Happy National Rivers Month! We’re celebrating. Are you?

Photo by Paige Hahn

In the West, all communities depend on rivers for clean drinking water and crops, not to mention boating and fishing. Rivers are a way of life and a beautiful source of inspiration. But, we’re sure you already know this. 

Amy, our corporate partnerships manager, had a touching experience a little over a month ago that really demonstrated how important rivers are—to everyone.

“I was volunteering for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, picking up trash along the Colorado River. An unhoused man watched me working for just a moment, then immediately stepped in to help,” she said. “He mentioned that he didn’t like to wake up next to all the trash and that it made him sad to see rivers treated like that. The rivers were a safe space for him, a beautiful one at that. He continued to state how the rivers are for all of us, and that we should treat them with respect. I had to admit, I 100% agree with him”. 

Together they spent an hour picking up trash. “To see someone constantly on the go, who doesn’t have stable housing, giving his time to clean up our rivers touched my heart. We all need to judge a little less and love a little more. Perhaps we can all learn something from that,” she mentioned.

Together we’ve had a conservation impact of $2.2 million dollars—thank you, friends—with over 5,000 acres of riparian habitat restored. We’ve supported neighbors in need with educational trips on the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers, funded a new boat ramp in Delta, and helped construct beaver dam analogs at the headwaters of the Taylor River to reconnect wetlands and floodplains. Plus we’ve sent crews out to four tributaries of the Colorado River where they will spend 31 weeks removing invasive species and nurturing native habitat for hundreds of species. And we are not done yet! There are many more projects in the works and we look forward to watching the impact grow.

Outside of work, we’ve got plans! Ann, our executive director, is already systematic about collecting and reusing water as her shower warms up. This year, she will celebrate National Rivers Month by fully transitioning to native flowers in her garden. She removed her last few non-natives last fall and is looking forward to seeing the new blooms, and water savings, this month. “My mom is always hoping she can influence people to ‘natify’, a word she coined several years ago,” Ann states, smiling. Ann shares her love of native plants and trees. “Not only am I using little to no water, but I’m creating habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats. Native plants make my pollinator and birdwatching better!”

Amy plans to stand up paddleboard and dive back into her photography hobby, starting with rivers as a focal point. At home, she pledges to shorten her showers and reuse vegetable-steamed water for all her plants!

How do you plan to celebrate? One easy way is just to educate yourself. To get you started, we’re sharing five facts we found interesting.

  1. In 1948, to improve riparian habitat in Idaho’s backcountry, Fish and Game captured 76 beavers and parachuted them to a roadless area in the Chamberlin Basin. All but one survived and got right to work. 
  1. The Snake River flows through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. It is famous for Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. It’s also one of two rivers in the United States that flows north!
  1. Twenty countries in the world do not have permanent, natural rivers. 
  1. The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States, flowing about 692 miles. It starts in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, passes through Montana, and eventually joins the Missouri River.
  1. In 1900, under the cover of night, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River, increasing its flow from Lake Michigan and doubling the size of the Illinois River. 

Whatever you decide to do, have fun, learn lots and enjoy the rivers! We hope your month is full of many amazing memories. Share your river experiences with us online using hashtags #ForeverOurRivers and #NationalRiversMonth. We’d love to see how you chose to celebrate!

Visit your rivers in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month

Have you ever experienced a moment when you feel like your head is so full of thoughts that it feels like it’s going to explode? Do you have a difficult time remembering the timeline of your memories? If you live with neurological conditions such as anxiety, depression or even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the world feels like that—loud and chaotic—almost all of the time. 

Many people think that mental health is all about what’s going on in your brain, but the truth is that it’s also about what’s going on with your body. When you feel good physically it can help you feel good mentally, and vice versa. Many studies demonstrate that spending time in nature helps you feel better. But did you know that spending time along bodies of water, like rivers and streams, can induce a meditative state that makes us smarter, happier and healthier, calmer—and even more creative? 

“When I lived in Vail, I used to hike up and journal next to the creeks. It was a traumatic time in my life with the passing of my mom. After that, it was as though my mind became harder to navigate. I was in a dark place. However, I’d sit next to the creek and it’d help soothe me and clear my head,” says CJ, river enthusiast from Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “While all bodies of water are uplifting, the moving water is representative of clearing things out— moving things along. I find peace in that.”

The mere sight or sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, and relax us. They can also help take us away from our busy lives for a little while. Plus, they’re beautiful! Whether you’re looking out over a river from a boat or just walking along its banks, there’s something about the way it flows and sounds that helps settle your mind.

