Written by Mike Bonnell

Much like the nature of the land we are working to protect, the nature of working in conservation is dynamic and frequently changing. As we are accelerating toward our conservation goals, the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership (CCP) has brought on new team members to expedite our progress toward our 2025 and 2030 milestones.

The CCP is happy to introduce
Ben Alexandro, Aurelia Gracia, Mike Bonnell, and Wuillam Urvina!

Ben Alexandro joined the CCP in November of 2022 as the new deputy program manager. Ben is well-versed in partnership building, conservation science and policy issues. Additionally, he has championed several policy victories to protect forests, clean water and the Chesapeake Bay.

Ben led advocacy efforts on public lands and waters conservation issues while he was the senior government affairs advocate at the League of Conservation Voters. He also spent six years working to conserve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, where he most recently was the water program director and the Maryland lead for the Choose Clean Water Coalition. Before graduate school, he coordinated the Potomac Watershed Partnership with the Cacapon Institute.

After attending the Annual Meeting in late 2022, Ben has been hard at work getting the CCP ready for 2023 and beyond. By working with this fantastic team in spearheading a comprehensive update of the CCP convenings, targeted actions, website and communications, Ben hopes to help improve the ability of CCP to more effectively and efficiently facilitate collaboration among its partners. He is passionate about improving the network and its progress toward equitable conservation throughout the entire watershed.

You can reach Ben directly by emailing [email protected] or calling him at 845-596-9634.

Aurelia Gracia serves as an outdoor recreation planner for National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake and as the coordinator for the Protected Lands and Public Access Workgroups under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement funded by the Environmental Protection Agency – Chesapeake Bay Program Office. Aurelia’s work includes project management for various efforts advancing progress toward increasing land conservation and public access to waterways and greenspace across the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia. She is also tracking and reporting on this progress, and working to engage people in conservation and enjoyment of our natural and cultural resources.

Aurelia has been a key member of the CCP staff team since April 2022, taking the lead on activities such as assisting state partners with their applications for the America the Beautiful Challenge, and is influential in standing up the Protected Lands Workgroup along with new CCP Steering Committee member Anthony Bobo from the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States who is serving as the workgroup’s chair.

Born and raised in South Texas, Aurelia attended Texas A&M University for her Master’s in Policy Resource Analysis and Bachelor’s in Parks and Conservation. While studying at Texas A&M, she developed a passion for public spaces. Prior to joining the NPS-Chesapeake team in 2022, Aurelia’s NPS career began with the ProRanger Program, where she gained experience working with law enforcement, supporting public outreach and project planning through positions at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and San Juan National Historic Site. Her completion of the ProRanger Program led to a permanent position with NPS at George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) where she served as the park’s Community Planner, working with various partners and stakeholders to further develop programs and project plans. Aurelia also served as a lead representative for GWMP’s Diversity Advisory Group, facilitated the park’s Great American Outdoors Act planning process, and coordinated a relationship with the Arlington House descendant community.

Mike Bonnell joined the CCP in August of 2022 as part of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program. Headed by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Corps program places young adults with non-profit organizations around the watershed for a year of service. Mike is working with the CCP as a staff assistant and project manager, providing assistance to Program Manager John Griffin, new Deputy Program Manager Ben Alexandro and the CCP team. He is assisting with meeting planning, communications and coordination of CCP partners.

A newcomer to the Chesapeake, Mike graduated from Rowan University in Southern New Jersey in May of 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. His love for nature began with a trip to Yellowstone National Park as a child, and he carries this love with him to the Chesapeake Bay. He is excited to be part of the team and to be working with the network of amazing organizations brought together by the CCP. He is focused on learning as much as possible to further the CCP’s goals and to advance conservation as a whole.

Wuillam Urvina joined the Chesapeake Research Consortium in January of 2023 as an Environmental Management Staffer supporting the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) Protected Lands, Public Access and Diversity Workgroups as well as the Stewardship Goal Implementation Team (GIT). Wuillam will be working closely with CCP staff as part of his duties with the Protected Lands Workgroup.

Wuillam is a 2021 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science and Technology, and a Bachelor of Arts, Spanish Language and Literature. He is no stranger to the CBP, having worked as a summer C-StREAM intern twice, in 2019 for the Water Quality GIT and Climate Resiliency Workgroup; and in 2020 with the Diversity Workgroup, analyzing the diversity of workgroup’s members. In the summer of 2022, Wuillam was a bilingual (Spanish) interpretive outreach assistant with the Chesapeake Conservancy working in parks.

Here’s a CBP blog post by Wuillam from 2020 about his C-StREAM work: When family heritage inspires a career in environmentalism (chesapeakebay.net).

With these new additions, the CCP is improving its ability to function as a network. New team members allow for increased communication, deliberate coordination and the circulation of new ideas. We are extremely happy to have these new faces on the team and look forward to their future contributions to the CCP and to the world of conservation in the watershed as a whole.

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
To share a success story, news, or important event, send your information to:

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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is co-convened by: