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Navigating Troubled Waters with American Whitewater

Posted: 03/24/2020
by Evan Stafford

A large part of our stewardship work at American Whitewater is following the science of healthy, clean rivers, and how to enjoy them safely, and that commitment continues to this day. The science of what's happening with COVID-19 suggests that within our communities, including the paddling community, we need to take whatever precautions are necessary to slow the spread of this virus. Flattening the curve will keep us from overwhelming our healthcare systems and will reduce fatalities from the disease. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and, for our community, that may just mean not going to the river. As paddlers, we may find this difficult but we are experiencing an exponentially growing spread of COVID-19. 

At American Whitewater, we work off a regional and remote model, where all of our staff work from home offices and have for the past 15 years. That means that we're already well set up for best practice social-distancing and thanks to the incredible support from our members and partners we're well positioned to continue to fight to protect and restore our whitewater rivers and our access to enjoying them safely. Minus the face-to-face meetings, site visits, and other advocacy work that requires us to leave our home offices, our work-life won't look too different. For us personally though, and as a paddling community, it's going to mean making tough and deeply reflective decisions about when to leave our homes and about what truly is necessary and essential to our lives. In some cases, paddling decisions are being made for us by river managers closing access points located in Federal, State, and local parks, and several states have imposed stay-at-home orders, but in many instances we will each need to make our own decisions. 

We encourage you to be a part of the solution, and that means sticking to strict social distancing and responsibly recreating, if at all. Many of the rivers where we recreate are in rural communities with limited health care services. We have a responsibility to ourselves and the communities where we recreate to not impose additional burdens in these places. We also ask you to respect the members of our paddling community who are working the front lines in our hospitals as nurses, doctors and in other medical positions, and not put their lives at greater risk than their professions already require. Part of this means keeping it chill out there and not injuring yourself and adding to the burden on our healthcare systems. Ask yourself what the greatest good is, not just for yourself, but for your family, your friends, and your community. If we can do these things, we will be recognized as part of the solution. Building constructive relationships with local communities where we recreate is in our long-term interests as we advocate for the health of rivers and opportunities to enjoy them. 

Stay healthy out there and let your fire for rivers burn bright. The time is now to start doing whatever you can to help flatten the curve of COVID-19's spread. Our favorite rivers will be there when this passes, and high-fives and hugs at takeouts will return. Thanks from the team at American Whitewater.

If you are going to recreate outside please check out and follow the Outdoor Alliance How to Get Outside guidelines.


Evan Stafford
516 Stover St
Fort Collins, CO 80524
Phone: 970-420-5377