NCSG Convenes International Working Group to Advance Sustainable Growth in Baltimore-Washington Region


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This week, the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) is sparking discussion amongst scientists, researchers and experts from around the world on a pressing issue for the state of Maryland: how to ensure a more sustainable future for the Baltimore-Washington area. The task is an arduous one, in that it requires the convergence of a variety of complex models in environmental science, demographics, climate change, transportation, energy and economics. It also requires a careful examination and understanding of where human activity and environmental issues intersect.

In 2014, the NCSG launched the PRESTO project (Plan for Regional Sustainability Tomorrow) to examine these relationships firsthand and develop a cutting-edge suite of integrated social and environmental models to better explore issues of sustainability in the region. This week’s three-day workshop in Annapolis is the first of three that will examine PRESTO’s progress, utilizing the input of experts who have seen success in other parts of the world and that have knowledge of how to bring the many complex models to replicate regionally appropriate responses. PRESTO is funded by the Town Creek Foundation. The workshop is being hosted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

“We’ve received interest from agencies at the federal, state and local levels in learning how these linkages influence the sustainability of the region,” said Gerrit Knaap, Director of the NCSG and lead investigator in PRESTO. “Through PRESTO we are using a highly developed set of data and analytic tools to integrate these models. Done correctly, the result will be a sustainability strategy that can shape policy in the region and foster a more sustainable future.”

Learn more about PRESTO here.


UMD Students Engage Immigrant and Minority-Owned Businesses along Frederick’s Golden Mile


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The following post was written by graduate student Winstina Hughes about her work in Frederick, Maryland as part of the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS).

UMD Students Engage Immigrant and Minority-Owned Businesses along Frederick’s Golden Mile

The focus of our project was on helping the City of Frederick, MD overcome its lack of success in its outreach to immigrant and minority owned businesses on the Golden Mile.

Over 100 businesses along the Golden Mile are identified as immigrant and minority owned. These businesses tend to be mom and pop restaurants, grocery, beauty and nail shops.

Our class devised a research method and divided into teams of two to coordinate in person door-to-door surveys and interviews.

Each group member was assigned 15-18 businesses to visit and two community leaders to interview. We analyzed our data and made recommendations for the City of Frederick on how to engage these business owners in the planning process.

At the beginning of the semester we received survey and interview questions developed prior to our involvement.

Given that we were working with a largely immigrant community, several members of our class wanted to “ensure that the surveys and interview scripts were designed in ways not to alienate or make business owners unnecessarily anxious or feel threatened.” We pored over articles on survey and interview methods by Robert Marans, John M. Johnson, Christopher Dunbar Jr. and Charles L Briggs. Their ideas fueled our class discussions and we decided to create our own survey and interview questions.

We distributed a ‘PALS bag’ to each business during our door to door surveying of the Golden Mile. Our bags included brochures on how the Small Area Plan could impact their business, the types of redevelopment changes that could occur as well as a guide to the planning process and more.

We received responses from 10 Asian, 5 Latino, 5 White, and 2 Black owned businesses. 13 plus respondents were born outside of the USA. Their dates of arrival to the US range from 1982 to 2007.

There were many cases in which businesses were unwilling or uncomfortable with being surveyed. We left a copy of the survey and provided instructions on how to return them to us.

Our survey and interview results revealed that immigrant and minority businesses on the Golden Mile feel a disconnect with the City. They have limited understanding of what redevelopment means, concerns with frequent traffic congestion and crime. Additionally, they are interested in improvements and are unclear on where to access news from local government.

We were thoughtful as we created our recommendations.

We have several.

Our class felt strongly that public information documents on planning of the Golden Mile should be translated into the most spoken languages in the City. We learned from our community leader interviews that approximately 20 languages are spoken at local schools. Although the County of Fredrick, MD has an English only language policy we think the City of Fredrick should not.

Additionally, we recommend that the city continue to encourage diversity through the Arts, culture and food by organizing frequent cultural festivals. This openness will positively improve local cross-cultural relationships with immigrant and minority business owners.

We also recommend that the City provide needed training and technical assistance on building permits, rents, taxes, marketing and business improvements for immigrants and minorities, as well as maintain a database of local business services. All our recommendations are in our final class paper.

