White Fluff, River Health and Wildlife 

You decide to go for a walk and step outside. You see an abundance of white fluff floating around, gathering in piles on the ground or coating your backyard. Is this a good sign? Absolutely! What you are witnessing are cottonwood seeds. While they might be a bit messy, they are a welcomed sight, indicating there is a mature cottonwood tree nearby.

Cottonwoods release their seeds during spring and early summer, perfectly timed with the high runoff from melting snow and seasonal rains. This floodwater disperses the seeds downstream across riparian areas—from Colorado’s headwaters to the Arizona desert. The nutrient-rich, damp silt deposits create ideal germination conditions, allowing the saplings to thrive in riverbank soil. Every year, cottonwoods depend on abundant clean water to propagate and survive.

Benefits of Cottonwoods

Once established, cottonwood roots filter contaminates and fortify riverbanks, slowing erosion and extensive flood damage. Their large canopies and dense foliage provide cool, shady spots for willows, which in turn provide food and breeding grounds for a variety of wildlife, including dragonflies, frogs, cutthroat trout and eagles.

Cottonwoods also serve as a beacon of hope, indicating the presence of water. Small flowers, called catkins, produced by the trees in early spring, have medicinal uses and can be chewed for toothaches or used to treat skin abrasions. As you spend time on the river near you, know that by supporting the conservation of these magnificent trees you are also helping ensure healthy rivers—for people and wildlife.

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.

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.

Something to Smile About: Our Latest Grant Awards

Photo by Paige Hahn

With a mission to improve the health and vitality of rivers, Forever Our Rivers is pleased to award funding to ten nonprofits across Colorado. In September, those organizations received $51,430 for community-centric river projects. “We are thrilled to support projects on Colorado’s Western Slope, in the San Luis Valley, and along the Front Range,” said Ann Johnston, executive director. “Through the financial support of individuals and businesses, we can make great things happen. We are so grateful for your confidence in our work.” 

The following projects were supported and are listed in no particular order:

A Fishable, Swimmable South Platte River

A dedicated team of young advocates from across metro Denver is on a mission to make the South Platte River not just fishable but swimmable. The focus is on the upper reach of Segment 15, a 26-mile stretch extending north from Denver through Adams County. Lincoln Hills Cares leads the charge by employing ten to 12 youth for this critical initiative. In addition, eight to 10 young participants will be part of the summer-based River Team.

Animas and San Juan Rivers Recreation

The San Juan Citizens Alliance in Durango has long championed improved river access along an 83-mile section of the Animas River. Now, their efforts extend downstream of the Animas confluence in northern New Mexico. What makes this endeavor even more crucial is the community’s transition from fossil fuel to recreation after the closure of a coal-fired power plant and coal mine, which cost over 500 jobs in 2023.

Conejos River Partnership

The Conejos River, the largest tributary of the Rio Grande in Colorado, faces a multitude of challenges, including low streamflow, habitat loss and inefficient irrigation systems. The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration is stepping in to create efficient diversions that ensure water users can access their full decreed water rights under all streamflow conditions, benefiting farmers and ranchers for generations.

Connecting Kids to Rivers

Collaborating with the Hispanic Affairs Project and Upward Bound, the Colorado Canyons Association provides young adults and youth with exciting river rafting trips to connect with their local rivers and national conservation areas. This initiative empowers emerging leaders and aids first-generation students on their college journey.

Restoring the Yampa River

Despite ample snowfall, the Yampa River faces threats from dry soil and hot temperatures. This poses risks to ecosystems, agriculture and tourism. Funding for the Colorado Water Trust will bolster river health, allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to purchase water for instream flows.

North Fork of the Gunnison River Trail Project

Colorado West Land Trust is acquiring seven acres of riparian habitat for public open space and trails along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. This vital corridor will connect Delta County School District green space to Paonia’s downtown and library. Protection will ensure these wetlands continue to provide food and habitat for wildlife. It will also ensure this area’s role as a migration corridor for big game. The trail will be closed during elk and deer migration season.

Gunnison River Basin Watershed Education

Friends of Youth and Nature ensures underserved youth in several Colorado counties connect with water and nature through education and recreation programs throughout the year. The TRY (Together for Resilient Youth) program offers aquatic life education, stand-up paddle trips and visits to local parks and fish hatcheries while also addressing food insecurity with participants.

Jasper Springs River and Wetland Restoration

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is embarking on a project to restore seven acres of freshwater emergent wetlands along Jasper Springs, which flows into the San Luis Valley, supporting fresh drinking water, agricultural and ranching needs.

Taylor Park Headwaters

High Country Conservation Advocates and Gunnison Valley Mentors are teaming up for an ongoing restoration project at the headwaters of the Taylor River. This project employs low-tech, process-based restoration to mimic beaver dams, preserving riparian and wetland ecosystems. This initiative will give Middle school girls a unique opportunity to experience riparian restoration.

Education on Climate and Colorado Rivers 

Eureka! in Grand Junction leads a program along the Colorado River, introducing local students to climate change and water science through hands-on education, data collection and restoration. Funding supports scholarships and reduced tuition for underserved, low-income, bilingual youth.

Many other worthy organizations applied for funding. We are looking for additional funds for these projects and time is of the essence! If you are interested in supporting river health, please send Forever Our Rivers a donation today.

We’ll make sure that we spend it where it is needed most. Because as experts in river health, we don’t just cut checks and call it a day. We meticulously vet our nonprofit partners, exclusively teaming up with passionate and diligent nonprofits. Our grant programs play a vital role in filling critical funding gaps. Together, we can make an even greater impact on the rivers and all that depend on them.