Eagle River Watershed Council: We can all be river lovers
February is here. It’s snowy and cold, and ice blankets parts of frozen rivers and the surfaces of our alpine lakes. We may not be out paddling down a river right now, but lucky for us, love for our rivers exists year-round. We asked four river lovers from the Eagle River community about how their love of rivers came to be. Whether it is an old love or a new love, it is never too late to love our rivers.
Pete Wadden, Watershed Health Specialist, town of Vail
I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River in northern Ohio. Lake Erie was heavily impacted by the legacy of heavy industry in the Rust Belt when I was young, and the Cuyahoga was so polluted that it caught fire several times in the early and mid-20th century. Nevertheless, Lake Erie was my playground. It’s where I learned to swim, sail, fish and kayak, and where I developed a deep love for the water that has shaped my life and career ever since.
I relocated to the mountains of Colorado where the water is less plentiful, but typically cleaner. The fishing is much better here than it was on Lake Erie in the 1980s and 1990s. Like many people, I find water of all kinds to be beautiful and calming, and I prefer to be on the water or close to it whenever I can. I’ve seen how badly humans can mess up a body of fresh water and don’t want to see the communities here in the mountain west squander the healthy streams we still have.
Sue Nikolai, Land & Rivers Program Director, Land & Rivers Fund
Growing up in Wisconsin, the Manitowoc River ran through the middle of my small town. We swam and fished in it, jumped off the town bridge into it, took our canoe on it, and ice skated on it in the winter. When, as a teen, I was feeling down, I’d sit by the banks and contemplate life.
When I moved to Colorado, I became a river guide on the Colorado and Poudre rivers. I loved the freedom of floating downstream, challenging myself in the rapids, enthralled by the birds and wildlife that made the river corridors their home. The river is my happy place. I need my multi-day river trips, camping in the canyons, to re-energize myself, get away from electronics, to reconnect with family and friends. Rivers are our valley’s lifeblood and the Earth’s lifeblood. We need rivers as much as the Earth itself needs rivers. And we need to do all we can to protect them.
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Renata Arujo, Coordinator, Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement
Having been born and raised in São José dos Campos, Brazil, I did not develop a relationship with rivers until I moved to Colorado in July 2020. In São José dos Campos, I lived in the Paraiba River Watershed, and I often visited my grandmother in São Paulo, at the Tiete River Watershed. Both rivers are canalized and polluted, and sometimes you cannot even see the movement of the water under the trash that lives on the surface of those rivers. I remember being a kid and visiting the headwaters of the Tiete River and feeling astonished about the cleanliness of the water. That experience made me wonder how that clear water would become dark, smell bad, and be covered in trash less than 100 miles from there.
When I moved to Colorado, I found mental and emotional support in the waters of Gore Creek. I have also been able to recreate on the Colorado River, by rafting part of it annually, which is part of my job. Even though there is still room for my relationship with rivers to grow, rivers are slowly becoming a place of mental refuge and recreation for me.
Wyatt Alt, pursuing Masters in Civil Engineering at Montana State University
The river has had a profound impact on my personal development. The river was my gateway to freedom and exploration as a child. I was free, free to wander the banks while poking around cobbled rocks looking for macro-invertebrates. Free to catch the fish that mysteriously darted in and out of patches of tranquil water. Free to float with these curious creatures in the cold yet soothing waters.
My discovery of whitewater, guided by my tool of choice, the kayak, created an endless appetite for adventure, which was only fueled by the exploration of more rivers. These experiences have brought a continuous flow of knowledge, friendship and entertainment into my life.
Knowledge from the river comes in both an academic and spiritual sense. When you are passionate about the river, it brings you to previously unfathomable reaches of the Earth. As the river is the heart of a valley, you are fully immersed in new flora, fauna and geologic formations. When you are in the river itself, you are constantly teetering on the edge of control. Spirituality arises due to the synergy of effort to stay on course while simultaneously accepting the absence of control. I love the river because I respect it and welcome the fact that it is indomitable yet ethereal.
Rivers can mean a lot to a person — from a reprieve from everyday life to the rush paddling through a rapid. However you enjoy our rivers, it is never too early or late in your life to foster a love for the streams and rivers in this watershed and beyond. Get out and enjoy them however makes sense for you — and more importantly, help us protect them! If you are looking for ideas, consider participating in our events and restoration projects to start your journey to loving our watershed at erwc.org/events.