It’s no secret that big tasks are made easier with the help of friends, and the management and protection of national parks is no exception. On this Friendship Friday of National Park Week 2020, we’d like to take the opportunity to showcase the collaboration between the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, administered by the National Park Service (NPS), and the Wild Rivers Conservancy, the official nonprofit partner of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
Wild Rivers Conservancy was founded in 1911 as a volunteer-run organization to encourage stewardship of the St. Croix River. It has represented the voices of people who live in communities affected by the St. Croix River from the start, and remained volunteer-run for its first 98 years. In 2008, an increasing number of threats to the St. Croix led to key leaders—including former Vice President Walter Mondale—uniting to call for increased work to protect the St. Croix. Wild Rivers Conservancy entered a new stage of its life in 2009 with the hiring of its first staff member (Executive Director Deb Ryun) and enlargement of its Board of Directors. Efforts have continued to build Wild Rivers Conservancy into the go-to group for the St. Croix River and its watershed—a 7,800 square mile haven of biodiversity uniting two states.
When Congress created the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, the St. Croix and Namekagon became the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, one of the first eight rivers protected by the Act. As the Riverway, these rivers became part of the National Park System. Management is divided between a federal zone managed by the National Park Service (NPS), and a state zone where the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin manage the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River to its confluence with the Mississippi River. For 255 miles, the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers flow through some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest, and it is only through a watershed-wide approach that the St. Croix River will ultimately achieve protection.
As the official nonprofit partner of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, Wild Rivers Conservancy’s work as a Friends Group in collaboration with NPS began in 2011. By working together, this partnership makes the most of available resources to accomplish more together than either partner could do on their own.
National Parks require friendship to thrive, and the Riverway is no exception.
Innovation, creativity, and a spirit of dedication are required to meet mutual goals, and the Riverway has benefitted from the collaboration fostered by the Friends agreement. Here are just a few examples:
Rivers Are Alive K-12 Environmental Education
The Rivers Are Alive K-12 environmental education program is a partnership of Wild Rivers Conservancy and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. As a whole school model, Rivers Are Alive connects students of all ages in a learning progression that offers dynamic, standards-aligned, student-centered science activities. By coordinating programs throughout the St. Croix watershed, including the annual St. Croix Youth Summit, Rivers Are Alive hopes to foster the next generation of river stewards. From curriculum development to training teachers, staff, and volunteers, NPS and Wild Rivers Conservancy work closely to share knowledge and resources.
Vets on the River
In 2013, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway began providing on-river paddling and fishing experiences for all veterans and their families, including an annual paddle for women veterans. Wild Rivers Conservancy assists by coordinating logistics for these paddles, and collaboration extends to local county veteran service offices.
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Monitoring and Education
Invasive species pose a threat to the Riverway, and monitoring and mitigation efforts require a lot of teamwork across the watershed. The AIS program developed by Wild Rivers Conservancy and the NPS includes zebra mussel surveys, yellow iris surveys, education efforts across the watershed, and the coordination of seasonal staff and interns that carry out vital monitoring activities.
Scenic easement landowners along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway play an important role by providing stewardship of the land and water to preserve this natural treasure for future generations. The annual RiverWild newsletter is a special publication to provide resources and information to these owners. It is written and produced in partnership between the NPS and Wild Rivers Conservancy.
Volunteers are vital to keeping the St. Croix healthy for present and future generations. Several partnerships provide a broad range of volunteer opportunities, including the Algae Alert Network, Starry Trek, Project RED (Riverine Early Detectors), Land Use Monitoring, and Rivers Are Alive. These partnerships allow many activities and projects to occur jointly, which strengthens the health of the Riverway and brings people together.