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’ll 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’s 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 think that 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.

A River Steward Extraordinaire from Marble, CO

Photo by Laurel Janeen Smith

Nestled amidst the pristine landscapes of Colorado, the small town of Marble boasts not only breathtaking scenery but an incredible small business owner and river steward, Jaime Fiske. 

“I’m passionate about connecting people with the great outdoors through our business, SUP Marble. Despite concerns about overcrowding and environmental damage, I believe that with proper education on safety and respect for nature, our landscapes can thrive,” she states.

Jaime co-owns SUP Marble with her mom, Cyndi. Renowned for her passion for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), yoga and commitment to connecting everyone to their waters, Jaime has become a true river champion. From advocating for equitable access to Beaver Lake in Marble, partnering with Forever Our Rivers, teaching students at Marble Charter School and sharing her SUP skills with the community, she has made a lasting impact on the region.

Discovering the River’s Magic

For Jaime, connection with water began at an early age when she started swimming lessons. She was competitively swimming by the time she was eight years old. Raised in a family that appreciated nature’s beauty, Jaime’s love for the environment blossomed into a lifelong passion. Her parents moved to Marble in 1996 and Jaime fell in love with the lakes and rivers of the  Crystal River Valley.

About 15 years ago, Jaime discovered the joy of SUP in La Ventana, Baja California, on the waters of the Sea of Cortez. Since then, she has ventured to and settled in the West, exploring rivers and lakes with her SUP skills. While on the vast ocean, she found the waves and unpredictable movements challenging, being pushed in various directions. Even though she had a lot of fun with that challenge, her passion has shifted to floating down rivers, where she finds solace in the unidirectional flow. Although the rivers can still be unpredictable, Jaime has developed an intimate connection with them, learning to read their currents and becoming one with the water. “In recent years, my bond with rivers has grown stronger. Everything feels better on the water. When I’m out on the river, I experience a profound sense of peace, happiness, and excitement,” Jaime expressed. “Riding the rivers fills me with so many positive emotions.”

Advocating for Our Lifelines

Driven by her determination to make a positive impact, Jaime wholeheartedly embraces the role of a river steward. Her commitment to river safety, restoration and sustainable practices has only grown stronger over the last couple of years. Sharing her experiences, she mentions participating in cleanups at Beaver Lake in Marble with her parents and picking up trash from the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers while fishing alongside her husband. Despite the progress made, Jaime knows there is still much to be done, and she eagerly anticipates continuing her efforts to benefit the well-being of our rivers.

Looking ahead, Jaime has aspirations to volunteer with RiversEdge West, where she hopes to learn about and actively remove noxious weeds from the riverbanks. Moreover, she encourages others to join in river clean-ups, weed removal and trail building with local organizations like the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers. For those seeking a deeper connection with the lifelines of our communities, Jaime suggests delving into books like “The Emerald Mile” or “Where the Water Goes.”

SUP Marble: Voyage to Tranquility

In a quest to share their love of water and promote wellness, Jaime and Cyndi created SUP Marble in 2018 to share a “Voyage to Tranquility” in the Crystal River Valley. SUPing has become increasingly popular, and Jaime sees an opportunity to leverage this sport to make a positive impact on the rivers she cherishes. Their mission is to educate recreationists on water safety and the importance of sharing the water with the fish and wildlife that need rivers to survive. 

SUP Marble offers paddleboarding experiences, showcasing the beauty of the waterways and encouraging people to connect with nature responsibly. Through SUP rentals, classes, private lessons, and small events, Jaime also promotes mental and physical wellness, knowing that spending time outdoors is good for your health.

The Ripple Effect of Jaime’s Work

Jaime’s unwavering dedication and hard work have sparked a series of positive changes for Marble and its surrounding areas. Her efforts have not only strengthened people’s connection to rivers but also ignited inspiration for action, whether it involves donating to organizations like Forever Our Rivers, actively participating in restoration efforts, or seeking education about the rivers and wildlife that depend on them. “In one of our breakfast SUP events outside of Carbondale, we had an entire conversation about beavers! We talked about how they impact the area, their history and how they will shape the future of our watersheds. Of course, we also talked about the fun facts like their orange teeth and how their fat helps them float,” she said. “Then, after the event, we were sharing podcasts about them with each other. The learning continues!”

By blending her passion for paddleboarding with wellness and the outdoors, Jaime has reached a broader audience, instilling a sense of environmental responsibility. She has shown that regardless of background, each individual can become a river steward and contribute to a sustainable future for generations to come.

Fighting For the Future of Rivers

Jaime’s story exemplifies the transformative power of passion, dedication and collaboration. Her love for the rivers in the West has led her to become an outstanding river steward, inspiring her community and beyond to join the fight for them. Through SUP Marble and her partnership with Forever Our Rivers, Jaime has showcased how one person can make a remarkable difference and inspire more people than you realize.

Jaime continues, “Once people feel comfortable SUPing on lakes, they like to step into the larger challenge of floating down rivers. I hope to connect with even more people and guide them on how to do it safely while inspiring them to protect these precious waters. As the temperatures of rivers warm due to climate change, moving into this space will connect and teach people about the importance of supporting rivers during this change. Hopefully, they will see how warmer waters do not support native trout and the species that rely on them like bald eagles and osprey and be moved to help.”

As more people meet Jaime, the ripple effect of her work will continue to flow. She’s nurturing a region where people are healthy and safe and the rivers will thrive.

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.”

A little fish with a big reputation: the Colorado River cutthroat trout

Even if you live in the West and fishing isn’t your passion, it still seems likely you’ve heard of cutthroat trout, swimming throughout the waters of the West. The Colorado River cutthroat trout is one of three subspecies of cutthroat trout and is native only to the Green and Colorado River basins in the Western United States. This small but mighty fish has been an icon of the region for centuries. It is an important source of food for many species of birds, as well as bears and river otters.  Fly fishing anglers from all over the states flock to Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to experience the colorful spotted beauties. 

