Woodrat On the Wires

One satisfaction of writing a news release is seeing how many news outlets decided to pick it up and either run their own version, run the release verbatim or when the Associated Press briefs it, then seeing it spread like wildfire.

I’m not sure why, but the story of Frostburg State University leading research to help save the Allegheny woodrat struck a chord with at least online editors to pick up the story.

Here are some outlets who picked up the AP report:

The original release in its entirety is below:

Frostburg State University to Lead Research on Endangered Allegheny Woodrat
02/17/2016

Frostburg State University to Lead Research on Endangered Allegheny Woodrat

A nearly $100,000 federal grant will enable Frostburg State University professors to lead multistate research on the possible solutions to reverse an Allegheny woodrat population decline.

Through the end of 2017, researchers in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will study the animal’s interactions with its habitats as well as the presence of raccoons near the woodrat. Raccoons can carry roundworm in their feces, which could kill the woodrat while it forages for food on the forest floor.

“The first thing we hope to accomplish is hopefully to identify the primary causes for the decline of the species,” said FSU Professor of Biology Dr. Tom Serfass, who is leading the mammalian portion of the research.

Woodrats are “cute, neat animals, with neat behaviors, occurring in neat habitats,” Serfass said. They are different from the non-native Norway rat that can be a nuisance around houses and barns.

“The woodrat in this region is a unique, native and declining wildlife species. Conserving the little woodrat is conserving a piece of a whole, unique forest ecosystem,” he said.

The study is a multi-agency and multi-institution effort with faculty from FSU joined by colleagues from Penn State Altoona, Montclair (N.J.) State University, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service, Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Serfass and FSU Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Sunshine Brosi will be joined on the project with alumni Dan Feller, Class of 1986, who is the Western Maryland Ecologist for Maryland DNR and Greg Turner, who earned a master’s degree in 2001 and is an endangered mammal specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Graduate and undergraduate students from FSU and other institutions will also participate in the research.

“It helps our students in our program because they get to meet agency professionals,” Brosi said. “The students that work in this project collaborate with and meet professionals in the field that they may be working with or working for in the future. The research also highlights FSU’s commitment to research.”

Brosi will focus on the plant-based research, looking at foods the woodrat has collected over time. Woodrats mainly eat acorns, chestnuts and walnuts, Brosi said. She will also look at the deforestation effects on the raccoon to see if logging is pushing the animal into the woodrat habitat, spreading the parasite.

The $99,804 of federal funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office was granted by the private, nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute. Various agencies and institutions, including FSU, combined to match $100,401 in funds to bring the total funding to $200,205.

“The federal funding is a recognition that species don’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries,” Serfass said. “It’s a big step to conserve wildlife.”

For more information on FSU’s Department of Biology, visit www.frostburg.edu/dept/biol or call 301-687-4166.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

Power Boat Exclusive

After tearing through public records about IMG Academy and other tourism initiatives, the lead tourism folks for the county decided to bring an exclusive to me about a major event planned for Bradenton.

It showed they trusted me and that I could do a thorough job. And sure, they wanted to have more control over the story…and they were asking my publisher for sponsorship money.

Still, it turned out to be a nice get. And the event itself was a success during its first year. A few minor hiccups with food, access and beer, but plenty of people turned out.

The one thing I regret not doing in my reporting was calling people in Pittsburgh about this event not associated with it. After I left the paper, I found out that the company that was bringing the festival to Bradenton, ISM-USA, lost the contract for the Pittsburgh event the following year as the city wanted to have someone new at the helm.

Not major but it would explain some of the motivation.

As the year progressed, I would cover minor updates from tourism council meetings and the urban affairs reporter would focus on the city issues from both Palmetto and Bradenton as this became more of a municipal story until the event itself.

Continue reading Power Boat Exclusive

Hotel Revitalization in Bradenton, Florida

Downtown Bradenton had an eyesore of a building that was once the most prominent in its skyline.

Whatever you called it, the pink building some folks contend wasn’t pink in the first place was being revived into an elegant Hampton Inn. Yes, that does sound weird. But the attention to detail in restoring and preserving an 87-year-old building and turning it into a modern hotel is quite the accomplishment.

