Master Watershed Steward Jayné Park-Martinez sparks conservation efforts

Jayne crouches on the ground with two kids as they do yard work

Jayné Park-Martinez has volunteered with Penn State Extension’s Master Watershed Steward Program since 2018.

Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jayné Park-Martinez began volunteering with Penn State Extension’s Master Watershed Steward Program in 2018 and has been making an impact on the surrounding community ever since.

With a background in geology, Park-Martinez — who is also an assistant teaching professor in science at Penn State Berks — first embarked on her journey with the program by installing a rain garden in her backyard and then applying this new skill to revegetate a stormwater basin on Penn State Berks campus.

Since then, she has assisted countless community members with installing rain gardens in their own yards.

“My favorite part about volunteering is helping others succeed,” Park-Martinez said. “Watching someone take so much pride in the tree that they planted, and realizing how much of a long-term impact they are making, is so valuable.”

Through these experiences, she said she quickly discovered her passion for revegetation, which led to further expansion into areas like riparian buffers and native species.

“Park-Martinez extended this project to collect research data on the site with Master Watershed Steward volunteers and Penn State Berks,” said Natalie Marioni, Master Watershed Stewards coordinator for Berks and Schuylkill counties.

This knowledge led Park-Martinez to assist The Highlands, a local retirement community, where she acted as an intermediary between the conservation district and community members who were curious about installing rain gardens.

Previously, when faced with stormwater basins that would quickly fill with water, The Highlands grounds committee had been unsure whether they were allowed to address the problem by planting rain gardens. However, through communication and education efforts, Park-Martinez successfully advocated for conservationist voices within the community.

Today, The Highlands has enrolled in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Ten Million Trees grant-funded seedling program and is in the progress of planting over five hundred seedlings, in addition to transforming their campus from lawn to rewild it by reintroducing native plant species.

“I have really enjoyed watching The Highlands go from having very modest goals to exploring the endless possibilities they have with rewilding their own living space,” Park-Martinez said. “It’s great to see people in the community get adventurous about conservation and take action.”

Park-Martinez partnered with Berks County Parks and Recreation at Gring’s Mill to plant grant-funded seedlings and build a riparian buffer — an area located next to a body of water that contains plant species meant to support the surrounding environment — along the creek. The project also included a live stake nursery and was assisted by students in two of Park-Martinez’s classes: Biology 435: Ecology of Lakes and Streams and Kinesiology 72: Walking for Fitness.

She said she first educates her classes on the detrimental impacts of invasive species like bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose and Japanese knotweed on the local environment. Students give back to the community by learning to identify invasive species, flagging them with surveyor’s tape, and then removing them from the streamside ecosystem.

In years to come, the live stake trees will help ensure that the eroded portions of the stream bed will be sustained and healthy with the incorporation of native plant species.

In Park-Martinez’s current project, she is working with Alsace township to plant seedlings where the riparian buffer has been damaged by roadwork. Many landowners may not know what to replant or even have the finances or time to replant, she explained.

As part of the ongoing pilot, Park-Martinez has recently partnered with the township to mail letters to landowners situated on streamside and roadside properties, offering to provide them with seedlings to raise. Once these seedlings have matured, they will be harvested for live stakes to be utilized by the township in the event of collateral damage to waterways caused by roadwork.

Due to climate change, precipitation has become more intense, which leads to more streams getting heavily eroded, explained Park-Martinez. She said another possible benefit of the project is that some of this damage may be mitigated by fortifying riparian buffers.

“Park-Martinez’s initiative to make a lasting impact on her community is something I admire about her contribution [to] the Master Watershed Steward team,” Marioni said.

Park-Martinez said that overall, one of her favorite parts of volunteering is how rewarding it is to hear how everyone on the Master Watershed Steward team is impacting their local communities.

“Whether it is planting trees at schools or teaching kids to fish, there are so many stories of volunteers benefiting both people and nature simultaneously,” Park-Martinez said. “I would encourage anyone who is interested in making a difference to get involved. It is a wonderful way to get educated on conservation efforts, give back to the local community and grow a network of friends.”

The Penn State Master Watershed Steward program provides extensive training in watershed management to volunteers who, in return, educate the community about watershed stewardship based on university research and recommendations. The program was established to strengthen local capacity for management and protection of watersheds, streams, and rivers, by educating and empowering volunteers across the commonwealth.

Anyone interested in becoming a Master Watershed Steward can learn more about the program on the Penn State Extension website.