Announcing This Year’s Wild & Scenic Stewardship Partners!
“Turtle Island Park, at the confluence of the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette and the Middle Fork Willamette rivers, is an important recreation spot for the [Oregon] communities of Westfir and Oakridge as well as a location with promising habitat for native fish, wildlife, and plants. Funds from River Network will go a long way in increasing our positive impact in education, community engagement, and accessibility in this project.”
– Dov Weinman, Executive Director of Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council
For the fifth year, River Network is excited to work with the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service) to provide local organizations with funding for their work to steward the many diverse Wild and Scenic Rivers that flow over 13,400 river miles in 41 states and Puerto Rico. These designated segments of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System are protected, free flowing rivers that provide opportunities and access for recreation, clean drinking water, and help fuel local economies.
And this year, we’re especially excited to introduce a second type of support!
Relationship Building Grants
One of the main goals of the joint USFS and River Network Wild and Scenic Stewardship Partners program is to foster a shared stewardship approach between local USFS district offices and nonprofits and Tribal entities. However, we recognize there are groups interested in partnering with USFS who don’t have the time or capacity to develop these relationships to the point where they could apply for the Stewardship Awards that the program has provided in previous years.
These new Relationship Building Awards cover salaries and/or travel costs for organizations’ staff members who will build these relationships. USFS and River Network staff will also be available to make introductions, help facilitate initial meetings, and support any additional planning. We’re hoping to make federal agency funding more accessible to more groups, bringing more folks to the table, not just those who are fortunate enough to have well-established, historic relationships already in place.
To qualify for the Relationship Building Award, projects had to take a shared stewardship approach on rivers administered by the Forest Service, be aligned with the Administration’s Justice40 goals, and meet other criteria. We received many strong application, reflecting the amazing work of water, justice, and river advocates across the country.
We’re excited to announce the following 2023 Relationship Building Award recipients and a snapshot of their projects:
- Alabama’s Mountains, Rivers, and Valleys Resource Conservation and Development Council (AMRVRCD) – in Alabama, AMRVRCD will increase outdoor recreation activity in the Sipsey Fork Wild and Scenic River by initiating relationships with Bankhead National Forest and surrounding community stakeholders.
- Inland Empire Waterkeeper – in California, Inland Empire Waterkeeper will build a relationship with staff of the San Jacinto Ranger District and the San Bernadino National Forest to provide student field trips to the North Fork of the San Jacinto River.
- Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation – in North Carolina, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will develop relationships with the USFS and begin working collaboratively together in the Wild and Scenic Wilson Creek area of Pisgah National Forest.
- Idaho Rivers United – in Idaho, Idaho River United will engage the next generation of Nez Perce Tribal youth in river conservation as well as immerse them in the cultural heritage of the Salmon River system.
Similar to years past, we invited a wide range of stewardship projects, ranging from river clean-ups to invasive species management to improving river access. To qualify for the Stewardship Award, projects had to take a shared stewardship approach on rivers administered by the Forest Service and meet additional criteria. As with the Relationship Building Awards, there were many more strong applications – there is so much impactful work being done around the country! We were pleased to offer an increase in funding available for these projects this year.
The 2023 Stewardship Award recipients work from east to west on a variety of projects:
- Curry Watersheds Partnership – in Oregon, Curry Watersheds will be engaging community members of all ages, abilities and cultures to protect the Elk and Chetco Rivers through river clean ups and educational activities.
- Friends of the Inyo – in California, Friends of the Inyo will work to protect the wild character of the Owens River Headwaters, Cottonwood Creek, and the South Fork of the Kern River.
- Kentucky Waterways Alliance – in Kentucky, with updated supplies, Kentucky Waterways Alliance will engage current and new volunteers to participate in the annual Wild and Scenic Upper Red River Cleanup. They will also create a mini documentary on illegal dumping in Kentucky Rivers and potential solutions related to the annual cleanup.
- Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council – in Oregon, Middle Fork will develop a Park Management Plan, coordinate student monitoring and educational activities, and develop accessible trail designs with Willamette National Forest staff and along the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River.
- New Mexico Wild – in New Mexico, New Mexico Wild will continue to collect water quality data along the Rio Chama downstream of El Vado Dam by furthering outreach and citizen science efforts. The resulting data will evaluate the ecological resilience of the river and help identify potential solutions.
- Salmon Valley Stewardship – in Idaho, Salmon Valley will strengthen experiential outdoor education for local youth along the Main Salmon River with lessons on river ecology, stewardship activities, and recreational opportunities on and near the river.
- Tuolumne River Trust – in California, Tuolumne River Trust is seeking to expand and diversify community involvement and plans to bring a group of high school students from its Modesto office’s underserved community outreach program to raft along the Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River and participate in restoration activities.
- Upper Merced River Watershed Council – in California, Upper Merced will revive and develop an 18-month Community-based Water Quality Monitoring Program to establish a working plan with updated monitoring protocols, secure equipment, rally volunteers, and launch the program along the Merced Wild and Scenic River.
Steve Chesterton, Forest Service Wild & Scenic Rivers National Program Manager says, “it is exciting to be able to continue building on the great stewardship work supported through this valuable national partnership between River Network and the Forest Service. This year’s program dramatically expands the amount of funding invested in local partnerships, while also seeking to address barriers that have limited engagement with new potential partners in previous years. Strong, community-based partnerships are crucial to protecting wild and scenic rivers for all to benefit from and enjoy.”
River Network echoes Steve and is honored to be a trusted partner in this work. Our gratitude to all who took the time to apply for this funding and congratulations to the recipients – we can’t wait to see the impact we’ll have together!