I was fortunate to cover the lead-up to the hotel’s opening and help document some history, as well as share some ghost stories:

Continue reading Hotel Revitalization in Bradenton, Florida

How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity


The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was probably one of the more drama-free beats I had. It’s not to say there wasn’t controversy. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The small-hub airport, which goes by its FAA code SRQ, became debt-free, paying off its mortgage. It renovated its concourse and baggage areas, and continues construction today around its parking lot and infield. A new FAA control tower is being built, too.

But it always had a chip on its shoulder as it competed with a behometh to the north, Tampa International. To a lesser extent, St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, too. And to the south, there’s Fort Myers’ and Punta Gorda’s airports nibbling away.

It became problematic in 2012 when Southwest was ready to phase out AirTran. SRQ was among the first airports for Southwest to pull AirTran from, taking away one-third of the airport’s business.

The airport positioned itself well playing the victim, but then I found out that they were talking to Southwest about the possibility of some type of return as they all but bashed the airline publicly.

Since then, the airport did two large identity campaigns as well as battling a perception that SRQ is more expensive than Tampa. That’s still up for debate depending on which routes you look at for ticket prices, but there are also parking fees and gas and tolls to consider.

Looking at the numbers, the airport was able to mostly recover. But it didn’t mean it restored all routes. Most notably, a route to Baltimore (and nearly Washington, too) wasn’t restored. That’s awfully difficult to get Marylanders down to Sarasota for Orioles spring training at Ed Smith Park. But not any more difficult considering the official airlines of the Orioles is…Southwest.

Anyway, here is a collection from my time covering SRQ:

Continue reading How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity

Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

During my time at both Sarasota Patch and the Bradenton Herald, I got to learn about the merits of sculling, rowing and whatever other boat-related sport you can have.

The development of what became Nathan Benderson Park into a world caliber venue for aquatic sports—namely sculling and rowing—was a fun journey. It wasn’t without its controversy considering the costs, and it still is and probably will be after the World Rowing Championships finally come to the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2018.

Here’s the downlow on how this all came to be in as much as I can reduce it before you dig into my clips:

-A few folks noticed how perfectly rectangle a old borrow pit that became a lake was and thought, huh, this would be cool to use for rowing.

-These folks talked to Nathan Benderson, the founder of powerful Benderson Development Company, about getting behind this cause. The man, who would ride his bike around this park up until the day he died, was convinced. They just needed to convince Sarasota County.

-The county said sure, they took the money from Benderson after talking to rowing officials that this could work. Benderson also saw how nice it would be considering how much land owns for retail sits just north of it. The lake was expanded for regulation racing over a period of time. A road was expanded and connected for better access.

-Donations were hard to come by through fundraising so the local rowing officials kept asking the State of Florida for millions of dollars to help finish the park and the buildings needed for the championships. (This is still happening in 2016.)

-In 2013, the park was awarded the 2017 World Rowing Championship plus additional events. Construction of the park still has not finished, but some main components are in place.

Continue reading Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

When Disaster Strikes, Take This Survival Class at Frostburg State

Part of developing curriculum is keeping its content fresh and current.

Recreation and Parks Management Professor Robert Kauffman, Ph.D. is doing just that at Frostburg State University. He’s updated his camping skills class for freshmen and called it Doomsday Preppers and Surviving the Unexpected.

Students learn how to plan for a hurricane, bad snow storm and even living in a bunker.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this story if it wasn’t for YikYak. While I monitor the app for security issues affecting the university, it’s good for story tips. A student mentioned the class in a post wondering if they had to stay the entire three hours for the course.

A couple phone calls later, it turned out to be a good story.

Kauffman emailed me to let me know he has heard from a wide range of people after the release was published as well as The Herald-Mail picking it up. A woman in Georgia congratulated him on teaching the course and a teacher in California considering to offer a similar course chatted with him for ideas.

A look around the Web shows the story has made its way to several prepper and alternative websites including one version on both  The Survival Place Blog and Activist Post.

