Conservation Corps Keeping Rivers Alive

Photo by Conservation Legacy
Photo by Conservation Legacy
Photo by Conservation Legacy

We All Take from the River

Hey, fellow adventurers of the tabletop realm! Today, we embark on a journey down the winding paths of environmental stewardship and strategic gameplay with the new board game, “We All Take from the River” by Ben Hammer.

This game invites players to step into the shoes of different communities, each with their own visions for the future. As you navigate the twists and turns of the river, you must gather resources, adapt to changing weather conditions and balance your goals with your neighbors’. You will encounter challenges and opportunities that mirror the complexities of real-world issues, from forestry management to wetlands conservation. “We All Take from the River” offers a truly immersive experience that educates, entertains and empowers players to make a difference.

We’re really excited that someone is taking the time to recognize deep-rooted issues with our rivers these days and making people aware that every decision can have pros and cons. We’d like you to get to know the game creator, Ben, and his motivation for changing the world, one game at a time.

Welcome, Ben! Thank you for talking to us about your exciting board game project, “We All Take from the River.” Let’s dive right in! First of all, congratulations! Can you tell us a bit more about what inspired you to develop “We All Take from the River”?

Ben: Thank you! It’s been really wonderful to see so much interest in this passion project of mine.

I was first inspired to make a game that mimicked policy and community decision-making that happens in real life. Basically, I wanted a game where players weren’t necessarily on the same team or opposing teams but instead had a chance to decide their relationships for themselves. They would have their own goals, which might overlap or might not, and would have to work out for themselves how to manage a shared space.

Life along a river immediately stood out to me as a perfect setting for such a game because the impact of the actions of one individual or group is so clear. If I pollute upstream from where you live, you have to reckon with the direct consequences of my actions, not me. So players are forced into conversations about land management, water use, conservation and all kinds of other interesting topics.

The game seems to offer a unique blend of environmental education and strategic gameplay. Can you explain this a little more, specifically some interesting things people can learn about their rivers?

Ben: Absolutely. The most important part of designing the river environment of “We All Take from the River” was to capture how our impact on the environment ultimately has human consequences. Players can cut down all the trees to build up their industry, but that will increase the risk of floods when the forest is not there to protect them. If they overfish, there won’t be any fish left to reproduce. If they pollute, that pollution will get in the way later on.

All of these relationships between the players and the river exist in reality to some degree. Players learn a bit about the kinds of decisions that go into environmental management and sustainability as they come up with their strategies for winning the game. An important point to me about this was “show, don’t tell.” The game doesn’t tell you about the risks of your actions; it lets you see for yourself.

The game features a variety of roles, each with its own objectives and strategies. Can you tell us more about how players navigate these roles and the potential conflicts that arise?

Ben: Each player has two objectives that must be accomplished for that player to win. Say you and I both want to build a city. We can work together on that because our interests are aligned. But then if my other objective is to clean pollution out of the river and yours is to stockpile fish, we might find that difference creates conflict. Maybe the way you gather fish will create pollution, which is a problem for me. Alternatively, if we both want to stockpile fish, we might run into a scarcity problem when there aren’t enough fish available for the two of us. In that case, we could be in direct competition.

An important point is that we don’t know what each other’s objectives are. Like in real life, we can only interpret one another’s behavior and talk to each other to try to figure out where we stand. If one of us is lying, that could cause more tension. Maybe I promise you I won’t fish in your part of the river, but at the last minute, I betray that trust and do it anyway.

The game also offers solo and two-player modes, which is quite intriguing. How does this work?

Ben: The solo and two-player modes change the dynamic from being about diplomacy to being purely about sustainability. In these versions of the game, you, and possibly a partner, want to stockpile fish, build a city and do it without leaving any pollution behind. So you have to develop your industry in a way that is harmonious with the environment you live in. You must deal with the consequences of your own actions rather than letting those actions become someone else’s problem. In practice, this makes for a much more puzzly type of game.

It’s impressive to see your dedication to sustainability not only reflected in the game’s themes but also in its production. Can you tell us more about your environmental commitments and the steps you’ve taken to minimize the game’s ecological footprint?

Ben: It is hard to make an environmentally friendly board game, but I’m doing my best. The Forest Stewardship Council approves all of the paper and wooden materials to avoid contributing to deforestation. I am also minimizing the use of plastic in the game. Ideally, the final product will not use any plastic at all. Hopefully, we’ll end up with a product that lasts a long time, is produced sustainably and can be recycled at the end of its life.

What’s your end goal for this game?  