A beautiful, distinctive fish that’s a gem to see.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout has been called one of the most beautiful fish in North America—and we agree. Their identifiable markings include a bright yellow-gold body, often with greenish-brown on its back and darker spotting on the sides. The belly is pale and the fins are reddish or orange. The trout also has a reddish stripe under its lower jaw, distinguishing it from other trout species.

The average size of these trout is around 8-10 inches in length, but they can grow up to 18 inches. A trout that size is rare because they mostly live at high altitudes where the growing season is short and much of their habitat has been degraded.

The more habitat these fish can reclaim, the better.

The trout are found mostly in the Green and Colorado River basins. Historically, they inhabited the Colorado River and its tributaries from the headwaters in Colorado and Wyoming down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. However, the population has declined significantly over the years due to human activity and introduced non-native species.

Today, the remaining populations of the Colorado River cutthroat trout are found in small, isolated streams and lakes in the higher elevations of headwaters. These fish require cold, clear water with high oxygen levels and gravelly or rocky stream bottoms for spawning.

They are another native species, threatened and declining.

The 1800s did not fare well for the Colorado River cutthroat trout. They were overfished and brought to the point of near extinction. Though their population has declined by over 90%, restocking of cutthroat and removal of nonnative species has helped. The trout are now listed as threatened versus endangered. The primary risks include habitat destruction, overfishing, water diversions and withdrawals, and the introduction of more non-native fish species.

Water diversions disrupt the natural flow of rivers and streams, affecting the trout’s ability to spawn and access their habitat. When non-native fish such as brown and rainbow trout were introduced, it opened up a whole new danger, as they prey upon the cutthroat. Climate change, wildfires and droughts also limit and degrade their habitat.

You can help this iconic fish live on.

Photo courtesy of Rick Lafaro

Efforts to conserve the trout have been ongoing for decades, including the restoration of diverse yet well-connected streams with boulders and large, downed trees that provide cover from predators. Also critical are fish passage projects, the reintroduction of native trout populations, and the removal of brown and rainbow trout from where they don’t naturally live.

Organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife agencies, are working together to protect and restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout and its habitat. These organizations also educate the public about the importance of conservation and responsible angling practices. While the cutthroat faces numerous threats, ongoing conservation efforts offer hope for its long-term survival.

Anglers can do their part by practicing responsible fishing practices, such as catch-and-release and avoiding fishing during spawning periods. Others can volunteer or give to organizations, like Forever Our Rivers, which works hard to restore aquatic and riparian habitat within and along rivers, crucial for the trout’s survival. The more habitat the better, and by working together, we can ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the beauty and majesty of this remarkable, reputable fish.

Recovering with rivers

Photo courtesy of Casting for Recovery

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please meet one of our river partners, Casting for Recovery. This incredible organization helps breast cancer survivors enjoy authentic, therapeutic connections with nature. Breast cancer has an impact on us all—our mothers, sisters, wives, partners and pals! It’s beautiful to see that rivers can help them both physically and mentally.

Our initial round of community grants helped support Casting For Recovery’s 2.5 day retreats designed to help survivors facing new challenges. Did you know that many women who undergo diagnosis and treatment experience symptoms of PTSD? Or that the gentle motion of casting is helpful for increasing mobility in the arm and upper body?

Many worthy causes apply for our community grants. Sadly, more than we’ve been able to fund. You can help us grow our capacity to help important organizations like Casting for Recovery by donating here.


Rafting, hiking and happiness go hand in hand

Photo courtesy of Partners West

Sadly, kids are spending much less time in nature than their parents did in their youth, mostly thanks to technology. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends just four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outside, and over seven hours a day in front of a screen.

Fortunately, our river partner and 2022 grantee Colorado Canyons Association helps thousands of kids and adults connect with nature—in part with funds donated by Forever Our Rivers. Focused on McInnis Canyons, Dominguez-Escalante and Gunnison George National Conservation Areas in western Colorado, their impact is impressive. For more than a decade, they’ve used these stunning landscapes as outdoor classrooms. One program is called Nature Knowledge Days and is aligned with Colorado’s curriculum standards. Another offers full day and overnight rafting trips, many of which serve students at Diné College, a public tribal land-grant college. For some, it is their first-time rafting. For others, the educational component strengthens their knowledge of rivers and the challenges they face.

One interesting study quantified that one must spend at least two hours in nature to receive its benefits. However, those 120 minutes could be accumulated all at once or over several visits. But you don’t need studies to tell you how nature can make you happier and healthier— get out while the leaves are turning and discover it yourself! The next time you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, go take a hike! You’ll see firsthand that even a little time in nature can give you a big dose of happiness.


Rivers vital for self-care

Encouraging self-care is all the rage these days and for good reason—we need it. Self-care doesn’t need to be expensive. The answer can be simple. Visit the river. 

Most of us can recognize the calming effect of a walk by the river. While being near water  promotes physical activity, it also reduces stress hormones and boosts mental health. Birds chirping, a gurgling river or even the sounds of leaves falling will improve your outlook and increase relaxation and happiness. While scientists continue to study this effect, we’re just happy that it happens.

Self-care ideas:

  1. Hike along a river. A few of our favorite hikes this time of year include Avalanche Creek Trail and Mill Creek Trail.
  2. Canyoneer. Visit the Escalante River and admire the successful work our river partner Grand Staircase Escalante Partners have done to restore native vegetation.
  3. Volunteer for our river partner, the Gila Watershed Partnership. It makes you feel so good—right? 

Go enjoy the healing power of rivers!