2022 has been a year of challenges and of possibilities. Having committed to hiring its first, full-time executive director in 2021, the Friends were very excited about the fresh ideas and organizational improvements our new director would bring. Sadly, we discovered that the new hire wasn’t quite the right fit. After careful consideration, the board elected to engage an interim director, whose role is to prepare the organization for a successful hire. As this task involves both thoughtful retrospective of the Friends current culture, as well as clarity over a desired future state, the board and staff are actively engaged in a strategic planning process to guide the organization for the next 3-5 years. This process included over 20 interviews with key stakeholders and has provided us with some excellent data from which to design our plan going forward.
The following are highlights and lowlights of 2022:
We accepted the resignation of Kirk Riley in March. Patrice Martin of Innovative Community Solutions and formerly of Nonprofit Network signed on as our Interim Director. Our expectation is that we will begin the recruiting process for our new, full-time director in December, and welcome them aboard in January. Patrice will likely work with the new hire for a week or so to share her observations, the strategic plan and a starter list of immediate tasks.
Our annual meeting was held in March this year. Although the meeting was initially planned for in-person, a dramatic rise in COVID numbers compelled the decision to host the meeting via Zoom. It is our intention to return to an in-person annual meeting for 2023.
The Friends was founded to continue the river clean-up and stewardship activities of Jim Miner. Our annual River Clean-up is a legacy program that continues to draw community volunteers throughout the watershed, and interest in the work of the Friends. Our COVID-inspired process of signing up volunteer teams to clean specific, self-selected stretches of the river continues. We have discovered that volunteers appreciate the flexibility of a weeklong event, and our numbers reflect that appreciation. We typically had around 80 volunteers prior to changing the format of our river cleanup to a weeklong event. In 2020, our River Clean-up attracted 137 volunteers, with over 50 miles of the river cleaned. 2021 achieved 192 volunteers and 50 miles of the river cleaned. In 2022, our volunteers numbered 142, with over 60 miles of river cleaned.
Thanks in part to our GLISA grant, we held a celebratory luncheon for our volunteers, with featured speaker Naim Edwards. Naim Edwards is the director of the Michigan State University - Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning, and Innovation (DPFLI). His presentation explored ways to manage soil to enhance water quality and address climate change. Naim discussed how tillage and what we decide to grow in soil can be leveraged to restore ecosystems and communities. He highlighted the benefits of edible landscapes, food forests, and actions we can take to take better care of the Earth.
OWOSSO-CORUNNA LABOR DAY BRIDGE WALK
Our second year of coordinating the Owosso-Corunna Labor Day Bridge Walk brought out 144 participants. People of all ages and abilities walked the James Miner River Trail, and many enjoyed the pancake breakfast hosted by retiring Corunna mayor, Chuck Kerridge.
WINE WITH FRIENDS
This year’s Wine with Friends event was held at the Owosso Country Club in their banquet room and on the outdoor patio. Pat Carmody provided live music and our generous donors and sponsors gave us the opportunity to host a fabulous event. Thanks to our wonderful members and supporters we had 109 attendees in 2022 and raised just over $13,000. In 2021, we had 100 attendees and raised just over $8,000.
Our second Shi-Tri was another rousing success, hitting our target of 250 registrants, engaging over 100 volunteers, and raising just over $10,000 for the Friends. Participants have nothing but praise for the event, skilled competitors and recreational participants as well! Our out-of-town participation included teams from Chicago and Wisconsin – all of whom have promised to return. Our 2023 Shi-Tri will be held on Sunday, May 21, 2023. Our goal is 350 participants, and we are confident we will reach it.
FREE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT EVENTS
In keeping with our goal of increasing responsible use of the river, the Friends hosted several free, public engagement events during 2022. These included a Picnic and Paddle in collaboration with DeVries and the Shiawassee River National Water Trail Coalition, Yoga by the River with Cheryl Stevenson and our annual Polar Paddle in partnership with the Shiawassee County YMCA’s Camp Shiawassee.
During this fall’s Stream Team water sampling events, all 12 of our previous sites were monitored this year as well as an additional 13th site. We added a tributary site in Vernon as we seek to expand our data collection. In total, we had 161 stream team volunteers for the year; 153 of them were from the October monitoring alone. We were only able to monitor one site in the spring due to high river levels.
We provided streamside education to six school groups throughout the watershed in 2022, thanks in part to a generous financial contribution from our regional Michigan Science-Technology-Engineering-Math program.
Thanks to our EGLE SMART Watershed Grant, we upgraded our water quality monitoring Quality Assurance Program Plan (QAPP) and received approval from EGLE. Prior QAPP’s were designed to meet the Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCORP) standard.
SHIATOWN DAM REMOVAL AND COUNTY PARKS IMPROVEMENTS
The Friends assisted Shiawassee County with a reforestation effort at the Shiatown Parks. This included a $10,000 contribution for the purchase of trees and shrubs and significant volunteer hours for planting. Planting began in the fall of 2021 and was completed in the spring of 2022. On April 29th, the Friends participated in a celebration of the successful completion of the Shiatown Dam Removal and River Restoration project. Other participants included representatives from our local county and city governments, Saginaw Bay WIN, EGLE and the State Land Bank. To read the news release, click here: https://shiawasseeriver.org/News/13022494
CURWOOD CASTLE PARK CANOE/KAYAK LAUNCH PROJECT
Thanks in part to generous funding from The Conservation Fund and the 12 foundations and corporations that make up the Funders Network of the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN), the Friends partnered with the City of Owosso to design and install a kayak/canoe launch adjacent to Curwood Castle Park. This launch is one of 28 sites along the 88-mile Shiawassee River National Water Trail and will serve to support water recreation and downtown Owosso businesses! The site will include a boat chute, stairs and a bench. Future enhancements will feature a boat locker system. A ribbon-cutting is planned for the spring of 2023.
EGLE SMART WATERSHED GRANT
The Friends are the recipient of a watershed council grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). Grant activities include expanding our Stream Team monitoring, engaging in outreach and education on non-point source pollution and the various partners and organizations engaging in mitigation efforts throughout the county. We will also be engaging in some facility upgrades at our Corunna offices.
Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA)
In 2019, the Friends were the recipient of a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the federal agency that administers the National Weather Service, to engage the Friends and our partners in understanding climate change in our watershed. Our partners are the University of Michigan and Michigan State University working together on the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) project. They have provided us data about weather history in our region to help us understand how the climate is changing.
The Friends reached out to members, partners, and other stakeholders in the watershed to understand their perspectives and concerns about climate change. What can both personal experiences and science tell us about climate and its impact on the Shiawassee? The result of these activities is a five-part video series that introduces viewers to the project and the data, features interviews with local stakeholders from the recreation, agricultural and municipal government sectors and ends with a call-to-action that includes information and resources on adaptation and mitigation. These videos and related resources will be featured on our new Climate Awareness page on our website.
The Friends is in the process of updating its 3-5 year strategic plan. The board of the Friends passed a resolution during its September board meeting affirming its desire to transition the organization from a volunteer-led to a staff-driven organization. Since its inception in 1996, the Friends has relied on the vast expertise and skill-sets of its founders and board members to accomplish its mission to Care for, Share and Enjoy the Shiawassee River. The organization finds itself at a point in its lifecycle where it would prefer a more structured approach to its work, now and into the future. The organization seeks to secure a full-time executive director who will dedicate themselves to moving the Friends forward. A 3-5 year strategic plan will help the board to clarify its vision for the future, clarify and define the broad and continuous goals it wishes to achieve, how it will measure success and how it might adapt its organizational structure in support of the plan.