Sitting at my Riverkeeper desk on the eve of a new year and reflecting on the whirlwind of change for me and my family in 2020, I find myself distracted.
The goal for the past few days has been to write a column providing a nearly wrapped bow on the long list of accomplishments by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in the past year, and previewing some of the things we have in store for 2021.
Each time I have a cool idea -- a hook to build a column around -- however, I catch a flash of blue from the corner of my eye.
Ironically, I am a Riverkeeper distracted by a "River."
Yesterday was my 43rd birthday -- not a milestone year or a major accomplishment, but one that was memorable because it marks my first birthday since taking over as the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper back in February.
That concept became a theme for the gifts I received from my family: A new pair of hip-waders for all the water-based exploration this upcoming spring and summer. A bucket of vehicle-cleaning supplies for the new-used truck I recently purchased to help haul Riverkeeper gear, kayaks and a boat. And, last but not least, River -- a deep blue Betta fish to keep me company at the office.
Setting up the tank and transferring him over, we made sure to take every precaution possible to increase the odds that he not only survives, but thrives in his new home. We rinsed stones and plants to remove potentially harmful dust and chemicals that would pollute the small, contained ecosystem in which he would be introduced. We paid attention to water temperatures, feeding instructions and where he would get an appropriate amount of light that would keep him healthy but not trigger an unwanted growth of algae.
It didn't take long to see the object lesson in this scenario. As Riverkeeper, it is my duty to protect and promote the vast amount of river-based resources. Our association serves 20-plus counties that house an 11,000-square mile network of springs, brooks, streams, creeks, ponds and lakes that eventually flow into and feed the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River.
Millions of fish representing a myriad of species -- not to mention the invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and other wild creatures that depend on our waterways. People, families, businesses and so much more rely on the essential clean water that flows through our river and its tributaries.
Obviously, this is a much bigger task than maintaining a one-gallon contained fish tank sitting on my desktop. Thankfully, I have help, and one of the biggest goals for 2021 for our association is to further grow our dedicated team of people who have a passion for our outdoor resources.
One of the initiatives shared over the past 10 months was our 2020 Susquehanna Survey, asking people of all backgrounds about their experiences with our river and its tributaries, pollution concerns they had and ideas for programs to better protect and promote our resources. We received more than 160 responses that provided very important information that has helped us plan the future of our association.
That project has morphed into a new survey where we can continue to gather the info we need to do our job. The 2021 Susquehanna Survey is live, and we ask anyone connected to river and its tributaries throughout the middle Susquehanna watershed (marked in light blue in the map above) to take some time and fill out the survey.
We also are building a team of stewards to operate as the extended eyes and ears of our Riverkeeper to better represent the various geographic locations within our expansive watershed. Find out more about available steward opportunities here.
We also expanded our efforts for everyday people to report issues they find within the watershed. The Water Reporter app has been linked with our website, offering an interactive map of angler-submitted photos and comments on the catches they make within our watershed. We'd love for more people to get involved, sharing photos not only of fish caught, but water-based observations made throughout the watershed. Find out more about the app and how you can get involved here.
ly this winter, we are also looing to creatively connect with people via our Songs of the Susquehanna project. We are accepting original songs written by local people that have been inspired by the river and/or its tributaries. We plan to use these songs to reach and engage new people about our resources while helping musicians weather a gig-reduced 2020. We also could use individuals and businesses to donate items, money, gift cards, etc. to helping musicians involved with the project. Deadline for songs is Jan. 31, 2021. For more info, click here.
Thanks to a grant by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is also preparing to kick off the HERYN (Helping Engage our River's Youth with Nature) program. This includes offering program days to young people with hands-on instruction in both kayaking and fishing with the goal of developing a lifelong love of these activities and a vested interest in our river-based resources. For more information on how you can get involved, click here.
In addition to all of this, we strive to educate while engaging people throughout the region. Our Riverkeeper Blog is updated regularly with new stories, photos and other important information about issues facing our region, tips on how to best enjoy local opportunities, etc. We have started a weekly series of podcast interviews with people who have a shared passion for our river-based resources, sharing their stories and observations. And we also have started a series of educational videos showing cool features of our watershed and hands-on experiments families can do at home to learn more about water pollution and other issues.
On top of all this, we will continue to confront pollution issues and fight for resolution. There will soon be some important updates on a variety of those cases and ways for you to get involved.
Of course, all these efforts require financial backing, and we greatly value those who donate to our association and help fund our efforts to truly make a difference. If you'd like to make a year-end donation to our association (or a year-beginning donation if you'd rather), click here.
Ultimately, as we wrap up a busy 2020, I personally want to thank everyone who has helped and inspired me over the past 10 months since taking on the Riverkeeper role.
Together, we can truly make a real impact throughout our region, and I look forward to expanding our efforts, adding to our team and blasting through the stereotypes and other hurdles that threaten to hamper our efforts to effectively protect and promote our river-based resources.
Please feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, suggestions or just to chat. My phone is 570-768-6300 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Years to you and your families from your Riverkeeper and his faithful Betta sidekick. I look forward to hopefully seeing you soon throughout our watershed.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.