Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Show Them the River

October 10, 2017

Essay and Photos by Josephine Purdy

NWNL Editor’s Note: Oh, to be a college student spending a summer in watershed conservation! We are publishing this commentary so this student’s clear-eyed vision and sense of purpose can inspire other students to leave IPhones behind in order to splash across streams and learn the joys of conservation from soggy elders.

Per John Ruskey, founder of The Mighty Quapaws youth program on the Mississippi River and NWNL Partner: The river is made happier with the undivided courage, curiosity, and playfulness of kids. 

 

Nearing the end of my bachelor degree, I was desperately searching for a summer job in my field. I first heard “Show them the river” during an internship interview with the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition.   Nervously answering and asking questions through my interview, I brushed past this simple phrase. It would take me an entire summer to truly appreciate the importance and simplicity of bringing people to the river.

During my interview with this Woodbury CT watershed coalition, I learned the tools I would use included scientific research, public outreach and coalition building. I eagerly accepted their Dr. Marc J. Taylor Summer Internship, created in honor of the co-founder of this small non-profit that protects and preserves the Pomperaug River Basin. “Show them the river,” was Dr. Taylor’s mantra.

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On the first day, they almost literally threw me into the job. My supervisor taught me how to place thermal monitoring probes at various points in the river. I was to record water temperatures every hour from June until mid-October. I donned a pair of waders and slipped my way through various streams and rivers to properly place our probes. Being out on the river made me remember the childhood joys of jumping from rock to rock across a river; catching crayfish; and simply being in the water. I regained my appreciation of Connecticut rivers and couldn’t have hoped for a better ‘first day on a new job.’

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One of my favorite projects was helping organize and co-lead free hikes along the river and in the watershed. We led scenic walks, talking about the ecological and cultural history of the river, current issues of pollution and river use, and environmental lifestyle changes that anyone could make.

I found great purpose and joy in answering questions. I asked my own questions to those more knowledgeable and saw people leave with a new understanding and appreciation of their watershed. I began to realize that the core purpose of these hikes was to “show people the river.”

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I’ve had a month to reflect on my internship with this small ‘grassroots’ non-profit. I realize I’ve learned a number of important lessons that I think will be useful in my career. I’ve been taught these lessons before; but they took on a new meaning and importance after seeing them in action.

  1. Money is important. Selling an organization to donors and sponsors is a huge and unavoidable part of the nonprofit world. While it can be discouraging when a majority of your time and energy has to go towards finding funds instead of accomplishing the goals of the nonprofit, it’s necessary and can be enjoyable, even if it’s not my strength.
  2. People can tell when you really believe in a cause. Passion and knowledge are infectious, and they are the driving force behind getting things done. Effectively communicating the importance of your work inspires others.
  3. Connecting with people makes a difference. I saw strong personal relationships and mutual respect get more things done this summer than anything else.
  4. Nothing compares to simply letting people experience the river, lake or forest if your goal is to foster appreciation.

Small nonprofits are born when communities care. They become successful when communities understand the importance and experience the joy of protecting and conserving their own natural resources.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josephine Purdy, now 20, grew up in Bridgewater CT, with a hiatus in Kodaikanal, India. She currently resides in Montreal, Canada. Her lifelong love for the outdoors came after the family TV met an untimely fate during her early, formative years. She will enter her final year at McGill University September, 2017, to study environmental biology with a major focus in wildlife biology and a minor in field studies. Her recent summers, before the one described above, have been spent working on an organic vegetable farm.

In January, 2018, Josephine will depart on a field semester to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Once she runs out of funds for her travels, she hopes to start a career that blends environmental sciences, sustainable development and conservation. Graduate studies are most certainly somewhere in her future. Her favorite activities include catching insects, exploring new places, making curries, and camping – especially with friends.

 

All photos © Josephine Purdy.

June – National Rivers Month

June 21, 2013
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Chinook Cove of the Columbia River | Ray Gardner.
Photos ©Alison M. Jones for NWNL.

