2023 Award Recipients

Supporters and friends of the Wild River Conservancy came together for the Open Water: A Conservancy Celebration event on Friday, April 21st at Lake Elmo Inn Event Center. This event was a chance for Riverway enthusiasts to come together, enjoy food and drink, and honor the exceptional individuals and partners who have worked tirelessly to protect and celebrate our national park and its resources.

The evening featured an awards ceremony recognizing the stewardship of respected individuals and organizations across the watershed.

Deb Ryun, executive director for the Conservancy, reflects

“The Riverway is what it is today because of the victories won in protecting this national park. Honoring those who effect change inspires the future of our work.”

OpenWater Thank you email


Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award Recipients

This award was given to three individuals whose combined efforts set the framework for the long-term protection of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers and the Wild Rivers Conservancy’s evolution. All three played a crucial role in the Conservancy’s transition from an all-volunteer-led group to a staffed, official non-profit organization focused on the national park, land protection, and water quality throughout the entire St. Croix watershed.

Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award Co-Nominee Dan Willius

Dan Willius

Dan was board chair when the organization incorporated as a 501(c)3 and shifted to a basin-based organization that crosses political boundaries to work more effectively for watershed protection and enhancement. He helped recruit a new, bigger board of talented motivated directors. Through Dan’s leadership, a new and inspired mission statement was created, a new strategic plan was developed, and good governance with designated committees, policies and procedures were implemented. He led the work to secure the organizations first fulltime paid staff. Dan was clear on the need to prioritize, focus, deliver and celebrate.

Peter Gove

Peter’s volunteer and professional support for national parks and conservation spans nearly 50 years. His leadership skills were well honed during his impressive career. Peter joined the St. Croix River Association board at the time when people were becoming alarmed by increased threats to their beloved river. Peter’s many state and national connections helped get the St. Croix listed as one of the nations most endangered rivers in 2008. His connections to people like Fritz Mondale, funders like McKnight Foundation, and many other conservation organizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin brought the right mix of leaders to the table for the great convening.

Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award Co-Nominee Peter Gove
Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award Co-Nominee Bill Clap

A. W. “Bill” Clapp

Bill Clapp will forever be remembered as a man who spoke his mind and got things done. Bill worked in the Minnesota Attorney Generals' office where he specialized in laws protecting wetlands and water, and was involved in Lower Riverway protection efforts. In retirement, Bill continued working to protect the natural resources that he loved and contributed pro bono legal work and astute vision for numerous nonprofits, including, the St. Croix River Association. During his time on the Association Board, brought land trusts from around the watershed together, in what was known as the St. Croix Conservation Collaborative, the pre-cursor for what became the transformed organization.

Watershed Steward Award

Greg Seitz

Greg Seitz is the founder, editor, and publisher of St. Croix 360, an independent online news source that covers the 7,700-mile St. Croix watershed. Since 2010, Greg has been reporting on watershed issues and has grown an audience reach of over 20,000 monthly views. Greg's devotion to the riverway comes through in his rigorous research, reporting and, photography. His hard work has created and maintained a well-informed subscribed audience of over 3,500. Greg's passion for stewardship has brought together diverse groups of elected officials, government regulators, non-profit organizations, and local volunteers to foster well-informed decision-making for the future of the St. Croix watershed.

Greg Seitz is the founder, editor, and publisher of St. Croix 36
Photo courtesy of Greg Seitz

Every Kid in the Croix Award


Luck Elementary School

Luck Elementary has been involved with Rivers Are Alive since the beginning, with records showing their involvement from at least 2015. The Riverway is such an essential part of Amy Bartylla’s 3rd-grade class that the Junior Ranger program is the basis of their curriculum. Every year, without fail, these 3rd graders have spent a full day with RAA educators starting at the Visitor Center with the NPS St. Croix River Film, Log Jam history lesson, a life jacket activity, and visitor center scavenger hunt. The 3rd graders end their day at Lion’s Park learning about Mucking and Aquatic Invasive Species. Other activities have also been added throughout the years, including snowshoeing around their schoolyard.

River Grove: A Marine Area Charter School

Opening in 2017, River Grove bounded on the charter school scene as a role model for place-based knowledge and project-led learning, making their everyday curriculum a fantastic partner for the Rivers Are Alive program. There is not a single grade at River Grove that hasn’t been a part of a Rivers Are Alive field trip over the last year. Their teachers have made it a point to make sure that their students understand the river ecosystem around them and their role in the community that surrounds the St. Croix River. RAA educators have been invited out to their school to snowshoe or learn about mussels and they’ve visited parks around them to engage in activities such as birding, mucking, and even ice fishing. Their teachers have gone the extra mile to reach out to Conservancy staff to find new ways to connect their students to the riverway.

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