Black River Falls, Wisconsin
This interview was conducted by Carly Schmidt on February 22, 2019.
What is your role at Friends of the Black River?
I am a new board member at Friends of the Black River, which is located in Jackson County, Wisconsin. The Black River runs through four counties before Jackson, so you could say that I am the president of the Clark County committee of Friends of the Black River.
How did you get involved with Friends of the Black River?
I have been a fisherman all my life. I remember fishing with my grandparents as a kid, but I really became an avid fisherman in the last 15 years. In Clark County, I have fished the river enough to see the trash and garbage running through the river. Recently I thought that something needs to be done about it. My first step was visiting the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, which I use frequently for their wealth of resources for fishing. I visited the website to see what they are doing by way of cleanups. They linked to Friends of the Black River, which directly referenced the river that I was trying to clean up. I contacted them and was invited to a board meeting, which kick-started this journey.
I read that you are working to “get garbage out and increase awareness about the importance of the river.” Why are cleanups and community involvement so important to you?
It might be selfish, but I don’t like to look at trash as I fish. I go to the river to get away from the busy world, and I don’t like seeing trash as I recreate. Through this journey, I am learning why cleanups are important outside of beautification reasons. Getting the community involved has been so important. Educating the public to have a more watchful eye about the trash items that go into the river will prevent trash getting there in the first place. I hope that by getting youth groups and the community involved we can pass on ideas and stewardship practices.
How are these values being implemented in practice?
The Clark County chapter of Friends of the Black River is very new. The organization headquarters in Jackson County has been around for 15+ years, and they engage in regular maintenance cleanups. They take community members kayaking and canoeing on the river, hold monthly paddling expos down tributaries of the river, and bring in speakers to educate these groups. My goal is that these activities will spread to Clark County.
Friends of the Black River recently joined River Network as a paid member. How will membership be of value to you, as a new chapter of a volunteer-based organization?
I had never volunteered or been on a board before I found Friends of the Black River a few months ago. The support I receive from the community has allowed this to grow. Right now, I am focused on the success of our cleanups and other projects we have on the back burner. I know I will need help and support as we move forward with these projects, and having River Network in our back pocket as we continue on this journey will point us in the right direction. We are focused on cleanups, but we know that there are bigger issues out there. It is a great thing to be able to use River Network as a stepping stone to deal with bigger issues in the future.
What positive changes would you like to see for water in your community over the next 10 years?
Cleaning up the Black River is very important to me, because it affects me directly. But this sense of stewardship should be passed to the community as well, because the community is here because of the river. The Black River was used for pine logging at the turn of the century, and this history is the reason we are here. This community is just under 2,500 people in the heart of rural America. The river brought us here and the rich history of the river can bring back a sense of community. My goal is for these river cleanups to become a community event where we can come together for one ideal that we are trying to achieve, and have a good time doing the work.