Picking up right where 2016 left of, 2017 continued the trend of change and growth for the Blue Thumb program. The staff changes began almost immediately when I arrived to take on the role of Blue Thumb educator and spent my first weeks attending events like the Water Quality Staff Retreat, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts State Meeting and the Biodiversity Forum. These events gave me the opportunity to immediately begin networking and making connections across the state. At the same time, I was traveling across the state with Kim, Candice and Jeri, getting to know them and Blue Thumb. Joining them on winter bug collections gave me the chance to visit numerous creeks and meet many of our dedicated volunteers.
Late in 2016, Jean had taken over as Blue Thumb Director. During 2017, even though she worked primarily from Tulsa, she continued to lead the Blue Thumb team, including joining us in the Oklahoma City office at least one day per week, attending Blue Thumb trainings, joining us in the field for fish and bug collections, and representing Blue Thumb at numerous educational events throughout the year. Another change occurred when Jeri transitioned away from work in the field so she could focus on outreach/promotion/P.R. work. That work promoting Blue Thumb achieved a number of successes, including articles in small and large newspapers and a semi-regular appearance on a local television news broadcast.
Jeri’s transition away from field work gave the rest of us an opportunity to change our areas of responsibility, which allowed me to take on the management of volunteers and monitoring in my own parts of the state. Kim continued to manage volunteer sites, monitoring and events in the Oklahoma City metro area, the nearby cities of Edmond and Norman, and the southwestern part of the state. Candice retained all sites in the Tulsa area as well as sites in the southeastern region of the state, while picking up the city of Stillwater and that area. I was given responsibility for the northeastern part of the state, including Tahlequah and Muskogee, the south-central part of the state, primarily Ada and the surrounding area, and the sites to the far northwest, in the panhandle region.
A final change concerning the staff came late in the year when Jeri left the Conservation Commission for a position at the University of Oklahoma. This opened the door for an examination of the program among the other staff members and discussions about the program’s future direction and focus. We will be bringing on a new Blue Thumb staff member in the very near future who will be another exciting addition to the team.
There have been a number of other changes and successes in 2017, beyond just the changes in team members and their roles. At the end of 2016, Candice took over the position of statewide Project WET Coordinator. In her first year, she organized, promoted and executed 10 educator workshops and one facilitator training, attended by a total of 90 people. Blue Thumb trainings also had a very successful year, with more trainings in one year than ever before. This year’s trainings demonstrated an important increase in collaborations between Blue Thumb and other organizations/professionals and the demand for trainings from those groups and individuals. All of the trainings have led to a large number of new volunteers joining the Blue Thumb ranks and a number of new volunteer monitoring sites around the state. The year included a variety of other highlights, including a highly successful educator’s workshop, Riverology 101, and not one but two successful educational summer camps for kids, A Journey to the Bottom of the Creek in Tahlequah and A Grand Adventure in Langley.
Those achievements only scratch the surface of what Blue Thumb accomplished in 2017, including all of the many educational events across the state where our staff and volunteers brought stream protection through education to thousands of people of all ages. Many thanks to all of those who supported us this year in any way or helped in any way to make this such a great year. We can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!