Continue reading When Disaster Strikes, Take This Survival Class at Frostburg State

When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

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via @JDeLeon1012 on Twitter

One of the more interesting assignments I had was covering the Bradenton Housing Authority after a federal raid and investigation.

At the time of the raid, the paper hadn’t regularly covered the BHA meetings for at least a year, thanks to layoffs and cuts. I was asked to cover what was going on to assist a rookie reporter and the crime desk. The crime desk covered the initial raid and as the crime beat picked up with activity, I had to take the BHA over full time until another city reporter was hired, who has since then dutifully covered the beat. Mark Young has done a great job when he came on and I was very thankful he could tackle the beat as the Mall at University Town Center and another huge land development, Lake Flores, were about to consume my beat again.

What I found was a public board that was complacent by saying yes to everything by the executive director, signing off on policies without looking at them or fully understanding them and either ignorance or apathy. And for the longest time, denial, until a few of the members came around and realized what happened.

The interim director, who was the authority’s financial director, revealed later she was the whistleblower, but the question was always why did she allow this to go on for so long and not alert anyone else? The inflated salaries for staff certainly helped keep folks quiet. The interim director was also looking for a raise from her financial director salary.

Eventually she resigned for medical reasons and so did another official making $130,000 a year. The agency saved salaries from both of them and paid an experienced director $130,000 to lead it back on track. The new director also pointed out the bias and flaws in a salary study completed under the interim director’s watch.

I filed plenty of FOIAs for this one, some still awaiting to be fulfilled because of the ongoing investigation through HUD-OIG. Just getting coherent information and documentation from the Housing Authority was a mighty struggle, where I had to rely on experts from other housing authorities to verify what I was seeing.

I tracked down the main players, who of course, weren’t willing to talk. My work also grabbed the attention of a U.S. Senator who is known for making a stink over housing authority scandals–mainly pointing out that in one way or another the federal oversight is broken. And the various state and local laws make it difficult to find a solution.

Here are the highlights of my Housing Authority coverage:

Continue reading When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

Marveling at a Comic Book Mentorship

It’s incredible what busy professionals will do to help out college students pursue their passions.

Comic book artist Dennis Calero did just that at Frostburg State University. He shepherded select FSU illustration majors through projects in an independent study course to sharpen their drawing and business skills.

Calero’s accomplishments are lengthy, and they included developing “Xmen Noir” for Marvel Comics, worked on projects for DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics and also worked on a project for author Stephen King.

I shot this on a Saturday and was asked on Monday to have this ready for a Tuesday marketing email. When I’m given a deadline like that, something just clicks.

What I do in these cases is start writing my script. The interviews and theme is still fresh in my mind, then I start blocking out my video in PremierePro looking to get my soundbites in place.

After that, I start piecing together the script a little more while at the same time finding b-roll to use for my voiceover.

Once that’s finished, I have time to make color corrections, sound adjustments and titles before I headed over to the WFWM studios on camps to record my voiceover.

I look down and make a couple minor tweaks to my script before we’re ready to roll. Once I’m back in my office, I make a few more trims and stretches to squeeze in my voiceover.

I started at 9 a.m. working on this and by 4 p.m., the video was completed, uploaded on YouTube and scheduled on Facebook. The closed captions are typed up and heck, the radio station also has a public service announcement they can use because I supplied the station director with my audio I exported from my video project.

That’s my approach to working efficiently to make a three-minute video feature with a 500-word story.

Here’s the script below:

Frostburg State illustration students are marveling at their experience with a professional comic book artist.

Dennis Calero, who developed “X-Men Noir” for Marvel Comics, helped to guide a new generation of illustrators in an independent study course on how to make it in the business.

CALERO: “I advised some students on their work and would look at their work but I also wanted to see what their influences were. So I could help   them connect in what they saw in other people’s works that were interesting and bring it out in their own work. So I think that was very helpful.”

The prolific comic book artist visited FSU on February 6 to display his work and share career advice with the audience.

Student Ian Groff says Calero was thorough in giving him tips and reviewing work for his fantasy comic.