Ben: Gosh! That’s a hard question. I would just like to see this game out in the world. If people can play it and enjoy it, then I’ll be happy. I would also really love to see it used as a teaching tool, and maybe even inspire other games to balance education with fun. That, to me, is an important point. A game can’t really be educational if it isn’t fun because if it can’t hold the player’s interest, then they aren’t going to learn anything from it. I hope I’ve made a game that is fun first and foremost but also makes people think.

Lastly, before we wrap up, what do you love most about rivers? 

Ben: Looking at them! I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and it rained, I would always run to the nearest trickle of water. I’d pile up sticks and rocks to make dams, bends and rapids, and then just watch the water flow. There’s something so captivating about flowing water.

I grew up hiking through the Appalachians and Shenandoah Valley. I have a particular affinity for Catoctin Mountain, which is in western Maryland along the Appalachian range and whose streams flow down to become part of the Potomac. I would hike from there to Harpers Ferry, where the Shenandoah and Potomac meet. I’d follow the little streams to the river and watch them become whitewater rapids. It was an important, magical part of my life.

Thank you so much, Ben, for sharing with us today. “We All Take from the River” sounds like an incredible board game with a meaningful message. We’re so excited to check it out and share one with a lucky member of the Forever Our Rivers family. We wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing the game come to fruition.

Ben: No, thank you! I think Forever Our Rivers is doing some really wonderful and important work. I love that I can be a part of it any way I can.

Riverside Majesty is A Symbol of Luck

While the American robin is often considered the classic harbinger of spring, it’s the red-winged blackbird that strikes the hearts of many this season with its distinctive call. Few birds evoke as much fascination and mystery as they do, with their glossy black plumage and vibrant red patches on their wings. But what adds to their allure is the rich tapestry of folklore that surrounds them, casting the red-winged blackbird as a symbol of protection, good luck and prosperity.

In ancient tales and legends across cultures, the red-winged blackbird plays a prominent role as a symbol of good luck and fortune. In Native American folklore, their distinctive call, reminiscent of a creaking door or rusty hinge, is believed to be messages from the spirit world, bringing joy and abundance to those who encounter them.

But why is the red-winged blackbird associated with good fortune? Some believe it’s because of its striking appearance, with its bold red patches symbolizing vitality and energy. Others attribute its lucky status to its adaptability, thriving in diverse and sometimes harsh habitats and weather conditions all over North America. For generations, Native Americans have held a deep respect for this bird due to its courageous nature in facing danger without wavering or succumbing to fear.

Furthermore, red-winged blackbirds symbolize abundance and prosperity in many cultures. Its arrival signifies the promise of a new start—farmers welcome it as a sign that their crops will flourish, while fishermen view it as a promise of plentiful catches.

In addition to their cultural importance, red-winged blackbirds are crucial to the environment. They play a vital role in preserving ecological balance by controlling insect populations and dispersing seeds. Farmers benefit from red-winged blackbirds during breeding season because these birds consume a significant number of insects.

Despite the good luck the red-winged blackbirds seem to bring, they could use a little luck themselves. These birds face various threats, including habitat loss and climate change. In just 52 years, the population has declined by 92 million. To ensure their survival, it’s crucial to protect the rivers, streams, wetlands and marshes they rely on.

So, the next time you encounter a red-winged blackbird perched along the riverside or hear its call echoing through a marshland, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and significance of this remarkable creature. Remember that beyond the realm of myth and legend, the red-winged blackbird plays a vital role in the web of life, reminding us of the interconnectedness of all living—and perhaps even spiritual—things.

As we celebrate the presence of the red-winged blackbird, let’s also come together to cherish the rivers, streams, marshes, wetlands and other bodies of water that sustain us all—flora and fauna included. For in the delicate balance of nature lies the true essence of prosperity and good fortune.

G50 Boat Ramp: Bridging Gaps and Enhancing Access with Conservation 

With funding from Forever Our Rivers, a new boat ramp offers easy access to the Gunnison River in Colorado. For those who don’t know, nearly one-third of kids live in poverty on Colorado’s Western Slope. Usually, this cascades into a lack of time in nature and its life-enriching benefits, making our hearts sad. Thankfully, a new boat ramp will be a game-changer for the people of Delta, Montrose and Olathe. After all, the rivers are for all of us.

And for those skeptics worried that a new boat ramp might harm the environment, don’t worry! Native trees and shrubs were planted along the river banks, creating a beautiful new area ideal for leisurely walks, picnics, birding and a genuine connection with nature. Plus, local volunteers were entrusted with the responsibility of looking after this spot, giving them the knowledge of how to keep it in tip-top shape.

