Barb Horn: Why I Give Monthly

Barb Horn supports River Network with a monthly gift. It’s an easy and convenient way to support our work. But Barb’s reasons for supporting River Network are as deep and wide as the work her gifts support. River Network is at the confluence of Barb’s love of people and rivers.

“We can’t overstate the value of inspiring people, helping them connect them to the resource to make [their work] better,” Barb said of the value River Network brings to its members. “Being with River Network is an experience, not an event,” she says. “I’ve seen it over and over again, River Network inspires and empowers people, gives them tools to go back home and do their work.”

Barb Horn’s love of rivers started early, as a child. Her family took Sunday drives to explore the mountains and waters of Colorado. A river, near a family friend’s cabin in Estes Park, was her playground. There she built people out of found rocks and her fascination with the river grew.

Later she earned degrees in Environmental Conservation and Economics with a focus on river ecology. During a time when Superfund sites were beginning to gain attention in Colorado, Barb worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife on rivers in Telluride, Ridgway, and Ouray. Soon after, a chance encounter with the founder of Project WILD sparked the ‘people-connection’ that has defined Barb’s work. In 1989, Barb started River Watch of Colorado, a volunteer program to collect river data that built connections between individuals and their rivers.

Barb discovered River Network in the early 1990’s and went on to work collaboratively with River Network staff before joining the Board of Directors, on which she served for 9 years. She was the first female to receive River Network’s River Hero prize, for her work starting River Watch of Colorado, co-founding the Rocky Mountain Watersheds Volunteer Network, and continuous efforts to educate on the importance of protecting water resources.

While still working as a Water Quality Specialist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and running their River Watch program, Barb advised and served on the boards of many national organizations involved in volunteer monitoring and citizen-science projects. For her, it’s the people that make work most meaningful. The quote “The care of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart,” from Japanese politician and social activist, Tanaka Shozo, sums up what drives her work.

As for why Barb has been a devoted supporter of River Network for so many years, the answer is simple: “River Network is about people first,” she says. “When you do the heart work and the relationship work, it’s hard to do, but it’s more lasting than coming at [problem solving] from technical or rational thinking.”

Watching the challenges her community faced when the Las Animas River turned orange from mine waste in 2015 and a few years later turned brown from forest fire run off and related flash floods in 2018, killing the fish and causing flooding, Barb saw the community come together around a shared connection to their river.

It is the questions that came from such events that interest her: “How do we become a resilient community?” and “How do we make long-term commitments to work together?” “I believe all the solutions are there,” she says, “but we have to have the will power and collective synergy to get there.” Barb believes the key to making real change is relationship building and community collaboration that comes from the heart. “It takes courage and guts not to lose sight of that – especially during hard times.”

As one of the few people who holds the honor of attending every River Rally since it began in 1998, Barb knows many of the regular attendees and loves to hear the progress they are making in their communities with support from River Network. It is their progress that she invests in as a donor when she gives to River Network. Not long ago, she sat down to look at her philanthropic priorities and how to give in a more meaningful way to the organizations she supports. Barb is a monthly donor to River Network, a choice that she says is “easy and convenient,” adding that it’s “fun to see [my donation] come up in my statement once a month and remind me of my connections to River Network.”