Stewarding Wild and Scenic Rivers in 2020 – Persistence in the Time of COVID
Another zoom call??
It was evening for me on the East Coast, but I really wanted to see Idaho River United’s kickoff of their online learning program for river guides working on the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Salmon River. So I joined the call and along with about 50 other people, we learned about this first-of-its-kind stewardship certification that provides commercial rafting guides with the tools and resources to engage and educate a broad and diverse audience on Wild and Scenic River values, touching on ecological, cultural and management issues.
Already, about 100 people are signed up for the course, which can serve as a model for other rivers by assisting rafting guides to reach so many people on their trips.
With funding from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS),this project was one of six Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Partnership awards River Network made in 2020 to support local groups working to steward their Wild and Scenic Rivers. This year, the persistence, innovation and flexibility of local groups shined through as they found ways to work around and through the pandemic, strengthening capacity of local groups, increasing access for all and creating COVID-safe stewardship events.
In Montana, American Rivers, the local USFS Office and a volunteer board brought people together virtually to develop a strategic plan for the newly formed Flathead Rivers Alliance. Engaging with approximately 40 community members, including business owners, guides, outfitters and landowners, the group developed this plan to guide the Flathead Rivers Alliance moving forward. Already this has allowed the group to develop its first major funding proposal, and the plan will spark coordinated stewardship efforts for years into the future.
Other groups did a great job increasing sustainable access to Wild and Scenic Rivers at a time when people were seeking more time outdoors. Glacier Peak Institute (GPI), for instance, worked with the community to plan a park and develop trail access along the Sauk and Skagit Rivers to better provide access for high poverty communities living along them. GPI hosted over a dozen community-based COVID-safe events to begin this new access trail, working with the Washington towns of Darrington and Concrete as well as local businesses and volunteers. On Kentucky’s Red River, Kentucky Waterways Alliance (KWA) improved access by developing and installing signs to the river and also began work to create a new and more sustainable access point for paddlers. Volunteers removed old, eroding steps and began restoring the current access point.
COVID Response and Creativity – Adaptation and Safe Stewardship Events
Groups modified traditional stewardship events fro remain in line with public health COVID-19 requirements by switching to virtual or modified in-person events. Friends of the Inyo partnered with Mono County Libraries Makerspace to create a storybook on a water molecule’s journey through Owens River Headwaters, presented the book on “Virtual Storytime,” and created make-your-own storybook kits for patrons to take as part of the “Makerspace To-Go Kit” program. Several groups held multiple river clean ups with volunteers wearing masks and working in small groups. Wild South found that there was more trash due to increased visitation to the Sipsey Fork of Alabama’s Black Warrior River, but that this also provided the chance to meet new people (at a distance) while they were picking up trash.
While it goes without saying that we all hope for a better outlook this year. In the meantime, we’re inspired by what these groups have achieved for their communities and Wild and Scenic Rivers this year, and thankful to the U.S. Forest Service for their support and collaboration.
Wild South video – Exploring the Sipsey Fork
Everett Herald – Even in the Cascade Foothills, Getting Outside Isn’t A Given,
Idaho Rivers United Wild & Scenic Guide Stewardship Certification – https://wildscenicguidecert.thinkific.com/courses/iruwildscenicguidecertification