Bridging Gaps for Underserved Communities

The strategically located boat ramp project along G50 Road, just 3.5 miles from Delta’s town boat ramp, expands accessibility to new demographics. Prior to the installation of the new boat ramp, river users accessed the Gunnison River from the Confluence Park boat ramp in Delta. However, the next legal exit point downstream was a whopping 14 miles away. While this might sound like an adventurous day out for some, it could be overwhelming and unsafe for those with less river experience. The creation of a shorter float with official put-ins and take-outs now allows families and beginners to enjoy a safer river experience. And hopefully, as they experience and enjoy the river, they will fall in love with and care for it.

Not into floating? The improved access area is a great place for walks, lunches, reading, drawing or other outdoor activities you might enjoy along a river. This transformation is thanks to dozens of students from Paonia and Delta middle schools and community volunteers. They helped cultivate and plant cottonwood and plum trees, as well as alders and willows. As the new plants grow, it will become increasingly special for birdwatching. Which, by the way, is just as good for you mentally as being on the water! More volunteers are always welcome, so if you want to help the new cottonwood and willows survive, reach out to some key players in this project—Libby at Colorado West Land Trust (CWLT) or Jake at the Western Slope Conservation Center (WSCC). 

“The new G50 Boat Ramp project is a great example of generating greater recreation access to nature while enhancing wildlife habitat. We look forward to the collaboration of bringing more folks of all ages together to enjoy the river and help with restoring the native plants,” exclaims Libby, program manager at CWLT.

Collaboration Is Key

The property on which the picnic area and boat ramp are is owned by Delta County and protected with a conservation easement managed by CWLT. “Restoring riparian ecosystems is extremely important for sustaining rivers and wildlife in western Colorado. The G50 project provides an excellent opportunity to connect the community to the Gunnison River and help re-establish vital habitat”, said Jake. Knowing this land could do so much more for people and wildlife, WSCC, along with CWLT and the county, got to work.

A Lasting Impact

The G50 Boat Ramp and Habitat Improvement Project, fueled by funding from Forever Our Rivers, is sure to have a positive impact on the community. As more people come to know the Gunnison River, more people will learn to cherish it. How’s that for jump-starting some environmental love? We are so proud of these local organizations. They successfully demonstrated the power of collaboration, conservation and community. We definitely love that!

Delta County is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebration this spring. While the date is yet to be determined, stay connected with these organizations—info below. Or contact Delta County if you’d like more details.

If you’re interested in supporting other projects like the G50 Boat Ramp, please give today.

Follow the Western Slope Conservation Center on Instagram and Facebook. Follow Colorado West Land Trust on social, too—Instagram and Facebook.

Surviving the Chill: The Marvels of Cold-Weather Stream Life

During winter, rivers and streams are often thought of less as we’re holed up in our homes, cozy under blankets next to a roaring fireplace. However, magic is happening out there. In the frigid embrace of below-freezing temperatures, bodies of water transform into icy landscapes, presenting a challenging yet opportunistic environment for plants and wildlife. 


When the cold sets in and ice blankets the water’s surface, vegetation along rivers and streams starts winter dormancy. Many plants retreat into a state of suspended animation, conserving energy by losing leaves until the thaw of the spring. But, beneath the frozen surface, their roots continue to sustain life by holding onto water and waiting for warmer days. The submerged plants decompose, providing food for aquatic life during winter months.  

Deep in the river beds, bacteria and other decomposers take advantage of the lower oxygen levels and begin to clean house. Leaves and other organic materials that fell in the Fall start breaking down into new sediment. This sediment will ultimately feed new plant growth life as the seasons change and warm up again.


For wildlife inhabiting the frigid landscape of frozen streams and rivers, adapting to winter’s icy embrace becomes a matter of survival. Aquatic species such as fish become sluggish, slowing their metabolism to conserve energy in the face of limited food. Trout seek out deeper pools where the water remains relatively unfrozen, providing a refuge against the cold. The cool part about cold-blooded fish like trout, salmon and pike is they can adjust their body temperature to the environment in which they live. Therefore, even at low temperatures, their bodies allow them to swim easily, even if they are a little slower. 

Amphibians and some insects, on the other hand, may hibernate in terrestrial habitats surrounding the water bodies, awaiting the warmer temperatures of spring. They employ various strategies, from burrowing into the soil to seeking refuge in decaying vegetation, to endure the harsh winter conditions.