GROFF: “We focused on certain areas of comic art. We did several pages of penciled work and then we learned how to ink the pencils we drawn. And Dennis guided us through the whole process and how to successfully draw and what not to do.”

Illustration and graphic design major Ray Huang says students emailed Calero their work and Skyped with the artist for feedback.

HUANG: “It was really valuable because he would give me a lot of ideas about how the industry works. I knew what I would be facing in the professional world.” … “During my childhood I didn’t really have that much of art literature stuff. So, he basically told me to work on my own style because I’m all over the place. After that I can see the difference between my style, and it’s getting better.”

CALERO: “I was absolutely really taken by their willingness to take direction. And also their eagerness and their wanting to know how things worked. And not wanting to maintain an illusion of how things worked in this industry. They really wanted to find out how to take those steps and make those sacrifices, which not a lot of people really wanted to do.”

FSU illustration professor Jamison Odone organized the mentorship and is amazed at the impact Calero has. 

ODONE: “It’s more impressive than seeing someone every day, who is your professor. They’re here just for a blip. Their work is amazing and it’s almost like this celebrity effect when they see this person who’s done this amazing work. They’re usually a little jittery to talk to them, but they can see how it’s done, they can hear the person talk. It usually affects them quite a great deal. …

“Whatever switch he was able to flip in their minds to be able to work in this field, it worked. There’s no turning back now.”

The community can get an up-close look at Calero’s work during February. His exhibit includes a special illustration he created for his FSU show.  

The comic book art will be on display through Sunday, February 28th. The Roper Gallery is open Sunday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m.

The students’ work will be exhibited at an upcoming senior show.

A Fun Day For An Emotional Cause: I Swim For Bob

The story behind I Swim For Bob is incredibly sad and inspiring. The event is a fun way to incorporate pool games and other fun activities to fund a scholarship in the name of Bob Norr. Norr was on the swim team at Frostburg State and he died in a kayaking accident.

The event and the scholarship named after him needed a bump. I tried to help by writing a preview news release, the story you see below for the alumni magazine Profile plus videos about the event, the scholarship itself and about Bob Norr.

The event returns April 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. Register on FSU’s website and follow updates on the I Swim For Bob Facebook page.

I Swim for Bob Brings Joy From Heartbreak

Its Purpose Fulfilled, Student Committee Finds New Direction

By Charles Schelle | Fall 2015 issue of Profile

Heartbreak following the 2012 death of Bob Norr in a kayaking accident has been transformed into a joyous and fun annual event that honors the Recreation and Parks Management major’s memory while supporting future students.

Nearly 200 people enjoyed pool games, laser tag and dodgeball and scaled the rock-climbing wall at the fourth annual I Swim for Bob Day – Discover Your Own Adventure this spring.

Thee first such event came together a few months after Norr’s death, when students,
including classmate Alex Coleman ’12, came to Blankenship with the idea to start a scholarship and event in his memory.

About $47,000 has been raised since 2012 for the Robert A. Norr Presidential Merit Scholarship.

“Recreation and Parks majors, we approach life in a very different way. We like to get together and have a good time,” said Dr. Diane Blankenship, associate professor of recreation and parks management, one of Norr’s instructors. “We just felt like, in the spirit of Bob, to have a pool party and all these crazy events. … is is how he would want his life celebrated.”

This year’s event raised $7,000, and about $47,000 has been raised since 2012 for the Robert A. Norr Presidential Merit Scholarship, Blankenship said.

It’s now an annual tradition taken on by students who never even knew Norr. ey work tirelessly to plan the ongoing event year-round because they see how much

it means to the community and campus. Four classes across two semesters help plan, produce and evaluate the event.

“You can look at Dr. B and you can tell how much he meant to her, and his parents are here, and you can tell how much they care about how we do this,” said Brian Bussard,
a senior parks and recreation management major. “I think that our whole class groups together, and we want to make sure that
we succeed.”

Norr’s roommate, Kevin Neitzey ’14, returned to support the event, marvel- ing at all the new faces as he watched a dodgeball game.

