Volume 10, Number 3 Fall/Winter 1999

“River Keeper” wins CRA Award

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by Brenda Mitchell


Mr. Bill Chase received one of the Colorado Riparian Association’s 1999 “Excellence in Riparian Management” award for his substantial contributions to riparian conservation and restoration in Colorado. Bill has been working with the Yampa Valley Stream Improvement Charitable Trust and as a River Keeper for private ranches in the Yampa Valley. As the director of the Yampa Valley Charitable Trust, Bill raised more than $200,000 in grants and a considerable amount in material and volunteer labor donations to restore several riparian systems in the Steamboat Springs area. His work as River Keeper for private ranches has encouraged many land-owners to view their riparian resources as an asset worthy of protection. Bill has helped to educate many landowners on the values of riparian and wetland resources on a one to one basis. These efforts have led to encouraged riparian stewardship on private lands, improved partnerships, facilitated planning, and ultimately led to restoration of many miles of streams.

“What is a River Keeper?” you may ask.

River Keepers hold a historical position in the British Isles and Continental Europe. They evolved from gamekeeper positions that European nobility found necessary to protect their vast and exclusive land holdings. Currently River Keepers in these countries conduct stewardship activities that sustain the health and integrity of the sporting qualities of their resources. River Keepers provide stewardship on smaller individual sections of river systems. They are in fact the grassroots element of resource stewardship.

Currently a public sector River Keeper in the Colorado Rockies could be defined as an individual who demonstrates the following qualities:

  1. Assumes a leadership role in proactive stewardship activities on individual sections of local rivers or steams.
  2. Lives in close proximity to the resource and spends enough time on the particular resource to know how it functions as a system. The individual recognizes changes in natural function when the resource is affected by outside influences.
  3. Develops a network of partners utilizing the enormous talent pool available in our Federal, State, and local agencies. This facilitates planning and problem solving without overtaxing any individual partner.
  4. Creates or affiliates with a 501(c)(3) charitable trust to benefit the individual resource. Potential funding sources and grant cycles are identified and grants are applied for as appropriate.
  5. Coordinates restoration, enhancement, and stewardship projects by using agency partnerships, fund raising, materials donation and soliciting volunteer manpower.
  6. Stays current on environmental and political issues that directly affect the health and welfare of the local resource.

River Keepers in the private sector generally differ from their public counterparts in their use of private consultants rather than agency partnerships and private funding rather than grants. Otherwise, they are quite similar.

The need for River Keepers is generated by the dramatic increase in the public awareness of the need to protect our aquatic resources. This awareness has prompted formation of agency and private sector partnerships to secure river corridor properties through fee title purchase, conservation easement, and purchase of development rights. In the private sector there is a significant effort by corporations and individuals to secure aquatic resources. Their agenda include development of water resources and the restoration and enhancement of recreational opportunity. The focus and resources required to secure these properties are considerable and appropriate given the dramatic increase in Colorado real estate values. The restoration, enhancement, and stewardship efforts that follow acquisition are currently of secondary importance.

The Federal, State, and local agencies responsible for the health of our aquatic resources struggle with perennial reduction of budgets and staffing. It will be incumbent on the private sector to fill in the gaps and facilitate proactive stewardship activities. We must make the best use of agency resources. River Keepers will provide leadership to accomplish this.

Many of you are River Keepers. Education or degrees do not confer the title, but love for your local resources and proactive stewardship efforts on their behalf do.

Bill Chase can be reached at POB 772301 Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 or email at bill@romick.com.