On Thursday, December 18th, 2014, a few days before our paper was due, our class presented our project findings on the Golden Mile at the Asian American Center of Frederick, MD.

The purpose of our presentation was to share our analysis with the hope that local community leaders would learn about the challenges and opportunities facing their community.

Our class was pleased to have significant attendance at our presentation.

Attendees included Ms. Elizabeth Chung, Executive Director of the Asian American Center, Ms. Pamela Manjul of the Asian American Center, and Mr. Juan Carlos Rosa of Centro Hispano de Frederick. Other attendees included Ms. M.C. Keegan-Ayer from Frederick County Council, Mr. Sharad Doshi, from the Governor’s Commission on South Asian Affairs, Mr. Joseph Adkins of the City of Frederick, MD Planning Department and Mr. Alan Feinberg, a Community Planner.

We extend our gratitude to the City of Fredrick, MD for providing us the opportunity to work on this project and to our community partners, the Asian American Center of Frederick and Centro Hispano de Frederick, who served as ambassadors within the community by helping us connect when we faced language barriers with businesses and community leaders during the survey and interview process.

Winstina Hughes was one of 12 graduate students who took Planning and Design in the Multicultural Metropolis with Professor Willow Lung-Amam as part of the Urban Studies and Planning Program. She is a visiting student with a concentration in Transit Oriented Development from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. 

Students with Professor Professor Lung-Amam in Frederick, MD.

Students with Professor Professor Lung-Amam in Frederick, MD.

Photo 2

A group of students presents in Frederick, MD.Photo 1

National Center for Smart Growth Year in Review


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As 2014 winds down, we wanted to take the time to re-visit a very busy year here at the National Center for Smart Growth. We compiled a social media timeline of our biggest events. Take a look!

National Center for Smart Growth Year in Review:

Students Engage with Businesses along Frederick’s Golden Mile


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Professor Willow Lung-Amam and her students in her Urban Studies and Planning graduate course, Planning and Design in the Multicultural Metropolis, began surveying Frederick businesses months ago. The course, part of the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) concludes the first of two semesters’ work this week. Students have focused their work along the Golden Mile, which stretches along Route 40 and serves as the gateway to Frederick’s historic downtown and home to countless recently arrived immigrant businesses and households.

Professor Lung-Amam saw an opportunity with PALS to work with businesses along this stretch around the city’s planned redevelopment for the area. The class project focused on three primary goals: educating new immigrant businesses about the redevelopment; assessing their business needs that could addressed by new public investments in the area; and developing outreach strategies that could be used by the city for this project, and to better engage to the area’s increasingly diverse immigrant communities more broadly.

Students worked with two prominent immigrant advocacy, education, and service providers in the area – the Asian American Center of Frederick and Centro Hispano. These partnership were key as students conducted business surveys and talked to community leaders about their needs and how redevelopment along the corridor could help to meet them.  These community groups were familiar with, invested in, and trusted by the neighborhood and critical to the success of the hands on, face-to-face approach the students took.

In the spring Dr. Lung-Amam’s Social Planning class will continue the project by hosting a community forum at the Asian American Center in the hopes of fostering a broader conversation with the businesses and community residents. Dr. Lung-Amam cited the forum as opportunity to return to their original objectives of education, assessment and outreach and giving community a chance to talk amongst themselves and directly with the City about redevelopment.

This semester’s class is in the final stages of drawing up their conclusions and recommendations. They will deliver their findings at the Asian American Center in Frederick on Thursday, December 18 from 7:00 – 8:30pm (full information here). City officials, businesses and the community leaders that the students have worked with have been invited to their presentation to provide feedback on their findings (editorial note: we’ll provide an update from Winstina Hughes, a student in the course due to present, in the coming days).

