In River Rally

The Next River Rally

Mark your calendar for the next River Rally, which will take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the summer of 2024! 

River Network has hosted River Rally annually for decades, bringing together thousands of water professionals for an infusion of inspiration, knowledge-sharing, and celebration. For the River Network team, hosting River Rally is an immensely rewarding experience, but it is not without its challenges. In the past three years our small but mighty team hosted two virtual conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to several new and timely programmatic initiatives including work around water shut-offs and drinking water crises on a national scale. We did all of this, in addition to our full slate of programmatic work, while creating the infrastructure for our virtual gatherings and, most recently, preparing to host our first in-person River Rally in three years. 

For many, the pandemic was a time of reflection and looking inward. River Network made space for our collective grief and other challenges that come with working through a global pandemic. We also examined the ways in which “the way we’ve always done things” compounded the demands on our team, asked more from our network partners, and held us back from advancing our mission and living our values. River Rally was no exception.  

The River Rally 2022 planning cycle was one of deep reflection for this team, particularly regarding the value and purpose of River Rally. Through thoughtful and exploratory discussions, we built a template for the River Rally of our dreams: a fun, celebratory, and truly decentralized event that shines a light on local wins and more intentional collaborations while creating spaces for conversations that are top-of-mind for the nationwide network. We imagined a River Rally built by and for the larger community of advocates, scientists, youth, representatives, and community leaders that make up this network.

What do we mean by ‘decentralized’? A River Rally built by and for the network with opportunities for you to be part of the planning process and for local community input.

But one huge challenge stood in the way: how do we lay the groundwork for this new River Rally when we move so quickly from one conference year to the next? Where is the space to generate new ideas, let alone the time to implement them? 

River Rally 2022 and Action Days for Clean Water and Healthy Rivers were incredible events. Our team left energized and renewed, and we heard from many attendees that they did as well. However, it was not the collaborative and decentralized event we are trying to build. We did everything we should have done, with one glaring exception: we did not actually take a step back. At no point during the turbulence of the last three years did we decide to pause this event to focus on refreshing and building it anew, from the ground up, in a way that better serves the network. 

After careful consideration from the River Network staff and board, we have decided that shifting the next River Rally to 2024 is not only necessary but essential if we are to create a River Rally that serves and involves you, our network, in the best possible way.  

You might be asking: but what does this shift mean for me and my relationship with River Network? Here’s what you can expect: 

  • More time and attention directed to other capacity building and support initiatives. In short, we heard you! Earlier this year, River Network launched the State of the Network Survey, designed to identify the needs and priorities of the network. We learned that learning sessions, toolkits and publications, and funding opportunities were our most highly valued services. Shifting River Rally to 2024 will allow our team to focus on supporting the entire network with these resources, not just those who are able to attend River Rally. 
  • New ways to connect members of specific peer groups, including the Urban Waters Learning Network and others. River Rally supports convenings of subsets of our network including the Urban Waters Learning Network, the Leaders of Color Network, and others. We will think creatively about how these groups can connect and learn from each other in the interim period between now and the next River Rally.  
  • A more accessible River Rally. Many River Rally 2022 attendees shared that the cost of the event was too high and identified shortcomings in our venue selection (unclear recycling and waste reduction policies, located in an expensive area of Washington, D.C., to name a few). We are committed to making the next River Rally more affordable and accessible for everyone. 

We can’t wait to see you in 2024. In the meantime, we’ll be conducting the search for our next President/CEO, refining our values and mission through a strategic refresh, recommitting to our internal culture values, and preparing for our most inspiring and decentralized River Rally yet. There will be opportunities for the network to engage in the planning of River Rally 2024, and we will keep you in the loop on all of them. We can’t wait to see what we create together!

If you would like to share your thoughts, feedback, or reactions about this decision with the River Network team, please reach out to Carly Schmidt.

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