CJ was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. After reflecting upon that news, she found it made sense. Throughout her life, her brain felt like a computer screen with too many tabs open. Rivers and streams have always been her happy place but she has felt even more connected to them in the last year since finding out. They bring her peace in the midst of chaos. “I need the rivers and will always follow them. If they cease to exist here, I will go to where they are,” she mentioned.

That’s exactly what has been done throughout history. Our ancestors lived near rivers because they provided water, food, transportation and other necessities for survival. But they also provided something else— peace. 

When we are near a river, we can feel at peace with ourselves, our surroundings and the world around us. “It’s about letting your cares flow away,” CJ continues. “When I’m river rafting or paddleboarding, my brain quiets down and all of my thoughts are pushed aside because I have to be present in the moment. I can’t afford not to be.” 

When you think about it, rivers are like a metaphor for the health of our minds: if they’re healthy, we’re healthy; if they’re polluted or running dry, we suffer. That’s why keeping rivers healthy and flowing is so important—they’re not just naturally beautiful; they’re also powerful allies in one’s quest for mental health.

I think people living with mental health concerns have a heightened awareness of the benefits nature provides,” CJ concludes. “We need people, and organizations like Forever Our Rivers, to care deeply for our rivers. In this loud, crazy world, we can’t afford to lose another natural resource that provides the benefits of healing, safety and peace.”

While common, sandhill cranes are nothing short of extraordinary

Lars Leber Photography

Whether showing off their dance moves in wet meadows or filling the sky with their massive wingspans, sandhill cranes are magnificent birds that can be found throughout most of North America and even parts of Siberia. These birds are known for their distinctive calls, which can often be heard from great distances—some say up to 2.5 miles away! How do you know if you’ve seen one? Well, the sandhill cranes sport a recognizable red crown which is a major contrast from the rest of their tall, grayish body.

Water is key to the sandhill crane habitats.

Chances are if you recreate along our waterways you’ve seen a crane. If not, maybe you’ve at least heard their loud, rolling, trumpeting sound. They prefer river basins, wetlands, marshes and other areas with shallow water where they can easily find food. They are also known to inhabit agricultural fields, meadows and grasslands. During the breeding season, they typically choose areas with tall vegetation that gives good cover and protection to their nests. These habitats provide the cranes with water and a place to rest but also the right diet. While plants make up the majority of their food, they will occasionally eat small mammals or amphibians. Sandhill cranes have long beaks that allow them to probe wetlands for seeds, berries and insects.

Sandhill cranes are family-centered birds that love to socialize!

Sandhill cranes are social birds typically living in pairs or small family groups. The males are known for their elaborate courtship displays, which involve dancing, bowling, calling and even tossing small objects into the air. Who says chivalry is dead? They also typically mate for life and share nesting roles together.

During migration, their flocks are composed of hundreds of cranes that include family groups and unmated birds. Constant communication is key for these birds to successfully complete their long flights. Sometimes you may find various flocks congregating together during migration and at winter stopovers, bringing the number up to the thousands.

Sandhill cranes may fly up to 400 miles in one day.

The migration pattern of the sandhill cranes is honestly what we find the most interesting. Many populations spend the summer in the northern United States and Canada before flying south for the winter. In the western US, the largest concentration of sandhill cranes can be found in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, where around 20,000 cranes gather each fall to rest and feed before continuing their journey south. Other important stopover areas include the Platte River in Nebraska and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Sandhill cranes are very strong flyers and may fly up to 400 miles in one day during the migration season. It’s hard to fathom given it can take us anywhere from five and half to nine hours to drive that length with a car.

Let’s keep them moving and dancing.

Despite their widespread distribution, sandhill cranes are not immune to the effects of human recreation, development and climate change. The landscapes along the cranes’ migration paths are rapidly changing. When they experience habitat disturbance or loss, their resting and breeding grounds become compromised. If this continues, the population of sandhill cranes will quickly plummet. Fortunately, there are many organizations—like Forever Our Rivers—working hard to protect and restore important riparian habitats suitable for these birds. 

Sandhill cranes are fascinating birds with habitat, behaviors and migration patterns that make them a valuable part of our natural heritage. Did you know that a ten-million-year-old sandhill crane fossil was found in Nebraska? So far, this makes them the oldest known surviving bird species. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty and grace of these historical, elegant birds. 
Check out this recent video of the sandhill crane migration in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see these amazing birds, we hope you get the lucky opportunity to do so soon.

Lars Leber Photography

Atmospheric rivers keeping Western U.S. wet

A Pineapple Express deluges California with wind and rain while abundant snowfall accumulates throughout the upper Colorado River Basin.

Over the last several weeks, a series of atmospheric rivers have battered California. These storms ultimately reach the high country, bringing much-needed snow to mountain peaks. 

