DNREC Honors Young Environmentalists, Including A Sussex Co. Student


Delaware and the Department of Natural Resources have paid tribute to three students as DNREC Young Environmentalists of the Year.

This year’s group of honorees includes 18-year-old Julia Rial of Lewes, whose efforts have included organizing beach clean-ups and tree-plantings. The Sussex Academy student is also a co-founder of the “Delaware Youth Chapter of Extinction Rebellion.”

Students from Kent County were winners at the middle-school and elementary-school levels, and a New Castle County man is DNREC Volunteer of the Year. The awards were presented at the Delaware State Fair.

“Every Delawarean, no matter their age, can have an impact in protecting and conserving our natural resources, while also raising awareness for environmental stewardship. At ages 9, 11 and 18, these three young people have taken a stand as environmental advocates who are already making a difference today for a better tomorrow,” DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said of the 2021 class of Young Environmentalists. “Today, we also recognize a volunteer who has had a long-term impact on DNREC’s Emergency Response mission, and a young angler who caught the biggest fish in this year’s Youth Fishing Tournament, a conservation-minded event to introduce children to the joy of catching – and releasing – a fish.”

The Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards program is in its 28th year. It recognizes Delaware students ” whose actions have helped protect, restore or enhance our natural resources by initiating an innovative project, practicing environmental stewardship, increasing public awareness or demonstrating environmental ethics.

For more information, visit dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/young-environmentalists.

DNREC released these biographies and more information about the Environmentalists of the Year:

Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards:

  • Elementary School: 

Rowan Smith, age 9, of Dover, independently formed a plant club in her third grade class at Banneker Elementary and uses her recess time to lead nature walks and plant investigations, sharing plant facts she has learned from avidly reading and researching Delaware plants.

  • Middle School:

Maggie Wieber, age 11, is very active as a third-year member in Kent County’s Peach Blossom 4-H Club, taking on projects involving wildlife, woodworking and community service. Upon learning of a need for bat boxes at Killens Pond and Trap Pond state parks, Maggie researched plans, solicited funds from the Delaware 4-H Foundation to buy materials, developed kits with pre-cut parts and enlisted eight fellow 4-H members to construct 10 boxes, which were donated to the two parks to provide nesting areas for these important insect-eaters.   

  • High School:

Julia Rial, age 18, of Lewes, has planned beach cleanups in Sussex County, organized tree plantings and made videos at James Farm in Ocean View and founded the Delaware Youth Chapter of Extinction Rebellion with her friend Jade Carter to work in her community on environmental issues and sustainability. In February, for the Shepard’s Office in Georgetown, an organization that helps homeless and needy people, Julia and Jade gathered a dozen volunteers and organized a “sustainable free market” that collected five truckloads of usable goods, keeping the items out of landfills; the event also included hot lunches for 100 needy people donated by local businesses.

DNREC Volunteer of the Year:

New Castle County resident Richard Morris received DNREC’s Volunteer of the Year Award. As a volunteer firefighter with the Belvedere Fire Company, which partners with the DNREC Emergency Response team, for more than 15 years and 2,250 hours Morris has served as the primary keeper and driver of DNREC’s Hazmat 30, a bright red 60-foot, 60,000-pound emergency vehicle nicknamed “The Beast.” In 2019 alone, Morris drove the Beast to more than 50 hazardous incident calls.

“Not only does he get the Beast safely to the location, Richard is an active participant upon arrival, directing operations until DNREC staff arrives, including deploying oil dry containment booms, setting up recovery systems and operating the Beast’s Safety Vac System,” said DNREC Emergency Response Chief Jamie Bethard. “He also has the biggest heart, and without his tireless dedication and commitment, pollution incidents in New Castle County would last significantly longer and be more costly to remediate.”  

2021 Youth Fishing Tournament:

Kane Messina, age 9, of Millsboro, received this year’s top trophy for catching a 21-inch bass in the 35th annual Youth Fishing Tournament held June 5. Established by the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife and sponsored by the Delaware Natural Resources Police, the tournament introduces youth to the sport of fishing and teaches the catch-and-release approach to conservation.