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Guest Post by RiverBent - Protect Our Rivers Gets Feet Wet and Hands Dirty to Protect Waterways

This is a guest post written by Michele Crockett at RiverBent.

One of Sarah Nelson’s favorite days since founding the river conservation organization Protect Our Rivers was an October river cleanup in Denver with Odell Brewing that brought out participants of all ages decked out in Halloween costumes.

“You would see the cutest little unicorn or a little witch who was on a mission to put river trash in her cauldron,” said Nelson.

Children dive right into river cleanups with Protect Our Rivers(photo by Lindsey McKissick)

This simple notion of a single person—no matter how small—taking direct action to improve the health of a river is a core tenet of Protect Our Rivers, a nonprofit that Nelson started in 2020 to engage people—river runners and otherwise—in river protection. Protect Our Rivers organized 27 events in 2021 that drew more than 700 participants and removed more than 12,000 pounds of trash from eight different waterways in Colorado.

“We started as a grassroots movement with the belief that one small act can lead to greater change,” said Nelson. “Sometimes you don’t think you can make a difference, or your actions don’t matter—or that they matter, but not on a scale to make a significant change. Our niche is showing people that actions do matter, their attendance at cleanups matters. The ways they compost and recycle and reduce water consumption have the potential to make a big impact.”

Nelson also believes that “boots on the ground” is the best way to get people engaged. Just passing out flyers doesn’t cut it.

“But giving them an experience—whether that’s a conservation experience like a river cleanup or taking them river running—is a good entry point into what we do.”