Will Baker was literally standing in a tree when he was asked to join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation some 40 years ago. As a tree surgeon, he was working on the property of a CBF trustee (and now mentor) who looked up at him and said, “Will, would you like to save the bay?”
Baker, who went on to become CBF president at age 27, has watched the now 50-year-old nonprofit, which focuses on education, advocacy, litigation, and restoration for the Chesapeake, blossom from a 22-person team in an old church annex in Annapolis to a 200-person staff with more than 200,000 memberships across the mid-Atlantic.
“Since we started, the Chesapeake Bay has really emerged as a national treasure,” says Baker. “I often say the bay sells itself, both in terms of reasons for concern and worry, and for love and determination to make it better.”
CBF, known for its blue-and-white bumper stickers and biennial State of the Bay reports (last year: a slightly encouraging C-), has become the largest organization dedicated to saving the bay. Through the decades, it has helped protect tidal wetlands, create critical areas for shoreline development, and drastically reduce pollution throughout the watershed, including here at home with Blue Water Baltimore and the Waterfront Partnership.
“We’re lobbyists in the broadest sense,” says Baker. “You have to be determined and keep fighting.”
And while there have been some positive changes, including improved water clarity and regrowth of underwater grasses, Baker says more work needs to be done. “We’re starting to see major, systemic improvements, but it’s nowhere near enough.” He hopes Gov. Hogan will place more emphasis on pollution reduction, fisheries and habitat restoration, and oyster sanctuary protection in the months ahead.
“I love this job because it’s big enough but small enough to think you can really make a difference in a lifetime,” he says. “I am so glad I looked down from that tree and said yes.”