On Saturday, nearly 100 members of Yadkin Riverkeeper and their guests gathered at Crater Park to share their message of stewardship.
“The organization is about fighting for clean water and ensuring your drinking water supply is not contaminated,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Executive Director Terri Pratt, “[through] education, advocacy and action.”
Some programs combine Riverkeeper methods such as the Kids in the Creek program, which educates while taking action.
The paddle events seem to be a favorite activity combining the enjoyment of the fruits of their labors with heightening awareness.
“I have enjoyed the paddles,” said Jonesville native Ed Wooten, who now resides in Lexington.
“I wanted to start kayaking and I didn’t know anyone to kayak with so I saw Riverkeeper online and got involved,” said Wooten, who two years into Riverkeeper membership has taken three paddles with the group. “It’s always fun. [It’s a] great group of people and a lot of good work that we do I think.”
Paddle events such as those that have taken place monthly throughout the summer have been an excellent way to not only share the message of Yadkin Riverkeeper, but to increase membership.
“You’re going to go down the river on this two-hour paddle and you’re just going to absorb all the beauty and the landscape and wonder why anybody would ever want to pollute it,” said Pratt, “and then you’re going to find your voice that makes you speak up and say ‘not my water supply and not my river.’ That’s what it does for most people I think. That’s what it did for me.
“Most people don’t connect the river to their faucet,” said Pratt, “so as you get on the water you’ll talk to members, you’ll talk to other people that enjoy the waterway, but making that connection that what you are floating on is your drinking water supply and understanding that what you put in the river, this is the water you drink [is why the paddle events are really important].”
“I think some people really don’t know that [the Yadkin River] is where we get our drinking water,” said past Yadkin Riverkeeper board member Liz Bozeman, who is a resident of Winston-Salem. “It’s our main drinking water source.
“[Water] is one of our main resources,” she said. “You can’t live very long without clean water as we found out from Flint and all those horrible horror stories, so it’s an important issue to keep our water clean.”
One of the most impactful ways Yadkin Riverkeeper has helped with the stewardship of the river is through advocacy.
“If there’s a bill going to the legislature, we’ll give a call to action to our membership,” said Pratt, who claimed, “the Yadkin has been abused for a long time, and it takes a lot of people to campaign against huge conglomerates that have decades and legacies of pollution.”
One such company tried to open a location in Elkin seven years ago. “There was a company [that was] a bad environmental steward that wanted to build right here in Elkin,” said Pratt, explaining founding member Patricia Colwell and local trail advocate Bill Blackley called on Yadkin Riverkeeper for help.
“[The company] built flame retardant material,” said Pratt, “ and they wanted to build on the Yadkin right here in Elkin and discharge into the river. Your community [called Yadkin Riverkeeper]. Eventually they were exposed to be bad operators and they didn’t build the plant. That’s what we do.”
Current advocacy projects include, “campaigning against Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution and Alcoa’s smelter pollution,” said Pratt. “It takes a movement.
“We’re a small non-profit,” she said, which is why events such as the paddle that took place Saturday and the next one on Sept. 24 are so important.
“It’s a way for us to raise awareness that that’s your drinking water supply and people are violators and pollute it,” said Pratt. “You have a big poultry industry violating it all the time.”
“I just feel like it’s such an important issue because we get our drinking water from the Yadkin River,” said Bozeman. “It’s important about getting the word out to people about how important clean drinking water is. Plus it’s fun to be able to get on some clean water and enjoy it, too.”
The next and last opportunity to paddle with Yadkin Riverkeeper this season will be on Sept. 24. This six-mile tour will begin at Crater Park and end at Mitchell River with a celebration of World Rivers Day at Carolina Heritage Vineyard and Winery.
For more information on how to serve the Yadkin River through education, advocacy and action or to register for the paddle, go to yadkinriverkeeper.org.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.