As the course concludes, Professor Lung-Amam reflected on the benefits that her students received by working in Frederick. She credited their project for stimulating a lot of class discussions about related issues. Specifically, Lung-Amam pointed to the benefit to their class conversations on issues related to cultural difference, immigration, inequality, and race. The project helped student take these often-abstract, broad topics and make them very real by relating them to their work in the profession and to their personal experiences.  “Frederick helped us frame hard-to-talk-about issues in a way that we could all relate,” Lung-Amam said. She concluded that, “One of the benefits that students realized is why it’s often difficult to find consensus in communities and the different set of skills that planners need to do that. We deal with questions like ‘How do you deal with people and the cultural sensitivity you need as a planner?’ In my class, students are building a different tool kit; skills that they’ll need to deal with diversity that they’ll encounter in the profession and in their own communities. They’re learning a lot by doing. My goal is to challenge them.”

UMD Studies: To Boost Maryland Jobs, Target Job Hubs


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To stimulate economic development and job creation, state and local governments should target incentives to specific “employment centers” that have the greatest growth potential and regional accessibility, recommends a pair of studies by the University of Maryland National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG).

One of the studies, “Employment Centers and Agglomeration Economies: Foundations of a Spatial Economic Development Strategy,” has been published online by Economic Development Quarterly. The other, “Polycentrism as a Sustainable Development Strategy: An Empirical Analysis from the State of Maryland,” will appear next month in the Journal of Urbanism (it is currently available at  Both recommend a stronger focus on “concentrated employment hubs,” in future state decisions on smart growth, land use and transportation policy.

Whereas most Maryland economic development policies focus on specific industries—such as motion pictures—or target populations—such as the chronically unemployed—the reports suggest that the state also needs to consider the locations where new firms are most likely to thrive.

“Creating jobs statewide is a vital necessity, but the natural magnets for new firms are the areas where the transportation infrastructure, skilled workforce, and complementary businesses are already in place,” says Gerrit Knaap, director of the university’s NCSG.  “This is what is needed for new businesses to survive and what leads to higher transit ridership.  Most state smart growth policies fail to take this into consideration.”

For example, many state economic development programs—such as the job creation tax credit program—provide incentives for firms to locate in Priority Funding Areas, Knaap says. But Priority Funding Areas were drawn based on residential densities and primarily designed to contain residential growth. To promote smart economic development, incentives should be directed to areas where firms have the greatest chance of survival, he recommends. Job hubs offer firms the benefit of proximity to existing firms, while the state gets the greatest return on its investment in transportation infrastructure.

These “employment centers” represent the largest concentration of jobs per square mile within a region. Downtown Baltimore, the 270 corridor, Hunt Valley and Greenbelt-College Park all represent areas of concentrated employment within the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, each boasting between 10,000 and 360,000 jobs.

While the footprint of these employment centers is small—about one percent of the state’s land area, the studies report—they offer the highest concentration of high-paying jobs. According to the NCSG, these employment hubs host 40 percent of the state’s jobs and 46 percent of the total wages paid. Compared with employers not located in these centers, NCSG researchers found firms located in the top 23 hubs employ nearly twice as many workers per firm and pay nearly 30 percent higher wages.

Not only do these hubs attract businesses, the studies found them critical engines for innovation, new business and economic growth. Business “births” are higher in employment centers than in any other area of the state, reports “Employment Centers and Agglomeration Economies.”

“These economic centers act like natural business incubators,” says Professor Chengri Ding, the study’s lead author. “We found that in the period just before the great recession in 2008, a significantly larger proportion of firms in the Construction; Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE); Professional Services; and Administrative Services were born inside economic centers rather than outside them.”

Paying more attention to these hubs of employment could also influence future transportation planning and policy, particularly when weighing new public transit projects. Using the Maryland State Transportation Model, the NCSG researchers estimate that the 23 centers attract 21 percent of all automobile trips and 39 percent of all transit trips.  Research also found that private sector creation and growth was strongly affected by the availability—and location—of transportation infrastructure.

According to Eli Knaap, lead author ofPolycentrism as a Sustainable Development Strategy: An Empirical Analysis from the State of Maryland,” “these results suggest that locating jobs near transit stations might be the most effective means of increasing transit ridership in the state.”

The report findings have strong implications on future housing development as well, particularly when considering the influx of millennials and immigrants into the workforce. The researchers conclude that encouraging housing development within transit commute sheds of these employment hubs—particularly those with strong transit accessibility—can best accommodate both the desires of a changing, more urban-focused workforce and long-term sustainability.

