a trail.”

Last year, the conservancy hosted 800 volunteers, including high school students who need volunteer service hours.

Recruiting volunteers can be a challenge, particularly during winter, she said.

“Definitely our best attendance is on nice days in summer,” she said. “I think it’s May-September, people are in this mind-set, ‘I want to go outside and do some volunteer work.’ This time of year, even though its hot out, people seem to show up.”

Vickie Sousa, executive assistant to the president, coordinates Chesapeake Surgical’s volunteer event, which been ongoing for six years.

Employees previously volunteered at The Washington Middle School for Girls and for a variety of Habitat for Humanity projects. The company rotates its volunteer projects throughout their service area, she said.

“This year we wanted to do conservation,” she said. “I Googled Potomac conservation and this came up.”