Making a Difference: Spotlight on Eric Sprague

We commence this column with a volunteer whose leadership of land-related improvements will provide community-environment benefits for years.

He’s Eric Sprague, husband to Shannon and father of Ella and Max Sprague. The Spragues live at 1205 Cherry Tree Lane. “One of the key reasons Shannon and I moved into FCF in 2015 was the shoreline access, which is so special and important to our quality of life,” says Eric.

Professionally, Eric is Vice President of Forest Restoration at American Forests—a D.C-based non-profit that is dedicated to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. Eric oversees the implementation of forest restoration efforts for large landscape across North America.

A graduate of Indiana University, he received a dual Masters in Environmental Science and Policy from Indiana University, where he met his wife. Shannon currently is Environmental Literacy and Partnerships Manager at NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, so environmental interests and passions run in the family!

In the community, Eric is the Chair of the Land Use Committee. The Committee includes a number of community members including Margo Speciale, Deborah and Kirk Brafford, Bruce Stillwell and Shannon Sprague. Says Eric:

“Fishing Creek Farm’s open spaces and common areas are a big reason why we live here, so I enjoy finding ways to keep them healthy. My background is a natural fit, so it makes sense to help out.”

Addressing Improvement Opportunities. Working closely with other community members, and forming the Land Use Committee, Eric started his efforts by investigating past efforts—their problems and successes:

“Talking with a lot of FCF folks about previous work with phragmites and other invasive species and the Cherry Tree Cove Living Shoreline project provided the context with which to move forward,” says Eric.

Eric and others walked the property and met with previous state, county, private, and non-profit partners, including Chesapeake Bay Trust and BayLand Consultants, learning about funding opportunities. “We had two or three funding options on the table for possible pursuit and wanted to choose those that would provide the most money with the least cost to FCF homeowners.” It took approximately 18 months to identify and evaluate the options.

For the shore erosion problems, the Land Use Committee and Board decided to pursue funding through a program administered by Anne Arundel County to provide the county with water quality benefits that comply with Federal law. The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program (WPRP) offers communities funding under contract with companies that do the design, permitting, implementation, and continued maintenance work.

“We worked with Sepehr Baharlou of BayLand Consultants, which had previous WPRP contracts and did the earlier Cherry Tree Cove work, to prepare an extensive Living Shoreline proposal for FCF.” The concept is to use sand fill (16,000 tons) with marsh plantings (2.1 acres) and armor stone on the piece of land behind the tennis courts to minimize erosion and help sustain new and existing wetlands, and open water habitats. A team approach and allowing sufficient time for proposal preparation were key to making the volunteering time commitment do-able, says Eric.

The WPRP Living Shoreline proposal was accepted in April 2019, with funding of design, implementation, and continued maintenance of around $3 million over a five-year period. The process of obtaining permits started immediately thereafter and is nearly completed. “During the evaluation-of-permits process, FCF Board Director Bob Booth attended an Army Corp of Engineers permit meeting and did a great job convincing them that our community needs this work,” notes Eric. Implementation will begin in April and be completed in November of this year.

For the forest-related work with invasive species (vines, plants, etc.), the Land Use Committee obtained a $100,000 grant through a program funded by Chesapeake Bay Trust. The grant covers work in the forest surrounding the tennis courts to improve the health of our woods, thereby ensuring their protection of the shoreline from erosion and flooding.

The contractor, Habitat Enhancers, began work in February 2020 by removing invasive plants, such as oriental bittersweet and tree-of-heaven, and will plant trees and shrubs (e.g., bayberry and oaks) this spring. “The grant provides for seven years of ongoing maintenance, which is unusual and amazing in a grant,” says Eric. Habitat Enhancers will replace trees that haven’t “taken,” and continue removing invasive species that show up during the seven-year period.

What does the future hold? “There are many other areas that would benefit from help, but my goal is to get these two projects moving and completed. They are both huge projects, but in a sense, they are easier ones to fund than others,” says Eric. The Land Use Committee also will continue to maintain the new wood chip paths to access the crabbing pier and water area behind the tennis courts. Eric cites future possible projects, including the shoreline to the bridge, South Breeze beach access, and other items.

What is Eric most proud of? “I’m proud of seeing things actually happen. We’ve been thinking about this for a long time, so to see the work happening around the tennis courts has been gratifying and when the Living Shoreline goes in during the spring, summer, and fall, it’s going to be really exciting.”

Luckily for all of us, Eric says he’s “all-in” with continued volunteer efforts through the Land Use Committee. “It helps that I do this kind of work for a living.” A hearty thanks Eric!

Two Take-Homes from Eric:

  1. There’s a lot going on in the community. FCF residents can be involved most effectively by first identifying their skills and where they think they can contribute. Concentrating on that area, says Eric, and not trying to do too much in too many areas all at once, can help in big and small ways.
  2. Don’t burn yourself out. Be focused on what you can do and move forward with that.

 

— Written by Nancy Haiman, 3/18/2020

 

 

For a complete list of our Spotlight articles, click here.