How River Trips Inspire Action
“You can be my rudder in the river of life.” That was the line, and I was hooked.
As I dug my paddle into the rapids trying to avoid plunging my passenger and me into the strainers surrounding a tight s-curve, I realized my new friend had put his faith in me to keep him safe, and dry, for this day-long trip on the Tuolumne River. He’d only met me a few months before, had never canoed in his life, wasn’t a river advocate by any means, yet he was enjoying our paddle so much he was already talking in “river speak.” Flash forward seven years and my now-husband’s mind has been opened to a whole new world of river adventure and advocating for river health. Not to mention we have a two year old daughter who is already a river lover!
The goal of this post isn’t to share my sappy love story (although it seems somewhat appropriate being so near to Valentine’s Day) but to talk about one of the biggest challenges many advocates face – getting our friends and family to care about our cause, and better yet, to take action. For me, as a fundraiser for American Rivers, it is something I strive to achieve each and every day. I want to help our supporters fulfill their legacies, and to engage them in our mission in the best way possible.
So what is the key to success? It’s simple really; show, don’t tell.
I didn’t get in front of my new friend and spew facts and statistics about the poor water quality in the river or the disheartening fact that many people use the riverbanks as a dump site. I didn’t lament over the plummeting salmon population, which has gone from over 100,000 to under 1,000 fish a year due to a variety of reasons including development, dams and diversions. While these are all extremely valid points and worth discussing, instead, I took him to experience the river for himself. He felt the heartbeat of the river through getting in a boat and paddling the currents. He witnessed the abundance of life the river supports, and through Native American grinding stones, the important role the river played in history. Plus, we had one pretty fantastic day on the river together (and I did avoid those strainers I mentioned above.)
Since then, I’ve taken many of my friends on river trips and I notice again and again that once someone experiences a river water to flesh, they are reminded of the power and significance of these special places. And when the call to action comes to protect or restore that river, they are often first in line to help.
Jacques Yves Cousteau, ocean explorer extraordinaire, said it best, “People protect what they love.” And most people seem to love the things they have an experience with, be it a person, animal, or in this case, a river.