“By making Maryland job-ready in the centers most desirable to future employers, the state can light up an ‘open for business’ sign,” concludes NCSG director Gerrit Knaap.

PALS Management Consulting Course works with Frederick City Officials


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With the first semester coming to a close , The National Center for Smart Growth continues to engage with professors and students in The Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) courses. We had the opportunity to speak with Professor Protiti Dastidar, a professor in The Robert H. Smith School of Business, about her Management Consulting course and what she and her students are up to in the City of Frederick. The PALS course is one of several drawing from multiple colleges across the university. Take a look at her remarks, which have been edited for clarity and brevity, and add your thoughts in the comment section.


Could you tell us about your PALS course and what you’ll be doing with the City of Frederick?

It’s an MBA class that has 35 students enrolled. We’re working with the City as part of my Management Consulting course. We’re working with Economic Development and Richard Griffin, our main contact with the city through the course. He selected two things to work on: the Municipal Airport and proposed hotel conference center

Could you tell us a bit about the course’s work with the Municipal Airport?

In the course there are 6 teams (2 teams working on airport and 4 teams are working on hotel/conference center project.

Richard came to us thinking about expanding the runway, which would allow for more corporate jets to come in. There’s hangar space available. As the city looks for an opportunity to expand the airport – part of which includes potential for expanding the runway, we’re investigating whether or not that’s a good idea. We’re looking at who are competitors, what’s the demand, nature of the target, what kind of facilities, etc. Examining market opportunity analysis is what the students are working on.

And the hotel-conference work?

Well when we first met with Richard, the City wasn’t sure which company would build the space. They’ve now settled on Marriott. Currently, Marriott is planning a 300-500 person conference center. Richard is interested in a larger center. Again, we’re providing an industry opportunity analysis where we’ll examine the need for a larger conference center in the city. Students will provide an opportunity analysis and determine if there is a demand for a larger conference center. We’re investigating the possibility of what makes the most sense.

What’s been the students’ reaction to the course work?

All of the students are part-time MBA students and work full time. They’ve been very excited and some have been quite enterprising. They’ve spoken with airport officials and local staff and even became an unofficial part-time employee for the day. They’re very much into it and enjoying that they can get their hands dirty. For example, Richard and Michelle joined our class a few weeks ago and are now coming back this week. Our course is only seven weeks long, so it moves at a rapid pace. The students have a long list of questions and will discuss their draft piece of analyses.

Richard has said he’ll arrange meetings to gather with all key parties both at municipal airport and those behind the conference center to meet all the important, key stakeholders. We’ll follow up when we know more and report our findings.

A Green Infrastructure Approach to Leveraging Local Priorities – Wednesday, December 3 at 12pm


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The University of Maryland Urban Studies and Planning Program and the National Center for Smart Growth’s 2014 Brown Bag Webinar Series continues with

Warrington, Pennsylvania: 

A Green Infrastructure Approach to Leveraging Local Priorities

Presentation by: Monica Billig & Jennifer Cotting Environmental Finance Center

Wednesday, December 3 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

Join by clicking here.

Preinkert Field House – Conference Room 1112V University of Maryland College Park

In 2012, the citizens of Warrington Township passed an Open Space Referendum, authorizing the Board of Supervisors to borrow up to $3 million over 20 years to purchase and protect open space. While the commitment to invest $3 million to acquire and improve public lands, trails, parks, and historic sites is significant, the Township recognized that to accomplish their local open space priorities would require stretching these dollars as far as possible. The University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center (EFC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked together with the Township to inform local investment decision-making. EPA provided resource mapping to help the community identify and prioritize parcels based on their ecological and environmental benefits, and the EFC identified a number of overlapping local priorities, potential partnership opportunities, and additional funding programs the Township could leverage. Learn how using a green infrastructure approach to resource management will enable this community to amplify the impact of their financial commitment to open space preservation.

