Monday, August 21, 2017

From Park to Pier: The Early Days of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Part 4 of 4

(This is the last of a four-part series about how Judy D’Amore and Libby Palmer founded the Port Townsend Marine Science Center 35 years ago. Read Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.)


Although Libby Palmer returned to Port Townsend in 1990, for the next two years her job often took her out of the area. Still, she now had more time to devote to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and the important work that co-founder Judy D’Amore, the part-time staff and the growing base of volunteers were sustaining.

2017 Water World, photo by David Conklin
One of the programs Libby spearheaded in 1991 was Water World, a collaboration with Centrum at Fort Worden in which elementary school students integrate scientific investigation with the creative arts. Thanks to the ongoing support of the PTMSC and Centrum, the residential program continues to this day.   

“Water World is a combination of art and science,” Libby says. “Centrum hires a visual artist, a writer and movement person, and we supply the science. Participants create drawings and stage performances to describe the marine world. From the kids’ point of view, it’s seamless.”

Nearly a decade had passed since Judy and Libby started the PTMSC, and the organization was becoming increasingly well known in the community. Credit flowed to the incredible networking efforts of the founders and the organization’s many volunteers. The PTMSC was on the radar of local, state and federal agencies, and local businesses were supportive.

The PTMSC’s 14-year involvement with the Port Townsend Bay Monitoring Project (MOPO) was a good example.

“We started the project hoping we could detect signs of contamination from activities around the bay,” says Judy. “We included places we thought might be impacted by activities going on there, to compare with sites without those activities.”

Among them were the Port Townsend Boat Haven marina, the Paradise Bay Salmon Farm net pens, and the Port Townsend Paper Corporation -- one of the major employers in the region. (The budding relationship would later result in the use of the paper company’s lab for other PTMSC projects.)

Students examining benthic animals with MOPO
“We asked permission to bring our boatload of students out to sample on a monthly basis and they were all very cooperative,” Judy says.

It took some time to determine the best sampling methods, but the MOPO team finally decided to measure the biodiversity of benthic (bottom dwelling) animals at the different sites.

“This turned out to be very informative, which is why I was able to use the data to write a paper on it years later when I got my master’s degree,” Judy recalls.

At this point, The PTMSC was offering a regular lecture series around town, with knowledgeable researchers as speakers. Week-long youth summer camps had also become a fixture.
PTMSC Summer Camp

In the fall of 1994, Judy was hired to teach a 9th grade physical science class, taking her away from leading MOPO and teaching all of the Port Townsend School District classes. The following year, she applied to the Peace Corps. While waiting for her assignment she went back to teaching the marine science classes for the school district, eventually departing for Panama in 1996. She would not make Port Townsend her home again until 1999.

Despite Judy’s absence, Libby says having a staff made a big difference and was the reason the PTMSC was able to continue its programs.

“By that time, Anne Murphy was our executive director and we had a volunteer coordinator, Judy Friesem, and then we hired Cinamon Moffett as the first marine educator,” says Libby.

In 1997 the PTMSC launched Onshore-Offshore, a marine ecology teacher training program designed and directed by Libby. Participants spent a week onshore doing labs and classes and half a week onboard the schooner Adventuress gaining hands-on experience with intertidal animals & plants.

Two years later, after returning from the Peace Corps, Judy finished her master’s degree at Friday Harbor Labs and worked with the FHL for two years in outreach education, including the renewal of the MOPO program that she started.

In 2001, the PTMSC opened its new Natural History Exhibit with displays created by Libby. And in 2004, Judy was hired as the new NHE Educator with responsibilities that included teaching the Onshore-Offshore program.


Cutting the ribbon to the new NHE in 2001 
Looking back at their time as active co-founders, Libby and Judy say they welcomed the added professionalism and the skills each person brought to the team as the organization continued to mature.

“Every growing organization has its tensions, but we knew we were not going to fail,” says Libby. “I knew I did not have all the necessary skills. I realized what was involved in starting an organization, but there were other skills needed to continue one.”

“Anne was good at managing people and grant writing,” says Judy. “And we had a bigger board with knowledgeable people helping guide our direction.”

“I never wanted control,” adds Judy. “I could have applied for the various [management] jobs, but I said, ‘No, I want to teach, I don’t want to be a manager.’”

“It seemed, right from the beginning, that we both had a strong feeling that our work needed a connection to research,” says Libby. “We always wanted to know the most effective way to learn a subject and share it with other people.”

As evidence, she points to a two-year grant project undertaken in the mid-2000s to study the habits of forage fish, such as herring, that involved outside researchers. Teaching sessions were also open to the public.

AmeriCorps team circa 2010
Both women agree that, starting in 2001, the addition of college graduate staffers from the AmeriCorps program – women and men rotating in and out of the PTMSC on an annual basis -- not only provides the young adults with valuable on-the-job training, it also helps the organization remain fresh and vibrant.

“It’s an experiential sort of graduate school and what they learn here is phenomenal,” says Libby.

Perhaps the most enduring quality infused into the formation of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center by Judy and Libby was a perpetual spirit of collaboration.

“It's amazing to see how the PTMSC is touching other people's lives,” says Judy. “I'm struck by how it's grown to such a wonderful thing. It's like having a baby. We had a hand in making it, and it's turned into something just beautiful with everyone's contributions." 

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Libby Palmer
Judy D'Amore






















This year, in honor of our 35th anniversary, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is asking our supporters to match a generous $10,000 bequest from Mirriel Bedell, the mother of co-founder Judy D’Amore, to underwrite our commitment to place-based, people-powered, hands-on learning. Donate today to help us reach our goal and fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea!

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