Meet Staci Williams, Waccamaw River Blue Trail Coordinator at American Rivers


This post was originally published by Alicia MacLeay on Trailspace.com, a product review site for outdoor enthusiasts.


Staci Williams on Waccamaw River | © Charles Slate

Staci Williams on the Waccamaw River Blue Trail, NC, SC | © Charles Slate

While most Americans live within a mile of a river or stream, many don’t realize the role rivers play in local communities. American Rivers’ Blue Trails aim to connect communities to waterways and protect watersheds.

In our Q&A below, we talk with Staci Williams about her job as the Waccamaw River Blue Trail Coordinator for American Rivers. Staci joined American Rivers in 2009 and works to connect local communities to the Waccamaw River, which flows from North Carolina to South Carolina. She also provide educational outreach to landowners and local decision makers to further protection of critical lands along the river corridor.

What exactly do you do at American Rivers?

As the Waccamaw River Blue Trail Coordinator, I work with communities to protect rivers and enhance recreation through Blue Trails. Blue Trails are river centered recreational “paths” adopted by local communities and dedicated to improving family-friendly recreation, such as fishing, boating, and wildlife watching, while conserving riverside lands and water resources.

Blue Trails connect and reconnect people with their rivers, helping the river become more of a focal point in a community. They inspire people to take more ownership in and create a sense of stewardship for their rivers and watersheds, protecting the environment, restoring past injury, promoting healthy living, and enhancing the local economy.

Blue Trails also help recognize and preserve cultural, historic, and natural places, enhancing a community’s sense of identity and pride.

What’s a typical workday? Is there such a thing?

There really is no typical work day. The work that I do varies, from meeting with elected leaders and conservation partners to further land conservation goals to coordinating paddle events that celebrate river recreation and connect communities to their local rivers.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is getting the opportunity to help in efforts to protect really great rivers around the country, like the Waccamaw in South Carolina, so that they are clean and healthy for future generations to enjoy.

The worst?

Unfortunately, our rivers are facing evolving and serious threats, so American Rivers’ work to protect our nation’s rivers is far from complete.

How would you describe your mission and work? Any unique challenges?

Our mission: American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the outdoors now?

There are several serious threats to the outdoors and our nation’s rivers. One of those threats is conversion of riparian wetlands and critical riverside habitat. Wetlands are crucial to the health of our rivers and communities. They serve a really important role in protecting our communities from dangerous flooding by storing and filtering rain water before slowly releasing into our rivers.

Why is your work relevant to outdoors enthusiasts?

Our work is relevant to outdoor enthusiasts because we help protect and restore our nation’s rivers and also partner with communities to enhance recreation and ecotourism potential through the creation of Blue Trails. Clean, healthy rivers are important for paddling, fishing, swimming, and so many other great outdoor activities.

What do you personally like to do outdoors?

I like to do just about any outdoor activity. My favorites are kayaking, running, hiking, and biking.

How did you get started exploring outdoors? Any favorite stories, memories?

I’ve always loved spending time outside. Some of my favorite memories from growing up are spending time with my family wandering around in the woods by my grandparent’s house, going on long bike rides trying to spot birds and other wildlife, and spending summer days on the water boating and swimming.

What are your favorite outdoor spots?

It’s really hard to pick a favorite spot, but some of my favorites are along the Waccamaw River. It’s a really great black water river that starts at Lake Waccamaw, a permanently inundated Carolina Bay in North Carolina, and flows through coastal South Carolina before reaching Winyah Bay at the historic city of Georgetown.

It’s a great river for recreation with several areas of historic and natural significance as well as a diversity of wildlife that includes the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, the endangered Venus fly trap, towering cypress and tupelo trees, and Sandy Island, an important Gullah-Geechee site.

Describe your ideal day outside.

My ideal day outside would be to get up early and leisurely paddle one of my favorite rivers, stopping to explore and swim a few times.

The ideal day would, of course, have to end with a campfire on one of the sand bars, and maybe a couple of toasted marshmallows.

What are your favorite pieces of outdoor gear or apparel? Why?

My favorite outdoor gear or apparel is simple, a good pair of shoes and sunglasses.

What’s in your canoe or kayak right now?

Right now I have a water bottle and my waterproof Waccamaw Blue Trail map in my backpack and my new GoPro camera mounted on my kayak.

[Download a Waccamaw River Blue Trail map (PDF)]

What’s your favorite outdoor book?

My favorite book always seems to be the last one that I read, so I guess my favorite right now is Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which has inspired me to do some solo camping/hiking.

I also recently read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which I found really interesting and challenged me to think about distance running in a new way. 

I’ve also just started another really great river adventure story, The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko, which recounts a 1983 journey down the Colorado River.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” —Native American proverb

What role do outdoor recreation enthusiasts play in American River’s mission?

Outdoor recreation enthusiasts play a key role in accomplishing our mission by volunteering for river events like river cleanups, reaching out to their elected leaders to voice their support for healthy rivers, and they can greatly help further our mission and the work that we do by becoming members.

Why should Trailspace members join American Rivers? How can they get engaged?

With over 3.5 million miles of river crisscrossing our country, nearly everyone has a river within a mile of their backyard making the work that we do to protect clean water, restore damaged rivers, and enhance recreation important to the thousands of Trailspace members that like to recreate in and along our nation’s unbelievable and diverse rivers.

They can get engaged by becoming members, volunteering, organizing river cleanups in their community, and helping to spread the word about American Rivers and the work that we do to protect and restore special rivers around the country.

As a member of 1% for the Planet, Trailspace annually supports environmental nonprofits important to backcountry recreation, like American Rivers. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers, and conserved clean water for people and nature. It’s< protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers campaign.

Read profiles of other environmental nonprofits and the people who professionally steward, support, and advocate for the mountains, crags, forests, rivers, and lakes we enjoy exploring.