Monica Billig, Program Manager – Pennsylvania Satellite Office – Monica serves as the EFC’s Pennsylvania satellite office director, managing multiple water resource financing projects with municipal clients across the state. In this role, she works directly with municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay region to assess municipal stormwater management programs and provide financing recommendations enhance level of service. She communicates with decision makers, policy experts, and legal experts in the environmental field providing insight into the regulatory landscape and disseminates project findings via policy briefs, research papers, and presentations. Ms. Billig joined the EFC in August 2010, first holding a position as a program/graduate assistant. Since receiving her Master in Public Policy at the University of Maryland in May 2012, Monica joined the EFC full time. Prior to the EFC, Monica worked as a Research Associate at edCount, LLC, a Washington, DC based education policy consulting firm specializing in policy related to assessments, standards, and accountability. Monica received her B.A. in Economics and a minor in Mathematics from Smith College in Northampton, MA.

Jennifer Cotting, Research Associate – Green Infrastructure – Jennifer is a Research Associate for Green Infrastructure at the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center. Prior to this she served for three years as the Center’s Assistant Director and five years as a Program Manager. As a Research Associate, Jennifer manages EFC’s green infrastructure programming throughout the Mid-Atlantic covering large landscape conservation and habitat management, as well as urban land use and stormwater management. Jennifer serves as a guest lecturer on green infrastructure financing for Virginia Tech’s Executive Masters in Natural Resources Program as well as the Conservation Fund’s course Strategic Conservation Planning Using a Green Infrastructure Approach. Current and recent projects include: Assessing Federal Green Infrastructure Programming; Improving Local Government Capacity to Implement Watershed Planning; and EFC’s Sustainable Maryland Certified program. She received her M.S. in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland and her B.A. in Communications from Marymount University.

City of Frederick’s Sustainability Manager on Her Work with Students through PALS Program


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Jenny Willoughby, the City of Frederick’s Sustainability Manager, began her work for the city earlier this year. Below Jenny reflects on her work thus far with University of Maryland students through the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) program, which nears the conclusion of its first of two semesters assisting the City of Frederick. Here’s what she had to say:

As I stepped into the role of sustainability manager, I was well aware that I’d have support from staff, but that I would not have dedicated staff for sustainability projects. The PALS students have been able to help progress my goals as sustainability manager further than I’d be able to go on my own by conducting a greenhouse gas inventory, studying climate change in the watershed, and pushing the envelope with a shared use path extension. With their help, I will have plenty of data to back up the City’s Sustainability Master Plan with valuable data and information.

I’m particularly excited about the level of commitment the students and professors have to the City. Not only is the commitment there, but the work so far has been outstanding. I communicate each week with several professors and students about data collection, finding existing data, or to help guide expected final products.

I especially like heading out into the watershed and exploring the City with students. They look at our spaces with fresh eyes and fresh ideas, which helps us step out of our boxes and look in from the outside. The watershed, in particular, is a place with many user groups, but with a main goal of water supply protection. Keryn Gedan’s course focuses on climate change in the watershed and will help us look at how the watershed is used today and how it might change in the future. Two students in that course initiated a survey about current usage and spoke to the watershed ad hoc committee about launching it. It was quite a successful survey as it reached many different groups through social media sharing. Other students spent weekend days collecting data about invasive species in the watershed. Their work will be quite valuable as we move forward with a management plan for the watershed.

While I’m not a planner, I can appreciate all the work that goes into creating a usable space. Chris Ellis’ students working on the shared use path extension through the City’s eastern reaches have really gone beyond my expectations. Their progress reports and mini-presentations have given us an opportunity to dream about what this wild space could be. I’m hopeful that many of their ideas will be used when the space is developed.

Overall the PALS experience has injected excitement about what the City is and what it could be and I’m excited to see all the finished products.

Purple Line Advocates Advance Vision, Strategies For Light Rail Corridor Community Development


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November 17 workshop to explore opportunities for growth along the Purple Line Corridor

Stakeholders with an interest in the Purple Line light rail corridor will reconvene Monday, November 17 to hone the interim draft of the Purple Line Community Compact, a common vision for economic and community development along the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) planned transit system. Led by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC), in partnership with officials from the state of Maryland and Prince George’s and Montgomery County leadership, the Compact will present a livability strategy, identify opportunities for economic growth, and mobilize multiple stakeholders for vibrant communities along the 16-mile corridor.

