OCEAN CITY — After helping to shepherd the Maryland Coastal Bays Program through its most prolific times, MCBP Executive Director Dave Wilson last week announced he was stepping down after 18 years with the program.
“It’s time to hand the reins to some fresh blood,” Wilson announced last Friday. “I think we accomplished a lot and I am proud of that, but it’s time to pass the baton.”
Wilson started with the MCBP in November 1997 as the program’s public outreach coordinator.
“I had finished graduate school at Boston College and was bent on going back to school for my PhD after earning a few bucks,” he said. “I saw this posting and thought ‘I love this program. I’m versed in these issues. I want to do this.’”
Wilson joined the MCBP during a time when the program’s goals and intentions were coming under increased pressure. Worcester County and its resort areas were entering a period of great development and preserving the natural resources that were driving the commercial and residential growth was the focus.
While local, state and county officials were becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect and conserve the natural resources, the MCBP was almost always at the table. During the next decade, the state and county would craft critical areas legislation, corridor plans, pollution and nutrient runoff laws and more. For a decade, Wilson would help sway public opinion about conservation in the coastal bays before being tapped as executive director in 2008.
“I had two great predecessors in Steve Taylor and Dave Blazer,” he said this week. “They made things easy for me.”
Wilson was quick to credit the citizens of Worcester County for embracing the MCBP and its objectives and praised the program’s countless volunteers over the years.
“The staff we have here are some of the most dedicated people I have ever worked with. They, along with our local residents, are responsible for our great work. It’s astounding,” Wilson said.
Wilson said his strengths were in policy and wildlife issues and he steered the program toward those arenas, protecting over 10,000 acres of forests and farms, restoring wildlife habitat and working on planning and zoning to keep sprawl from consuming land. Under his watch, the program also instituted colonial nesting bird, terrapin, seal and amphibian monitoring.
With the environmental community often at odds with development and farming, Wilson proved adept at bringing together diverse factions. He said this week he was most proud to run an environmental program that farmers and developers could support.
“When you bring folks together, you see attitudes change,” he said. “You realize you can institute a program that has teeth, but respects the needs and beliefs of others.”
During Wilson’s tenure, the program became adept at competing for and securing state and federal dollars, including $1 million from the EPA to run the outreach program, more than $1 million in state and federal dollars for the Bishopville Dam restoration and millions more for conservation and restoration projects. He also credited Worcester County, Ocean City, Berlin and the state for being critical partners in the funding endeavors.
“These pots of money are earmarked for conservation purposes,” he said. “I like to think we made the taxpayers of Worcester County proud by bringing money back here rather than sending it over the bridge.”
Wilson pointed to island restoration and the creation of the Lewis Road Kayak Launch as some of his favorite MCBP projects.
“There is something very rewarding about taking an old dump and turning it into a kayak launch,” he said, referring to the program’s successful conversion of an old Town of Ocean City garbage dump on Lewis Rd. in West Ocean City into an attractive, viable kayak launch.
Another favorite for Wilson was the recent use of sand dredged from the navigation channels in and around the coastal bays for the creation and restoration of sandy islands in the estuary important for threatened several species. He said the dredge spoil island restoration projects could be the last chance black skimmers and royal terns have to survive in Maryland.
“Projects like this really make a difference,” he said. “To lose these shorebirds in this state would be a travesty, especially considering the island creation is actually saving tax dollars by allowing sand to be re-used in the bays rather than being trucked inland.”
The former director will now shift his focus to environmental and public relations consulting, using his knowledge, skills and abilities to assist other organizations with conservation and policy needs.