Watershed Institute officials have worked to protect and restore the natural environment in Central Jersey for 70 years.

And on April 29, the organization’s achievements were celebrated at its annual membership meeting.

At the Watershed Institute’s facility, which is located on 31 Titus Mill Road in Pennington, members, guests and local officials gathered that last Monday of April to celebrate the organization’s role in providing a safe environment for residents in the area.

“This is a huge night. The organization is celebrating 70 years. In the environmental world that is long, especially on a regional and state wide level,” said Jeff Hoagland, Education Director at the Watershed Institute. “We have been fighting the fight. This place is about community.  We are here because people identified with our mission and our ability to deliver on that. We want to have children understand through our programs the world around them. We want them to think like a scientist.”

Hoagland was also one of the honorees of the evening event for his 35 years of service to the organization.

“I have fallen in love with the world and I never lost that wide eyed sense of wonder and passion for the natural world around me. I am lucky to have found an organization that embraces that type of thinking,” he said. “I am able to espouse that love to anybody. A lot of school groups are here, there are a lot of public programs, and families. We have utilized this place to find ways to better protect our environment. This is all about love for me, that is my driving force.”

Jim Waltman, Executive Director of the Watershed Institute, said one of the things that really makes the organization strong is that they remember and honor their history.

“We are also continuing to strive for innovation and to be a forward thinking organization. We celebrate a lot of new programs and the innovation our staff bring to their work. As the Watershed Institute we are one-year-old,” he said.

Waltman referenced the Institute’s name being a year old. Prior to the name change, the organization was called The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association.

The changed occurred because of the issues through the years with the name being so long, according to officials.

“Through the years we have had one basic focus we work to keep central jersey clean, safe and healthy,” he said. “We do this by affecting change. We do this by changing mindsets, behaviors, laws and policies. We are an organization about positive change. We are organization about science and advocacy.”

Along with honoring Hoagland, the organization honored the McAlpin Family, Kate Dunham and Fredric Spar (posthumously).

Kate Dunham, a general education teacher at Village Elementary School in Skillman, received the Richard Rotter Award for Environmental Stewardship.

According to Hoagland, the award is bestowed upon area teachers who exemplify a sense of enthusiasm and expertise in protecting the environment.

This is the 14th year for the award, which is named after Richard Rotter, who was a high school teacher in Montgomery Township. He was an environmental enthusiasm who passed away in 2005, according to officials.

In accepting her award Dunham said, “Nature has always been a part of my life, I never really realized how important it was. Upon reflection I realized I have been drawn to it ever since I was a child. I believe it is the responsibility of a teacher to help educate students on the natural world. This award has made me reflect on that again.”

Fredric Spar was posthumously honored with the Edmund W. Stiles Award for Environmental Stewardship.

According to Waltman, the award Spar received is the Watershed Institute’s highest award. The award is given in recognition to an outstanding leader in protecting Central New Jersey water and environment.

Spar was the former head of the association’s Board of Trustees. He passed away in 2018.

“He dedicated his life to protecting land in New Jersey and played a leading role in numerous conservation organizations,” Waltman said. “Fred was never a loud person. He made his impact quietly and humbly as a volunteer. He was a model Watershed Trustee and a passionate and dedicated advocate for the environment.”

The McAlpin Family was honored with a dedication of the Watershed Institute’s conference room, which will now be named the McAlpin Family Conference Room.

For more information on the Watershed Institute, visit www.watershed.org.

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