Like a river moving water over land, these long, flowing streams of water vapor are transported by atmospheric winds. An important component of the global water cycle, they are typically between 250 and 375 miles wide and more than 1,000 miles long. “Pineapple Express is a specific type of atmospheric river—one that builds up in the Pacific near Hawaii.

These systems of concentrated moisture typically form over tropical regions, where warm temperatures cause ocean water to evaporate and rise into the atmosphere. As the water vapor blows over land, it rises and cools, turning into beneficial rain or snow. Just a few atmospheric rivers each year can contribute up to half of the annual precipitation along the coast.

Because atmospheric rivers can be slow-moving, they can cause heavy flooding and mudslides when stalled over vulnerable watersheds, as is playing out in California this month. On average, these systems transport about 27 times the amount of water flowing through the Mississippi River (Ralph et. al. 2017). However, not all atmospheric rivers cause damage; most are weak and welcome. In fact, they are credited for ending up to 40% of California’s droughts between 1950 and 2010. Whether as snow or rain, these systems are an essential contribution of fresh water.

New year, new goals, right?

We love the fresh feeling a new year can bring. While we believe in being grateful for each day we have, we also understand the importance of goal setting and the sense of accomplishment when achieved. 

Our corporate partnerships manager, Amy, has a lot of goals for 2023. And we mean, a lot. Here are just a few off her long list:

  • Read 23 books
  • Be more active while good health is present
  • Travel to a new place

And, because she’s a river conservation advocate she’s also focused on buying a water-saving toilet, watering plants with vegetable-steamed water (cooled, of course), and planting native vegetation in her yard.

Our executive director, Ann, took her goals in a different direction. She’s enjoying a 23-day yoga challenge and chose the word “enjoy” as her year-long theme versus a long list. She plans to enjoy biking, skiing, and of course recreating on the rivers across the West

Like Amy,  she continues a focus on native plantings. This Native Plants Finder is a great tool.

Putting $150K to Work for Western Rivers

We just approved $150,000 in grant funds to maintain restoration gains on the Dolores, Escalante, Gila, and Verde Rivers this year! These are the first grants awarded from the growing 4Rivers Fund, generously seeded with $1 Million from the Walton Family Foundation. They will support four of our nonprofit partners — RiversEdge West, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Gila Watershed Partnership, and Friends of the Verde River — as they continue important riverside habitat work to benefit people and wildlife.

Follow along via Instagram and Facebook and help us grow the 4Rivers Fund.

Carlson Vineyards and DeYoung Team Up for Rivers

We are thrilled to announce that once again, Carlson Vineyards and Derek DeYoung Studios are partnering to support healthy rivers. When you purchase a bottle of red or white vintage wine blends that is paired with custom fly fishing art, the proceeds will fuel the Our Rivers campaign, which is working to connect communities to rivers by removing barriers such as racism and socio-economic challenges. Thank you, Carlson Vineyards and Derek DeYoung for designing a delightful wine and for giving back to make this important work happen.

Give Us a Listen!

The second episode of the Our Rivers podcast features Collin Ewing, National Conservation Area manager for the Bureau of Land Management about what it means to recreate responsibly on some of Colorado’s most breathtaking and family-friendly rivers.

Thank you to our sponsor, SOL Paddle Boards.

Listen and subscribe!

$1 Million. Launching a Legacy Fund for Healthy Rivers

Forever Our Rivers is building a legacy fund for the Escalante, Gila, Verde and Dolores Rivers, four important tributaries to the mighty Colorado River. We will leverage an initial $1 million contribution from the Walton Family Foundation to create a $6 million endowment, the 4Rivers Fund, through strategic investments over the next four years. 

We will distribute grants as the fund builds, helping our partners working on these rivers to grow and maintain healthy instream and riverside ecosystems, and to use sound science to make the best decisions for healthy rivers for years to come. 

Hit reply now to talk with our Executive Director, Joe, about your options to contribute to the 4Rivers Fund or learn more here.

Save Rivers with SOL

The Our Rivers fund is growing thanks to SOL Paddle Boards. They have invested to improve access to healthy rivers among communities of color and underserved communities, including people with disabilities, women, and lower-income neighborhoods. 

Learn how you can paddle with SOL here

Wild & Scenic Films for Fish!

Our partners at California Trout are hosting the Wild & Scenic Film Festival (virtually). The films consist of short and feature-length films from all corners of the globe. All proceeds benefit CalTrout and their work to ensure resilient populations of wild fish in healthy waters for a better California. 

Purchase tickets here. Live screening opens March 4 at 6:30 p.m. PST, films on demand through midnight March 11