Our education team is back from River Rally 2024! This conference organized by River Network celebrated its 25th anniversary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from May 1316, continuing to bring organizations together from all over the nation to learn about, be inspired by, and celebrate rivers. CWC worked with other attendees at the intersection of water and justice by sharing knowledge, skills, diverse perspectives, and solutions while connecting with organizations across the states.  

River Rally attendees gather for an opening reception on the Blue Bridge. Photo by Raul Velasco.

River Rally was full of amazing people, organizations, workshops, and field trips. Many workshops gave us an opportunity to explore topics we were interested in learning more about. A reconciliation ecology workshop provided insights in working with indigenous people through restoration, like the Plaster Creek Stewards who are partnering with the Grand River Bands of the Ottawa Indians to restore Plaster Creek. Indigenous knowledge is rich with wisdom in how to help humans reconnect with nature and learn to protect it while minimizing our harm.  

Presentations by the Mystic River Watershed Association on communication tools for environmental change and by the Lower Grand River Organizations of Watersheds on creating a community “rainscaping” program gave CWC’s education team more solutions for water conservation to discuss with our Watershed Rangers students. Some ideas include making rain barrels and bioswales, planting native plants, and tree planting projects. These efforts can help reduce pollution, get more water into the ground, prevent stormwater runoff, and increase biodiversity.   

Ann from AWRI talking about invasive species in Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan

CWC’s Environmental Educator Maria got to join the Lake Michigan Coastline Exploration field trip, where she spent half a day aboard the W.G. Jackson research vessel from Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute. Organizations worked together to do some hands-on sampling at Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan. We measured turbidity and dissolved oxygen, and looked at macroorganisms such as blood worms and invasive mussels. It was great to see how AWRI uses worksheets to engage students and learn from their methods to adapt for our education program.  The next half of the field trip was spent going on a guided tour through the dunes and seeing the changes in habitat while learning about the history of the dunes in Michigan until we reached Muskegon Lake. It was a great reminder of how taking walks through nature while enjoying great company is a great way to foster one’s connection to the environment.  

The field trip group gathers by a curb-cut rain garden that helps reduce pollution from going into local storm drains and creeks.

Sam Adelson, CWC’s Education Coordinator, attended a walking tour of Plaster Creek on the River Rally field trip day. Similar to the San Lorenzo River, Plaster Creek flows through parks, stream side residential properties and dense urban centers. The Plaster Creek Stewards organization has worked with community leaders to create green stormwater infrastructure like rain gardens, developed a lit biking path in a low-income neighborhood, supported art installations along the creek, and more! During the field trip, Sam shared stories and projects from CWC and learned how other groups find success in similar efforts. 

CWC staff thrive in expanding our wealth of knowledge and sharing what we know with others. River Rally created a unique space for all of us working to protect rivers across the nation to connect with each other. Through conversations, we were able to highlight CWC’s Watershed Rangers education program, our partnership with the Downtown Streets Team, our partnerships with the City of Santa Cruz, and much more. We hope to one day present at River Rally to share our years of knowledge with other organizations focused on protecting rivers and watersheds.  

CWC’s education work is made possible because of generous funding and support from Santa Cruz County CORE and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Thank you for your continued dedication to environmental education and strong, healthy communities.

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