In the spirit of Summer Solstice, NWNL offers below its interview with Ray Gardner, Chief of the Chinook Nation, honoring the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River and Mother Earth. We met Ray on the 2007 NWNL Columbia River Expedition in a Chinook cove off this salmon-filled river’s estuary.

Three weeks ago NWNL completed its Upper and Middle Mississippi River Basin Expedition from Lake Itasca MN to its St Louis confluence with the Missouri River. In 1993 I documented the highest floodwaters on the Mississippi – and now, 20 years later, I’ve witnessed its 5th highest floodwaters. For eons, floods have come and gone in nature’s plan: part of a healthy pulse that flushes riverbeds and nourishes the plains. But today we see floods as a threat to cities and crops.

In our June 2013 interview with Patrick McGinnis (former US Army Corps of Engineers, now Senior Advisor on Water Resources for The Horinko Group), we discussed the problems that stem from federalized flood control and federalized flood insurance, without which farmers and other folks would abandon the floodplains. Many agencies and organizations are working together now to address these complex issues, given the absence of a national water policy.

But while waiting for solutions to evolve, let’s each of us – and our children – follow Ray Gardener’s suggestion to protect our rivers by removing our trash. Join in American Rivers 2013 National Rivers Cleanup – wherever you live.

We all live in a watershed – what’s yours?

Alison Jones, NWNL Director and Photographer

These beer cases, cigar wrappings and snack-food bags seen in last month’s Missouri River floodwaters should NOT be there. We may all be prone to unhealthy habits now and then, but let’s not allow them to create unhealthy rivers!

These beer cases, cigar wrappings and snack-food bags seen in last month’s Missouri River floodwaters should NOT be there. We may all be prone to unhealthy habits now and then, but let’s not allow them to create unhealthy rivers!

SELECTIONS: NWNL Interview with Ray Gardner, Chair of the Chinook Nation

June 2007

NWNL: Thank you, Ray, for bringing us to this protected Columbia River cove, so imbued with the spirit of the Chinook Nation. Could you describe the historic ties Chinook Nation has had with the Columbia River.

RAY GARDNER: The best way to start with that is from our story of creation. We were created on the Columbia River. The Creator and Mother Earth gave us the honor to be a people that lived on this river. This river was a means of transportation. It was a means of communicating with other tribes up and down the river in our canoes. It provided us with the salmon that Coyote taught us how to fish.

. . . .

NWNL: What practices have Native Americans traditionally followed to keep our rivers healthy?

RAY GARDNER: It’s really hard to put into words not only how important this river system was, but still is. We have always known that if the people here do not protect Mother Earth, she can’t exist. So, it’s very important to keep all elements of Mother Nature pure and safe. It’s very important to the Chinook people to preserve this river, as we were only allowed to be here by the Creator. With that came the honor of being the people to protect this part of the river. And to protect that, we had to be careful to not pollute the river. The cleanliness of the river and the purity of the river are very important because, obviously, for salmon to survive, they have to have a good water system. Even when our canoes are taken in and out of the water, they are cleansed.

. . . .

NWNL: How do Native Americans honor healthy rivers and salmon populations today?

RAY GARDNER: It’s very deeply ingrained all of the native people. Our concerns are with educating the public and with getting better practices out there. That we can help with. One of the things our people plan is river-area cleanups. Many of our people will come down to this cove, to this beach, to pick up whatever debris has been left behind. When you take that and magnify it by the length of the Columbia River, you start to get a grasp on the problem. For the tribal people, it warms our hearts to know that there are also other people out there trying to help us do what we know needs to be done.

. . . .

NWNL: How do you think we build a healthy and sustainable relationship between Mother Earth, people, industry and government?

RAY GARDNER: Change will never happen because people sit back and say nothing. People have to be willing to stand up and say this isn’t right; this is why it’s not right; and you need to change it…. In a democracy, if enough of the people want something done, it’s the government’s job to make that change. But government will not make a change unless people tell them it needs to be made.

Read the full interview.

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