“I can count about 50 people I’ve never seen before in my life. I think it’s awesome that Dr. B really incorporates this not only in her curriculum but that the kids want to be here,” Neitzey said.

Norr’s parents, Bob and Nancy Norr, are pleased to see the event and scholarship grow and how much it reflects their son.

“We continue to be amazed that they honor Bob this way,” his father said.

“It’s awesome just to hear his name all the time,” Coleman said.

To support the Robert A. Norr Presidential Merit Scholarship, visit http://www.frostburg.edu/makeagift or call 301.687.4161.

Capturing Christmas with Kids

Christmastime in Frostburg brings out hundreds of kids each year with Storybook Holiday.

That’s thanks to Frostburg State’s Children’s Literature Centre organizing the event each year and pulling in student volunteers from all over campus to put on such a large event. The stakes were high for the 2015 edition as Gov. Larry Hogan decided to walk the parade route and take in the experience.

The joy of the event really comes through in the video as well as the dedication by the students.

Storybook Holiday Inspires Lifelong Reading With Help of FSU Students, Alumni
12/22/2015

Every December since 2003, Frostburg State University students and a growing network of alumni volunteers have doubled as elves to bring out the joy of reading and the holiday season in children.

Storybook Holiday weaves the mission of the Children’s Literature Centre at FSU with Christmas and winter themes as one of the biggest events in the city of Frostburg.

Dr. Barbara Ornstein, associate director of CLC and a professor of educational professions, said the Saturday event attracts about 2,500 people to Frostburg to embrace the love of reading while getting ready for the holidays, thanks to the Children’s Literature Centre at FSU. Children practice their writing by sending letters to Santa, listen to holiday stories to encourage reading and spend time with a guest author.

“Storybook Holiday is all about the kids,” said Ornstein, who assumes the name Prancer that day, donning reindeer antlers with jingle bells. “When we decided to start this, CLC director Bill Bingman and I wanted to bring something to the city of Frostburg for children because the Children’s Literature Centre is all about building the lifelong love of reading and the education of our children.”

Children can have breakfast with the elves, jog in the Running of the Elves, make gifts for their families in a secret Elves Workshop, listen to stories and much more. The free event relies on donations and brings alumni and students from across campus to volunteer at the event.

“All the businesses pitch in. The students pitch in,” she said. “We could not do it without the Frostburg State University students. They are absolutely wonderful as volunteers.”

Elementary education major Lacey Jones of Hampstead has volunteered at three Storybook Holiday events. She loves that the day allows her to be part of the community. Jones worked at the Letters to Santa where children showed off their writing skills.

“It’s fun. It’s way more fun to do this than to write a paragraph on a piece of paper,” she added. “If they’re going to get their writing in anyway, this is the best place to do it.”

The event also features fun for big elves. The Elf Olympics finds out who has the right amount of magic for Santa’s Workshop by creating a toy out of egg cartons and paper towel rolls, wrapping presents, decorating teammates as a tree and excelling at a cookie toss. The team Rock Paper Elf took first at the 2015 event. The team was made up of students Jessa DiTullo, Chelsie McCoy and Paige Gray and 2012 graduate Nicole Rieland.

They say they love coming back for the event, getting into the spirit and even played the part.

“We want to be shrunk down, go to Santa’s North Pole and work for him,” Rieland said.

“That’s right, we’re going through elf training,” McCoy said. “We love Christmas!”

Storybook Holiday is also paired with a children’s book to tie in a theme. Will Hillenbrand’s “Snowman’s Story” was selected for 2015. The author and illustrator also dedicated the book to CLC and former graduate assistant Hannah Hare Harvey for her work with the Centre and assisting Hillenbrand when he visited FSU for conferences.

Hillenbrand spent time at the Frostburg Community Library during the event, sharing stories of his childhood building snowmen, and donated a vinyl cutout of his book cover where children could poke their head through and have pictures taken as a snowman.

Storybook Holiday surely captures the spirit of the season.

“It’s the best day of the year,” Ornstein said. “You can’t be in a bad mood on Storybook Holiday.”