Chesapeake Insider

Trystan Sill


A native of Arlington, Virginia, and current resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Trystan has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master's Degree in Conservation Biology.  Since 2010 she has worked for DNR primarily as an environmental educator/trainer, where she taught about the health of the Bay’s marshes and helped people connect to the environment. Outside of DNR, Trystan participates in Baltimore's first LGBTQ+ Commission, volunteers with Thread to support Baltimore youth, and is on the board of a nonprofit which works to promote sustainable pollinator habitat through ecotourism. When not exploring the outdoors or volunteering, she enjoys yoga, knitting, and her cat, Sugar Ray.

Tell us a little about yourself. Are you originally from the Chesapeake area? If not, what brought you to our beautiful shores?

Growing up in Arlington, Virginia, the Bay was there, but in my experience, Northern Virginian culture was not as linked to the Bay as it is in Maryland. In my childhood, nature time was a local county park with a creek or summer camp. On vacations, we’d visit my grandparents in Rhode Island, and I’d explore the rock pools and dig for mole crabs. One of my earliest memories is my grandfather teaching me how to make “worm food” from old coffee grounds and banana peels. We’d take an old, plastic ice cream tub right out into the garden, dig a hole and bury it for the worms, which he explained “helped the strawberries to grow.” Needless to say, the roots of my love for nature started growing from a young age.

Can you remember what drew you to a career in conservation? Was it a particular teacher, place, experience, class or mentor?

Like a lot of kids, I loved animals and always wanted to explore; climbing trees or getting muddy didn’t phase me. In 7th grade, I learned about Punnett Squares (charts that allow you to easily determine the expected percentage of different genotypes in the offspring of two parents) in our genetics lesson and I was hooked. I knew then and there that when I went to college I was going to study biology. I took all of the zoology courses my college offered, and couldn’t get enough of our mammalogy and ornithology labs, which involved walking around in the local parks and wooded areas looking for animals. I also learned that I had a secondary love of teaching and working with youth. It wasn’t until graduate school that I realized I needed some sort of communication and outreach aspect to my science background to feel complete. It didn’t make sense to me that biologists were doing so many cool things, but most people had no idea about them and the work they do.

The conservation communities in the Chesapeake and across the nation are looking inward and asking tough questions of themselves. Many have not done enough in the areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ). You are passionate about this issue, what inspired you?

I was incredibly fortunate to find a job in environmental education as a post-grad student. For the first half of my career, I focused on the things that I loved – teaching middle school students about why marshes are important and how we study them, taking high schoolers canoeing and camping overnight, showing teachers how to incorporate environmental education into their classrooms by going knee deep in salt marsh muck.

As my career continued to grow, I found myself shifting from doing what I loved to wanting to help others access what they loved. What can we do to help LGBTQ+ youth feel comfortable camping with their peers? How can a natural resources workforce development program for Baltimore City adults help provide families with financial security? Do young professionals know all the different types of jobs that are in the environment sector, or do they just think it’s only being a park ranger or marine biologist? I was so in love with the kinds of work I was doing every day, but how could I help others find the thing they were just as passionate about? I started looking at systems that were in place, understanding racism's role in these barriers, and becoming more driven to making room for those we had always excluded. The world is a crazy messed up place and we’re not going to be able to make it any better if we leave someone out of the process.

Are you seeing any changes in awareness and actions on DEIJ issues here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? What advice do you have for others who want to be an ally, but are just starting to be more cognizant of their journey?

In the last few years I was able to move my work into an intentional DEIJ space and help others unpack ways to undo the systems that create barriers. It’s been so inspiring to work with individuals who truly want to help make the world a better place and aren’t afraid to face dark parts of our culture. It’s not always easy or fun, but it is so rewarding and necessary. The resources that we have access to now are poignant and educational. I highly recommend listening to podcasts and watching interviews on the topic of environmental racism and learning about its history. From there, talk to your coworkers, your neighbors, your friends. The more these topics have light shown on them, the less taboo they feel, and the less alone you feel in your effort to undo years of oppression.

The last thing I’ll suggest is to invite someone with you next time you go out into a park. Think of someone who has a different perspective than you or maybe hasn’t felt comfortable exploring somewhere alone. The Bay watershed has so much to offer and such a rich history. As you’re exploring the Virginia Living Museum (near where I went to college), or Patterson Park (near where I live now) don't forget to listen for the untold stories. Whose voice is not reflected here? What are the missing pieces of this puzzle? Ask the hard questions. No change ever came from playing it small, and we’re in this together.

Patterson Park

Patterson Park is a public park in Baltimore featuring paths, ball fields, swimming, and a mix of historic and natural delights.

Virginia Living Museum

See animals native to Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay swim, slither, roam and fly in the all-new, three times larger Virginia Living Museum.

Jody Couser

Jody is the senior vice president of communications with the Chesapeake Conservancy. She has a public relations background and served as spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County, MD. 

March 9, 2021

Main image: Trystan Sill
Older Newer