The icy cold:

While winter poses challenges for both flora and fauna, the ice itself plays a crucial role in maintaining aquatic ecosystem health. Ice acts like an insulating layer, protecting the water beneath from extreme temperature fluctuations which could ultimately harm aquatic life. In some areas, where cold enough, the frozen surfaces of streams and rivers can offer more room to roam as they become winter highways for certain species. Animals like coyotes, foxes and elk can travel more efficiently in search of harder-to-find food or suitable shelter. 

Truthfully, we think rivers and streams are just as, if not more, beautiful in the winter than in the summer. It’s captivating to think about the adaptability of nature during this time. It’s also important to remember that while most river projects and activities happen in the warmer months, the winter should not be forgotten. Important changes happen then, too. It’s essential to recognize and appreciate the resilience of plants and wildlife that endure and thrive amid frosting conditions. It’s up to all of us to keep our rivers healthy in every season so that when winter circles back around, plants and wildlife that depend on our rivers are set up to thrive.

Ideas to help rivers in the winter:

  • Avoid excessive use of de-icers and salts.
  • Conserve water. 
  • Avoid clearing vegetation along riverbanks. 
  • Support conservation organizations like Forever Our Rivers.
  • Practice responsible winter fishing.
  • Report and clean up pollution.

A Community-Minded Partnership That Matters

The Western Slope of Colorado overflows with breathtaking natural beauty, where pristine rivers wind through picturesque landscapes. In this paradise, a committed team of professionals at SGM have been working tirelessly for 37 years to protect invaluable water resources and the communities that depend on them. Forever Our Rivers is proud to partner with SGM, an engineering, consulting, and surveying firm to champion healthy rivers and safeguard the Western Colorado way of life.

SGM’s Dedication to Water and Community

SGM, headquartered in Glenwood Springs with regional offices scattered across the Western Slope, is deeply ingrained in the communities they serve. It’s one of the reasons we love their partnership so much! They play pivotal roles in engineering projects that impact our daily lives, from the roads we drive on to the water we drink. Their expertise lies in providing comprehensive environmental and water resources engineering services, crucial for supporting complex water development projects across Colorado.

What sets SGM apart is its team of dedicated experts, including engineers, scientists, surveyors and GIS specialists. From planning to implementation, SGM actively engages with water users and communities, building relationships to address project needs effectively. Even more is the fact they live where they work. They know firsthand what is happening with our rivers and water and are experiencing it right alongside all of us.

Championing River Health: SGM’s Notable Projects

SGM has a track record of protecting our rivers and watersheds, including projects aimed at improving water quality. Notable endeavors include developing the 2015 and 2022 Colorado Basin Implementation Plans, funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the Grand Valley Watershed Plan Update funded primarily by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) 319 Nonpoint Source (NPS) and the Grand Valley Drainage District, and the Upper Rio Grande Watershed Assessment funded by the CWCB, Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team and the CDPHE. They’ve also provided technical expertise for pre- and post-fire hydrology and hydraulics to inform watershed-based planning efforts and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program projects, especially in the wake of Colorado fires like East Troublesome, Grizzly Creek, Pine Gulch, 416 and Lake Christine.

Moreover, SGM is a leading water/wastewater firm in Western Colorado, helping municipalities and special districts provide safe drinking water while supporting water efficiency and conservation.

Prioritizing Community and River Conservation

The efforts of SGM positively impact local communities and the environment in multiple ways. Their involvement with organizations like the Middle Colorado Watershed Council addresses critical challenges facing the Colorado River. They also encourage local volunteerism, actively participating in clean-up initiatives and water festivals that educate children about the importance of the water they drink and the rivers they play in.

SGM’s core values are deeply rooted in community-mindedness. They understand the significance of their Western Colorado roots and invest their time, energy and resources in supporting the communities they serve.  We’re lucky to have their strong focus on the Western Slope.

The Power of Partnership: Forever Our Rivers and SGM

SGM’s partnership with Forever Our Rivers embodies the spirit of cooperation and collective action. Angie Fowler, PE, Water Resources & Environmental Sector Leader at SGM, emphasizes, “We jumped at the opportunity to be involved with Forever Our Rivers due to their mission to help watersheds thrive. Partnerships like this allow SGM to combine resources for the betterment of our rivers and communities.”

With organizations like SGM partnering with us, the future of Colorado’s rivers is brighter than ever. The collaborative efforts are a testament to the fact that, together, we can protect and preserve the lifeblood of our communities, ensuring that these magnificent rivers continue to flow for generations to come.