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What's Up Magazine

Joe DiGiovanni | Friends of Patuxent

Jul 03, 2018 12:00AM

By Caley Breese

When Joe DiGiovanni retired, he knew he wanted to do something meaningful. After a quick walk around the National Wildlife Visitor Center at the South Tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge, a staff member encouraged him to volunteer there. The rest is history.

“Nell Baldacchino [education/outreach team leader at Patuxent Research Refuge] said, ‘Why don’t you come out and be a volunteer?’” he recalls. “So I was a volunteer down there for a little bit, but then thought, ‘I need to be outside.’ So I came up here [to the North Tract].”

DiGiovanni has moved around a lot throughout his life. His father served in the military when DiGiovanni was growing up, and his family lived in a lot of different places, including Japan and Germany. When he graduated college with Bachelor of Science in the geology field, DiGiovanni decided to join the Navy. After four years in the Navy, DiGiovanni enlisted in the Army and began working at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), researching for anti-malarial drugs. From the Army, DiGiovanni then joined the Army Reserves and went to work at Fort George G. Meade in the environmental management office.

DiGiovanni has not only been helping with Friends of Patuxent, but he’s also an avid volunteer at the Patuxent Research Refuge.

“I wanted something else to do, but I didn’t want to work in an office anymore,” he explains. “So I just started working out here. It’s nice to go outside and be one with nature, go on hikes, and do trail monitoring. It’s always fun when people come out and they ask questions like, ‘What are you doing and why?’ You can give them a good spiel.”

The way DiGiovanni talks about the outdoors makes it clear how connected he feels to nature. He assists with outdoor maintenance, keeping the trails open and clear by cleaning off the dead trees and upholding the gardens around the property at the North Tract, including the monarch waystation.

“I started working in the gardens, but I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says, laughing.  

Because of his interest in saving the monarch butterflies and wanting to preserve their home, DiGiovanni enrolled in Howard County’s Master Gardener class at the University of Maryland Extension. He wanted to learn more about sustainability practices in horticulture, as well as planting healthy, safe gardens. DiGiovanni then planted a number of milkweeds—the host plant for monarchs—and nectar-bearing plants around areas of the Refuge.

“I looked around and thought, ‘I don’t mind doing some gardening,’” he explains. “Getting into gardening and then becoming a master gardener all kind of rolled up into one. It’s interesting to go out there and watch all of the different pollinators because there’s so many.” 

DiGiovanni also remains active in the community by informing groups and individuals on monarch butterflies and their native plant.

“Joe has been tireless in helping to educate the public and providing free milkweed seeds, much like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, to school children, families, and anyone who will plant milkweed in suitable habitat,” Rich Dolesh, chairman of Friends of Patuxent says.  “Joe has collected native milkweed seeds, packaged them up, and distributed them at libraries, community centers, and other gatherings where he has provided educational presentations.” 

Friends of Patuxent is determined to help the Patuxent Research Refuge, and its mission to preserve and protect wildlife and their habitats. A little goes a long way, and with the help of people like DiGiovanni, the organization and Refuge continue to make a difference for our surrounding community and environment.