The Compact addresses four corridor objectives: preserving a balance of housing choices, supporting and growing small businesses, building a thriving labor market and celebrating neighborhood identities. At the workshop, participants will build on work completed during an October 25 workshop and subsequent feedback. Stakeholders will further develop strategies, take stock of existing programs and policies, and identify additional steps that will help achieve the intended goals.

More than 150 area stakeholders, including leaders of local governments, community organizations, civic associations, employers, workforce and labor organizations, faith communities and merchant associations will participate.

WHEN: Monday, November 17, 2014, 4:00 – 7:00 PM

WHERE: Felegy Elementary School, 6110 Editors Drive, Hyattsville, MD 20782

Follow the workshop on Twitter starting at 3:30 PM at #PLCC.

Stakeholders must register to attend.

The PLCC welcomes media to cover the workshop. Please contact Maggie Haslam at or 202-258-8946 for more information.


The Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) is a partnership of regional stakeholders across Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and state leadership working to ensure that investments in the MTA’s proposed light rail, the Purple Line, will achieve the maximum economic, social, and environmental benefits to the residents and businesses along the corridor. Formed in 2013 by the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG), the PLCC seeks to identify methods for preservation and growth, revitalizing and stabilizing neighborhoods, preserving community assets, supporting small businesses, connecting workers to jobs and creating healthy and vibrant communities. Sourcing a mix of stakeholder input, research and regional trends from the NCSG, and models from cities across North America, the PLCC will identify strategies to help guide the actions of developers and government. Learn more at

PALS Students Study Invasives in the Frederick Watershed


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The post below was written by Graduate Student Kiel Edson. Kiel is in CONS 670, a Conservation Biology course referenced yesterday in a Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) professor profile.

Invasives in the Watershed

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that doing an invasive plant survey during the fall can be challenging. During our group’s first visit to the Frederick Municipal Forest we found that the trails were blanketed with leaf litter and some of the species of interest were already starting to dwindle.  Luckily, we’d made a class trip to the forest a few weeks beforehand and were able to enlist the help of the area’s Department of Natural Resources forester to point out the species that are most problematic and prolific throughout the trail network, so we knew what we were looking for.

The problem with these invasive species is that they often gain a foothold in disturbed areas (like trails) and can outcompete native species for scarce resources like soil nutrients, light and water. In order to keep the forest healthy, forest managers try to keep these vagabond species out.  Knowing where they exist and what facilitates their spread is a very important first step.

Our study plan is fairly simple. We randomly select points along the trails in the watershed and lay a measuring tape at the trail’s edge and extend it deeper into the forest.  Then we assess the number of and area covered by invasive species every 5 meters.  The hypothesis is that the recreational trails are playing a role in spreading non-native species and, if we are right, we expect there to be more of these species closer to the trails and fewer as you move further into the virgin forest.  For example, in photo 2 you see a very pretty grass-like species along the edge of the trail, this is Japanese stiltgrass and it doesn’t belong here.

We hope that our analysis and forthcoming management recommendations will give the City of Frederick a roadmap to eradicating these invasive plants, protecting their forest and ensuring the residents of the City have a healthy watershed that produces clean, reliable water for decades to come.

The Invasive Species crew from CONS670 (from left to right: Jessie O’Connor,  Tiffany Kim, Kristin Taddei, Anika Cartas, Kiel Edson – Robin Graber and Maira Bererra  did not make this trip).

The Invasive Species crew from CONS670 (from left to right: Jessie O’Connor, Tiffany Kim, Kristin Taddei, Anika Cartas, Kiel Edson – Robin Graber and Maira Bererra did not make this trip).

Assessing invasive species cover within a one-meter square area alongside the trail.

Assessing invasive species cover within a one-meter square area alongside the trail.

A 20 meter transect is extended from the trail’s edge and invasive  species cover is measured every 5 meters.

A 20 meter transect is extended from the trail’s edge and invasive
species cover is measured every 5 meters.

Invasive stiltgrass lines the trail’s edge in some areas we visited throughout the watershed.

[This is part two of a two-part feature.]