Fenwick’s Keller a star of local environmentalism


Fenwick Island and its residents are no novices when it comes to the environmental movement or the idea of “going green.” The town has had an environmental committee for more than five years now, and they have a successful oyster-gardening program. Just recently, on March 29, they also celebrated the first anniversary of the culmination of their “tree triage” program.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Martha Keller is a 10-year resident of Fenwick Island and former town council member, who helped to create Fenwick Island’s ‘tree triage’ program.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Martha Keller is a 10-year resident of Fenwick Island and former town council member, who helped to create Fenwick Island’s ‘tree triage’ program.

The program, a few years in the making, allowed residents to plant trees purchased with money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Urban Forest Tree Planting Grant program. The program was the brainchild of resident and former town council member Martha Keller, a self-described “starter” who encouraged the town council in late 2006 to look into the idea for a “Tree Triage” program.

“People are not interested in the environment, per se,” explained Keller. “But they can understand that trees eat CO2, they are valuable to the environment, and they are very pretty. So we made it fun and interesting to do.”

Keller and her husband have owned property in Fenwick Island since 1984 and have lived there full-time for about 10 years. Originally from Baltimore, she graduated from Wellsey and has a master’s degree in education.

“I was always attached to a university or a school system,” said Keller. After her children grew up, she was involved with Lyndon’s Baines Johnson’s program “The Great Society,” teaching in metropolitan housing districts and working in women’s literacy programs. She also worked in the Cincinnati school system and for the Community Action Commission.

“I’m a starter,” she explained. “I convinced people that education and literacy was more important that where their next meal was coming from — that’s my gift.” Along with that, she gained experience in grant writing, a skill that still helps her today, in service of her new cause of environmentalism.

Keller comes from a long line of “starters,” she noted. Her great-grandfather was a founder of a mission in the Blue Hills of Jamaica and her grandfather was also a minister who went into the mission.

As for Keller’s mission, she said, “The government exists to ensure the safety of all citizens. So, whatever it does, it needs to relate to that primary focus.”

Her latest Fenwick Island project, done with the help from other concerned Fenwick Island citizens, involved a getting a grant to produce a flyer for the tourist community. The flyer is about “preserving the resort” and contains information about the preserving the dunes and the importance of staying off of them; not feeding birds or wildlife; using trash cans and disposing of cigarette butts properly; and cleaning up after pets.

Her newest broad focus is the coal fly-ash disposal situation at the Indian River Power Plant in Millsboro — something that affects the residents of all the coastal towns, not just Fenwick Island.

“I try to pick something that is indisputably needs correction,” explained Keller of her causes. “Who can argue against getting rid of it [the coal fly ash]?’”

After her husband fell ill, Keller stepped down from her position on the Fenwick Island Environmental Committee to care for him, but she still tries to stay involved. She also is active in her position of secretary/treasurer of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Center for the Inland Bays and sits on a water-usage committee for the state.

“Potable water is the real issue now,” she said. “We need to protect the groundwater and the aquifers. I’d like to get more into legislation. I believe in the goodness of people, but having a law helps people to stay good. Legislation is the name of the game.”

Keller still has a lot of activism in her and said she is enjoying the freedom being retired brings to her efforts for her causes.

“I’ve had a wonderful life. And the good thing now is I’m expendable. I have no job to protect, no real motivation other than to try to have the right decisions made and help those that are stuck without help to get things moving again.”

Spoken like a true starter.