Shane Wright is a husband and father who loves public lands and waters. His love for nature developed in the Northwest of the United States and came of age in Colorado. His career has focused on connecting communities, often those with the most barriers, to the mental, physical and even spiritual benefits of nature, recreation and the outdoors. He has guided rivers and mountains professionally and intends to have a lifelong career in conservation and community. He believes that parks are for all people, that we are nature, and that we are water. And he feels that the health of a community is reflected in the way we treat our watershed. He is fascinated by the work to restore urban waterways and honored to be a partner with the River Network to advocate for clean and wild urban river corridors across the country and across the globe.
Did you grow up around water? Where? What are your fondest early memories of rivers, lakes, or streams?
I grew up going down to Alki Beach in West Seattle, and my early childhood memories involve playing in the woods. When my family moved to Vashon Island on Quartermaster Harbor, water became a huge part of my life. My brother and I would ride our big wheels down the hill next to a ravine from our house, and we would just stomp around in nature. We lived in an old, small house, but it was cozy and rural. Water was public property, which was something that left a mark on me. I learned about water quality, when it was safe to play in the Puget Sound.
Did these early experiences inform your decision to stand up for freshwater?
My grandpa got us an orange boat when we were kids. It was a sturdy rubber boat and fishing on this boat on Vashon and floating in Alaska was what really got me into fresh water.
Why is protecting rivers important to you now?
When I started working for Groundwork in community-based environmentalism, I was surprised that communities in Denver didn’t have a relationship to the water the way that other communities in which I had lived did. After going to River Rally and talking to people across the country, I learned about urban water quality and it felt wrong that our big cities and river towns are defined by their water, yet aren’t able to enjoy the environmental and recreational benefits. This really disturbed me and made me want to work on these issues.
What does being a part of River Network mean to you?
River Rally is the first conference that felt like home to me, with the folks who love the wild rivers combining with the leaders who work to protect and restore our urban water corridors, I felt home with such like-minded leaders and rebels for water.
What water-related accomplishment are you most proud of?
I worked on a watershed plan for Bear Creek in partnership with the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program. I was frustrated by all the waste and couldn’t believe how much our urban infrastructure contributed to the pollution in the river. Bear Creek is in an urban corridor in South Denver. We got a lot of push back, and were even threatened by municipalities and watershed associations, but I stood up at community meetings to say, to anyone who would listen, that we had not accomplished the goal of fishable swimmable rivers that was established in the 80s. We fought through that and created a coalition that has led to tangible water quality improvements in the creek. I am also extremely proud to represent the changing face of America’s future in watershed restoration work and am honored to have helped develop new young leaders in our watershed. This is my proudest achievement.
How has River Network helped you succeed?
The Urban Waters Learning Network has allowed me to feel more connected to the work of restoring our urban waters across the country. I’ve developed close friends and mentors through River Network, and I’ve been inspired to continue to hold a vision in urban water quality—because someone has got to step up. Meeting the people who have been holding this vision over the years has been empowering and continues to be exciting.
What positive changes would you like to see for water in your community over the next 10 years?
I would like to see a fishable, swimmable urban South Platte River. Across the country, I would like to see more fishable, swimmable urban rivers in urban corridors. Cleaning up the South Platte is attainable but we need a more unified voice for water quality. Sometimes in Colorado the quantity issue takes priority; it’s important that we bring attention to water quality.