W. R. “Nick” Carter, III is the second recipient of the ShoreRivers Award for Environmental Stewardship. Photo: Dave Harp

“Druid of the Chesapeake” Honored with Award

He spent three and a half decades protecting the Chesapeake Bay from possible harm, and now the so-called “Druid of the Chesapeake” has received a special honor for his work.

On May 7, ShoreRivers presented its Award for Environmental Stewardship to W. R. “Nick” Carter, III, a retired scientist from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The award “recognizes an individual or entity in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for their transformational accomplishments as a steward of the environment.” Carter is the second recipient of the award. He received it from the first recipient, Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. A long-time friend of Carter’s, Swanson declared, “Nick is brilliant. He is a synthesizer—a complex thinker. His friends and colleagues liken him to E.O. Wilson; some even refer to him as the David Attenborough of the Chesapeake.” 

A Norfolk native trained as a fisheries scientist at Virginia Tech and the University of Washington, Carter focused for 35 years at DNR on reviewing project permit applications and commenting on their environmental effects, especially with respect to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. His broad problem-spotting and -solving contributions ranged from major dredging projects for the Port of Baltimore to small ones like placing culverts under country roads that could impede spawning river herring.  It required, as Swanson says, someone who could think at both micro and macro levels while weaving together multiple scientific disciplines, including biology, ecology, forestry, geology, and civil engineering.  And it required creativity, an ability to build effective answers to complex problems.  Perhaps the best example is the restored wetland complex at Poplar Island, built on beneficial use of material dredged from the Port’s channels. Carter retired from DNR in 2000.

Since then, Nick Carter has cheerfully failed retirement, volunteering to teach students from Caroline County schools and other folks of all ages.  His classroom is the 33-acre native preserve along the upper Choptank River that he and his Master Gardener wife, Margaret, have lovingly tended for fifty years, keeping careful surveys of its trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and critters. It is a living laboratory in which Carter helps visitors understand how the Chesapeake ecosystem works. He shared this special place with Chesapeake Bay Magazine in our July/August 2019 issue.

During the online ShoreRivers award presentation, Carter was typically modest, thanking his many friends and colleagues and talking about how much he enjoyed his work.  There is a great deal of Carter lore from all these years, embedded especially in those of us fortunate to have spent time with Nick in the field.  Through his curiosity, capacious knowledge, and dry sense of humor, we’ve learned to build ecosystem thinking around the plants and wildlife we’ve seen, handled, and sometimes eaten, ranging from giant bullfrogs and interesting roadkill to killifish (bull minnows) and Choptank River Ham (smoked carp).  For his fifty-six years (and counting) of cheerful service to the Chesapeake, Nick Carter richly deserves our thanks and the ShoreRivers Award for Environmental Stewardship.

-John Page Williams