PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. — Calvert Soil Conservation District’s longest-serving District Manager, William “Bill” Clark, retired in December.
Clark joined the district in 1985 with an agronomy degree from the University of Maryland College Park.
“I started out as the Johnsongrass coordinator,” Clark said. “That’s how I got to know all the farmers. When the job opened, I applied and got it. And I’ve been in the same position for 36 and a half years.”
Though he held the same title for more than three decades, he said the job wasn’t static.
“Your job is what you make it,” Clark said. “Each soil conservation office is unique. Instead of moving job to job, I stayed and made it what I wanted it to be.”
With oversight from the district’s board of supervisors, Clark said the Calvert Soil Conservation District carved out its own niches.
Best management practices evolved as agriculture in Calvert County changed.
In the early years, Clark said the district focused mainly on stormwater diversions, waterways and ponds, as well as the occasional drop structure.
Now, the district has shifted into BMPs that support livestock like fencing, water troughs and manure management.
Clark said there is also a shift to serve a wider population, beyond the traditional farm population.
“We used to be focused on large landowners and farmers but that’s expanded to cover everybody. The farm population is not only aging, it’s decreasing. But we still have the same amount of land,” Clark said.
“Anyone that needed help always got it, but it’s even more true now,” Clark said. “We are there to help people. That is something I instilled in everyone in the office. We are service-oriented… and people felt at home when they came in.”
Environmental regulations increased during his career, Clark said, making projects more complex. He noted that cost-share funding helped a lot of farmers but that it also added layers of complexity to projects.
“The permitting process takes longer. Paperwork takes longer. You have to justify everything you put in,” Clark said. “When a farmer put it in, it didn’t matter.
But with the state’s money, you need to show that it will be cost-effective and worth investing in.”
With federal and state investment and NRCS standards, Clark said he saw an increase in the quality of BMPs.
“People often complain we’re building Cadillacs when all we need is a Chevy,” Clark said. “But with the cost-share money they’re over-designed for a purpose — it’s the public’s money and it has to be something that will stay.”
Along with the typical agricultural conservation practices, Clark recalled some of the more unique projects he worked on as district manager.
One was a cliff stabilization project at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Chesapeake Bay Detachment, located in Chesapeake Beach.
The project involved drilling 600 soil nails into a vertical cliff that is 80 feet tall and 800 feet long. The cliff’s facade was covered with a chain link fence to stop soil erosion.
“It’s the biggest job we ever did,” Clark said of the $6 million project.
Another unique focus for Calvert Soil Conservation District was shoreline protection.
“We’ve put in miles and miles of shoreline protection,” Clark said, referring to projects at Jefferson Patterson Park in Saint Leonard, the Navy Recreation Center in Solomons and the Naval Research Laboratory in Chesapeake Beach.
In addition to the conservation practices, Clark said there are other aspects of his career that he is proud to have led.
Among them is an internship program that he created for the district.
“We’ve had 30 some individuals intern with us since we started in 1991. We’ve helped kids learn how to work in an office and learn about the environment,” Clark said. “It’s a proud feeling to have kids come back and thank us. We’ve helped them pay for college and start their careers.”
Clark also helped the district establish a grant program called the Calvert Environmental Trust for Youth, which funds youth-focused environmental education projects.
“If you have someone willing to give their time to work with kids to teach them about the environment, money should not be an issue,” Clark said.
CETY is a separate 501C3 nonprofit organization with its own board. Clark said the trust has funded more than $200,000 in grants since it began in 1996.
The trust also funds the Calvert County Envirothon, an environmental competition for High School students.
Clark is replaced as district manager by Geoffrey Westbrook, who previously served as the Erosion & Sediment Control Specialist for the Calvert Soil Conservation District.
District manager isn’t Clark’s longest career title.
He’s also had 38 years of service as an Emergency Medical Technician with Prince Frederick Volunteer Rescue Squad. And he plans to continue that with his wife, Sherry.
“We started in the 80’s — Sherry was the driver and I was the EMT and we did that until she was 8 1/2 months pregnant and couldn’t sit behind the wheel. She stayed home to raise the family and has just been accepted back into the squad,” Clark said. “Our goal is to run duty together again, one day a week. It’s really fun to work together as a team.”
The Clarks have a 15-acre farm in Dunkirk. Clark said he plans to spend much more time there, tending to two mules that the couple is boarding, and breeding and raising donkeys as livestock guardian animals.
Faith is a central part of Clark’s life and he credits the success he’s had in his career to his faith.
“It’s been a good job and I have a lot of faith. As part of my daily prayer life, I prayed for the projects in our office. I prayed for the staff, that no one would get hurt. I prayed for funding,” Clark said. “I believe the Lord blessed us.”
Clark also credits the district’s board of supervisors, many of who served on the board for most of Clark’s career.
“You can’t buy experience,” Clark said. “Having their experience is essential. Of course it’s good to have new and innovative ideas too. When it came to programs, the board could tell me if it would work for a farmer or not. Their experience was worth a lot.”
The Calvert Soil Conservation District was recognized with several awards under Clark’s tenure including first place in 2006 for the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation District’s Outstanding District Award, sponsored by MidAtlantic Farm Credit.
Clark also received a President’s Award in 2021, presented by MASCD President Bruce Yerkes.
“I loved what I did. At the end of each day, I helped people…of course protecting soil and helping the environment, but we were helping people,” Clark said.
This article was originally published on January 21, 2022, on americanfarmpublications.com(The Delmarva Farmer).