by Gary Swick
As President, I annually attend River Network’s national River Rally. It is an opportunity to network, learn about advancements, discuss issues, and have fun with river advocates from every state and a few other continents. It’s always a wonderful opportunity for me to acquire resources that I can bring back to help build our organization, usually including fundraising, membership strategies, and programming ideas.
It is especially beneficial for me to evaluate the work and progress of Friends of the Fox River relative to what is occurring in other watersheds. I can report that we are a very highly achieving organization that is in need of internal and external growth to meet our needs. I hope you will step up this year and increase your involvement with us by attending events, serving on committees, or increasing your support.
This year, the River Rally was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The city is currently involved in a 2.5-mile restoration project that will remove 5 dams, restore habitat, stimulate economic development, enhance recreational opportunities, address social justice issues, and include local schools at every grade level in these projects.
I couldn’t help but think about how similar Aurora’s potential is to the Grand Rapids project. Friends of the Fox River will be working to increase our presence in Aurora this year.
A major theme of this year’s conference involved how many environmental issues are being seen more as social issues. Flint Michigan and Standing Rock were two situations that were featured. Most issues that involve our environment are also economic and social in nature. It is sad how much cultural progress that we have not made, and what gains we have made are now endangered. The message was loud and clear that we must raise our individual and collective voice louder than ever. We cannot afford to continue to exclude those who are disadvantaged and defenseless. We cannot rely on others to protect our resources. Friends of the Fox River plans to increase our advocacy activity and work on increasing our diversity in service.
The River Rally is a well orchestrated mix of intensive work, and celebration. River advocates are a truly a special breed. I swear if you cut some of these people, they would bleed river water. On the field trip afternoon, I went to a state park on Lake Michigan. The flora diversity of this unique dune ecosystem was as impressive as the crew that I traveled with. The conference concluded with an award recognition and reception. It is very inspiring to understand the breadth and depth of great work taking place around us by sincere and selfless humans.
I returned from my experience with copious notes, many stories, new friends, and a rejuvenated spirit. I welcome anyone interested to contact me for further information on my experience at River Rally 2017.
Before each River Rally, I am required to reflect and report on our organization’s status. You too will soon be asked to report on your perception of Friends of the Fox River. As part of the strategic planning process we’re just beginning, we will be surveying our members, volunteers, friends, partners and the governments and other groups with which we work. Watch your inbox for an invitation to participate in the survey, and please reply with your thoughts. Our membership is our most important resource. Thank you for your support in our efforts to “Create a watershed of caretakers”.